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.