Friday, November 2, 2012

Talkin' Book-in-Progress & Families 'Over-Sharing' Online

*Cross-posted from Notes from the Asylum*

One of my favorite Boston Globe columnists, Joanna Weiss, invited me to participate in a very cool thing called a "blog hop," where one author "tags" another and the person who's "It" fields questions about her next writing project.

Weiss -- who wrote the sharp and amusing satirical novel Milkshake, about the lunacy of the political and feminist politics surrounding breastfeeding -- is working on a new book about a culture clash involving an uber-rich Boston family and working/middle class Bostonians. You can see what she wrote about her work-in-progress Beantown book here.

Weiss has tagged yours truly to answer some questions about my work-in-progress novel. Thanks Joanna! Here goes:

What is the working title of your book?

The Mortified: A Novel About Over-Sharing.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

After years of reading personal blogs, I became increasingly surprised and intrigued by how many vivid, personal details bloggers revealed online about not just themselves, but about their friends and family members. The notion of what is or isn't considered "over-sharing" fascinated me.

What genre does you book fall under?

Contemporary fiction.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The main character, thirtysomething Maggie Kelly, who has an anonymous and profane personal blog, could be played by someone like Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson on Mad Men), Ginnifer Goodwin (Once Upon a Time, Big Love) or Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under), all of whom I think could deftly balance Maggie's emotional intensity with her desperate and darkly comedic side.

For Maggie's husband Michael -- a kind, career-focused guy who doesn't understand (and doesn't want to understand) what's causing his wife's lingering melancholy -- I picture anyone from James Marsden (30 Rock, 27 Dresses, The Notebook) and Zack Gilford (Matt Saracen from Friday Night Lights), to Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, (500) Days of Summer) playing that role.

The third main character is Michael's mother Dorothy, who I describe as a militant Emily Post in sensible shoes. I could envision actresses such as Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls, Bunheads) or Mary Kay Place (Big Love) stepping into Dorothy's petite Easy Spirit loafers.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Mortified asks readers this question: What would you do if your spouse blogged about how you are a self-centered, unsupportive jerk, who happens to be lousy in bed, and then, after the blog went viral, your mother and your colleagues read the punishingly graphic commentary?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'm currently in talks with an indie publisher. (*fingers crossed*)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A year-and-a-half.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I'd liken The Mortified to something I might read from Jennifer Weiner who, like me, is a former newspaper reporter. Weiner's novel Then Came You, for example, explores the many complex and emotional sides of surrogacy, similar to the way I think The Mortified delves into the consequences of over-sharing online. Fellow New England resident Tom Perrotta's Little Children -- which addresses the loneliness of at-home parenthood coupled with suburban hysteria -- and The Abstinence Teacher -- that tackles the clash of sex education and religious values -- used similarly no-nonsense approaches to analyzing current social issues.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My mother made this off-handed comment about my writing one day, saying, "You used to be funnier." And she was right, at least when it came to my personal blog. Once my children got wise to this thing called the Internet and the handy little tool called Google, I started cordoning off vast quantities of would-be amusing anecdotes behind bright orange traffic cones in an "off-limits" zone. The result of choosing family privacy over material that would've made for good blog posts? Some of the best, funniest tales were banned from the blog, per my children's request.

But what was happening inside the homes of people who didn't seem to do much holding back on their blogs? Were their husbands or wives unhappy with having their sex lives dissected online? Did their children feel over-exposed? Did their families even know that they were being discussed on a blog? Hence . . . The Mortified, a book about a suburban woman who, to cope with her feelings of being oppressed by matrimony and maternity, started what she thought was an anonymous, brutally honest blog where she would vent her unpleasant feelings about her life's disappointments.

What else about your book might pique the readers' interest?

People who publish very personal information about their loved ones online -- whether on blogs or on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter -- might have a strong reaction to the question of what constitutes "over-sharing." While The Mortified chronicles incidents in various characters' pasts where they were embarrassed by something someone had said about them, the difference is that in the modern era, embarrassing accusations and remarks can now be detailed in blogs and social media. And they can go viral. Mortification via Google.

*Be sure to check out the author who I have tagged as she's working on her very own "Next Big Thing:" Suzanne Strempek Shea, the author of eight books, including five novels, such as Selling the Lite of Heaven, Hoopi Shoopi Donna and Becoming Finola. Suzanne and I both worked for the same newspaper in western Massachusetts back in the day. I can't wait to read her answers.*

Image credits:, Jack Rowand/ABC.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Back from the Brink (Otherwise Known as Being Buried in Work)

The Picket Fence Post family has not fallen off of the face of the earth, nor has it been swept away in the winds of the hurricane.

We've been here, in the Picket Fence Post domicile in the suburbs of Boston, with our three middle schoolers who've been busy doing their adolescent things (including busting a cell phone, overdoing it with the noxious and likely toxic Axe body spray and testing their, uh, independence). We've been here with our freshly emboldened canine thief who aggressively dives at any unattended food with surprising swiftness given his stout build (like that slice of apple pie Max stole from my plate the other night the second I got up from the sofa). We've gone to soccer games, hockey games, band rehearsals, basketball tryouts, and I broke my left ring-finger (I think it was broken but I didn't go to the doctor to confirm because I'm an idiot) while "helping" the kids prep for said basketball tryouts.

We shelled out a healthy fistful of greenbacks for a hideously stupid-looking orange bodysuit (see above), also known as our 11-year-old's Halloween costume. We mourned the horrific conclusion of a Red Sox season which, sadly, resembled the kinds of seasons I used to experience when I was but a young Sox fan in my Sox jacket decorated with my Dwight Evans button, never imagining I'd have to wait until I was the mother of three to see a Boston World Series victory.

Together, the five of us in the Picket Fence Post family have shared laughs during the new episodes of Modern Family (loved the bit about Luke besting Phil at magic) and The Middle. The Eldest Boy and I are still catching up on the new season of The Mentalist, a show we like to watch together.

But I haven't been doing any writing. For weeks. And it's been driving me crazy. It's like trying to hold your breath for too long. It's unnatural and not at all good for you, at least it's not good for me.

Likewise, I haven't done a few other things that I normally do at this time of the year, like take the family apple picking, visit a pumpkin patch where we pay too much for giant gourds, carve said gourds and leave them to rot in a moldly heap on our front doorstep until Thanksgiving, or go to the Big E, the New England fair held in western Massachusetts and indulge in overly caloric, fried grub that would make Michael Bloomberg woozy.

Why? Why have I been off of my writing game and missed my celebrate-my-favorite-season-of-autumn-activities? I've become a full-time assistant professor teaching writing and journalism at a local institution of higher learning. In short order, I needed to craft not just a syllabus for the writing course, but create a new course about online and social media. In addition to teaching/grading and researching/designing a class, I've been helping to advise the staff of the student newspaper two nights a week.

The other big thing that has rendered me exhausted to the point where I don't think mere flavored coffee alone is potent enough to keep me awake over the long-term (I may have to look into those Turbo shot thingies at Dunkin' Donuts) is a non-fiction book project I've been researching for months. I'm in the process of conducting dozens of interviews as well as observing an educational process (can't give you the details now) three mornings a week. We're talking EARLY in the morning. Six o'clock hour early. The if-I-don't-get-caffeine-into-my-system-NOW-somebody's-gonna-get-hurt early.

However, despite sleep deprivation, autumnal celebration deprivation and coping with pediatric complaints about my new gig (one of the kids accused me of ruining this individual's life by taking a full-time job because, you know, I have nothing better to do than to concoct ways in which I can wreck his life, right?), I'm hopeful that things are becoming somewhat manageable right now, or maybe it's just the sleep deprivation talking.

Image credit: and Jordin Althaus/ABC.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Dog is a Thief

Don't let that cute face fool you. That fuzzy, "ain't I cuddly?" mug is a simply facade. It's a front for a stealthily sinister thief who's becoming more brazen with every passing day.

Take, for example, a few weekends ago when we were having company here at the Picket Fence Post domicile. Seeing as it was a beautiful summer's afternoon and the pressing humidity had lifted, The Spouse and I decided to entertain his folks on our backyard deck. To keep the bugs from gorging on our food, we placed mesh covers over the plates of appetizers that we'd placed on the table, including a platter of hearty Vermont cheddar cheese and tangy slices of pepperoni.

But we'd forgotten that we'd left Max outside. The dog, lured by the aroma of spicy meat and rich cheese, hopped up onto a deck chair, climbed onto the table and removed the mesh covering. (It may stop flies, but not Havanese-Wheaten Terriers apparently.) At this point, we're not really certain about what happened next because we were still inside the house while Max was wilding on the deck.

All we know for sure is that several minutes after leaving him alone outside, The Spouse returned to find the green marble plate empty but for some oily smudges and a sad looking, slightly sullied pepperoni round that was curling up on one side. I was livid because my plans had suddenly been hijacked. All I saw unfurling before me was an afternoon and evening filled with taking care of and cleaning up after a sick dog who I didn't want to let back into the house until his ill gotten gains had passed through his system.

However a short time later, The Eldest Boy discovered a curious mound in our backyard: A pile of cheese and pepperoni slices -- largely unchewed -- covered in tasty combination of saliva, lively ants and grass, a not-so-expert attempt to camouflage the food for snacking later on the down-low. How he got all of that food from the platter to the yard is unclear. He couldn't have fit that large pile of cheese cubes and pepperoni slices into his small mouth, so he had to have taken multiple trips, all executed while The Spouse and I were cluelessly mixing up another pitcher of iced tea in the kitchen.

Although Max's thievery was ultimately foiled -- he kept returning to the spot where he'd left the food and rolled around in the grass so as to drive the pepperoni scent deep into his thick hair so he smelled like a muddy pizza -- it seemed to have whet his appetite for all things sneaky.

Since then, for example, he's developed an unhealthy affinity for a fuzzy gray, white and black stuffed lemur that he keeps stealing from one of the kids' bedrooms. He frequently grabs "Jack" by the neck and races around the house almost like he's advertising the fact that he cleverly got away with stealing the lemur but he just can't afford to hire a skywriter.

He's now figured out how to force my home office door open (it doesn't latch solidly so one push opens the door) and has been going in there, knocking over the trash can, eating the trash and then puking up what he'd consumed. He's stolen hair ties and dragged used tissues throughout the house, which is awesome when you have company over and you unexpectedly find one of those babies (or several of them) lying in the middle of the floor.

The Spouse thinks we need to bring Max back to doggie training school or start re-training him ourselves. I think we need to lock up our trash cans and not let him out on the deck unsupervised. What say you guys?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Notes from Suburbia: Mama's New Job, Insulting the Parents, Olympian Sleep Deprivation

Summertime Madness

It's, nominally, still "summer," a word that brings to mind thoughts of relaxation and restoration, of sipping sun-brewed iced tea with a sprig of fresh mint while lounging in a hammock as you clutch a beach read and soak up the deliciously cool shade of a regal maple tree.

Nothing like that is happening in the Picket Fence Post house these days.

Why? For once, the nuttiness around here has nothing to do with the onslaught of kids' extracurricular activities and national holidays bearing down upon me. You see, yours truly will be starting a new job next month. I'll be a full-time assistant professor at a local university teaching writing and journalism, plus I'm anticipating providing advice to the student newspaper. The gig was only made official a short while ago. I'd been hesitant to start putting in substantial prep work for these classes until it was a sure, signed on the dotted line kind of thing. The result: I've now got an intimidating pile of books to read in order to prepare for writing classes and a new course I'm developing, alongside the assignments and lesson plans I need to create.

Then there's a new book project on which I've been working throughout the summer (the subject is going to be kept under wraps for now) which has had me conducting many interviews over copious amounts of iced coffee -- some of the interviews multiple hours in length -- in coffee shops, restaurants, private homes and over the telephone, plus doing research for the project.

Neither of these new, wonderfully exciting and challenging professional developments leave me with a ton of time for other stuff . . . like sipping that iced tea in the shade.

So I'm guessing that when we finally receive the schedules for the Picket Fence Post kids' teams (two soccer teams, one hockey team, yes hockey . . . again), things'll really get nutty around here.

A Dog & A Diaper

The Spouse and I asked one of our children (who shall remain nameless) to accompany us as we walked Max the dog (he's doing fine, thank you very much for asking) around the block the other day. The kid replied by saying that walking around the block with one's parents, in public, is akin to walking around the block wearing a diaper.

Well, okay then.

The Sleep Deprivation Olympics

Thank God the Olympics are over. I don't think the kids could take it anymore.

The extended, late night NBC broadcasts -- where the much maligned network would needlessly draw out the most popular events, like gymnastics, into the late hours of the evening -- turned my kids into zombies. But the kids had to have their Olympics. They'd wake up with giant bags under their eyes after late night Olympic watching and then repeat the process again, growing more and more charmingly chippy as the Olympic days piled up, one after another and the intramural sibling skirmishes grew in quantity.

The Youngest Boy even started asking me if he could have coffee as he'd lean over my steaming mug and inhale its scent like an addict, like his caffeine-addicted mother. (I did not let him. The last thing that kid needs is caffeine.)

The highlight of the London Olympics: The U.S. women's soccer team capturing gold last week. The Girl hosted an energetic viewing party for several of her fellow soccer playing gals. I went a little Martha Stewart on her with all things patriotic, buying balloons, flag napkins, patriotic cupcakes (Martha would've made them, I just bought them) and placing a giant flag across our mantle. I was greatly relieved when the U.S. team won, not just because I wanted them to win, but because I didn't want The Girl to feel as angry as she did when the U.S. women's team lost the World Cup last year. (She can get pretty pissed off when her team loses. Seriously. Clear the path in front of her and stay far away.)

And, despite being sleep deprived, The Youngest Boy decided to try to impersonate the Olympic swimmers (without the obscenely low-slung swimming attire and the obnoxious Ryan Lochte diamond grill) and swam as though he was being pursued by a Cape Cod shark in search of a snack. I was pleasantly surprised when the kid started to swim lap after lap and wasn't winded at all. Me, I was practically hyperventilating. I may practice yoga and have flexibility, but that doesn't really help stamina. I could sure use some stamina right about now . . . or more coffee.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Olympics Has Overtaken My House (As Has a Rogue Yankee Fan)

My 13-year-old daughter has been consumed by serious Olympics mania and it's threatening to overtake the house.

However I'm having a hard time putting the kibosh on her enthusiasm because the Olympics are the one time when women's sports receives even close to the volume and quality of media attention as the male athletes receive, so I've decided I'm going to try not to sweat her watching the events too often on TV (or on my iPad that she's slyly squired away from my office).

In the process, I'm kind of getting into the Olympic games too. Loved the Queen-James Bond thing during the otherwise yawn-fest known as the Opening Ceremonies. (I Tweeted all manner of snark during the ceremonies but couldn't stay up to the end. The Girl put herself to bed that night.) The Olympic events have been relatively exciting fare, though I could do with fewer shots of U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte's flashing his ridiculous diamond-encrusted American flag grill. (What a way to ruin a good photo of the talented swimmer.)

Now that we're several days into this, it's growing tough for me not to get on my daughter's case as she's watching events for hours. But I have to keep in mind somewhat inane house rule that I decreed many moons ago in a weak moment: Watching sports or news doesn't really count as the sedentary evil known as "watching TV." (That way they won't harass me when I'm watching hours of the now sad Boston Red Sox or am riveted to Morning Joe.)

The same, however, won't go for my now 11-year-old son who'll demand the opportunity to watch a gazillion episodes of wholesome fare like The Simpsons or Family Guy that he's recorded on our DVR. He will and in fact has argued that, hey, ya know, if she's watching TV he should get to watch TV too. (My response to his protests, "Dude, you can watch the Olympics too.")

Speaking of the 11-year-old and the Olympics . . .  I remain curious about for which country he'll be rooting during the games. It's not necessarily a given that he'll be rallying 'round the Stars and Stripes. You see, he's been in a rather defiant stage when it comes to sports teams for several years now, with no sign of easing up.

Many years ago, the kid decided, for some unexplained reason, that he was going to be a Yankees fan . . . when he lives in the heart of Red Sox Nation and hails from 100 percent Red Sox lineage. After I got over my initial shock, I argued with The Spouse that it was just a phase and that if we fought it or tried to persuade him of the error of his ways, his faux affection for the Evil Empire would become even more strident. So when we allowed him to get a Yankees cap, as much as it went against every that is good and holy, I figured this infatuation would be short-lived.

I was wrong.

In fact, his Yankees fan taunting has become more vocally grating this season as the Red Sox have fared about as well as Michael Dukakis' presidential general election campaign while the Yankees sit smugly atop the AL East. And The Youngest Boy, he's reveling in the mire of this Sox season, gloatingly calling my attention to the standings as I read the paper while drinking my morning coffee each morning. (Yes, I'm a dinosaur. I still read an actual, paper newspaper.)

So when we all sit down, as a family, to watch the Olympics together, I'm never certain for whom the kid'll be rooting. (Watching Sox-Yankees games have been rather unpleasant as of late as you might imagine.) But if he chooses to root for the team that's playing against the U.S. women's soccer team, he'll be on his own facing the wrath of his super-fan of a sister.

Loyalties aside, the grousing The Girl has done -- about the officiating at the U.S. Women's soccer game, about what she sees as an injustice done to Jordyn Wieber who'll be ineligible for the all-around gymnastics competition because the Olympic rules limit eligibility to two gymnasts per team -- has been epic. But it's only because of her unbound affection for all things U.S. women's soccer and U.S. women's gymnastics. The posters she made and placed in our family room featuring great female U.S. Olympians, while she's been donning her Abby Wambach jersey and eating the red, white and blue cupcakes she baked just for the Olympics, are visual reminders to her dedication. Crossing his parents and rooting for the Yankees is one thing. Crossing his sister and rooting against the U.S. women's soccer team is another thing entirely.

Go team.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Notes on Pop Culture: Periodical Beach Reading, The Newsroom & Political Animals

*Cross-posted on Notes from the Asylum*

I spent the past week on a Cape Cod family vacation where I swam, biked (rode a bike for the first time in many, many years), enjoyed sunsets, fresh seafood and got thoroughly and embarrassingly crushed on a farm-themed mini-golf course. (The Youngest Boy handily kicked my behind.)

But when we weren't scanning the seas for seals, the favorite snack of sharks  -- we were a few miles away from that Cape beach where a shark chased a kayaker -- I was gorging on the heaps of reading material I brought along (an academic book and Lord of the Rings, both for a research project I'm working on, along with a bunch of periodicals). Here's what kept me entertained (other than pretending I didn't hear my children's bickering and pleas for me to intervene and referee):

New Yorker: For a Boston area resident, I was rather sickeningly Gotham-centric this past week. I got substantial sunscreen and sand all over the July 9/16 issue of The New Yorker and enjoyed the long review of Douglas Brinkley's new Walter Cronkite biography by Louis Menand which included a fascinating debate over whether a Cronkite comment, coupled with the anchor's pessimistic view about American success in Vietnam, prompted LBJ not to run for a second term.

An article that sparked a beach-side conversation with The Spouse was by James Surowiecki about businesses that aren't hiring new employees because, the article asserts, employers are being too picky despite ample options:

"When companies complain that they can't find people with the right 'skills,' they often just mean that they can't find people with the right experience . . . Thanks in part to the sheer number of applications, screening of applicants is automated, with computers evaluating resumes according to pre-set criteria. Fail to meet one of those standards, and your application gets tossed, even if a good H.R. director might have spotted your potential."

How depressing.

Speaking of depressing . . . I was also riveted by "The Hunger Diaries," excerpts from American writer Mavis Gallant's journals written in 1952 when Gallant was literally starving for her art while living in Spain.
New York Magazine: The July 9 cover story, "Does Money Make You Mean?" ignited another lively debate with its provocative accompanying art (some of which we hid from the kids).

Citing various work by researchers who are delving into whether money causes people to be less humane and whether people who seek money share those same traits or whether the entire "less humane" question is bogus baloney, writer Lisa Miller worded her central query this way: "How does living in an environment defined by individual achievement -- measured by money, privilege and status -- alter a person's mental machinery to the point where he beings to see the people around him only as aids or obstacles to his own ambitions?"

New York Times: In between the pages of the Old Gray Lady, I greatly related to a Sunday Styles section meditation, "Friends of a Certain Age," about the challenge of making and keeping friends as we get older:

"In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children's play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends -- the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis -- those are in shorter supply.

As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends."

The article also addressed how the parents of your kids' friends wind up being your friends too . . . only as long as the kids all get along.

In the same section, I found a scary story by Lee Siegel who accidentally sent Linked In friend invitations to all 974 contacts in his address book including deceased people, "lawyers, landscapers, accountants, literary agents, babysitters, window-installers, art dealers, ex-girlfriends, the ex-boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend . . . obstetricians, dentists, ophthalmologists, gastroenterologists, urologists, psychologists, pediatricians, billing offices for all of the preceding . . . my ex-wife [and] two litigious former landlords."

The Newsroom: As for TV, I saw the latest two episodes of Aaron Sorkin's new HBO drama The Newsroom which, I've decided, has officially hooked me with its cutting dissection of contemporary cable TV news. Yes, it can be preachy, annoyingly preachy and smugly sanctimonious as well. The second episode irritated me with its relentless focus on two of the female staffers falling to pieces over their love lives. But by the fourth episode -- "I'll Try to Fix You," which I reviewed here -- that got me.

Political Animals: I also caught the first installment of USA's mini-series (the network is calling it a "limited series event") Political Animals where Sigourney Weaver plays Elaine Barrish, otherwise known as Hillary Clinton had Clinton dumped Bill right after she lost her 2008 presidential bid. It also features a tough reporter, who wrote nasty pieces about Barrish's ex, shadowing Secretary of State Barrish around for a week for a story. The show felt crisp, the relationship between the reporter and Barrish is promising and the political manipulations entertaining (better than the boring, real life presidential race we've got goin' on right now). Looking forward to seeing more of this "limited" event.

Image credits: Amazon and New York Magazine.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Taking a Blogging Break

I'll be spending some "quality" time with the Picket Fence Post family over the next week . . . whether that will include refereeing sibling spats, arguing with my offspring about what movie we should see, making fresh meals the juveniles won't eat and being accused of being a parent who's "mad with power" remains to be seen. What does that mean for the Picket Fence Post? No new entries 'til next week, Tuesday July 17 to be exact.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three for Thursday: Dead Plants, 'Good' Food & Dog Meets Crab

Why I Hate Gardening: Stuff Dies

The crisp plant (pictured on the right) is only the latest in a long, tragic string of untimely deaths experienced by plant life that I've foolishly purchased or some hopeful soul has given me in the hopes that maybe THIS time I would develop a green thumb and the plant would thrive.

I usually start off strong when I buy plants, with a resolve to water them every day, shower them with loving care, sing them arias and read Yeats' poems aloud to the growing beauties.

Then real life kicks in. I get busy with work/writing stuff, kid stuff, house stuff, Max the dog stuff and I forget all about the plants which don't have the power to nag but are needy little buggers which require constistent attention. And when it comes to getting attention, the plants, sadly, are at the bottom of my priority list, hence the plant crisps currently weeping on my front door step.

What Do You Consider 'Good' Food?

Speaking of needing attention . . . now that it's summer and school is out, the offspring are lamenting that we cannot keep enough "good" food in the house for more than 24-48 hours. Now I'm not talking about Michelle Obama's definition of "good" food, I'm talkin' the three resident middle schoolers' definition, which is radically different.

Items they consider atrociously unedible but which I'm constantly pushing on them: Granola bars, frozen real fruit bars, actual fruit (of the non-berry variety), crackers, "healthy" cereal, cheese and any form of vegetable.

Items they consider "good" and which they think I plot to deny them: Any kind of cookies (except ones that anyone could consider healthy like oatmeal), ice cream (except raspberry-chocolate, The Spouse's favorite, at which they turn up their noses), tortilla chips (not the multi-grain kind), Goldfish crackers, anything The Girl bakes (around which her brothers swarm like aggressive seagulls) and pastries, the more sugar the better.

As I was lugging the many, many bags of groceries I'd purchased into the house today with The Girl, The Eldest Boy decided to take a quick inventory of the snacks I'd purchased. He initially declared the sugar cookies I'd purchased lame, though he changed his mind after The Spouse noted that they were tasty. He was unimpressed by the multi-grain tortilla chips, yogurt, fresh fruit, Life cereal and 100-calorie bags of snacks I'd gotten. He did, however, perk up at the sight of the "sugar buns" I'd picked up at a local farmers' market, as well as at the makings of the blueberry/raspberry shortcake I'd bought, particularly the whipped cream topping. The Youngest Boy wasn't available to comment on the groceries, although he'd remarked that there was "nothing" in the house this morning and I caved in to his complaints by taking him to Dunkin' Donuts. (Selfishly, I had to. We were out of coffee, which can be dangerous.)

I predict that by early Sunday -- although that may be too optimistic a time frame -- the plaintive wails of self-described "deprived" children will once again echo throughout my kitchen.

A Dog and a Crab Get Totally Cute

I was really in the mood for something silly and completely lacking in substance when I came across this video of a dog and a crab meeting cute at the edge of the ocean (however I'd bet the crab would take issue with calling it "cute").

Watching the video rekindled those smoldering "I want another dog" embers just a tad.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Now There are THREE Middle Schoolers in the House

The Youngest Boy (who recently gave me the green light to once again mention him in this space) has just left his elementary school days behind him. In September, he'll be movin' on up to the big middle school to join his elder siblings who'll be entering the eighth grade.

How this will work is anyone's guess as all three of them haven't been students in the same school before. (The Youngest Boy once attended pre-school in the same building as his elder siblings but there was no interaction between the pre-schoolers and the rest of the school population.) Will it go smoothly? Will there be resentment? Will the "vigorous" disputes the two boys have here at home spill out into the middle school hallways?

The three Picket Fence Post kids have quite varied personalities and don't really resemble one another much. One's quiet but determined, one's also determined but gregarious and the talkative one just collected an "award" for having the "best sense of humor." (A future Robin Williams-esque class clown?) Two play soccer and basketball while the other plays hockey and lacrosse. Two participate in bands at school (The Youngest Boy, a percussionist, joked to The Elder Boy that he's coming after his spot on one of the middle school bands) and one is active on the student council. Two are utterly addicted to video games and one is obsessed with voraciously reading books and watching Make It Or Break It episodes on my iPad, usually surrendering the device to me, under extreme duress, with .5 percent of its battery remaining.

So when The Youngest Boy walks into the middle school as a sixth grader in the fall, I hope he'll be able to carve out his own niche there and not simply morph into another incarnation of The Eldest Boy or The Girl, albeit with wildly curly hair and omnipresent sports jerseys.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June is the New December: Parents' Busiest Time of the Year

End of the season parties for sports teams.

End of the year bashes/barbecues at school.

End of the year school award ceremonies.

End of the year soirees for other extra curricular activities.

End of the year concerts/performances.

Gifts/thank you notes for the teachers, coaches and after-school activity supervisors.

Birthday parties.

Last-minute school projects.

Sports tryouts/evaluations for next fall's teams.

Making (or buying, shhh!) baked goods for one (or more) of those end of the year events.

Father's Day. (It's THIS Sunday!)

Did I forget anything, other than the fact that I still have to bring the kids shopping for Father's Day? I'm constantly forgetting something. It's that time of year, to forget stuff thereby requiring me to make a mad dash to the house of the person who's collecting money for a gift for the soccer coach (or for a class gift, etc.).

It's racing to the mall for a four-hour odyssey (seriously) of trying to help your teenage daughter to find the right bathing suit for the pool party, tomorrow, because last year's version so doesn't fit any more.

It's realizing that your eldest son's soccer game has been rescheduled (for the second time) on the same night as your youngest son's band concert. (And your youngest son, you notice minutes before you have to leave for the concert, has outgrown his "good" pants and you have to pilfer some from your oldest son's closet without him noticing because he'd be annoyed.) It's then realizing that your daughter's make-up soccer game is slated for the same night as your eldest son's band concert. Of course it is.

It's scurrying about for the components of a solar oven for your grade schooler's project as well as trying to find time when he can work on the project with another student. And it's due this week, the week of all the concerts, make-up games and parties. Plus your daughter has an orthodontist appointment to get her palate extender removed and braces placed upon her teeth, at the same time she has a math and a science test and she's freaking out about it all.

While December may be insane with all the pressure for holiday perfection and a mammoth quantity of shopping to tackle, I think the end of the school year has now surpassed it in terms of busyness. The month of June is packed with sweet, melancholy moments that make parents proud -- the sad end of things, the culmination of a year or a season's worth of work -- all at the same time.

Then *poof!* it's summer and all of it comes to a jarring end. And the kids complain, with nary a trace of irony, that there's nothing to do and they're bored.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Random Notes from Suburbia: Pi, 'Dogs in the City,' Overzealous Sports Mom & Being Tardy

Pi in the Sky

As part of a school math competition to see how many digits of pi students could accurately remember, The Girl was able to recall, hold onto your hats, 102 of them. Seriously. I have no idea how she did it. I have trouble remembering where I leave my car in the grocery store parking lot. I'm not all that far removed from being the lady who frantically hunts around everywhere for her glasses only to have someone point out that they're
perched atop her head.

This was a reason for celebration and parental pride, at least initially, that, with seeming ease, The Girl could rattle off all those numbers. She even fared well when her brothers asked her to name random digits like the 22nd or 47the digit and they checked her accuracy.

Then the situation took a sinister turn.

"Hey, I'll bet she could memorize your credit card numbers," The Eldest Boy said as he raised his eyebrows.

Uh oh.

'Dogs in the City:' My Summer Shame

I hate -- I mean hate, hate, hate, hate -- reality TV shows. Other than the first two seasons of Survivor which aired some 10+ years ago, I haven't been a regular viewer of any reality programs because I find them to be 1) contrived 2) encourage bad behavior to nab ratings and all the accouterments accompanying reality show success (i.e. -- Snooki on the best seller list) 3) are wildly manipulated by the shows' producers and are in no way "reality" and 4) take prime-time slots and jobs away from screenwriters and all the other professionals who put together scripted television shows.

That being said . . . before a Celtics game aired the other night (Go Green y'all), I was flipping through the stations and happened upon this new CBS show Dogs in the City. And, I'm ashamed to admit, I liked it, given that I'm so into all things canine these days. (For those of you wondering whether I've dropped the notion of getting a second dog to join Max our Havanese/Wheaten, I haven't, much to The Spouse's chagrin.)

Not only did I fall in love with the dogs on the silly show, but I learned a few things about pet training and was astonished by the idiocy of some of the dogs' owners. The woman who brought her dog to work with her after the dog had bitten a number of people and regularly lunged at her employees when they walked into her office? Really, that was a question, whether that dog belonged in an office setting?

Dogs in the City, I'm afraid to say, is destined to become my summer TV shame. Who can resist a skateboarding bulldog named Beefy who has separation anxiety?

Overzealous Sports Mom

Scene: An afternoon lacrosse game being played by boys, ages 10-12.

Featuring: A woman who was, I'm guessing, the mother or close female relative of the goalie for the opposing team. Or else she was a complete lunatic who happened to know the name of the goalie and felt perfectly comfortable screaming at him.

Some of the woman's best quotes, bellowed loudly from her comfortable perch on her folding chair on the sidelines, included:

"[NAME OMITTED]! Come on! Block that [NAME OMITTED]!"

"[NAME OMITTED]! Toughen up!"

"[NAME OMITTED]! Don't flinch at the ball! You're the goalie! That's what the pads are for!"

Going through my head: "Hey lady, why don't you go stand in the goal, wearing lacrosse pads, and let me hurl hard lacrosse balls at your head and see if you flinch! He's a kid for god's sake!"

I think this lady needs to watch the video below, about one high school athlete helping out another at a state championship meet to remind herself of why we have kids participate in sports: To build character, learn teamwork and create the good, healthy habits of staying physically active. It's not about berating and harassing from the cheap seats.

Unfortunately, I'm willing to bet that the woman who was yelling all of that garbage at the pediatric goalie wouldn't be at all impressed with how the high school runner helped out another, which is a sad, sad commentary of where youth sports parents are today.

Being Tardy

The Eldest Boy was participating in an event where the school band was going to be performing "The Star Spangled Banner," among other tunes, which was a very good thing, except that the band was performing at an event about 45 minutes or so away from our house. And we had to get there in rush hour traffic. And The Girl, The Youngest Boy and I had to wait for The Spouse to get home from work -- battling through rush hour traffic -- BEFORE jumping into the car to drive to The Eldest Boy's event.

We arrived just AFTER his band completed their musical performance. Oh yeah, I got your Parents of the Year right here buddy.

Image credits: This web site and Brian Friedman/CBS.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bissinger's 'Father's Day' Book: Raw, Honest & Page-Turning

* Cross-posted on Mommy Tracked *

Buzz Bissinger doesn't care what you think about his parenting. Honestly. He doesn't. That's what makes his new memoir, Father's Day: A Journey into the Mind & Heart of My Extraordinary Son compellingly different from other parenting books.

Bissinger's candor about his failings and how he responded poorly to his son Zach's "serious intellectual deficits" are bracingly real. He's not trying to impress readers with how empathetic he was or what a fabulous, patient father he can be. He's laying all the ugly stuff out there. He isn't concerned if you judge him because he's already done a number on himself as far as condemnatory judgment is concerned.

Bissinger, the author of the widely acclaimed Friday Night Lights, has three sons, adult twins Gerry and Zach, and the college-aged Caleb. However, Father's Day is focused on Zach, specifically on the cross-country trip Bissinger took with Zach in the summer of 2007 in an attempt to get to know Zach who -- despite the fact that he has child-like comprehensive skills, counts on his fingers and doesn't understand much of what he reads -- still remains emotionally and intellectually out of reach to his father as much as Bissinger wished it were otherwise.

There was a three-minute gap between the birth of Bissinger's son Gerry and his son Zach, born three-and-a-half months premature in 1983 and weighing little more than two pounds apiece. Gerry, who was born first, had stronger lungs than his twin brother Zach and, as Bissinger said, the three minutes between Gerry and Zach's births made all the difference in whether Zach's brain got the oxygen it required. It didn't. Zach was hospitalized for his first seven and a half months on the planet.

The legacy of Zach's birth is something which continues to rattle and anger Bissinger, and had -- prior to the road trip with Zach, which he recorded so he could quote their conversations verbatim -- caused Bissinger to mentally check out to some degree when he was with Zach. "It is the most terrible pain of my life," he said. "As much as I try to engage Zach, figure out how to make the flower germinate because there is a seed, I also run. I run out of guilt. I run because he was robbed and I feel I was robbed. I run because of my shame. I am not proud to feel or say this. But I think these things, not all the time, but too many times, which only increases the cycle of my shame. This is my child. How can I look at him this way?"

The book -- which is sprinkled with anecdotes about Bissinger's relationship with his parents and his own career highs and lows, as well as Bissinger's admission that he has anxiety, depression and "mild bipolarity" -- reads like the script for a buddy road trip movie, as Bissinger drove them to an eclectic assortment of places to which he and Zach had connections and Bissinger frequently lost his cool when he foolishly didn't listen to Zach's suggestions on which roads to take because Zach not only has an unbelievable memory but is something of a human GPS.

Motivated to take this odyssey by fond recollections of road trips with his father, Bissinger tried to capture lightning in a bottle and reconstruct those precious father-son moments with Zach. But Bissinger's attempts to connect frequently left him feeling frustrated. For example, what he thought would be the crowning moment of the trip, a night in Las Vegas, fell apart because Zach was overcome and disinterested. Bissinger was angry and disappointed with his son at first, then he turned the fury on himself. It was a Cirque de Soleil show when Bissinger realized that what he'd thought would be one of the best nights of his son's life was crumbling. "Tears fill my eyes, as I face the fact that, all night long, I have done nothing but push my son beyond all limits of what is reasonable and right," he said. ". . . Everything I have learned from and about him on the trip cannot eradicate that so much will always be overwhelming and incomprehensible to him."

Among the hardest parts to read were those where Bissinger tried to speak candidly with Zach about his disabilities, a subject which Bissinger hadn't really thoroughly discussed with Zach in an attempt to protect him. The scene where they returned to a school where Zach had been treated abysmally -- yet Zach didn't realize he'd been treated badly -- was particularly agonizing for Bissinger because it brought him back to a time and place in his life when he felt unable to adequately help his child.

"There is no rose-colored ending to any of this," Bissinger wrote unflinchingly. "There is no pretty little package with a tidy bow. [Zach] will never drive a car. He will never marry. He will never have children. I still fear for his future . . . He is not the child I wanted. But he is no longer a child anyway. He is a man, the most fearless I have ever known, friendly, funny, freaky, unfathomable, forgiving, fantastic, restoring the faith of a father in all that can be."

The portrait Bissinger painted, of lugging along with them the heavy iron chains of his paternal guilt, a bag full of family photos and haunting memories, did eventually offer a glimmer of, not hope necessarily, but poignancy in the end. At the conclusion of the trip when his son Gerry joined the duo, Bissinger found himself moved by his sons' camaraderie in spite of how differently their lives turned out. "Three minutes does define a life, but never in the way I had always imagined," he said. "So many times I never thought I would get there. But we are a family, all different, sometimes divided, sometimes in pain, but unconquerable."

Image credit: Amazon.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Quick Hits: Remember the Cleats, 'League of Their Own,' Dad-Centric Book & Summer Camp

Cleat Check

Note to self: Ask the kids if they have their cleats and other sports equipment BEFORE driving a half-hour to a game.

It isn't all that fun to race home in order to pick up the forgotten item(s) and then be hounded by panicked cell phone calls and texts as you're making your way back to the field and hoping you don't get a speeding ticket.

A League of Their Own

My campaign to cultivate feminists in my household continued as I showed the kids the movie A League of Their Own, about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the first professional women's baseball league started during World War II.

Love this movie. Makes me cry every time.

The Girl said she found it "inspiring," particularly because, as she said, "If they could do that back then [become respected athletes despite naysayers], girls can do it now."

Read Father's Day

I just finished the new book by Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, called Father's Day, about a cross-country road trip he took with one of his adult sons who had suffered brain damage during a traumatic, extremely premature birth. And while I'll write a longer piece about the book later, suffice is to say that it's heart-rending, poignant and a total page-turner.

Summer Camps

For the first time, the three kids have actually said they want to go to a day camp or an activity this summer. They usually want nothing to do with these sorts of things so when they first mentioned it, I did nothing about it. Zip. Nada. Just nodded and continued on with what I was doing.

Only they haven't stopped inquiring. They, apparently, do want to go to something. Is it too late to sign them up for anything? Is this like trying to start and finish your Christmas shopping on December 24?

Image credit: IMDB.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Played Hooky on Mother's Day. And It Was Divine.

We played hooky on Mother's Day, my pal Gayle and I.

We left six kids with their fathers to attend to their various sporting and other sundry activities while we, the moms, went to Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox demolish the Cleveland Indians in absolutely ideal baseball weather.

We enjoyed a fresh brew beforehand at the Boston Beer Works (I partook of some Fenway Pale Ale), compared tales of our Mother's Day morns where we both were treated to homemade breakfasts (mine included homemade waffles with cinnamon apple syrup, fresh strawberries and a big, honkin' mug of hot coffee) along with homemade cards and gifts. (I wore one of my new Red Sox T-shirts to the game.)

We sat through the entire baseball game without hearing anyone whine about anything. (I did receive a couple of panicked texts pleading for me to intervene in a dispute one of my offspring had with The Spouse, but I opted to remain above the fray.)

We only shelled out dough for food and drink when we wanted something.

We only visited the restroom when we needed to do so.

After the glorious ball game (the Sox were triumphant, 12-1), those in attendance were invited to take a jaunt on the field (alas, on the perimeter of field, not on the grass). Gayle and I, Sox fans since we were but small children, got to peer into the dugouts, pose next to the Pesky pole, touch the Green Monster (making note of the white and red marks the baseballs left behind when they hit it) and try in vain to see through the narrow opening in the infamous wall. (Pics to come later.)

When we both rejoined our families later that evening, we were both thoroughly content having not rushed nor scurried about trying to appease one small person or another. We didn't witness any parental temper tantrums on the sidelines of a youth sports game. It was a perfect day off from the daily routines of child-rearing, one I didn't realize I needed as badly as I apparently did.

We played hooky on Mother's Day. And we loved it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

How Worried Should We Be About Soccer Players & Concussions? Should Heading in Soccer Be Banned?

Are they trying to panic us, these experts who are telling us that girls who play soccer rank second behind boys who play football when it comes to the number of concussions they sustain? Brian Williams' primetime news show Rock Center ran two long segments on NBC the other night asserting that girls with long, thin necks are especially susceptible to concussions on the soccer field. They even go as far to label concussions a "crisis" in girls' soccer.

"The number of girls suffering concussions in soccer accounts for the second largest amount of all concussions reported by young athletes, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine," NBC reported. "Football tops the list."

They quoted the director of sports medicine at a Massachusetts hospital, neurosurgeon Dr. Bob Cantu as saying:

"What's happening in this country is an epidemic of concussions, number one, and the realization that many of these individuals are going to go on to post-concussion syndrome, which can alter their ability to function at a high level for the rest of their lives."

So what does this mean for our soccer playing daughters, and our sons for that matter? For my 13-year-old daughter who idolizes Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm? We know that participating in sports is extremely beneficial for girls, so what are sports parents supposed to do with this scary information?

Dr. Cantu recommends banning heading in soccer for athletes 14 and younger. I'm very cool with that. (I cringe every time a kids' head makes contact with a soccer ball.) He also suggests that if girls have "very long, thin necks" they should go through a "neck strengthening program if they're playing a collision sport." Say what now? What's a neck strengthening program? Shouldn't youth soccer leagues be made aware of these things and implement them, maybe get pediatricians on board?

I've already informed my two soccer resident players, much to their horror, that I don't want them heading the soccer ball any more. (My son went bananas and said my irrational dictate would be responsible for him getting kicked off his recreational soccer team, something echoed by a female soccer player in the NBC interview). Other than banning heading and promoting neck strengthening exercises, about which I'm still unclear, what else are we supposed to do?

The NBC reporter Kate Snow and the Rock Center host Brian Williams have had or do have children who play soccer and didn't have many suggestions except for parents to be on the look out for symptoms of concussions. "We're not down on soccer," Snow said. ". . . If something looks wrong . . . take the kid out of the game, wait it out. It's better to be safe than sorry."

Here's the link to the Centers for Disease Control page on concussions, including the symptoms for which parents of youth athletes are supposed to look.

This Cover Doesn't Promote Breastfeeding. It Exploits it.

*Cross-posted from Notes from the Asylum.*


What the heck is up with that "Are you MOM enough?" headline? And, for that matter, what would possess Time Magazine's editors to pair such a shamelessly Mommy Wars-baiting kind of question with an intentionally salacious (not maternal, not nurturing) image of a nearly 4-year-old boy, who's identified by name, standing on a chair with his mouth on his slender, tank top attired twentysomething mother's exposed breast?

This cover is not about provoking a rationale discussion or even a lively debate about the pros and cons of attachment parenting or extended breastfeeding, two subjects certainly worthy of intellectual dissection. The cover isn't, as the editors claim, simply promoting the lead story inside the magazine which profiles America's leading attachment parenting advocate, who happens to be a seventysomething pediatrician. It's about titillation. Yeah, I said that.

Once you get past the cover, the magazine's lead story is entitled, "The Man Who Remade Motherhood." The accompanying articles (available for Time subscribers and on sale tomorrow on newsstands) are about Dr. Bill Sears and his attachment parenting philosophy which includes the promotion of extended breastfeeding through at least the first year of a baby's life and beyond, co-sleeping with the baby, not letting a baby "cry it out" and wearing the baby around in a baby sling. Other articles include a woman's tale of extended breastfeeding and a token analysis of attachment parenting and comparing its tenets to what science has discerned by studying its practice. Again, I think that these are important subjects to assess, particularly when it comes to tension between attachment parenting and the ability of women to work outside the home.

However that cover does a disservice to breastfeeding and flouts what breastfeeding advocates repeatedly say about it: It's not sexual and we need to get beyond seeing breasts as sexual objects and recognize that they're purposeful, functional parts of the female anatomy after a woman has a baby.

I'm a very low-key breastfeeding advocate, having nursed my babies for a long time, and think women should be able to do it wherever and whenever they and/or their babies need to. But this cover isn't about all of that. It's about newsstand sales. The magazine's editors should be embarrassed by their craven exploitation of this woman and her son, whose friends will be able to Google this image of him, at almost 4, suckling his mother's breast. Did anybody think about the impact of this photo on the kid?

Image credit: Time Magazine.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Preparing My Daughter to Take on the World

I sat down with my 13-year-old daughter the other day with the intent of revolutionizing her, or, at the very least, stoking embers of the fire which I hope will eventually energize her to take on the world.

We watched the documentary Miss Representation together. I've written about this film before and, even upon my second viewing, found that it remains a powerful indictment of the media of which I am a part. Miss Representation chronicles the long lasting impact of media sexism on our young women -- in coverage of women in politics, the denigration of women as sex objects, the sidelining of women's stories in news, sports and entertainment, and the media's emphasis on pleasing and catering to the male viewer/reader/consumer even though women watch more TV, go to more films and have control over 70+ percent of U.S. consumer spending.

The documentary presents statistic after wearying statistic which, when taken as a whole, paint a dire picture about the paucity of women in politics, the silence of women's voices in the halls of leadership (politics, business, media) and the lack of multi-faceted, intelligent, non-sex object protagonists in films and TV shows.

For every Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi and Condoleezza Rice, there are thousands of media talking heads and bloggers who want to make hay by tearing them down based on how they look and what they wear. You need to search no further for a relevant example of this than to the current internet hubbub over the fact that our Secretary of State dared to go out in public wearing no makeup except for lipstick. I blogged about the insanity here.

For every popular portrayal of an authentic, flawed, realistic woman on the screen (The Good Wife, Grey's Anatomy, Nurse Jackie), the number of shallow depictions of women, particularly those which reduce women to body parts or as subservient to men, vastly outnumber the complex ones, by epic proportions.

But I didn't want watching this documentary to be a downer for my daughter. And it wasn't. It got her angry. It got her motivated to do something about this, to not fall prey to the messages with which she's bombarded about how she should look and dress, what she should want and how she should act.

She was already well on her way to speaking out against this. When assigned to write a persuasive essay recently, she chose to write about how women's sports should receive more attention and coverage in the media after pointing out to me that the women's collegiate basketball tournament games didn't receive a fraction of the coverage the men's hoop tournament received. (She's a hoopster and wanted to read about her role models, just like her brothers could.) Additionally, when she looked up scores and info in the newspapers, she found that the games for female college athletes were listed well inside the papers (if at all) and were designated as being part of the "women's" NCAA hoop tournament versus how the men's scores were presented, as part of the generic "NCAA basketball tournament," you know, the "regular" and only real tournament because it was the male one to which everyone is referring when they ask, "Did you fill out your brackets?" The tournament for women hoop players didn't get that kind of publicity. The women's tournament is an also-ran, insignificant by comparison, and wow, did that tick my daughter off.

We'd both rather see the likes of this -- an online profile of fantastic soccer superstar Abby Wambach who is smart, talented, hardworking and fearless -- than insulting attempts to try to yield web traffic with headlines like, "PHOTOS: Dakota's Very, Very Low-Rise Jeans" (about actress Dakota Fanning's pants) or "Inside Octomom's Adult Film Shoot," both stories which were found on a prominent mainstream news site today.

Image credits: Amazon and espnW

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What Real Mothers Look Like

Stop what you're doing.


Go to YouTube and watch BirthMarkings, a short film by documentary filmmaker Margaret Lazarus that's currently being featured on the online International Museum of Women's exhibit entitled, "Mama: Motherhood Around the Globe."

It's a 20-minute video comprised of women talking about the scars, loose skin and extra bulk that was left behind on their bodies after they gave birth. The video is remarkable in that it's incredibly simple yet its message is deafening.

As you hear women talk about what they've felt and experienced during and after childbirth -- from hating their postpartum bodies, fearing that they'll never be seen as sexually attractive and worrying that they don't think they look good, to accepting their new shape as badges of maternal honor and reminders of their happiness that they'd been able to experience pregnancy -- you see only their bare midriffs, their arms and hands and hips. These are images we're not typically shown in art, on television, in photography, in films, in media, not in our Photoshopped world. We don't often see the authentic post-pregnancy bodies of other women unless we happen to be in the medical profession. The only one I see is my own in the mirror. (Two of my three kids were twins, so believe me, I know of what I speak.)

Interspersed with these compelling and refreshingly honest images, we see images of nature that resemble the physical maternal transformation, the streaked sands of the beach once the tide has receded, twisted regal tree trunks, vibrant streams piercing rocky terrain. They're beautiful in nature, no doubt that most would agree on that, but we're sent the message that to see something similar and just as natural on actual women is shameful, embarrassing and ugly.

Women who struggle with loose post-pregnancy abdominal skin and stretch marks have not been sent the message that the way our bodies look is normal and that many people bear the permanent marks of pregnancy while a few emerge relatively unscathed. Many, myself included, feel as though the way our abdomens appear must be some kind of aberration or else why wouldn't we have seen others like ours?

It only makes matters worse that the media are saturated with countless images of celebrity mothers whose only job is to "bounce back into shape" after having a baby. (If they don't, God help them as the tabloids and snarky web sites hound them mercilessly.) However these are women who have personal trainers, nannies, nutritionists, personal chefs, housekeepers and, most importantly, plastic surgeons at their disposal. This isn't the life experience of the average American mother who's just trying to get through the day.

Where there is enormous pressure on celebrity moms to return to their sexy pre-baby state -- even if a surgeon's knife is required -- it's kind of masochistically unrealistic for us to compare our bodies to theirs. Honestly, I don't live Jennifer Lopez's kind of life but when I see images and videos of her, a woman who's my age and who also has twins, I admit that it doesn't make me feel so great, particularly when she flashes her taut abs on the beach. Even if I went bananas with crunches and diets, my stretch marks and loose skin would remain, unless I had surgery, which doesn't interest me.

The question that Lazarus' short video asks is why would women consider surgery to eliminate the physical reminders that our bodies once housed and nurtured children? Is it because we don't see other women who have stomachs like ours? Because we've been trained by society and the media to feel badly about what happens to our bodies after childbirth?

The answers to those questions are definitely as provocative as the questions.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Twins, They've 'Come of Age'

Okay, here are the deets on why I've been in cone of blogging silence in this space: I've been super-busy helping The Eldest Boy and The Girl prepare for their Coming of Age ceremony -- and their accompanying service projects -- at our local Unitarian Universalist church. In the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church, the Coming of Age ceremony is like a low-key confirmation or a waaaay extremely mellow bat/bar mitzvah when the kids reach at 13, although the ceremony only happens once a year, regardless of the dates of the kids' birthdays.

What did this "Coming of Age" stuff entail? Each kid had to select one of the seven Unitarian Universalist principles that resonated with him or her then design a public service project to go along with it and write a speech to be delivered in front of the congregation. Mommy got to be alongside them through it all with the exception of prepping the Power Point presentations, which The Spouse handled.

The Girl immediately seized upon the principle related to the "interdependent web" of life and decided to research and support no-kill animal shelters. Our resident animal lover used our rescue dog Max (see above when he was a puppy), whose litter was originally found in the trash, as her inspiration.

We twice visited Buddy Dog, a local animal shelter that's been in operation for decades, for the first time on Valentine's Day. The Girl interviewed Buddy Dog's director, gathered info about shelters in general and toured the facility. She then organized a pet supply drive through our church to benefit the shelter. It was during our second visit when, while dropping off donations that we saw the puppy that we very nearly adopted but alas, did not. (I'm not dropping the second dog subject though, especially now that Coming of Age is over.) Thus supporting no-kill rescue shelters to help dogs and cats who've been abandoned through no fault of their own became the theme of The Girl's Coming of Age speech.

The Eldest Boy selected the second principle about "justice, equity and compassion in human relations." Inspired by an extremely sad image he'd seen of a malnourished Kenyan toddler in the Wall Street Journal (see above), he decided that he wanted to do something to help hungry children in Africa. He became quite passionate about the subject.

So we, the Picket Fence Post family trekked down to New York City to the Unitarian Universalist Association's United Nation's office during the February school vacation and met with the man who runs the Unitarian Universalist Association's program, Every Child is Our Child, that helps orphaned children in Ghana with food, clothing, health care and an education. Thus The Eldest Son became an advocate to our congregation for this program, which became the focal point of his Coming of Age essay. (The kid wrote a compelling plea for donations. He's got a way with persuasive writing I tell ya, though I'm not always keen on him training his persuasive arguments on me.)

Prior to the kids' speeches, The Spouse and I had to "introduce" them to the congregation. We divided the duties with The Spouse introducing The Eldest Boy and me introducing The Girl. Our goal was to try to not get too emotional because, in the past, I've teared up watching other parents present their children and I didn't want to start blubbering. (I was stressed out so starting to blubber was a distinct possibility when you're talking about your child entering youth adulthood.) The Spouse and I made it through our speeches dry-eyed, but our relatives later told us that they were grabbing for tissues. (I didn't notice that because I was trying not to drop the microphone or flub my lines.)

Couple the public service component and the speeches with preparing a tri-fold display board for each child which photographically traced The Eldest Boy and The Girl's 13 years (this is where I needed my tissues, both for the passage of time AND for the fact that I suddenly realized that I hadn't printed out any family photos since 2009 and had to pay a rush shipping fee to get hard copies of the photos) and feeding our immediate family at our house afterward and the past week was kind of a blur.

Today I had planned on decompressing from all the excitement and actually working on some writing, but those plans were thwarted by a medical issue with my other child (the one who has asked me to refrain from writing about him on the internet). Suffice is to say that it's been very dramatic here.

Nonetheless, with the Coming of Age projects and ceremony behind us, I'm hoping to resume my regular blogging schedule, that and to actually exhale. I can't even imagine how stressful it must be for parents of children having a bar or bat mitzvah. The twins have been to a couple of them already and they were both very well done. (The Pajama Diaries comic has recently featured a humorous storyline about bat mitzvah planning.) Luckily, the UU Coming of Age isn't as involved as all of that.

Image credit for second photo: Rebecca Blackwell for the Associated Press via Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Quick Hits: Clothes Shopping Hell, Oodles of Braces & No Second Dog (Yet)

Clothes Shopping Hell

The Picket Fence Post kids keep doing this growing this, lately in giant, sudden spurts. The amount of time in which they have to wear their clothes before they turn into high-waters or become so tight that they look like something the Hulk might wear seems to be shrinking. It seems like we're buying new shoes and cleats constantly. The boys' pants aren't worn enough to get rips in the knees.

Thus I took the three kids to Old Navy this week in order to pick up some inexpensive shirts and sports shorts, given that they said, "Nothing fits anymore!" It proved to be bad timing. Did every other mother with kids home for spring vacation have the same idea? The place was mobbed. Between following my offspring around to make sure they picked out the right sizes and nothing too expensive (or inappropriate, like 2-inch long shorts that the store was peddling to girls), it got chaotic, prompting me to start sweating and my patience to evaporate, which is why I think was of the kids who shall remain nameless, was able to sneak in a Lakers shirt without me realizing it. I'm not much of a shopper anyway, so having to go clothes shopping with three children in a packed store . . . well, let's say I'd rather have my teeth cleaned.

The spring shopping excursion then led to another one of my least favorite tasks, one I avoid as much as possible: Going through the kids' clothing to find items that no longer fit, determining which items can be passed down to someone else and making the kids try on certain items, even when they swear that they didn't fit when, in reality, they're just trying to get rid of the unwanted item so I can no longer bug them about why they don't wear it any more. (When I make them take the item back, they resort to cramming it in the back of a drawer hoping I won't see it until another clothing purge session.)

And we didn't even have an open bottle of wine in the house.

By the time all the sorting and shouting was completed, and after I'd uttered my version of "money doesn't grow on trees" and "do you know how much these clothes cost?" parenting classics, we all so needed the laughs that Modern Family afforded us. I love Manny.

Braces, We've Got Braces

Adding insult to the whole shopping debacle was the fact that The Eldest Boy got braces on his lower teeth before our Old Navy trip. Plus, his top braces were tightened. The kid was in some serious pain. And Tylenol didn't really help.

The Girl, meanwhile, was informed that in two months' time the palate expander on the roof of her mouth -- which has been pushing her teeth outward to make more space -- will be removed and replaced with a full set of braces on the upper and lower teeth. Cue the groaning and teenage complaining. Times two.

This ought to be fun: Two pubescents enduring frequent pain in their teeth, begging for milkshakes, soft food and Tylenol. I think I'd better buy the Tylenol by the gross.

No Dog #2 (For Now)

This searching for a second dog is stressing me out.

We've tried several times in the past month to adopt rescue dogs I've seen on PetFinder -- dogs the Picket Fence Post family thinks will fit in nicely and get along with our 3-year-old, 25-pound Max -- but our efforts have thus far been fruitless. We came close last week to getting an adorable Havanese puppy mix (Max is a Havanese/Wheaten mix), but alas, we submitted our application after another nice family who eventually adopted the little guy.

A few days ago, I scared the pants off of The Spouse when, after bringing some donations to a local dog shelter with The Girl, I wound up placing a $25 deposit on a puppy with whom The Girl absolutely fell in love. She'd insisted on returning to the puppy area multiple times, after I said it was time to go, and snuggled with this one adorable, silken puppy. Although I can now admit that the puppy, whose lineage is unknown, would grow to be a fairly large dog, larger than what The Spouse and I had agreed upon, I was in a vulnerable place having lost out on the other puppy last week. I foolishly acceded to The Girl's request to put a 24-hour hold on the puppy and even allowed myself to begin thinking of names for her.

However when I showed The Spouse photos and a video of the dog, he said aloud what I was thinking but didn't want to admit: The cuddly dog would be bigger than we wanted. I sheepishly followed The Spouse up to The Girl's bedroom and informed her that we wouldn't be adopting the puppy. I think I took it harder than she did.

I've decided to stop trolling the PetFinder web site for a while. I need a break.

Image credit: PetFinder.