Thursday, December 22, 2011

Couple of Parent-Centric Columns: Lessons from 2011's TV Parents & Why Moms Should Run for Office

Lessons from 2011's TV Parents

It's been quite the year for parents on the small screen.

We've been entertained by the hijinks of the Modern Family's Claire & Phil Dunphy and their bedroom door that should've had a lock on it before their kids surprised them at inopportune moment.

We've seen Parenthood's Adam and Kristina Braverman try and fail to ban their teen daughter from dating an older man who had his own apartment.

We witnessed The Middle's Frankie and Mike Heck declare themselves to be free from their children's unreasonable demands which reduced them to little more than unpaid, disrespected servants (although the self-declared freedom was short-lived).

We laughed as Up All Night's new parents, Chris and Reagan Brinkley, tried in vain to prove that they're hip and cool and able to party it up on weeknights, even though their baby isn't sleeping through the night yet, they're sleep deprived and Reagan needed to work in the morning.

My recent Pop Culture and Politics column details these child-rearing lessons that I gleaned from watching TV parents during 2011.

Why Moms Should Run for Office

In another recent Pop Culture and Politics column I extended an invitation to women who are raising the next generation to run for public office because, all too often, women's voices are not heard or represented in our elected bodies.

The advocacy group She Should Run offered up this dour data on the state of women in American politics:
  • "Women hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress."
  • "State legislatures only have 23 percent women."
  • "Only 6 out of 50 states have a female governor."
  • "The United States trails behind the rest of the world -- ranking 87th in the number of women in our national legislature."
  • ". . . [W]omen are 50 percent less likely than men to seriously consider running for office, less likely than men to actually run for office and far less likely to run for higher office."
As one of the founders of The White House Project (whose goals include electing a female commander in chief) said in the powerful documentary Miss Representation, when it comes to our daughters, "You can't be what you can't see."

Image credit: She Should Run.

It's Winter. Christmas is Nearly Here. Why is It in the 50s?

Far be it for me to complain about not having to wear a coat this morning when I was out and about doing the last dregs of my Christmas shopping, but come on, this temperate weather is getting ridiculous.

Unlike in previous years, The Spouse has been stupendously organized when it comes to our ice rink. He has had the homemade rink up in our yard since early November. Problem is, it hasn’t been cold enough for a long enough period of time for ice to freeze.

The only water in our rink – which The Spouse modified this year, elevating part of it with a complex system of wooden braces so one end wouldn’t be substantially deeper than the other because the ground isn’t totally level – is collected rainwater. So half of the rink has water while the lining on the dry half is flapping in the wind.

I know that I’m risking Mother Nature’s ire here by belly-aching that it’s been so mild, but it’s bizarre that Halloween trick-or-treating was postponed, that we lost power for days and had to huddle in our living room sleeping next to the fire because of a freak October snowstorm and here it is, nearly Christmas, and it’s nearly 60 degrees.

Believe it or not, I actually want to put on those skates that we bought last winter and do some ice skating.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Decorating the Tree: 'This is Your Life' in a Couple of Red & Green Bins

Keeping in line with the Picket Fence Post family’s fa-la-la-la-la 2011 Christmas  -- wherein I try to maintain a happy, cheerful Yuletide facade -- we’ve finally decorated the family Christmas tree after it sat in its tree stand, stark naked in the family room for several days.

I always marvel, every single year, at the memories I inevitably unwrap when I remove the ornaments from their plastic bins. (This year I had to keep vigil over the ornaments because Max the dog kept slyly grabbing them and scampering away in a joyous game of chase . . . joyous on his part. It was an unfortunate time for Max to suddenly become mischievous and charge around the room.)

It was hard not to smile when we looked at all the “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments, the here’s-my-handprint-when-I’m-7-years-old ornaments which always evokes melancholy about how fast time is passing. There are the ornaments from vacation destinations, like the Grinch and Max one we got at Universal Studios this summer, the pewter sand dollar from Cape Cod, the trolley car from San Francisco and the Chateau Frontenac ornament from our Quebec odyssey last year. There are the ones my grandmothers made me or gave me when I was a teen, in preparation for the day when I’d eventually have my own tree. I fondly look upon the Lenox one my mother gave The Spouse and I for our first Christmas in our first house. We annually re-tell the anecdote about the cloth snowman ornament onto which a 2-year-old Eldest Boy wiped his chocolate-covered face one Christmas at my parents' house.

It’s like This-Is-Your-Life contained in a couple of red and green bins. And the tree really reflects much of what we love, from the kids' ornaments of ballet dancers (when The Girl used to take dance) and the soccer and hockey ornaments, to the Harry Potter and Star Wars themed ones they've coveted. In addition to the Red Sox and Patriots ornaments on our tree, I added a new one this year to honor my caffeine addiction: A tiny Starbucks coffee cup ornament at which The Girl rolled her eyes when I showed it to her.

“Are we putting all of these on the tree?” The Spouse asked incredulously as if he’s forgotten that we somehow always manage to fit them onto the tree quite nicely, with the exception of the glass balls we bought when we shared our first tree together (back in 1991!) in order to take up all the empty space that’s now consumed by 20 years worth of ornament collecting.

Surprisingly, there was no bickering about the lights – which The Spouse and The Eldest Boy calmly placed on the tree – and no fighting over who got to put which ornament onto the tree.

Only one ornament was broken and it was my fault. I accidentally knocked the Rudolph and Hermie the elf ornament (where Rudolph’s nose lights up if you press a button) onto the floor, decapitating Hermie and knocking off his left hand, onto which the string to hang it was attached. I was able to pop Hermie’s head back into place pretty easily, but his hand is unfixable. Now that ornament is sitting on the mantle, a testament to my clumsiness.

After the decorating, we shut off all the lights, grabbed candy canes and sacked out on the sofa for several minutes to admire our handiwork. Not bad, not bad at all.

Just in Time for the Holidays: Movies About Parents

Two boys get into a fight. Their parents get together to calmly and rationally discuss the incident and devise some sort of mutually satisfactory remedy. That’s the premise of the movie Carnage (with Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster) set to open in “select theaters” tomorrow. (I hate it when they “selectively” open a movie.) But, as one might expect, the conflict escalates between the four, affluent parents during the uncomfortable face-off. Things get ugggg-ly. This is a film I’m putting on my “To Watch” list.

One new film (not yet released) which intrigues me yet I’m kind of hesitant to see because I’m afraid I’ll become a bawling mess is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close about an 11-year-old boy whose father was killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York City. While going through his dead father's belongings he finds a key and goes on a quest to find out what it opens. The boy, Oskar, and his dad (played by Tom Hanks) used to collaborate on “expeditions” around the city to encourage the boy to seek, to learn and to overcome fears. The key is the unifying metaphor. With Sandra Bullock playing Oskar’s grieving mother, I’m sure the film will be powerful, but I’d need to be in the right frame of mind to see it, and need to bring a giant box of tissues.

I’ve already seen the smart, funny, tear-jerker The Descendants, starring George Clooney -- who’s a distant father and husband and, after his wife has an accident and goes into a coma, learns that he didn’t really know his daughters or his wife at all – and I highly recommend it. (I wrote a column about the film’s question of whether we ever really know our parents or allow our parents to know us here.) Seeing Clooney as a slouchy, well meaning, confused middle-aged dad in loud, ugly Hawaiian shirts is worth the price of admission.
What films are you looking forward to seeing over the next few weeks?

Friday, December 9, 2011

So How's the Christmas Zen Thing Going? Tenuously . . .

I’m trying, fighting against the odds, to maintain my grip on this Christmas Zen thing to which I vowed to adhere in order to keep myself from going crazy during the harried holiday season in my interfaith home. But life is not making it easy, nor are the folks on the radio, TV and elsewhere who delight in telling us how few “shopping days” there are left before Christmas arrives. It’s stressing the hell out of me and I really wish they’d just knock it off.

Not only that, but it feels as though a million little things keep coming at us, affording me precious little time to breathe never mind enjoy the season, stuff like shows for the school bands the boys are in (one which required me to run to stores the night before and buy The Eldest Boy a black dress shirt), a book swap at The Youngest Boy’s school (I forgot to sign and send in the paper to give him permission to participate), the Secret Santa in The Eldest Boy’s French class (he just asked me to take him out to buy something for his person), the specific gifts I’m supposed to get for the Giving Tree at church and submit (wrapped) on Sunday, making sure not to forget to attend one of my niece’s performances of The Nutcracker before it’s too late, and getting Max’s ridiculously long -- now partially knotted – Havanese/Wheaten Terrier hair cut (his regular groomer has been ill and we’ve been putting it off).

No, The Spouse and I haven’t started Christmas shopping for our family yet, though we’ve had rushed conversations in dribs and drabs over the phone or just before we’re about to pass out from exhaustion at night about what we think we should get the Picket Fence Post Posse. I think we’re going to have to open a bottle of wine, boot up our laptops and plop onto the sofa together after the kids go to bed on Saturday night and get this shopping done online (and be prepared to pay extra for expedited shipping). At least I won’t have to battle traffic or wait in lines.

And while our personalized Christmas and Hanukkah photo cards have been delivered to the house, I haven’t yet sat down to address the cards and have everyone sign them. (I thought it would add a touch of humanity to have each member of the Picket Fence Post family sign the cards. I have a feeling I’m going to live to regret that wholesome decision.)

No, we haven’t gotten our tree yet.

And while last week I was wistfully pondering all the different kinds of Christmas cookies I wanted to bake – trying to keep that happy Christmas spirit flourishing – there is NO TIME for that right now. I hope I’ll find a free afternoon closer to Christmas to make them. I'll remain optimistic.

However this is the context in which I’m now operating: The other day The Spouse had meetings (of course he did) and I had to: Drive the boys to a math class, drive The Girl to her hoop practice, rush to the store to buy a black shirt for The Eldest Boy's concert and a gift for the Giving Tree, pick up the boys, drop The Youngest Boy off at a friend’s house so another mom could drive him to hockey practice, pick up The Girl from practice and drive her to the library for her book club, drive The Eldest Boy to his hoop practice and pick The Youngest Boy up from hockey practice. (The other two kids got rides home with others.) Oh, and I had a deadline to meet that night. I’ve got another day like that ahead of me next week when The Spouse will be out at some work event.

Nevertheless, I’m forcing myself to be fa-la-la cheery and Christmas-y as all get out. I’ve got a strained smile on my face, but this sunny disposition shall disappear with shocking speed if 1) You remind me of how many shopping days are left and b) I hear the odious “Dominick the Christmas Donkey” song. God do I loathe that song.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Card Photos . . . DONE!

We had a not-too-stressful photo session with the Picket Fence Post trio and Max the dog yesterday. I dressed them all in red T-shirts that read "Thing" and then a number on it.

The dog got "Thing 1," because the kids were uber-sensitive as to which one of them would be perceived as the literal "number one" offspring and get to lord his or her supremacy over the other, lowly siblings. The Eldest Boy had "Thing 2," his brother got "Thing 3" and The Girl, obviously, got "Thing 4." (There was some minor drama before the session started because I couldn't find the "Thing 4" shirt. I had to search through everyone's dressers, closets and beneath beds, though everyone, including The Spouse, swore they did not have it. After about 45 minutes of harried hunting around I found it stuffed in the back of The Eldest Boy's pajama drawer.)

The kids were, ultimately, cooperative (as long as I didn't ask them to locate any missing item in the house) and the photos looked cute, not of the Awkward Family Photo variety.

But as for Max, he refused to look at the camera when he was seated with the kids. Every time I brought the camera up to my face, he turned his head to the side as though he was some camera-averse celebrity who couldn't deign to look my way because I was lowly paparazzi. Either that or he thinks he looks best in profile. The only time he did look at me when I had the camera in front of my face was after the group had broken up and the kids were all standing around me, as in the first photo above.

I've ordered the photo cards through an online service, so I'm waaaay ahead of last year when I didn't get my act together on the Christmas card front until late December and was sweating over whether the box of cards would be delivered to my house in time for me to address them all and mail 'em before Christmas.

As for my Christmas shopping . . . well, it hasn't even begun. But I've thought about the gifts at least.

*reminding myself that this is going to be a STRESS-FREE December, no matter what*

Altering Our Kids’ Relationship with Media: 'We All Should Be Appalled.'

Ninety-seven percent of what you watch, read and hear comes from the male perspective. . . It’s wrong because media creates culture -- Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, creator of the documentary Miss Representation, spoke at a conference this week about the importance of parents curtailing the influence of media over their kids so children won't internalize the damaging, sexist messages delivered to them through an onslaught of TV/film, music, advertising and news media.

After her son was born he received gifts calling him the next president and a leader, she said, yet after her daughter was born she got things calling her cute and a princess. Labeling children “a vulnerable class of citizens” whose viewpoints are "formed" by media, Siebel Newsom said parents need to wake up and recognize what messages our children are receiving.

TV is “killing our daughters’ ambition and destroying empathy and emotion in our sons,” Siebel Newsom said. “Let’s demand a media culture that uplifts us all,” she said.

Powerful stuff. It's worth watching both her speech AND the excellent (yet heartbreaking) documentary Miss Representation.

In the meantime, Siebel Newsom is urging parents when they’re out Christmas/holiday shopping and they see “a product or advertisement that misrepresents or degrades women” they should post a description or photo of the offensive item on Twitter and accompany it with the hashtag #notbuyingit.

“If enough of us publicly tell these companies that we won’t buy into their offensive advertising or products, we can get their attention and see real change happen,” she wrote on her blog. “Let’s keep the trend going and send a direct message to the advertisers and media moguls who perpetuate sexist stereotypes: This holiday season, sexism won’t sell.”

Image credit: Miss

Monday, November 28, 2011

This Year I’ve Decided, No More Grinch (Seriously)

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I broke out the Christmas decorations. On my own. No one was bugging me to do it. It was my idea.

This is earlier than I’ve ever pulled out the festive Yuletide d├ęcor and placed it around my domicile. (Typically, per my anal retentive must-wait-until-December-1-to-deck-the-halls belief, I wait until the 12th month of the year.) I was singing Christmas carols. I was even smiling. I didn’t have to hassle any of the kids to try to help me out because I didn’t ask for their help. I didn’t want any. I did it myself and actually enjoyed the experience.

This year, I resolved, the Grinch is dead.

The Grinch, normally, is me . . . well, me ever since I had the audacity to try to combine three active children, a career, Christmas and Hanukkah together into one little month. My Grinchiness was compounded by the exponentially exploding school, youth sports and extracurricular activities schedules kept by the Picket Fence Post kids, the responsibility for trucking said kids around to practices falls mainly to work-from-home me. (I coordinate with The Spouse over the nightmare of an overloaded calendar on getting them to games, etc.) I also have the responsibility for sending out Christmas and Hanukkah greeting cards (including the requisite photo), doing the bulk of the holiday shopping, making Christmas cookies with the kids, making latkes on the first night of Hanukkah, buying advent candy for the ginormous Advent elf we have on a kitchen door (which sometimes scares me when I enter the kitchen in the middle of the night and forget he's there), buying the Hanukkah gelt (traditional chocolate coins) and wrapping the gifts.

In past years, Christmas time hasn’t gone all that smoothly. In the mid-1990s one of my grandfathers died on Christmas, his favorite holiday. A few years ago the Picket Fence Post family had to have our cat put to sleep the day after we put up our Christmas tree. (She was having full-body seizures as we decorated said tree with the children, and The Spouse and I tried to act all cheery.) Last year I came down with the swine flu on Christmas Eve, missed seeing The Girl play Mary in the Christmas Eve church service and spent eight hours alone in my house on Christmas Day feeling absolutely miserable while The Spouse and the Picket Fence Post kids went to my brother’s house. Bah freakin' humbug.

But it will be different this year.

I’m shaking off the stress, the melancholy, the feeling of tremendous burdens from Christmases past and starting anew. As I made this vow to myself on Saturday while decorating the mantel with a Santa Claus, an angel and various stuffed characters from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special, I learned that a beloved senior member of The Spouse’s family passed away. While the family mourns and remembers her – The Girl’s middle name is the same as the now-deceased relative’s daughter – we are making an effort to be light of heart and respect what she meant to us. (This was NOT some omen or sign indicating that the Christmas season is forever doomed in my house, I repeated vigorously to superstitious self.)

This year, despite the fact that we’re heartbroken upon losing a member of the family, I’ve told the Picket Fence Post kids that they’re going to see a different mom this holiday season, one that’s not all clenched and jaded, dark and twisty. As much as it goes against every fiber in my body to do so, I’m going to try to just go with the flow this year. If things don’t work out exactly as planned, that’s okay. If things get missed, well, I’m only human. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, especially not all at the same time. Things don’t even have to be super-organized (that’s always my undoing, I try to be super-organized then get crushed by my "To Do" list and miss stuff anyway). I’m going to be of the moment this December. I’m going to listen to Christmas music and try to reclaim the spirit I once had. It’s worth a try isn’t it?

Who’s with me? Who’s up for de-stressing Christmas and throwing onerous "To Do" lists out the window, or better, yet, into a roaring fireplace while you sip a mug of hot cocoa?

“How do you spell ‘sword?’ Is it s-w-o-r-d?” The Youngest Boy asked me this afternoon while he was writing his Christmas wish list . . . We might need to swap that hot cocoa with something stronger if a “sword” is on the list.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Using His Noggin: The Youngest Boy & His Hockey Head Injury

Neither The Spouse nor I saw the play. We didn’t even know it had occurred until many hours later when The Youngest Boy told us he had a bad headache and had had a headache since he experienced a head-on collision with another player during the 7 a.m. hockey game and then fell backwards, also hitting the back of his helmeted head on the ice.

“What?” I said, momentarily stunned. I hadn’t seen any collision, maybe I'd missed it because I was chatting with a friend while trying to wake up by gulping down a large cup of coffee. My youth hockey player had been acting normally all day long following the game, vigorously playing, eating and not at all displaying the traditional signs that he’d sustained a concussion.

When he asked for some Tylenol after dinner, I knew he wasn’t kidding around, so I gave him some and told him to go to bed.

Yesterday morning he woke up and said his headache was still bothering him. I began to worry, despite the fact that he hadn’t been knocked out, lethargic, vomited or “seen stars” after the collision.

However when he came home from school yesterday afternoon and said his headache was still there, even though he was able to run around and play, I decided to call the pediatrician’s office.

“I don’t know if it’s a concussion,” I said over the phone. “He’s been acting normally. But it’s the headaches that are worrying me.”

Apparently I was right to worry, or so the pediatrician’s office folks told me, citing the work of a renowned medical expert in the field of children and brain injuries. We need to treat him with kid gloves, the nurse said before she gave me a list of things The Youngest Boy could not do until he’d been headache-free for a week:
  • No sports
  • No gym class
  • No playing outside (including outdoor recess)
  • No cardiovascular activity
  • No HD TV
  • No computer/iPod Touch/Nintendo DS screentime
  • No drumming (he’s a drummer in his school band) 
When The Spouse and I told The Youngest Boy about the restrictions he reacted as though we’d cancelled Christmas. (We told him the bans were for “at least” a week, leaving out the detail about being “headache free” for seven days because we don’t want him to pretend he’s fine in order to get back out onto the ice quicker.) We likened this to a broken leg around which you’d put a cast, only you can’t put a cast on your head. We need to protect his bruised brain from getting seriously damaged. If, say, he went to hockey practice and fell down, he'd knock around his already injured brain, we said, making things worse. You need time to heal.

We told him about all the cautionary tales of pro athletes who’ve been forced to leave their sports and have continued to suffer from excruciating headaches years after they stopped playing because they didn’t give themselves time to recover from this largely invisible injury. (It was ironic that, over the weekend, I’d read a harrowing interview in the New York Times with former NFL star Kris Jenkins who had to abandon his football career in his early 30s due to injuries and is plagued by pain to this day.)

Upon mentioning the situation on Twitter, one of my Twitter pals suggested, “[You] can remind [the] kid the docs told P. Bergeron same stuff, and now he's better. Even the big kids have to be careful,” referring to Bruins player Patrice Bergeron who has experienced a severe concussion, allowed himself to heal, and then returned to the ice.

I later learned, after doing my own internet sleuthing that the expert whose advice the pediatrician’s office was following has offered this controversial advice in order to protect children’s brains: Collision sports should be limited to those ages 14 and older.
“The young brains are more vulnerable, they're less myelinated, the necks are weaker, the heads are bigger proportionately so the forces that accelerate the brain need not be as high to produce higher accelerations,” Robert Cantu, the co-director of the Neurologic Sports Injury Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told a Boston TV station, noting that he has seen otherwise asymptomatic teenage athletes who play contact sports who, once their brains are scanned, exhibit symptoms of degenerative brain disease, which can lead to "personality changes, memory loss, depression, even dementia," the news station reported.
"We have millions of youngsters putting their heads into collision sports right now and we don't really know how safe this is for them," he said to WCVB. "
Even with that horrifyingly scary info in mind, this is going to be a difficult prescription for The Youngest Boy, who’s very active and loves to race around, to follow.

This morning he woke up and told me he still has a headache.

Damn this is going to seem like a very long week.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fairy Tales with a Feminist Twist & Parenting as Performance Art

Image credit: ABC
Got a couple of new columns on parenting and pop culture that’ve been keeping me busy these days . . . One piece is about a new ABC show that I’ve been watching with The Girl, Once Upon a Time,  which takes traditional fairy tales and turns them on their head. The latest episode notwithstanding, the drama has been giving its audience smart, strong women instead of ones who are simply looking to be rescued and to don wear multi-tiered frocks and tiaras. (I’ve been reviewing Once Upon a Time over on CliqueClack TV.)

Meanwhile, did you hear the story about the woman in New York who gave birth in a Brooklyn art museum as a piece of performance art a few weeks ago? After she had her baby in the museum, the new mother announced her plans to now turn parenting this baby boy into another work of performance art.

When I gave it more thought, I realized that while I’d venture to guess that no one else is likely to deliver their babies in front of a paying audience, we all parent in public, whether we like it or not.  And in that respect, this performance artist is hardly alone. Thus my column on parenting as performance art.

Image credit: ABC.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Three for Thursday: A Disheartening Week of News . . . Then a Few Laughs for Good Measure

Item #1: Horrors at Penn State

I cannot, for the life of me, understand how no one alerted the police after two people witnessed a member of the Penn State football coaching staff, Jerry Sandusky, on separate occasions, according to a grand jury report, allegedly molest/rape young boys. The man who was accused of committing these crimes was allowed to continue to have an affiliation with Penn State. Why did no one put a stop to this man’s alleged serial child molestation by reporting him to the cops?

I also cannot understand how a 28-year-old man, Mike McQueary, could allegedly see a grown man raping a young boy and then just walk away, instead of rushing to protect the child or, at the very least, immediately summoning the police as the crime was still in progress. This does not compute with me. At all.

I further cannot understand how students from Penn State, upon learning about the firing of head football coach Joe Paterno, Sandusky’s boss -- who a grand jury said was told by McQueary about the alleged rape of a child at the hands of his subordinate, but didn’t call police – took to the streets to protest and riot, not the molestation or rape, but Paterno's sacking. I want to go up to each one of those students and make them read the horrific grand jury report about how the Penn State football program and Penn State officials allegedly seemed to care more about themselves and keeping things under wraps – like the Catholic church did with its pedophile priests who preyed upon vulnerable children – than about children. Some of the alleged victims are now the same age as the college students who were doing the protesting. Which is more important in the long run, the Penn State football program or stopping a serial pedophile?

Some provocative columns on this subject:

Buzz Bissinger’s “Good Riddance, Joe Paterno” in The Daily Beast:

“I think the answer to the question of inaction is simple. It wasn’t a matter of university officials and football staffers in Happy Valley not wanting to deal with it (which they didn’t), or not following up (which they didn’t), or having better things to do like attending Friday-night football pep rallies. There is no great conspiracy theory at work.

. . . What happened, or more accurately did not happen, goes to the core of evil that major college sports programs in this country have become, equivalent to Mafia families in which the code of omerta rules and coaches and staff always close ranks around their own, even if it means letting someone who was first accused of inappropriate sexual conduct in 1998 continue to roam.”

Amy Davidson’s “Joe Paterno’s Tears" in the New Yorker:

In commenting on the debate over whether Paterno had been “robbed of his dignity” because of the way in which he was fired from his job (on the phone), Davidson asked:

"But what was the understanding of dignity that any of the adults in this situation had? It didn’t extend to even trying to find out the name of the child who Mike McQueary, a coaching assistant, said that he saw Sandusky rape in the football locker room shower in 2002 . . . That boy is simply called Victim 2 in the grand jury’s findings; McQueary guessed that he was about 10 years old. McQueary told Paterno; Paterno told the athletic director, who brought in a university vice president. And then Sandusky lost his locker room keys – but nothing else.

McQueary, who for now still works at Penn State . . . told the grand jury that he ‘noticed that both Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him.’ What did the boy think when he saw him walk away, and of the silence that followed? What did it say to him about his own dignity?”

Amy Wilson’s “What If a Mother Had Been in That Locker Room?” in the Huffington Post:

“I believe, a mother in that locker room would not have witnessed that act and walked away. A mother would have not left without that child. A mother would have asked him his name.”

Item #2: Allegations of Harassment on the Campaign Trail & in Middle, High Schools

While we were treated to saturation news coverage this week about allegations that GOP hopeful Herman Cain sexually harassed multiple women (and I got to explain what "sexual harassment" is to my kids), a depressing new report was released by the American Association of University Women which found that “sexual harassment pervades the lives of students in grades 7-12.” That's kids from middle through high school. Female students, the organization said, were “more likely than boys to say sexual harassment caused them to have trouble sleeping” and “not wanting to go to school.”

And in the current context of adult women being pilloried, called a variety of horrible names and having their motivations questioned after they dared to accuse Cain of sexual harassment (I've heard talk show hosts mock at least one accuser's appearance and body), girls in middle and high school are observing what happens to women who complain about harassment. And it's going to make a lasting impression.

Item #3: Two Shows to Make You Laugh

In the wake of all of that severely depressing news, I know that I was in sore need of a laugh, how 'bout you? And NBC’s Up All Night did the trick with its latest episode about new parents, Reagan and Chris Brinkley (Christina Applegate and Will Arnett), fretting about leaving their daughter overnight with a babysitter for the first time. The show was right on the money, sarcastic and touching and funny. (See my review of the episode here.)
Watching the episode brought me back to the first time I left The Eldest Boy and The Girl with a babysitter. When the twins were a little more than two months old, The Spouse and I left them with “Sporty Spice” (aka, my husband’s younger sister who was already dressed up for a Halloween costume party she’d be attending later in the night). The Spouse and I literally wolfed down a meal at a nice restaurant and were back at the house in under two hours because, well, because we felt as though we HAD to be back. You can watch the Up All Night version of this story online at the NBC web site.
Also worth checking out for a laugh, the recent episode of The Middle, where a confused elderly aunt gave the two younger kids her cell phone and they started abusing it by sending out a bazillion texts, while their mother Frankie tried to be the “best” mother she could be . . . and no one really noticed. You can also watch this episode online at the ABC site.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Postponed Trick-or-Treating in the 'burbs

Notes from our town’s freak-winter-storm-rescheduled trick-or-treating the other night:
  • The Eldest Boy dressed as what he called “a black market manager” (in other words, a scalper). Here’s what he did: He used clear duct tape to attach ticket stubs, fake credit cards, airline tickets, along with packets of candy and gum on the inside of his bright orange, zip-up hoodie. He donned sunglasses and “bling” and even allowed me to spike his hair with gel. When people asked what he was, he opened up his sweatshirt like he was a flasher only he was giving you a glimpse of his “ill-gotten” goods that he was peddling. (This was all his idea, I swear.) When The Spouse and I suggested he add a watch to his sweatshirt’s inventory, he looked at us quizzically. “Why would I do that?” he asked.
  • The Eldest Boy went trick-or-tricking with a group of kids including a boy who dressed up as Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett: He wore a Beckett jersey and carried and empty beer bottle and a bucket of fried chicken, or so The Eldest Boy told me.
  • The Youngest Boy initially wanted to dress up as Plaxico Burress (with hockey padding made to look like football padding, a football jersey and a plastic western-themed pistol strapped to his waist) but I put the kibosh on that whole shooting-himself-in-the-back-of-the-leg-shtick pretty quickly. Instead, he would up going as Arizona NFL player Larry Fitzgerald (only because he borrowed a Fitzgerald jersey from The Eldest Boy) with two thick, black lines under his eyes, also known as eye black.
  • The behavior of the trick-or-treaters was better than it was last year. Only one kid complained about the candy I gave him, putting the two packets of Sour Patch Kids I’d given him back into my bowl and instead extracting two bags of Swedish Fish which were more to his liking. Even the sullen teenagers who came to the door were, for the most part, in some sort of costume, as opposed to last year when I sometimes felt as though I was being extorted by burly looking teen boys who just showed up with grungy pillowcases demanding candy.
  • Max the dog was a bit more anxious to greet everyone than he has been the past two years. I looked thoroughly awkward when answering the door for those first few trick-or-treaters with one giant bowl of candy in one arm as I tried to keep the door from slamming shut with the other arm while sticking one leg out to prevent Max from cluelessly escaping into the chilly night. I had to put him in his crate until the trick-or-treating was over.
  • Speaking of over, the last trick-or-treaters left here at 9:52 p.m. Isn’t that too late to be out? I thought it was. After I gave the late-comers their candy, I was a party pooper and shut off the lights. I was trying to watch the first Harry Potter movie with The Girl, who’d been out trick-or-treating with her friends, and didn’t want to be disturbed anymore, yo. Plus, after four ginormous bags, we were pretty much out of candy anyway.

Now I just have to steel my willpower and pretend that the candy is not in the house, no matter how much it beckons me from the other room.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nineteen Years is a Long Time . . . Especially on VHS

Monday marked my 19th wedding anniversary with The Spouse. And, given that we had finally gotten our power restored and that our town’s trick-or-treating adventure had been postponed until this weekend, I thought it would be fun to entertain the kids with our wedding videos (on VHS tapes), complete with early 90s hairstyles, attire and some family members looking a heck of a lot more spry than they do now.

Some of the Picket Fence Post kids’ observations, in no particular order:
  • They thought that The Spouse looked very, very young. (He didn’t have a goatee back then and did have quite the baby face.) However they said they thought I looked the same, though The Spouse thought I looked angry. The Girl thought the bangs looked good on me.
  • They couldn’t get over watching Grandma (my mother) dance. Nor could they believe that The Spouse’s father was out there grooving on the dance floor too.
  • As they watched the tape and heard some of the tunes the DJ played – “Love Shack” by the B52s in particular – they said, “Wait, that song is that old?”
  • There were two very young children at the wedding, children of my mother’s cousin who had traveled from far away to attend the blessed event. The Picket Fence Post kids have met them, but when they were college students, no longer the little toddlers coloring and dancing around. This was an eye-opener for them.
  • They thought many people were wearing glasses that they considered “gigantic.”
  • They, like the wedding guests at the time, were highly amused by a stunt The Spouse pulled: Since the reception was on Halloween night, he and the groomsmen snuck away and transformed into vampires, way before Stephenie Meyer even had an inkling about Twilight. The guys applied white powder to their faces and adorned plastic vampire teeth, with The Spouse throwing in an extra flourish with a black cape. The DJ requested that the dance floor be cleared as the sounds of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” filled the room and the “vampires” appeared, summoning the significant others to join them. I was stunned, having had no advanced knowledge of this plan, and, on the video, looked quite surprised when The Spouse tried to go all Edward Cullen on my neck. (This may be where the “you looked angry” comment came from.)
  • Sadly, this was the first time they could remember seeing my grandfathers walk and talk as they’d both passed away before the kids were born.
That night, when The Spouse and I went to bed, we discovered that the Picket Fence Post kids had created a paper chain of multi-colored hearts saying, “Happy Anniversary.” There were 19 hearts, one for each year of marriage. It was a sweet way to cap off a weird, Snowtober, no power/no heat day.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Post-Snowtober: Occupy My Living Room

The snowstorm which washed over the East Coast on Saturday started off looking mighty picturesque. Like a Christmas card.

It put The Picket Fence Post family in the mood for some mischief as we were invigorated by the crisp wintry air. We “ghosted” two friends’ houses (meaning you anonymously leave a bag of candy at a friend's door with a note explaining “ghosting,” ring the doorbell then run like a fugitive back to your car) on our way to drop The Girl off at a Halloween party. (The Girl was dressed as Women’s Professional Soccer great Abby Wambach.) The Spouse, the boys and I enjoyed take-out and played games. The Eldest Boy and I watched some episodes of The Mentalist together while The Spouse and The Youngest Boy watched a movie. The Spouse picked up The Girl later in the evening and she came home happy but tired. All was well.

Until morning.

That’s when we realized that power had gone out sometime in the middle of the night. Everything – except for an outdoor paintball birthday party that The Youngest Boy was going to – was cancelled. After spending a portion of Sunday afternoon shopping and dining out at places that had heat and electricity, we headed home.

Cue the ugly pioneering phase of our story:

Unlike when we lost power for days in the heat of August courtesy of Hurricane Irene, it was unseasonably cold. Of course it was. There was snow all over the yard (about 5-6 inches), weighing down fully leaved trees sending several of crashing to the ground. We made it through dinner (grilling outside and using our propane-powered stove top) but then, despite our propane gas fireplace (which doesn’t throw much heat unless you’re right up next to it), the temperatures began dropping inside the house.

That’s when The Spouse brought a small tent into our family room – the one with the fireplace – and we created a makeshift encampment which reminded me of the Occupy Wall Street tent cities I’ve seen on the news. The boys were in the tent in front of the fireplace in their sleeping bags. The Girl was on a sofa in her sleeping bag under a pile of blankets. The Spouse and I were mushed together on another sofa (and not in a romantic way) under blankets. Our dog Max was thoroughly confused as he went from person to person, occasionally napped on his doggie bed that we’d brought downstairs, hopped onto the couch with The Girl, then scratched at the door to be let outside in the wee hours of the morning.

By daybreak, the temperature in the downstairs was 56. The temperature in the upstairs bedrooms was 48. School had been cancelled. Trick-or-treating had been postponed too. Then we got word that the electric company was estimating that power would be fully restored in our town by 11:45 . . . p.m. . . . THURSDAY!!

If that estimate is to be believed, that likely means that if there’s no power in town, the Picket Fence Post kids will likely be out of school all week. I’ve got my fingers crossed that The Spouse will be able to borrow a generator from work so that we can get the heat and hot water heater cranking (*praying the water pipes don’t burst*). If things don’t improve, it’s likely that my brother will soon be hosting a family of five, plus a fluffy dog.

Oh and it’s The Spouse and my wedding anniversary. (Yes, we got married on Halloween . . .it’s a long story, but suffice is to say it was a scheduling thing, not because we’re huge fans of Halloween or anything.) I suppose this is a great metaphor for our marriage: Things are never dull and, just when we life is running semi-smoothly, unexpected things occur and test us to make sure our senses of humor are still intact. After 19 years, they’d better be.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Winter Coat/Shorts Wars Have Begun

When I got ready to drive my kids to school this morning there was snow covering our deck and our yard. It was 33 degrees outside. And yet The Youngest Boy was dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and a light nylon zip-up sweatshirt.

“Are you serious?” I asked. “No. No shorts. There’s snow outside!”

He started to offer a counter-argument but I cut him off.

“No! Put on pants! Now!”

As I donned my boots and my red winter jacket -- which has already gotten use this season when I'm inside those meat lockers that they call youth hockey rinks, I noticed that The Youngest Boy had indeed changed into track pants yet was heading toward the garage without a jacket.

“Get a coat!”

“But . . .”

“GET A COAT! There’s SNOW outside!”

He slung his hockey jacket over his arm and then took a seat in the vehicle.

“Put the coat on,” I said, calmer than I'd been a few minutes prior. I put on the breaks and idled in the driveway waiting for him to don the coat.

Flash-forward several hours later: When The Youngest Boy entered the house after school he wasn’t wearing the jacket and was wearing shorts. His track pants were rendered into a crumpled up ball inside his backpack. He swore that he just changed into the shorts at the end of the day, before gym class.

Color me skeptical.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three for Thursday: Baby Proofing Insanity, Parents 'Occupying' Wall Street with Kids & 9:30 AM School Lunches

Item #1: Baby Proofing Insanity

The very first parenting column I wrote after having my twins was one which lampooned the mania that all the parenting “experts,” baby stores and parenting media had whipped up when it came to baby proofing. Of course, like any parent, I wanted to make my house safe for my newborn twins, so The Spouse and I got to work and covered all the electrical outlets. We bought a multitude of gates. We put protective latches on cabinet doors and drawers throughout the house (including on the kids’ bureaus). We bought doorknob covers for most doorknobs and installed eye hooks on the sliding glass door so that when they were toddlers they wouldn’t escape. We had powerful baby monitors to listen to the goings on in the nursery even though we lived in a small ranch style house.

But according to the fear-mongering catalogues that were flooding into our mailbox and the articles in parenting magazines and online, we weren’t going far enough in attempting to bubble-wrap our children’s on the home front. That’s when I decided to write a satirical column about the insane levels people were going to in the name of household safety and suggested, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, that I’d hire some “pediatric body guard/childproofing safety service” to definitively make my house safe for the my kids. It was preposterous, of course, I thought at the time, because there was no such thing as a childproofing safety service.

Lo and behold, some 13 years later, not only are there baby proofing consultants out there, but a New York Times writer recommends that new parents hire such a service because mere garden variety parents might not be thorough enough (which sends a lovely message about parental aptitude, that it's more prudent for them to outsource their parenting throughout the kid’s life to “experts”). After running through an exhaustive and expensive list of things parents “need” to do to batten down the hatches in a vain attempt to make their baby’s world absolutely safe, the Times writer said, “Even if you follow all these childproofing steps, consider calling in a consultant. Every house poses different hazards – with fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, for instance – and first-time parents can’t see everything.” And he wasn’t joking. He was being serious.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor at the unnecessary fear that was being instilled into new parents who read this piece I had to remind myself that it was this same newspaper section -- the “Home” section – that ran a piece last December about the lethal threat posed to babies and toddlers by coffee tables. Enough said.

UPDATE: You can read my original baby proofing satire here under the sarcastic title, "The Joys of Baby-Proofing."

Item #2: Parents ‘Occupying’ Wall Street with Kids

Seeking to provide their children firsthand experience with the First Amendment right to protest, parents have begun bringing their offspring with them to the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, as well as to other Occupy protest sites around the country, the New York Times reported.
There’s even a web site – Parents for Occupy Wall Street -- which encourages moms and dads to bring junior to see democracy in action and to hear people wax poetic about economic inequalities. “With our children’s best interests in mind, we join together peacefully to support the Occupy Wall Street movement across the U.S. on our children’s behalf,” the web site says. “We’re speaking for the 99 percent that can’t speak up for themselves.”

Parents for Occupy Wall Street recently spearheaded a family sleepover event in New York City’s Zuccotti Park amongst the protesters -- featuring a sing-along, pizza party, arts & crafts and bedtime stories -- which organizers said would “not only be a great teaching moment for kids but a totally community driven peaceful protest with events throughout the weekend.”

The Times pointed out that children have been present at Tea Party rallies, the Egyptian protests in Cairo and “at many other events that marked the Arab Spring.” However the newspaper did add that during the Zuccotti Park sleepover, “families had to be moved at dawn to make way for new police lines and barricades.”

Would you take your kids to an Occupy Wall Street event, or a family sleepover next to the protesters in a public park as a “teachable moment?”

Item #3: School Lunch at 9:30 in the Morning?

NBC’s Today Show highlighted some Florida schools which are now scheduling students’ lunches as early as 9:30 in the morning. Why are they doing this seemingly bizarre thing? School officials told NBC that students today “start their days earlier,” therefore they’re hungry for lunch earlier, even though a federal mandate says schools need to serve lunch between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (These Florida schools obtained waivers for their early breakfast nosh.)

This seems nonsensical. Why not encourage students to have a healthy snack at 9:30 instead of serving them a full lunch? Who wants tacos or meatloaf at 9:30? Considering that most parents work and the family’s dinner isn’t served until sometime in the 6 o’clock hour, giving the kids lunch that early will throw off their entire eating schedule. They’ll be ravenous for dinner at 3:30. By 6:30, when many families eat, if the students consume a second dinner, I think we’ve got yet one more reason as to why American kids are gaining weight. There’s got to be a better way.

Image credit: Parents for Occupy Wall Street.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Once More with Feeling: Year-Round Sports Specialization Isn't Good for Kids

Opting not to allow the Picket Fence Post kids to specialize in one sport or play a single sport year-round hasn’t made me a lot of friends in youth sports.

Image credit: New York Times
Though we’ve been pressured from time to time to permit The Girl or The Eldest Boy to play indoor soccer in the winter – after having played soccer in the fall AND before playing soccer in the spring – I have politely declined, even when it’s been subtly suggested that by keeping them out of the indoor soccer racket (and by not additionally signing them up to also play on private club teams) might put them at a disadvantage when it comes time to place them on competitive teams. (Disclosure: The Eldest Boy did play indoor soccer one year but only because he wasn't playing spring soccer right afterward.)

The way I see it is this: I’m the one who's looking out for my children's health in the long-term, for their whole lives, not just for one season or one year. The youth sports organizations are not. (After The Girl’s lengthy bout with an ankle injury which required physical therapy and acupressure in order to overcome, I don’t want to risk her sustaining a repetitive injury on that ankle by playing one sport non-stop or consecutive seasons.)

I've been going by what I’ve read over the years from physicians who say that it’s not good for growing children to specialize in sports and play one sport without break, noting that even professional athletes get time off from their chosen sport. The recommendations have been for children to change it up and to play a variety of sports that use different muscles so that’s what we’ve tried to do with the Picket Fence Post kids, except when it comes to youth hockey because the season lasts for freakin’ ever, from August to April (which is one of my major problems with the league).

Then I read about a new study which found that children, who were thought to not be at risk for injury to their anterior cruciate ligament (the ACL, “the main ligament that stabilizes the knee joint” the New York Times helpfully explained), have been tearing their ACLs at alarmingly increasing rates. Why? Dr. J. Todd Lawrence, an orthopedic surgeon from Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital who studied ACL tears, offered this explanation to the Times:

“I think it’s primarily because kids are out there trying to emulate professional athletes. You see these very young athletes playing sports at an extremely intense, competitive level. Kids didn’t play at that level 20 years ago. They didn’t play one sport year-round.”

Studying pre-adolescents who were treated at his hospital’s emergency room for ACL and meniscus tears, Lawrence found that “most of the ACL tears that were treated at Children’s Hospital and picked up by this study . . . also involved a simultaneous meniscus tear, an indication of just how much wrenching and grinding the knee had undergone. Injury patterns have changed . . . because childhood sports have changed.”

Why does it matter if children tear their ACLs? Because previous studies of athletes who have sustained this type of injury found that within 12-14 years of the injury “51 percent of the female players and 41 percent of the men had developed severe arthritis in the injured knee,” the Times reported. If a kid is 10 when this happens, the Times said that means half of the girls could have an arthritic knee by age 25.

Here’s what Lawrence recommended:

“Encourage kids to play multiple sports and not to do any one sport year-round, and especially not when they’re 5 or 6, or even 9 or 10. They’re kids. Let them play and have fun, like kids.”

In my house, he's preaching to the choir.

Image credit: Richard Patterson/New York Times.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Three for Thursday: Must-See Documentary, Lessons from the Sox & Travel Ball

Be Sure to Watch (Or DVR) 'Miss Representation' Documentary

I’ve previously written about the powerful documentary, Miss Representation and how movingly and chillingly it lays out statistics and displays images to prove its case that the media treat women horribly and that this treatment has a dire impact on women, our daughters and our democracy. Featuring interviews with a wide range of women of all political stripes -- from the worlds of entertainment, political science and journalism -- Miss Representation is a must-see if you’re raising children who are learning from the media what it means to be female.

One of the saddest statistics in the documentary: The one about how 7-year-old girls and boys, in roughly equal numbers, say they want to be president but once they turn 15, the number of girls who want to be commander-in-chief plunges dramatically. (I reviewed the documentary, and the impact it has on kids here.)
I urge you to watch and/or tape/DVR the documentary which premieres tonight at 9 on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). It is slated to be repeated on OWN at 1 a.m. on Friday Oct. 21 and 10 a.m. on Saturday Oct. 22.

Lessons from the Sox

You know that horror story that’s continuing to unfold on Yawkey Way, the one about our family’s beloved Red Sox players phoning it in at the end of the season, drinking beer in the clubhouse while playing video games and eating buckets of fried chicken during games as the team collapsed in epic style, dropping from the American League East leaders to falling out of the playoffs?

In my house, the ongoing ugly saga has provided a host of heartbreaking lessons, teaching moments if you will:

The Importance of Loyalty: We heard a radio interview with a Picket Fence Post family favorite, Dustin Pedroia, who refused to push his teammates under the bus (even if they deserved it) after the media were filled with stories of ill-behaving ballplayers (which included reports of obnoxious behavior including drinking beer in the dugout, something the team angrily denies). Pedroia was honorable and modest and said he wants to play his entire career in a Red Sox uniform. They don't make many like him anymore.

The Importance of Hard Work/Cost of Not Working Hard: Pedroia, by all reports, gutted it out all season, as did Jacoby Ellsbury who had a good year. They earned and continue to receive our respect Those who seemed to be phoning it in (*cough Lackey*), and who have been described as failing to listen to the team’s trainers to keep fit, are finally being called to account for their slackery.

The Damage Done By Betrayal: When very personal information about now ex-Red Sox manager Terry Francona was divulged, gossip about his marriage and his health, many people were steamed because it appeared as though folks from the Sox organization dimed him out as a way to pin blame on him. Though one of the owners, John Henry, denied that he was behind the personal reveals – the Boston Globe said that “a team source” told them that “Francona was distracted by marital issues and his use of pain medication” – some believe that the organization is culpable for the trashing with ESPN’s Gordon Edes writing, “the slime bucket is never far from reach on Yawkey Way.”

The Olde Towne Team sustained some tarnish over the past few weeks. The luster of those two recent World Series wins has been diminished. The Picket Fence Post kids are learning the hard way that baseball is sometimes harsh business and that, regardless of who’s playing/coaching/running the team now, they won’t be there as long as we fans are. To some players, they’re just wearing a company jersey and they don’t care what jersey it is. And it shows.

Travel Ball: The Good and the Bad

The results are in: Both The Girl and The Eldest Boy made travel basketball teams. This is both good and bad.

Good: It’s good in that neither of them had to suffer the indignity of getting cut (as one of them did last year). They’ll both play at more competitive levels and hopefully improve their play, perhaps learn a few valuable things along the way.

Bad: This means that they will have at least one in-town team practice and game a week AND one travel team practice and game a week. Four separate events, minimum. (You have to play on an in-town team in order to also be on a travel team.)

More Bad: The Spouse is going to coach The Eldest Boy’s travel team and has signed up to coach The Girl’s in-town basketball team. This is good for the kids, who love having The Spouse for a coach, but for me, that means that for two additional weeknights, The Spouse will be unavailable and I’ll be on my own should The Youngest Boy have a hockey game or practice. (The hockey practices are not on one set day or time and we sometimes receive precious little notice when the times are set.)

At least I can remind myself that basketball games are held inside, in climate controlled environments so I won’t freeze like I do when I watch the hockey games. However the downside is that I can’t sip coffee in the gym.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Plea for Reason: Locker Chandeliers . . . Why?

*cross-posted on Notes from the Asylum*

I'm not one who's fond of picking fights with people. Usually I'm a live and let live kind of gal. But where I do get my knickers in a twist is when someone else's actions start putting pressure on me to adhere to their over-the-top standards. Then I get testy.

What sort of standards? The kind I read about in a series of three articles last week:

First, I read an article about parents who go to their children's middle schools and decorate the youngsters' lockers with rugs, wallpaper and even locker chandeliers. Yes, LOCKER CHANDELIERS. (The article described how the lockers are now seen by those in the middle school set as a reflection of the students' personalities and has an impact on how that child is perceived by her peers.)

Second, I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about how parents (re: moms) can craft A+ lunches for their kids by tucking elaborate, inspiring, Dale Carnegie-esque notes inside their children's lunchboxes every day, perhaps mixing things up a bit by gift wrapping their offspring's sandwiches or occasionally decorating their kids' pieces of fruit so that the fruit has a face. (The piece said the note writing has become competitive in some circles with disappointed children chastising their mothers if another student receives a hipper lunchbox note than they did.)

Finally, there was the story about a woman who was 39 weeks pregnant yet ran a marathon, delivered her baby only a few hours later and then proclaimed she wasn't tired. After reading this, I readied my white flag of surrender. Reading about these women simply exhausted me.

However I decided against waving the flag of surrender and instead opted to launch a counteroffensive, declaring these parental actions simply batty. Therefore my Pop Culture column this week over on Modern Mom calls for the moms who are raising the parenthood bar to extremely absurd heights to consider the plaintive cries of we mere mortals who have neither the time nor the inclination to install a chandelier in our children's lockers to please, for the love of God, dial it back a bit. In the words of fellow blogger Jen Singer, of MommaSaid, "You're ruining this for the rest of us . . . Knock it off."

Image credit: Locker Lookz.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Long Week of Melodrama: iPod Through Laundry, Running Over a Xylophone, Tryouts & Dress Shopping

One of my friends has likened my family to the Dunphys from Modern Family and, after several antics this week, that sounds about right . . .

Clean iPod

The Girl left her iPod in her jeans pocket. Again. It went through the laundry (both washer and dryer). Again.

As The Spouse and I tried to go to sleep last night, I heard loud banging inside the cycling dryer which I suspected was likely someone’s iPod. The Spouse groaned, hauled himself out of bed and went downstairs to see if I was right. When he came back, he had The Girl’s super-hot/fresh-from-the-dryer iPod in his hands. He added that he’d found a rock rattling around insider dryer as well. No clue who was carrying a rock around in his or her pants. But I don't think I want to know.

This morning the iPod was able to keep a charge and play music, but the screen looked a little funky. How many times 1) Is this going to happen in our house (there have been four other incidents of iPods in the laundry prior to this one) and 2) How much washing and drying can an iPod take before it dies a sad little death?

Dragging Things Out

Things were a tad chaotic on Wednesday morning as I was scrambling, trying to get the kids ready for me to drive them to school early so The Youngest Boy could make his before-school band lessons. In the chaos, The Youngest Boy rolled his ginormous xylophone – in its brand, spankin’ new bag that was a pain in the neck for The Spouse to get from the music store folks as the other bag's wheels were busted – out into the garage and left it behind my SUV. And didn’t tell anybody.

I, of course, had no freakin’ idea that the pricey instrument was back there and proceeded to exit out of the driveway once all three kids were safely buckled in. It was only the frantic waving and shouting of my next door neighbor, “There’s something under your car!” that got me to stop, get out of the car and see the xylophone under the vehicle.

Luckily, only the new bag was damaged in the incident, though it looks as though a rabid animal went at it in a fury. When I told The Spouse about my dragging the xylophone down the driveway, I heard his head explode over the phone lines. And this was all before I'd had my coffee. Not pretty.

Trying Tryouts

The middle schoolers just wrapped up two tryout sessions a piece in their efforts to attempt to make their respective seventh grade travel basketball teams. What has that meant for the Picket Fence Post family? Lots of dropping one kid off, returning to pick that kid up then dropping the second one off, later driving back to pick up the second one, sometimes having to leave dinner on the table and drag The Youngest Boy with me while I cart his siblings around. One night, The Eldest Boy had a soccer practice, raced home, showered, changed and went to hoops tryouts, came home and worked on homework. (The Spouse has been partially available to lend a transportation hand.)

Now the wait begins. Did they make a travel team or did they get cut? (Last year one of them made a travel team, the other didn’t.) If they made it, are any of their friends on the team?

Another big question this year: Coaching. The Spouse has volunteered to coach for both kids should they make the travel teams. *smacking hand on forehead* I don’t know whether to hope they make it or hope that they don't so I'll have a mildly less stressful winter. (If the kids don't make the travel teams, they'll still play in-town hoops. If you make a travel team, you have to play on both that travel team AND an in-town team. Yes, I know, we're crazy for even letting them tryout.)

Dressing the Daughter

Thank God for a helpful salesclerk (yes there are still a few of them out there) at a department store at a nearby mall. Without her help I doubt I would’ve found a dress for The Girl to wear to the bat mitzvah she’ll be attending this weekend, without having some big argument with her or without enduring oodles of tension like the icy vibe I got from another mother-daughter combo who were shopping at the same time we were.

The dress department salesclerk selected a bunch of cute dresses – ones I would’ve never in a million years picked out because I had trouble envisioning The Girl inside of any of them – for The Girl to try on. It was stunning to see her in grown-up dresses, and totally rock them by the way.

I credit the saleswoman’s spot-on taste with saving the day and getting us out of the store in under an hour. (I'm not a big shopping kinda gal, unless it's a bookstore.) The next hour was spent locating black flats, a cute (but cheap) purse and silvery nail polish. And although we didn’t find a little shrug to wear over her dress, I was pleasantly relieved that we were able to achieve any success at all.

But I’ll be holding my breath until she’s all dressed and at the party. As for The Spouse, he’ll be holding his breath until she arrives back home from the party.

Leaf Me Alone

The wretched Leaf Project has finally ended as my middle schoolers handed in their thick binders filled with leaves taped down and inserted into plastic sleeves next to neatly typed classifications and descriptions.

Though The Eldest Boy had been working on this thing for weeks, he only finished it up late last night, after getting home from his basketball tryouts. At around 9:30 p.m. he proudly presented it to The Spouse and I, as I crankily paused Grey’s Anatomy and looked it over. If we'd found big mistakes, the kid would've been up way too late to fix them. However there were none.

The Girl, who also finished up her project yesterday after we'd driven to a neighbor's house to pick one last leaf from a tree before going dress shopping, almost left the thing at home this morning, which would've resulted in a frantic call to yours truly begging me to bring the binder in to school. Luckily I asked her where her Leaf Project was before she got into the car – the kids all had to be driven to school every day this week (!). At least her binder wasn’t left on the ground behind the car. It wouldn’t have fared as well as the xylophone.

Image credits:, West Music and Norman Rockwell/Arcadia Youth Basketball.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living a Dog’s Life & Other Observations

I was awakened at 3:45 this morning by our dog Max, who was scratching and whining at our bedroom door because he wanted to go to outside. Again. (The Spouse had already gotten up earlier to do the same thing. It's a bad habit of Max's that is becoming more frequent.)

I didn’t crawl back into bed until 4:15 following several failed attempts to coax Max back in 15 and then 20 minutes into his middle-of-the-night exploits. There’s only so much quiet, hushed "yelling" you can do outside in a residential neighborhood at 4 in the morning without causing a ruckus. Even the promise of giving him a generous helping of doggie treats couldn’t top his interest in whatever he was messing around with under our deck under cover of darkness.

This can’t be good . . . except for the coffee farmers whose business I’ve been enthusiastically supporting in the hours after Max decides to play outside at 4 in the morning.


The Youngest Boy was moving his hand up and down in the breeze while we were driving around this weekend when something occurred to him. He leaned his head of the window and opened his mouth as wide as it would go and faced the wind. “Why do dogs do this?” he shouted.

After 10 seconds or so, he found the answer. “Hey, it’s actually kind of cool.”

When we got home, his curly hair had been blown back away from his forehead as though he’d just emerged from a wind tunnel. “Don’t I look like Elvis?” he asked.


At an autumn town event this weekend, The Spouse and I gave the kids some cash and let them run around patronizing the various booths and buying lunch with their friends. While in the company of his posse, The Youngest Boy decided to stop at this one booth where, while other kids bought trading cards, he bought a plastic machine gun with blinking lights and a plastic bayonet at the end. It makes noise too. Bully for us.

As he handed me the box covered by the photo of the gun, I couldn’t help but wonder what the other parents at the fair thought as they spotted that little gem under my arm. Perhaps something along the lines of, “Peace out Mother of the Year?”


The Girl is slated to attend a bat mitzvah this weekend. That means . . . *cue the sinister Jaws music* . . . we’ve got to go buy her a dress. A real dress, not a cotton skirt to be worn with her “nice” hoodie and knock-off Uggs.

Needless to say, my sporty gal and her ubiquitous ponytail is none too pleased about the upcoming shopping excursion where, instead of warm-up jackets and sports shorts, we’ll be looking at items with hemlines. With her seeing this upcoming trip as just a tiny notch above doing a “poop check” in our backyard to pick up Max’s deposit’s, I’m bringing low expectations with me before we step into any stores.

My question: Should I bribe her with a big sundae before or after we get a dress?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Boosting Kids’ Political Smarts: Competitive News Quizzes

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the whole who’s-better-known-Leo-Messi-or-Hillary-Clinton/my-kid’s-teacher-doesn’t-know-who-our-governor-is post. It’s really been bugging me.

More specifically, it’s bugging me that, in spite of the massive quantity of news that now bombards us from all directions and at all times on our smartphones, computers, radios and TVs via the good old fashioned news media or social media like Facebook and Twitter, that some people still remain clueless about the world around them and not know something really basic, like who’s in charge of your state or why Hillary Clinton is on TV again.

Is it that many people don’t care about what’s happening outside of their areas of interest? Is it that they don’t want to know? Are they filling their heads with all the latest on sports or reality TV therefore there’s no space left for, say, pesky news stories about presidential elections, Wall Street bailouts or democratic uprisings in the Middle East, or, for that matter in cities all over America right now in the form of the Occupy Together (best known as Occupy Wall Street) crowd?

I remember when being aware of the news and of the basics of government (like who the major elected officials are) became important to me. I was in high school when my social studies teacher, Mr. Mehegan gave our class a pop quiz. The quiz asked us things like the names of the U.S. senators from our state as well as the names of the prime ministers of England and Canada. We were asked how many members there are in the House of Representatives. I performed wretchedly on that quiz. I knew I should have known those answers. They seemed like basic questions that anyone who paid a modicum of attention to the world would know. Only I didn’t. I vowed to change that.

Flash-forward 30-something years to another social studies teacher, this one in middle school. This man had a similar impact on my oldest children when they were sixth graders last year. He started giving his students a weekly news quiz where, every Monday, the kids would form teams and compete against one another, fielding questions on topics ranging from hard news (international, national and local) and sports, to pop culture. The fact that it had been turned into a game made my competitive children eager to actually start paying attention to the news stories on the TV, to scan the pages of the dead tree newspapers to which I subscribe and to ask The Spouse and me about the biggest news events of the week. They were really into it. We need more of this.

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released a study assessing the public’s political knowledge, and overall, the results were dispiriting. For example, only 38 percent of the respondents knew which political party controls the House of Representatives and only 43 percent knew that John Boehner was the Speaker of the House. (I feel compelled to note that the results of the poll proved me right and my youngest son wrong on the “who knows Hillary Clinton” question in that 73 percent of those polled knew that Hillary Clinton is our Secretary of State.)

When Pew broke down the results by age groups, 63 percent of 18-29-year-olds could name the founder of Facebook, as compared to 25 percent of those over 65. Those in the 50-64 age bracket were, overall, the best informed.

A poll taken by Newsweek earlier this year led the magazine to proclaim that many Americans are ignorant on issues pertaining to government, politics and history, so ignorant that 38 percent would fail a citizenship test. Among the results:
  • 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president
  • 73 percent couldn’t identify why the Americans were involved in the Cold War 
  • 44 percent didn’t know what the Bill of Rights is 
  • 6 percent couldn’t name the date on which America celebrates Independence Day
What I think we need to remedy this paucity of political and governmental knowledge is more competition, at least in schools, like my children enjoyed in sixth grade. Make it fun for the kids to vie against other students in the battle for news supremacy, they'll learn something in the process. These are future voters we’re talking about here.

Note: I extolled the virtues of political mothers in my latest Pop Culture and Politics column over on Mommy Tracked.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Very Sad Lesson in Sports vs Politics

It was a Saturday night and both The Eldest Boy and The Girl were at friends’ homes for sleepovers. The Spouse and I decided to take The Youngest Boy out to dinner at a place where not only would he eat the food without complaining, but where the grown-ups could imbibe quality, adult beverages. Our restaurant choice: John Harvard’s Brew House. (Their Harvest Spice beer, with the sugar and cinnamon coating the edge of the glass, was fabulous.)

Image credit: AFP
We were having fun, chitchatting about various topics when we stumbled upon an odd quandary: Which person is more well known, Lionel Messi or Hillary Clinton?

My 10-year-old insisted that it was Messi, who plays soccer for the FC Barcelona team and the Argentine national squad. He’s considered by many to be the best soccer player in the world. Now I consider myself to be up on the latest news and I’d never before heard of Messi. The only reason my son knew who he was is because we have a Fifa World Cup video game that he likes to play.

Image credit: AFP
I can’t recall exactly how or why Clinton’s name came up, but I asserted that more people know who she is because not only was she the First Lady for eight years, but she was a U.S. Senator, almost won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008 and is our current Secretary of State. There was no way, I maintained, that people wouldn’t know who she is. She’s been all over the world speaking for American interests for decades.

To get to the bottom of this, we ran a little test. Our twentysomething waiter – we estimated that he was around 22 to 24, give or take a few years – would be the test subject.

The Youngest Boy asked him if he knew who Leo Messi was. “You mean Lionel? He plays right forward for Barcelona,” the waiter quickly replied.

While I was pondering how to phrase the question about Clinton without tainting the result, The Spouse beat me to it asking, “Do you know who the Secretary of State is?”

Upon hearing this, the waiter’s hand went to his chin as he pondered. “Oh, I should know this. I should know this,” he muttered, his face starting to redden. After pausing for a few seconds he said, his voice brimming with uncertainty, “Martha Coakley?” referring to the current Massachusetts Attorney General, the one who ran for the U.S. Senate last year but lost to Scott Brown.

He was embarrassed when we told him the answer and then he slunk away from our table. It was then that The Spouse and I figured out that he was approximately between the ages of 10-12 when Hillary Clinton went from being First Lady to being a senator.

My son smiled smugly. I still say he’s wrong. At least I hope he’s wrong.

But that hope was short-lived when The Girl came home from school the other day and told me that one of her teachers thought that Deval Patrick was the mayor of Boston. Seriously. (For the record: Patrick is the governor of Massachusetts and Tom Menino is the mayor of Boston.)

Do we need some kind of massive civic education campaign?

UPDATE: The Youngest Boy wanted me to add his "voice" to this post verbatim. Here goes:

Hello people. This is The Youngest One speaking. Obviously, everybody knows that Lionel Messi is more popular because I have an update that proves it: First of all, half the people my age [10] don't even know who she is. And also, I spent my 25-minute afternoon recess asking people who knew who Lionel Messi is and who knew who Hillary Clinton is and less than, let's say, one-fifth of them knew who Hillary Clinton is and about four-and-three quarters know who Lionel Messi is so that proves my point. Ha!

Image credits: AFP and AFP.