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