Monday, December 31, 2007

Boys' Town

As the lone female surrounded by males (3 boys - my 2 sons and my husband), it's a struggle to preserve even a bit of civility. Oh sure, I insist they open doors for me, I make them help me in the kitchen, but to give you an idea of the testosterone overload around here, their favorite game is Dodgeball In The Dark, where they go in the backyard and throw things at each other. Yesterday was a good snapshot of the dynamic in our house: We wanted to watch different movies on t.v., so we compromised by going back and forth between Alien Resurrection and Steel Magnolias. Five minutes of female bonding and lines like "My personal problems will not interfere with my ability to do good hair!", then five minutes of flamethrowers and slimy monsters with dripping tentacles. (Although in a way, both movies dealt with maternal love . . . .)

You might wonder why we didn't just watch our respective movies on different televisions - as my boys will tell anyone, we are the only neanderthals in the world who don't have a second t.v. (I didn't want one in the boys' rooms or the living room, and then my husband read somewhere that couples without a t.v. in the bedroom have more sex, so that was it for us!) Besides, having just one set is so much more educational: I got to watch Sigourney Weaver bond with her alien spawn, and the boys got to hear Dolly Parton say, "That boy is so confused, he doesn't know whether to scratch his watch or wind his butt!"

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Happy Homemaker - not!

Lately I’ve been having these odd domestic urges; I love the idea of making hearty stews from scratch, getting rid of clothes the boys outgrew 3 years ago, decoupaging the driveway. Usually I take a nap instead. But this time of year lends itself to domesticity – colder weather, shorter days, kids home on vacation whining about being bored. I was actually cooking the other day while Ben watched t.v., and a commercial came on urging moms to order a cake-decorating kit, which brought out all my insecurities. I hadn’t even baked cookies in ages, and here, for the low low price of $19.95, I could get everything I needed to produce professionally decorated cakes at home! As the announcer continued, “But wait, ladies, there’s more!” and the camera panned over various bags, tips, and stencils, I actually started toward the phone until I heard Ben say, “Mom, that’s totally stupid!” I snapped out of my trance, thrilled that my 11-year-old had either seen through slick advertising techniques or developed early feminist leanings. Beaming with pride, I asked him why it was stupid, and he responded promptly, “Duh, mom, it doesn’t even come with a cake!”

Out of the mouths of babes . . .

Monday, December 24, 2007

If at first you don't succeed . . .

Sometimes you have to keep trying - with kids, work, training husbands, etc. And sometimes you accidentally stumble on a solution. So here are a few examples (of perserverance and accidental genius) to inspire or to reassure you . . .

- I hit the wall last week with general disrespect, messiness, bickering, complaining, etc. (you know, the usual) and finally got fed up enough to draw up a contract (listing privileges they now had to earn, and the behaviors I expected). The list itself wasn’t all that unusual, but what made it effective was that I posted it on the refrigerator – the thought of a friend or neighbor seeing it was mortifying, so now all I have to do is threaten to put it out again, and they improve dramatically!

- Post-it Notes came from an adhesive that didn’t work very well – things kept falling off, so the inventor repositioned it and voila!

- Meredith Wilson was a semi-successful bandleader whose biggest claim to fame was working on Tallulah Bankhead’s radio show and responding to one question a week with “Yes sir, Miss Bankhead.” He worked for 8 years on a little show about his hometown, and finally got it produced when he was 55. For non-theatre-buffs, the show was “The Music Man” – perhaps you’ve heard of it? – As someone approaching the big 5-0, I love this story of overnight success after over 30 years!

- One of the more memorable features of the original “Bob Newhart Show” was his distinctive fashion sense (using the term loosely – do you remember the orange plaid jackets with green houndstooth trousers?) Turns out the show had a wardrobe coordinator whom everyone adored, but who happened to be color blind – no one wanted to hurt the man’s feelings, and thus a look was born.

Moral of the stories: If I hang in there for years, I can turn accidents into success, and embarrassment is highly motivating!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Celebrity moms make us look good!

I've read dozens of interviews with celebrity moms who insist they're just like us (only richer, thinner, and more touched-up?) -Holly Robinson Peete unwinds by doing yoga breathing with her kids, Teri Hatcher loves to bake cookies with her daughter (without ever eating them, apparently), and Katie Holmes loves creating holiday rituals with her daughter & stepkids "just like any normal family" (who subscribe to a religion given to us by aliens, but whatever). But hearing from these blissfully serene moms will make anyone look inferior, so here are some examples to make you feel better about your mothering skills:

Of course, if you haven't been in a monastery, you know about Britney's pregnant kid sister, and you may have heard about the mom's parenting advice book which is now 'delayed although still planned'. (This announcement came from the publisher, a Christian book company - am I the only one who finds that amusing?) What's more, Jamie Lynn met the boyfriend in church, and mom Lynne can't believe it happened since "my daughter has never missed a curfew" (I guess abstinence-only education teaches people that you can't have sex before 10 p.m.?)

I also happened to pick up Joan Collins' autobiography, in which she describes herself as a dedicated mother whose children are the center of her universe. She enjoyed them so much that she was sometimes willing to stay home and "babysit on Nanny's night off". So, see, when we decide not to go club-hopping, we too can be devoted moms who babysit our own children!

Have you heard about the new Jennifer Lopez? Impending motherhood has made her "trade the fast lane for the carpool lane", so this newly down-to-earth mom is spending most of her time decorating the nurseries. Yes, that's a plural - planning kids' rooms for 3 houses is time-consuming, but fortunately friends are buying most of the items for which she registered at LA boutique Petit Tresor, including silk crib sheets and a $590 designer diaper bag. (I'd hate to see what she would have wanted before she became so down-to-earth!)

I don't know why, but these stories make me feel much better!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thanks for the mammaries?

I'm not sure if I'd be thinking about breasts in any case, given my advanced age and the advancing effects of gravity, but they're certainly on my mind because of my boys and their different perspective. (I'm referring to all 3 boys, my kids and my husband!) Ben, the younger one, is curious about everything, and I find myself repeating, "I'm not sure why nipples aren't a private place for boys but they are for girls, and no, you can't see mine!" David's only reaction to me is to express abject horror when my attire reveals the slightest glimpse of cleavage – he will only reveal his curiosity to my husband. The other night, David tentatively asked Scott about the first time he got to ‘second base’ (can you believe kids still use that antiquated terminology and yet still think sex was invented in 1990?) Scott blissfully described the time a girl took off her shirt and let him fondle the coveted objects. David seemed disappointed. “That’s it? You just touched them?” Scott nodded, happily ensconced in his memory, and unsure why David seemed to be expecting a better climax to the story (pun intended).

The subject came up again (good grief, I can’t stop myself) Sunday when we attended a dinner for Scott’s band and their families. (One of Scott’s various jobs is singing with a big band – yep, I’m married to a wedding singer, and much cuter than Adam Sandler!) The boys and I ended up sitting near a new mom, and when the baby got fussy, the mother matter-of-factly began nursing at the table – with no discreet blanket or covering. I realized I’d never seen anyone nursing that openly since I’d done it myself, and to my complete surprise I felt a faint prickling, like the phantom limb feeling amputees describe. I looked tenderly at the former infants I once suckled – Ben was openly staring, with a gleeful smirk on his face, and David alternated between trying to ignore her and sneeking peeks. Gosh, they grow up fast!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mom, how'd you do it?

I wrote earlier about how things were simpler for our moms (no working vs. stay-home mom debate, no agonizing through thousands of child-care advice books), but in the interest of fairness (since my mom might read this!), progress has resulted in some real sanity-savers, and not just the big obvious ones like cellphones and minivans with cupholders. Here are a few advantages we have over our moms -

Ziploc bags - Think of all the uses to which we put this underappreciated invention, especially when our kids are younger (snacks, pacifiers, diaper wipes when we lose the travel size pouch and don't want to carry the Costco 500-pack in our purses), but they also come in handy as pastry bags, cosmetic organizers, or a way to bring home the goldfish your kid won at the raffle. Granted, these days we're supposed to pack school lunches in re-usable containers, but I'm sure most of us revert to the occasional ziploc bag, which is so much easier than the waxed paper I vaguely recall from childhood. (Waxed paper is right up there with other memories of obsolete items shared by our generation, like rotary phones, 8-track tapes, sanitary belts, and E-ticket rides at Disneyland.)

Self-adhesive postage stamps - Does anyone else remember those contraptions that had a small water bottle attached to a sponge-tip? Or the home-made one of a wet sponge in a saucer? I don't really miss the taste of postage stamps, but it is weird to think that our kids won't know what they tasted like (joining other sense memories like the sound of chalk squeaking, the smell of purple mimeographed papers, or the sound of the little bell instructing the teacher to advance the film strip).

Stretch jeans - I don't buy jeans anymore without that lovely hint of spandex, just enough to make them comfortable. In jr. high I remember buying jeans, lying down in a bathtub and soaking them while I was wearing them, then letting them dry to achieve a decent fit. But they never felt right until they'd been worn and washed so much that they were barely held together by the remaining threads (which of course meant you had to cover the really embarrassing worn spots with embroidered flowers and peace signs). That was fine when I was 13 and weight 85 pounds - but it also explains why our mothers never wore jeans!

In trying to find more example of the benefits of progress, I considered including cable t.v., tivo/dvrs/vcrs, all the various ways that let us watch what we want when we want, but I also miss the days when a scheduled t.v. special was a real event. We used to make a big deal out of the yearly airing of The Wizard of Oz - when I was really young, I would try to convince myself I was rooting for the witch instead of Dorothy, so I wouldn't get so scared! In those days, we only had a black & white t.v., and by the time we got a color set (here's another bit of pop culture history - our color t.v. was a Heathkit that my dad and my uncle built!), I was in high school and too busy with activities to stay home on Wizard of Oz night. As a result, I never knew about the color section in Oz, until I got to college, where during finals week the film society would lighten the mood with one night of kiddie movies (and one night of porn, but that's another story). When Dorothy stepped out of the house and things burst into lurid color, I just figured I'd picked up a contact high from all the smoke in the room.
Note - I've told an edited version of this story to my kids, and of course they react to my story of a black & white t.v. the way I reacted to my mother's stories about using an outhouse on the farm where she spent summers. My kids also can't grasp why I didn't just rent the movie, or tivo it - after trying unsuccessfully to explain life without videos, I gave up, and they gave me the look we gave my dad when he claimed he'd had to walk 20 miles to school, uphill in both directions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oh please!

I'm reading an article on iVillage that purports to be about 'shocking mom confessions', where moms oh-so-honestly admit their failings. Are you shocked by this? - "Some nights I don't pick up all my son's toys because he'll just take them out again tomorrow." Or are you horrified by the mom who sheepishly owns up to making pbj's for dinner when she's tired?, or the one who shamelessly reveals that when her toddler falls down, if he's not hurt, she helps him laugh off his fall? Come on, iVillage - you couldn't find any worse examples? Or are you staffed by a bunch of Stepford moms who really think those are shameful confessions?
They should've asked me for better ones. Like when Ben was a toddler, he was a frightening combination of incredibly active and very heavy, plus he hated being carried and wouldn't hold my hand, so most of the time I had him on one of those leash contraptions. Let's just say we got some REALLY dirty looks, but I never considered giving up my precious leash. And am I the only mother who's had one (or two, or dozens) of those sleep-deprived brain-burps where we forgot to change a diaper, left the house without the baby, or put the bottle in the freezer and the teething ring in the microwave? How's this for bad mothering - Even though I'd been warned about the inappropriate language, I took my kids to Jersey Boys (how could I resist?, I knew someone in the cast who offered us a backstage tour), and I laughed as hard as they did at the worst (and funniest) swearing. And my husband isn't immune - granted, he's 'husband 2.0' and thus not the boys' father (although he's a terrific stepdad), but this supposed role model of adult male behavior will arm-wrestle his stepsons for the last bowl of Lucky Charms in the morning. One night the boys were arguing over who had more pubic hair, so naturally Ben pulled down his pants to prove he had some. David pulled down his pants and claimed his was more genuine, so to break up the dispute, Scott announced, "You wanna see REAL pubic hair?" and dropped his own trousers. (That's what it's like to be the only female in a testosterone-infused house!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How things have changed since we were kids

Sometimes it's fun to reminisce about how our childhoods differ from our kids' (and how they're similar). In so many basic ways, things are basically the same, in that I grew up in the suburbs, went to school, had after school activities, a dog, carpools, etc. Kids are pretty oblivious to the things that make a practical difference to moms (microwaves, ziplock bags, disposable diapers, aromatherapy, spanx). Of course there are the obvious changes in technology - our kids can't fathom life without cellphones, email or gameboys, but in practical terms, all those devices just help us do what we used to do (communicate or play) more efficiently - leaving us more time to surf through 900 channels instead of 9, and still find nothing to watch.
I'm more fascinated by the weird side effects of technological change. For example, I just read about a new psychological disorder in young kids, complicating their toilet training because of their fear of automatic flush toilets. My kids are old enough to have been completely toilet trained and then some before the invasion of automatic toilets, which at least around here (suburban California) are pretty recent. But toddlers are freaked out by toilets that go off without any warning - frankly, it scared the daylights out of me the first time! - and there are now child psychologists who specialize in treating this phobia. (Side note - I just heard from a friend who has lived in Japan: apparently toilets there are incredibly high tech, with automatic seat warmers, various buttons to activate different digitalized sprays, sanitizers and washes, and now some even higher-tech toilets can process and analyze urine samples. I shudder to think what those contraptions will do to toilet-phobic toddlers!)
Another side effect of technology that cracks me up - disposable diapers advertising a new feature, a "feel wet liner". Apparently, disposable diapers are SO effective that kids don't mind wearing them, which is another disruption of toilet training. So now when you think your kid is ready to be trained, you switch to diapers which are intentionally LESS effective, so the kid feels less comfortable and is more willing to sit on the potty seat. My mother likes to remind me that all 3 of her kids were toilet trained before our second birthdays - but we weren't precocious, we just didn't like sitting in soggy cloth diapers. My younger son's toilet training ran just a bit later than the introduction of new sizes of disposable diapers, fortunately, because he was (and is) a big kid; so just when I despaired of him ever being out of pullups, they introduced size 5, and then size 6 - and then he finally gave them up, just before I would have to have switched him to Depends.
I'll write again when I can think of some non-bathroom-related examples of technology gone awry.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thank goodness for small giggles

This is a generally stressful time of year - hell, our lives are stressful all year round, it's just crazier (and colder) right now. But just when I'm ready to snap (or to start crying at stupid Hallmark specials), it's nice to have something remind me not to take it all so seriously. Yesterday I had to go to a family-education-day at my boys' religious school (while normally I get the house to myself on Sunday mornings), and in a fairly heavy session on 'The December Dilemma' (dealing with Chanukah in a secular Christian world, not to mention interfaith families, which is my situation), one dad told us about an ad he'd seen, reminding customers to 'order their Chanukah Ham!' (Okay, it's only funny if you know that ham isn't kosher, so even jews who don't keep kosher know better than to eat ham or shellfish on jewish holidays. But in the middle of a deep discussion, it made me laugh!)
That night, I went to see a friend's cabaret show, and while I wanted to be a supportive friend, I was stressed getting out of the house and wishing it was scheduled on a different weekend, and as a jewish mom in an interfaith family in a neighborhood overloaded with Christmas, I wasn't exactly excited about yet more Christmas music. A few songs into the concert, her guitarist began this fun, funky lick, and they went into a crazy jazz version of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" - and I started laughing. Out loud. So much so that the singer noticed, and commented, "Gee I guess Lauren likes this arrangement!" (I felt a little like Mary Tyler Moore in the Chuckles The Clown Funeral episode - I'll blog about that one later, if you've never seen it . . . . . )
So now I'm keeping my eyes and ears open for those unexpected moments that crack me up - while I'm simultaneously looking for examples of super moms imploding! (That's both funny and incredibly evilly satisfying!)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Getting older

I can't lie about my age - I made the mistake of letting my kids know how old I was, several years ago, and naturally, they can't remember what day of the week it is, but they remember that one instance and can even do the math to figure out how old I am now! So I'm 49 today. Not as impressive as the big 5-0 but getting there. Tom Lehrer is a comedic songwriter from the 60s, who warped my perspective early on with songs like "Poisoning Pigeons In The Park" and "The Masochism Tango" - he used to get a huge laugh with his line, "When I want to get depressed, I think about the fact that when Mozart was my age, he'd been dead for 5 years." My equivalent version is realizing that when my mother was my age, she was already hinting about wanting grandchildren! My brother was in graduate school, my sister was married, and I had already lived the starving artist life in New York for 5 years after college graduation, and had moved to San Francisco in an attempt to meet straight men.
This morning, the Today show had a panel of men talking about turning 50. How timely, right? Most of the discussion involved how men struggle with talking about and acknowledging their feelings, and let's just say, that's never been my problem. My kids are actually pretty used to it - one evening I came into our bedroom, and my husband was snuggled up next to Ben (the 11-year-old), reading together before bedtime, and I was so overwhelmed, I burst into tears. The next night, Ben tried to recreate the moment, telling Scott how to sit, saying "Let's make mom cry again!" (Side note - medical studies have analyzed the chemical composition of various types of tears, and there is a stress hormone released in emotional tears which is not present in tears shed when your eyes water from irritation or other sources - so actually, it's GOOD for us to cry!)
Anyway, listening to these men talk about the various issues they were facing, and how rare it was for men to have those conversations, made me grateful yet again to be a woman, and to have women friends with whom I'm comfortable complaining about perimenopausal symptoms or reassuring each other we're still cute enough to shop at Forever 21.
And at least so far I'm fine with this whole aging thing. When someone asked my father if he was upset about turning 70, he said, "Hell, no, not when I consider the alternative!" That's one way of looking at the glass half-full - but I also have so much to look forward to, and while it would be fun to do all those things with 20-year-old knees and a less sagging jawline, I wouldn't give up my wealth of experiences for a return to the bounciness and cluelessness of youth. I may feel differently next year - but for now, I'm wearing my Forever 21 top and fun dangling earrings and feeling pretty darned cute!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Why we're so neurotic, part 2

Here's another thought - until very recently, motherhood was something that just happened to most women. (My father likes to point to a photo from my parents' 40th anniversary party, where they were surrounded by all their grandchildren, and say, "See, here's a dynasty that basically started because I was horny!") Couples got married and kids followed - but these days, because of the miracle of birth control, motherhood is a choice, and consequently we feel all this pressure to make it an all-encompassing, thoroughly blissful, utterly rewarding choice. "I wanted this - I should feel more blessed!" And then when we have those moments of frustration with our kids, exhaustion, boredom, etc, we feel guilty for not enjoying it, for not being consumed with gratitude.
I'm not advocating going back to the 50s/60s model of parenting. That wealth of information that confounds us also taught me that there are better remedies for teething pain than rubbing bourbon on a baby's gums. And thanks to birth control, couples don't have to get married at 19 to have sex, and I was able to choose when I had my kids. But like any huge social change, this evolution of motherhood is bound to be a bit rocky for those of us in the trenches. So we need to give ourselves permission to keep what worked from the 50s motherhood model - I read one article by a well-respected pediatrician who advocated less helicopter parenting and more 'benign neglect' - let your kids be bored, let them figure out how to make their own snacks, let them fail a test if they don't study, let them be hungry if they don't like what we're serving for dinner. We survived! (We also survived lead-based paint, station wagons without seatbelts, and sunbathing without sunscreen - kids are pretty darned resilient.) Our mothers had a host of other problems with which to contend, but for the most part they didn't drive themselves nuts worrying about whether they were good mothers, or feeling guilty because they occasionally didn't like being mothers, they just did it, or sent us out to play and figured we'd come home when we were hungry or bleeding.
Maybe we can embrace what works about modern parenting (helpful information, knowing that we are an important influence on our kids) but retain some of the common sense our parents practiced, and remember that we're all just doing the best we can at any moment, this is an incredibly difficult job, and no one is perfect. And a sense of humor always helps - when my boys are driving me crazy with their fighting, I try to remember when they also crack each other up with hideously inappropriate humor. (My 14-year-old taught the 11-year-old a trick from doing musicals, where the boys would add ". . . in my pants" to every song title. This resulted in such boy-friendly jokes as the song list from Music Man, including "76 trombones in my pants", etc. . . . . ) Ah, the joys of being a mom!