Friday, May 27, 2011

Author Urges Parents to Go Forth and Multiply . . . More Often

My latest pop culture column this week over on Modern Mom and Mommy Tracked is my response to reading Bryan Caplan's book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.

Caplan used a multi-pronged approach to try to persuade parents who already have kids to have more. "Today's Typical Parents artificially inflate the price of kids, needlessly worry and neglect the long-run benefits of larger families," Caplan argues. Some of his main points:

If you chill out, being a parent is fun and not excessively hard (except for the very beginning). We've made child-rearing overcomplicated by all of our hovering, carting children around to a bazillion things and vigorously pursuing kid-enrichment efforts, Caplan says. After pointing to a whole bunch of studies saying that parents' child-rearing doesn't wind up having much impact by the time the kids are grown -- except how they perceive you and their childhood -- he said there's no point in making ourselves crazy by trying so hard. ". . . [B]y adulthood, the fruits of parents’ labor is practically invisible," he wrote. "Children who grew up in enriched homes are no smarter than they would have been if they’d grown up in average homes."

And if you take this more relaxed view of parenting and just enjoy your kids, adding another one won't be such a big deal. Or so Caplan says.

We, as a society, are more well off than the larger families were in the 1950s, so why are we letting financial concerns stop us from having bigger families? Caplan says: "Big families are more affordable than ever, because we’re more than three times richer than we were in 1950. You can see our mounting riches in our homes. Compared to the tiny dwellings of the Fifties, modern families live in castles, with air conditioning. Why hasn’t the size of our families grown in step with the size of our houses?” He added “our real incomes have more than tripled since the 1950s."

(My respon$e would be one word: College.)

"How many kids will I want when I'm sixty?" His pull-at-your-heartstrings admonition is for parents not to determine their family size when they're overly fatigued by raising young kids, a phase which he says passes relatively swiftly when you look at the general scheme of things. Instead, the author wants you to imagine that you're 60 and are looking at your offspring -- and potential makers of grandkids -- and decide your ideal family size from that vantage point. "Many of the benefits of children come later in life," he said. "Kids have high start-up costs, but wise parents weight their initial sleep deprivation against a lifetime of future rewards -- including future grandchildren."

More kids means more people with new ideas, outlooks and talents eventually entering the workplace and supporting the nation's retirees. "Our population and our standards of living have risen side by side for centuries, and it's no coincidence," he said. ". . . The source of new ideas, without a doubt, is people -- creative talent to make discoveries, and paying customers to reward their success. More talent plus more customers equals more ideas and more progress."

After reading this book, I was intrigued by the studies which he said showed that parents' child-rearing has little impact on their children's intellect, future financial/career success and personalities, but I was still stuck on the whole issue of the cost of college, which I didn't think was sufficiently addressed in the book. His notion, that Americans should have more children than we do, seems contrary to the assertions made by many groups including environmentalists and feminists.

What do you think? Should we be having more kids or not? Do we make parenting too hard and discourage ourselves from expanding our families?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Need Advice About the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando

While all three of the Picket Fence Post kids are still really into all things Harry Potter -- and The Spouse and I are still reading the Potter series aloud to The Youngest Boy (we're on book six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) -- we decided that we'd take a summer trek to the new portion of Universal Studios in Orlando dedicated to The Boy Who Lived: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

I think I'm more excited than they are to step into the world of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, go to the Three Broomsticks for Butterbeer and stop by Zonkos Joke Shop. There are three big rides there, of which I think I'm likely to only partake of one, the "family" coaster otherwise known as the "Flight of the Hippogriff." (I'm not a big ride type of gal.) Though I fully expect that The Girl and The Eldest Boy will want to go on these rides multiple times.

Here's my question: For those of you who've already visited the Wizarding World, what recommendations do you have for us newbies?

Image credit: Universal Studios.

Adventures in Youth Sports: Spring Edition (Includes a Pig on a Leash)

It's been a weird week in youth sports for the Picket Fence Post family. We're talkin' a tiny pig on a leash, a whistle, heated arguments, bone-chilling dampness and bodies flying.

On the Little League front, The Youngest Boy's team, coached by The Spouse, finally won their first game. In fact, they won two in a row and actually turned some smart plays that led to runners being tagged out.

The Youngest Boy pitched during one of those games and I watched him through my fingers as I, from time to time, had my hands over my eyes. It's really nerve-wracking to watch him gun in some decent pitches, strike a kid or two out, then walk half of the other team. The hurt look on the little pitchers' faces when they're pulled . . . just breaks your heart.

One of those two games was played on a damp, cold day. (I literally turned on the fireplace and curled up in front of it with a book after I got home trying to regain feeling back in my fingertips.) The game went on for well over two hours. The league rules say you're not supposed to start a new inning more than 1 hour 50 minutes from the game start unless there's a tie. However there wasn't a tie. The Youngest Boy's team was up by a decent amount of runs. But when The Spouse wanted to end the game, the coach of the other team wanted his kiddos to keep playing. (My guess is that he thought his team could catch up.) When The Spouse returned to the bench, another mother and I started bitterly complaining to no avail that the game had gone on too long and should've ended. At least The Youngest Boy's team prevailed.

On a different playing field later in the week, The Girl's soccer team was quite well matched as they took on another area team in a tough contest. But they weren't well matched if you consider that the ref was a hometown ref, and the game wasn't in our hometown. Normally, when the officiating is somewhat imbalanced, we tell the Picket Fence Post kids afterwards that oftentimes things aren't fair and you just have to roll with it 'cause there's nothing you can do about it. But in this particular case, the guy reffing the game was so blatantly unfair, that the parents on the sidelines, including yours truly, started griping. Loudly. (I hardly ever yell to a ref, except at a Red Sox or UMass basketball game.)

Bodies were flying. Girls were falling. And penalty shots were taken . . . at our goal, repeatedly. At one point, the normally even-keeled Spouse, who never gets into beefs with others at youth sporting events (see above how he let the other Little League coach drag the game out), yelled directly at the ref after one particularly egregious missed call. The guy turned to The Spouse, held out his whistle and asked him if he wanted to take over.

After the game -- where we noticed that a spectator watching another game on an adjacent field had brought along a tiny pink pig on a red leash -- that ref was waiting near the exit for "the guy who had a question" about his officiating. Cue the loud, impassioned argument between the ref and The Spouse while The Girl rolled her eyes and urged me to keep walking to the car.

Just your average week in youth sports.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Notes from the Picket Fence Post Homefront

The velcro, plastic cone is back. Back around Max the dog’s neck. Why? Because the knucklehead bit the heck out of the inside of his right paw down to his pink skin because he appears to have two mosquito bites that are aggravating him to the point of compelling him to gnaw at his skin. I’m trying not to make him wear the plastic cone 24/7 -- as he’s quite sullen and listless when I do -- but unfortunately he needs to don the terribly unattractive accessory for a bit of time to keep the fluffy pooch from giving himself an infection.


The Eldest Boy was initially stung when, after his school’s band performed at a school band competition this week, one of the judges offered lengthy, constructive criticism of his drumming in front of the whole band and parents as the poor kid blushed. However his hurt feelings evaporated when he was later honored for being an outstanding musician. (*glowing as one proud mom*)


The Youngest Boy has been really pulling at my heartstrings lately, trying his very best to make me feel like a guilty mom, which, sadly, isn’t a very difficult feat to accomplish. Just today when I told him I wouldn’t be able to take him to a sporting goods store so he could spend some of his cash on a Miami Heat cap and jersey (yeah, I have no idea why he wants this unless he just wants to rub in the Celtics' loss to a house of Celtics fans), he yelled, “Mom just ruined my day!” Later he amplified his feelings, “Can’t believe my day’s so ruined!” I responded by telling him that I’m mad with power.


Speaking of The Youngest Boy . . . I need to start checking his alarm clock every night when I put him to bed because he’s clearly not setting it (or if he is, he’s ignoring it) because this previously early-rising child has been getting up very late on school days and hasn’t been able to get ready in time to make the school bus for more than one or two days over the past two weeks. That means I wind up driving all three Ungratefuls to school in my pajama pants and a sweatshirt, with a baseball cap pulled down over my hair. It’s not a pretty picture.


The Girl is irate. She’s distinctly unhappy with the casting decisions made for the upcoming film The Hunger Games, based on the first book in the Suzanne Collins popular series. She plucked the brand new issue of Entertainment Weekly out of our mailbox this afternoon and, when she saw the film’s lead actress on the cover, proceeded to explain to me why Jennifer Lawrence is all wrong to play the pivotal character Katniss. The Girl cannot stop talking about this book, so I guess, as a connoisseur of pop culture and the mom of two 12 ½ year-olds who loved the books, it’s incumbent upon me to tackle this series, I’ve just got to finish Pride & Prejudice first.

Image credit: Amazon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Watching 'The Mentalist' with The Eldest Boy: What Shows Do You Watch with Your Kids?

Image credit: CBS
I’m not exactly sure how it started, but some time this winter, The Eldest Boy and I started watching CBS’ The Mentalist together and, before I knew it, it had become our “thing.”

One night I was sitting on the sofa in the family room just aimlessly surfing the TV channels while the The Eldest Boy was sacked out next to me. We happened upon a repeat of The Mentalist and The Eldest Boy asked me what it was about. I was only able to give him an abbreviated explanation because I'd never seen the show before, plus I loathed its title, really, I loathed it passionately. I couldn’t give him much more than: There’s this guy who helps the police solve crimes because he’s really smart and observes things that others don’t.

This appealed to the bookish Eldest Boy who likes to figure things out and is drawn to characters that are intelligent. So we watched it. When the episode wrapped, The Eldest Boy set the DVR to record all the new installments of the show, as well as all the repeats so we could catch up. And now it’s become something I look forward to, 40 some odd minutes of just him and me, watching an entertaining TV show and trying to figure out the weekly mystery together. (We hardly ever get it right.) I'm thinking that maybe this summer we’ll Netflix the first couple of seasons to watch it from the beginning.

Seeing that I already "share" a TV show with The Girl -- as we've loved watching the Gilmore Girls together on DVD and repeats on ABC Family -- and The Spouse and I have been reading the Harry Potter books to The Youngest Boy, The Eldest Boy is now getting his due.

I’m going to milk this Mommy & Me Mentalist-watching for as long as I can because I know that before long, he won’t want to hang with me and guess who dunnit. And if that means that, in the near future I’ll have to bribe him with popcorn and/or movie candy to tempt him to spend time with his old mom, I’m certainly not above that.

Are there any TV shows that you watch with your tweens and/or teens that you consider your “special” show together?

Image credit: CBS.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Huzzah! My Rain Dance Worked! Practices & Games Canceled!

When I saw that weather forecasters were predicting several consecutive days of rain this week in the Boston area, I was secretly thrilled. No, not because I have a twisted desire to live in dreary, Seattle-like weather where I actually want to sit in front of the fireplace (in May!) in order to warm myself up or feel the need to wrap myself in a blanket while working at my desk.

Why have I been so chipper about all this lousy, unspringlike, inclement weather (in the 40s-50s)? Because I’m a desperate soccer/baseball mom who is delighted to enjoy a break from racing the three Picket Fence Post kids around to soccer practices, soccer evaluations (for placement on next year's teams), baseball practices and baseball games. (It’s supposed to be nice over the weekend – when The Spouse is around to help pitch in on the schlepping all over town – so the weekend games should go on as planned. And I’m okay with that.)

What a relief it has been to “only” have to hound the kids about doing their homework assignments and about helping out with chores like emptying the dishwasher and feeding Max while I have the opportunity to finish my work AND make a decent meal that wasn’t whipped together on the fly (cereal, soup, PB&J) in between drop offs and pick ups.

Sometimes it’s nice to have the weather force you to take a step back from the madness of the spring youth sports season -- and from being the children's indentured servant chauffeur -- and take a breather.

Image credit: Planet Mom T-shirts.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dogs Really Do Bury Bones, Just Like on That Commercial

The Spouse gave Max a bone the other day to chomp on when Max was left in his crate when no one was home. When I got home, I didn’t immediately notice that, when Max dashed out of the crate and headed toward the back door that he had the bone in his mouth.

While Max was outside, I saw him digging in a corner of the yard and actually putting the bone into the dirt and covering it with shredded weeds and dirt, like that dog on the Travelers Insurance commercial.

Later that afternoon, Max decided his hiding place wasn’t good enough so he unburied the bone and tried to sneak the dirt-covered mess into the kitchen . . . a move upon which I put the kibosh.

Mother's Day & the 'Road of Pain'

Never let it be said that The Youngest Boy lacks the humor gene, or, to put it more accurately, the sarcasm gene.

During our very active Mother’s Day – we first went to church and participated in a cool thing called a flower communion and then played a cut-throat family game of Scrabble (seriously, there were tears, shouts and accusations of unfair play) – we decided to take advantage of the break in the rain to take a long walk, bringing Max the Mini-Wheat with us.

Both The Spouse and I had warned the kids ahead of time that we’d be going up and down some steep hills on this here walk of ours and that bringing their scooters might not be the best idea. But did they listen? Of course not. Walking's boring, or so I was told. Halfway up the first hill, The Youngest Boy declared that I had lead our pack down “the Road of Pain.” Dramatic much? The Spouse wound up walking The Youngest Boy’s scooter up that first incline.

You’d have thought that we were torturing them as we scaled yet another hill in our residential neighborhood as two of the three Picket Fence Post kids huffed, puffed, rolled their eyes and grimaced. For his part, Max was panting so heavily that his tongue was hanging out of one side of his mouth like a cartoon character.

Miraculously, by the time we made it back home, the children's energy level rebounded and they wanted to play a family game of Wiffle Ball, because what’s Mother’s Day with Wiffle Ball? Max, not so much. His stubby little legs were worn out and he promptly made himself into a first baseline hazard. The bottom line of the backyard contest: My team (me, The Girl and The Eldest Boy) did about as well as the Red Sox are doing.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Things That Bug Me About Mother's Day

I've been feeling rather Grinchy lately, as the ads and chatter about Mother's Day reaches its apex, though last night's episodes of The Middle and Modern Family provided me nice comic relief about the holiday.

Why? Let me count the reasons why Mother's Day bugs me:

1. The overcommercialization. Seriously . . . what makes some people look at a car wash and think, "Moms would like this"?

Here's a handy tip: Not every mom likes the color pink, stuffed animals, cleaning supplies or wearing a sweatshirt with a cartoon character on the front.

Another helpful suggestion: You know that ad you've been hearing on the radio about pajamas that are supposed to make Mom feel like a superhero, and those pajamas include a cape? No. Just. No.
2. The pressure. It's one thing to celebrate each person who is important in your life on his or her birthday. You call them, send them a card, maybe get them a gift or share a meal. But imagine if all those birthdays occurred on the same day and everybody wanted you to celebrate THEIR birthday with them? Madness, right?

That's how I feel about Mother's Day (and Father's Day for that matter). No matter what you do, you're bound to disappoint somebody. And I hate disappointing people.

3. The gift. Try to find an appropriate gift which says, "Thanks for putting up with my crap when I was growing up." A gift that you haven't already given your mom a thousand times before. Nothing can really do the trick or possibly express how much all that woman's efforts meant to you. I'd much prefer to put the time into a meaningful birthday gift rather than a Mother's Day gift for all the moms in your life (and your spouse's life) simultaneously.

4. The falseness. There are many stories I've heard from moms who've had utterly awful Mother's Day experiences where they've had to drag their very young rug rats to a white linen and real silver flatware restaurant for brunch and struggled to keep the children from chucking their food, knocking things over and navigating the buffet line without knocking that great grandmother with the walker over there into the tray of Belgian waffles. But those moms had to plaster a fake smile on their faces and pretend as though they were having a great time.

How come we never hear about Father's Day brunches? 'Cause they don't have to suffer through them. Instead, they get barbecues with hamburgers and hot dogs and chips. And beer. And baseball on the TV. I wanna trade.

Here's what I do like about Mother's Day:

1. The cute factor. When your kids are young, they really try, in the narcissistic way that children have, to do something for Mom, even if they need ample help from Dad to accomplish it. (This can also work for grandmothers with young grandkids too.) They hand you scrawled crayon drawings of you and the child holding hands and there are lots of hearts on it. They give you sticky kisses. The craft that they made at school is still wet with glue when they hand it to you in bed.

Once your kids are of driving age, that cute phase is long gone. That's when they get a store-bought card that's been hastily signed and read a text that just came in on their cell phone while you were reading their card. Then they ask you for the car keys.

2. The excuse it gives you for family time. Mother's Day is a great excuse to take a pass on crappy errands, tasks or things that you don't want to do (unless it's Mother's Day brunches) and just chill with your family. I, for one, like Mother's Day the best when it's ridiculously simple: I don't want to cook and I don't want to do dishes on that day (or any other day for that matter, but that's another blog post). We can just hang out or maybe walk around at a park if the weather's nice. Oh, and I want hugs and don't want to referee an argument about the TV remote.

What do you think of Mother's Day? Are you a fan or not so much?

It's worth noting that a writer on the web site Babble claims that the woman whose efforts led to the creation of the national Mother's Day holiday later hated what it had become and tried, in her final days, to have it abolished.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mother's Day E-Greetings from 'Modern Family's' Claire Dunphy

As I eagerly anticipate the new episodes of both The Middle and Modern Family, as they will be Mother's Day themed (And what's Mother's Day if not an awesome opportunity to bring massive disappointment, chaos and burnt toast to mothers everywhere?), I learned that Modern Family's Facebook page is affording fans the opportunity to send personalized e-cards.

I pretended as though the Picket Fence Post kids were sending me an e-card featuring Claire Dunphy there were pre-written greetings from which you could choose.

(There are also e-cards featuring Gloria and Cam.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

This Just In . . . 'Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids'

A friendly UPS delivery guy just dropped off a review copy of the controversial, nonfiction tome, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think by Bryan Caplan.

The cover has stick figure sketches of a mom and a dad and six, count ‘em, six kids standing next to the ‘rents. And all of them are smiling.

I’m going to read this book with an open mind and will report back here – and in an upcoming column – about my thoughts on Caplan's suggestion that parents need to chill out, enjoy child-rearing and have more kids.

Image credit: Basic Books.

Thoughts on the Bin Laden News

*Originally appeared on Notes from the Asylum*

My youngest son was six weeks old when those American planes were turned into lethal missiles in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. under the direction of Osama bin Laden. And this morning, I got to tell that child -- now 9 years old, who’s been told since he was old enough to understand about the horrendous evil that occurred on that day -- that the United States, and the families of those killed on that day, finally got some justice.

And while watching Democrats and Republicans speak with one voice to praise the Navy SEALS, members of the U.S. Intelligence community and the leadership of President Obama and witnessing footage of citizens at Ground Zero celebrate the fact that that person can longer perpetrate evil upon the world, those feelings I experienced in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 are bubbling up to the surface.

This morning a Boston radio station replayed the audio from NBC Nightly News' broadcast from the night of Sept. 11, 2001. Listening to the voice of Tom Brokaw summarize the horrors of that day brought me back to when I had a six-week-old baby and 3-year-old twins and suddenly felt as though our nation was more vulnerable than I’d ever believed it to be.

Today at least we can feel better that the symbolic figure who represented the death and violence of that day is no longer.

Image credits: The Huffington Post.