Thursday, March 31, 2011

Three for Thursday: 'Parenthood' Gets It Right, Grade School Slang & Liz Taylor, Working Mom

Item #1: Parenthood Gets It Right

Image credit: NBC
The sophomore season of Parenthood has been getting better and better. And more on the mark.

The last episode – about which I wrote a review -- had achingly realistic scenes that tugged at the heart, or at least they tugged at mine. From the parents of a girl who were told that the wife now is very unlikely to be able to bear another child, to the couple who disagreed about mainstreaming their autistic son in a charter school to academically challenge him, to the teenage girl who was distraught over the fact that she had been rejected from the two colleges to which she applied and she doesn’t know what to do, it was filled with stories that resonated.

This is why it annoys me to read that Parenthood hasn’t yet been renewed for a third season because NBC considers it “struggling” in the ratings, according to a USA Today article. There are so few shows that are dramatically capturing so many facets of modern parenting while still keeping it real. This Tuesday night show includes imperfect grandparents, a married couple with a teen girl who ran away from home (she’s now back) and an autistic young son, another married couple where the wife is successful lawyer and the husband’s an at-home dad to their one daughter, a divorced mother of two teens (one who’s had trouble and didn’t get into college and one who misses his AWOL father) and a former couple who must try to raise a son while living separately.

It’d be a huge shame if Parenthood isn’t afforded the chance to continue to improve, ripen and enlighten.

Item #2: Grade School Slang, Getting Beast-y with It

The Youngest Boy -- he who loves to wear his baseball cap on backwards and cockeyed – has recently taken to using the world “beast” as a substitute for the word “cool.” Example: That hat is so beast!

A while back for a brief period of weeks, The Eldest Boy also used that word. However when I attempted to use it too, I was subjected to his scorn as I was a too-old person who was pathetically attempting to use the young kids’ lingo and, in his mind, looked like a numbskull.

This time around, I’ll let The Youngest Boy keep saying “beast” and won’t attempt to co-opt any shred of his coolness by using the word myself.

Item #3: Liz Taylor, the Working Mom
Image credit: People Magazine
In all the news coverage last week following the passing of American screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, a paltry amount of time and space was allotted to the fact that she was the mother of four and was, during several of her marriages, the chief breadwinner in her family.

I was curious to find out what kind of a mom Taylor was, so I poured through three Taylor biographies and many news articles in an attempt to find out. I summarized the inconclusive results of my quest to answer that question in a column.

Image credits: NBC and Boyer Raymond/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via People Magazine.

Monday, March 28, 2011

T-Minus 4 Days 'Til Opening Day . . .

Forget the freezing temperatures, bitter New England winds and March snow flurries.

Forget the middle and grade school science projects about which The Spouse and I have to nag my three kiddos.

Forget the never-ending youth hockey season with games in bone-chillingly cold ice rinks.

It's almost Opening Day for the Boston Red Sox . . . when all will be right with the world (as long as the pitching holds on and the *knock on wood* injuries remain at bay).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Notes from the Picket Fence Post Homestead: Pet Grooming, School Projects, Shorts Obsession & 'Wimpy Kid' 2

Max Gets Groomed

Our dog Max was in dire need of a haircut. His hair had grown so long that when I was out walking him in our neighborhood recently, a woman remarked that he looked like a really short sheep on a leash. And she was right.

However bringing a dog with extremely thick hair like our Havanese/Wheaten Terrier to the groomer’s can be tricky because no matter how many times you try to make sure that you’ve combed through your dog’s hair (with a comb) with some degree of regularity, there’s inevitably a knot or a mat (or several) somewhere on his fuzzy body. And when the groomer finds it later she'll make you feel like a negligent pet owner for not attending to it.

I knew for a fact when Max was dropped off at the groomer's that he had some tangles near his hindquarters. When I'd attempted to comb them out, he’d growled and physically resisted, so I’d wound up giving up or enlisted someone's help to remove the mats with scissors because it was easier and quicker.

Well Max got his much needed grooming this week and the groomer was kind, though she did mention, as she raised her eyebrows slightly, that he had some mats and that “someone” had obviously been cutting them out, making his hair uneven. At least she didn’t shame me as much as other groomers have in the past.

School Projects from Hell

All three of the Picket Fence Post kids are in the midst of working on school projects. And, frankly, I'm starting to feel a bit stressed out about all of it as I’m dreading the inevitable melodrama that has accompanied these sorts of things in the past.

The Girl just completed a series of trials to determine in which liquid a Tylenol capsule would dissolve the quickest: Orange juice, grapefruit juice or lemonade. She collected all her data and is putting them into a spreadsheet as I write this blog entry. And she’s still got a long way to go in completing her tri-fold display board. The whole project is due Tuesday. What’s the over/under on whether she’ll get it finished without parental harassment and/or drama?

Meanwhile, her twin brother has also been running trials to see whether the temperature of the water inside a water balloon will affect whether and at what height from the ground it breaks. (He was channeling his inner Calvin & Hobbes when he devised this project.) He has already completed his data spreadsheet but has yet to start his tri-fold display board. When I suggested to him this morning (after he slept until 11!!) that he start working on it, he replied, “Later.” I predict major drama in the near future given that his project is also due Tuesday.

As for The Youngest Boy, he is supposed to invent something that uses a "simple machine." His big idea is to create a dog food feeder that he wants to teach our dog Max how to use in time for his school's Invention Convention, for which the item and a tri-fold display board are supposed to be completed. However he’s hit several snags. His original prototype was completely unrealistic (it involved taping a shoebox to a table, before it was filled with dog food). Then, at my urging, he revised it and concocted a more workable design but The Spouse refuses to get the supplies the kid says he needs until the kid comes up with a physical prototype. However The Youngest Boy says he needs supplies to make a prototype. Meanwhile, I’m going to go buy ear plugs so I don’t have to listen to the two of them continue to bicker about which should come first.

What is It With Kids & Shorts?

Every day this week . . . I repeat, every day this week, either The Spouse or I have gotten embroiled in a gigantic argument with The Youngest Boy over the fact that he insists upon wearing shorts to school like everyone else.

Now keep in mind that during the past week, it snowed twice and the temps were largely stuck in the 30s and 40s, yet the kid still harangued us for being power-mad parents who made him wear long pants. (*insert sinister cackle here*) Every day, multiple times a day, it's, "Why can't I wear shorts?"

This morning when it was in the 30s, I allowed The Youngest to don shorts (along with a short sleeve shirt and a jacket) when he went to play outside. (It was a moment of weakness because I was working on a column that was already past my deadline and I didn’t want to hear him whine any longer about the damned shorts.) He came inside some 20 minutes later, freezing cold, telling me his hands were so chilled that he felt like they were “burning.” He wanted me to help him warm up, but just his hands though, he assured me, as he said his legs (which were ice cold to the touch) were just fine, thank you very much.

About two hours later, The Spouse and The Youngest Boy were arguing about the exact outside temperature after I’d told The Youngest Boy that I wouldn’t let him go outside again in those shorts. It was 42 degrees.

Since The Youngest Boy claims other kids are going to school wearing shorts, and I've seen some of them when I've dropped him off at school, I ask you, are you having the same issue with your kid(s) regarding wearing shorts when it's snowing outside?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

The Picket Fence Post kids are all jazzed up about seeing the second installment of the Wimpy Kid series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

The first movie was okay, they were sufficiently entertained, but they agreed that it didn’t hold a candle to the actual book which was much, much funnier. After the original movie, we all decided that our favorite character is Rowley, not the self-absorbed and morally ambiguous Greg who seems much crueler in the movie than he did in the book.

Wonder if the second film will be even a fraction as amusing as its original source material which had me laughing out loud when I read it with The Eldest Son?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cheering from the Cheap Seats: It All Depends on Where You're Sitting

The Youngest Boy’s hockey team played three games this past weekend and won two of them. During the Friday night game, his team won 5-3. Even when his crew was up 5-2 and seemed in command of the game, we parents in the stands were still cheering aggressively, encouraging the kiddos to chase down every puck, to skate as fast as they could and not to stop playing hard.

To the parents for the opposing team, our entreaties might’ve seemed like overkill. They might’ve wanted us to stop cheering so loudly and to cease urging our players to act like the game was on the line. But then they wouldn’t understand the context which would explain all our enthusiasm. Our children’s team has only enjoyed a precious handful of victories over this long, long, oh so long hockey season. So when our young players had a chance to actually come away with the W for a change, we really wanted them to get it.

I had the opposite experience during many of The Girl’s basketball games this winter. During the regular season, her travel basketball team went undefeated, beating many teams by double digits. In those cases, as the point differential grew, we parents dialed back our cheering to polite applause when someone scored. At times, even polite applause seemed like it was too much, as though we were rubbing it in somehow, so we wound up not exhibiting much of an outward reaction to what was transpiring on the court. No one wants to make the players on the other team feel badly or to humiliate them. They’re just kids after all. But from a spectator’s perspective, having to sit on my hands while watching my daughter’s team and not being able to root for her wasn’t much fun.

Years ago, The Eldest Boy’s soccer team was absolutely demolished by another team. The opposing team obliterated my son’s team from beginning to end of the game. During the entire time, that team’s coach bellowed from the sidelines, at almost a non-stop clip, chastising his boys to go after everything, shouted when the boys made an error and urged them to “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” Never once, when there was no earthly possibility that his team would lose, did he rein in his shouting which had a demoralizing effect on the players on my son’s team. I got angry that the guy just wouldn’t shut up and, seeing that I was standing not far from him, I executed a passive aggressive move and loudly muttered that maybe he could tone down all the yelling given the score. The coach gave me a glare but piped down after that.

It’s really challenging to keep your perspective when you’re the parent of a youth athlete and you're sitting in the stands. Unlike with professional athletes (who are paid) and, to some extent, college athletes (many of whom get scholarships), cheering loudly when your kid’s team is crushing another team is considered bad form. However in some cases, when your kid’s team hasn’t won many contests, you tend not to want to hold back.

Since I’ve been on multiple sides of this issue, I tend to try to cut other parents some slack when it comes to how they’re cheering for their kids . . . except when their team is wiping the floor with my kid’s team. In that case, if they keep yelling when their kids’ team is up by an obscene amount of points, baskets, runs, etc. it’s likely that some ticked off parents of kids on the other team (like me) will snap at them to try to remind them that all the players are just children.

Image credit:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Getting Irish With It

These days I approach each March 17 with mixed feelings. Despite my Hibernian surname, I’m only one-quarter Irish. In addition to Ireland, my ancestors also hailed from Spain, England and Austria. Throw in The Spouse’s Russian/Austrian background, and the amount of Irish blood flowing through the three Picket Fence Post kids’ veins amounts to only one-eighth.

Yet we still celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with some vigor. Or at least I do and try to get the kids to care about the fact that I care about St. Patrick’s Day.

Other than the fact that all three kids will willingly eat corned beef (The Spouse makes a mean corned beef dinner), they pretty much hate all other things related to Irish fare including soda bread, the boiled dinner part and the music, from traditional to contemporary. (They rolled their eyes last year when I suggested we have a March 17 U2 marathon.)

The Girl does own an Irish themed shirt, but I can’t recall if it still fits her anymore. (I haven’t recently done that clothing purge thing where you go through all the kids’ duds to weed out what no longer fits in quite some time. I loathe that task.)

And, in past years, in fact, I’ve faced pediatric grief and general apathy when I suggested to the kiddos that they wear green, just for fun, to celebrate the holiday.

This past weekend we went to my brother’s house to have an early St. Patrick’s Day dinner with his family and the Picket Fence Post maternal grandparents, and when I offered my kids shamrock stickers which I’d bought for St. Patty’s Day, only The Girl took one (out of pity for me I think, not wanting to crush my enthusiasm for all things Irish) but the sticker quickly disappeared when we got to my brother’s house. My young nephews, however, were thrilled with the stickers, which I’m sure are plastered all over their domicile like gummy little nightmares.

So when St. Patrick’s Day 2011 dawns, I know that at least I’ll be wearin’ the green and playing Irish tunes throughout the day, but I can’t say that the kiddos will be on board . . . unless I happen to whip up some mint green milk shakes only for folks wearing something green, that might entice them . . .

UPDATE: On St. Patty's Day morning, I made a grand entrance into the kitchen as the Picket Fence Post kids were getting ready for school, only one of them in green (but I think that was by accident). "And a good St. Patrick's Day morning to ya!" I pronounced. The Girl then scurried upstairs to exchange her blue shirt for a green one. The Youngest Boy fetched his Boston Celtics jersey from the dryer. . . I'm still thinking about making them mint green milk shakes later, but will torture them with U2.

Image credit: Planet Mom Tshirts. (I actually own that shirt.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Picket Fence Post Blogger Now Back & Ready to Go (Without the Benefit of Adonis DNA)

I may not have one gear, Go!,  as father of the year Charlie Sheen does, but I’m ready to return to this blogging goodness here after my brief break. Having finished editing my top secret manuscript (if I have any news about it, of the good variety, believe me, I’ll share), I’m back to business.

So, what, other than Charlie Sheen’s antics, the liberation of Egypt, the riots in Libya and the ongoing horrors in Japan has been going on during the time I was gone? Well, I’ll keep my summary very basic and very local, focusing on the various oddities and events from the Picket Fence Post household:

As a trio of screenless iPod Shuffles did a few years ago, The Girl’s iPod Nano, which has a screen and is much more expensive than a Shuffle, went through the washer AND the dryer after I, a mother whom me children think is mad with power, insisted that she pick up all the clothing that was on her bedroom floor and put it either in the laundry or in a drawer (NOT under her bed). The Girl angrily put almost all the clothing in the laundry, no one checked the pockets and . . . voila . . . iPod through the new washer and dryer. Thus far *knock on wood* it is still working. We shall see.

It may be March, but the temperatures are still in the 30s and 40s. Not shorts weather, unless you happen to be a 9-year-old boy who knows EVERYTHING and you, the aforementioned power-mad mother know absolutely nothing about what it’s like to be a kid. Nearly every day last week (and even this morning) I had to order The Youngest Boy to take off the shorts he was wearing (along with a T-shirt) and put on pants before going to school. And yet he still donned shorts when he came home from school telling me how very hot it was outside.
. . . You want irony? That same kid mentioned in the previous anecdote, the one who thinks 35 degrees is balmy enough for sports shorts and a T-shirt, turned the thermostat up to 81 the other night while I was making dinner. I’d become worried that I was getting sick or that I was having hot flashes (!) or something as I made dinner one night last week. By the time I’d cleaned up all the dishes and retired to the family room to read a magazine, I was literally sweating.
“Is it hot in here, or is it me?” I asked The Eldest Boy, who reported that he felt hot too. It was he who checked the temperature and reported that his brother had jacked the furnace up to a tropical 81. Maybe if the kid wasn’t wearing shorts then he wouldn’t need the heat so high. I’m just sayin’ . . .
Showering + Children = Complaining, oh the bitter complaining.
Dirty Finger Nails + Son = Complaining that Mom wants everything “perfect” when she tells him to wash his hands and clean under his fingernails.

The Girl amazed me with her bravery when she and a pal performed a song from the Nickelodeon show Victorious at the recent middle school talent show. They did not look scared at all, as they took to the stage in front of a couple hundred people. In fact, they had giant smiles on their face as they bopped around stage dancing and singing. *so proud*
Do not take your kids to see Gnomeo & Juliet. You will not be able to get your 84 minutes back. And by the time you get to the end, you’ll be quite angry about that, trust me.