Friday, December 4, 2009

Unexpected (and odd) mom moments

I think most moms occasionally have those moments where we think, "why on earth did I sign up for this?" And most self-employed women have moments of wanting to trade our crazy juggling acts for regular, normal jobs. This week I had a day that combined the worst of both - instead of the relaxing morning I'd anticipated (before a day of nonstop appointments), I had to take Ben to the orthodontist to have his spring re-attached - for the 27th time, I believe. Since I'd thought it would be fairly quick, I hadn't brought work to do, so I ended up having 45 minutes to thumb through out-dated People magazines. (And while I appreciate knowing why Jon & Kate split up, I still had other things I needed to do!) I was already crabby as I drove Ben back to school, so it didn't help when he announced, "Oh, mom, you need to bring my dress clothes to school, it's final rehearsal for the drama team play." As we waited in the office to sign him back in, I envisioned frantically hunting through Ben's room, having to reach behind the rat cage for his crumpled white shirt, and meanwhile Ben stood as far away from me as humanly possible, since of course 8th graders would rather die than publicly acknowledge the existence of parental units.

We walked out at the same time, with me prepared to make an anonymous exit, and suddenly Ben came up to me and said, "Mom, sorry about that, but there were some cool kids in the office and it's sort of embarrassing to have your mother at school." I said of course I understood, turned to leave (without doing anything really embarrassing like waving or kissing him), and then Ben called out, quite audibly, "Bye, Mom, I love you!"

Needless to say, I barely made it to the car before I burst into tears. That one, unexpected gift made up for the 45 minutes at the orthodontists, in fact, it made up for the $400 band trip fee, the nights I sat up with him when he had stomach flu, and even the 12 hours of labor. What a great reminder of why I made the choices I've made - if I had a 'regular' job and a nanny to handle all my tedious tasks, I would have missed a wonderful moment. (On the other hand, I wouldn't have minded letting a nanny look for the dress shirt and clean up around the rat cage . . . oh well!) And if I'd never had kids, I wouldn't know how it feels to cry with joy because a 13-year-old said something to me that didn't begin with "Mom, I need . . . . . "

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It Takes a Village (and a few margaritas)

A few nights ago, I met a group of mothers for a much needed round of drinks while we waited for our kids to finish rehearsal. Our 'drama mom community' has had an unusually high rate of life stresses lately, experiencing everything from brain tumors to husbands with cancer to parents passing away, so in between dealing with sleep-deprived teenagers and organizing meals for the families in crisis, we decided we needed a bit of R&R. Since jetting off to Aruba wasn't an option, we picked the next best thing - the bar at the local mexican restaurant.

It was a much-needed reminder for me, at least, of how beautifully women connect. Not all the moms knew each other, but after a few minutes of introductory small talk, we got right into the important stuff - opening up about how stressful it's been, comforting the moms who'd lost parents, talking about medical histories, and sharing our fears and concerns about our friends going through surgery and chemo. But in between the heavy moments, we also commiserated about perimenopause, made fun of our husbands and ex-husbands, and told embarrassing anecdotes about our kids. (I thought I'd struck comedy gold with the story of how I spent the weekend helping my younger son needlepoint the Guatemalan flag - don't ask - but one friend topped us all by relating a particularly bad argument about leaving shoes out with her 11-year-old, where the mom eventually threw the shoes . . "Not intentionally at her, and besides only one shoe actually hit her!")

We laughed, cried, and all split one more margarita (between middle-aged bladders, sleep-deprivation and lowered alcohol tolerance, a drink and a quarter each was all we could handle!) And I was reminded of that scene in Steel Magnolias at Shelby's funeral, where the women bond through tears and then laughter. Men may have a number of advantages over us, ranging from higher earnings to no lines in public restrooms, but they don't provide each other the same kind of village. So here's to all the mom communities we form, to all the women who help each other out, and to the healing power of a margarita!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Romance Novels

I'm a huge fan of Jane Austen, historical fiction, romance novels - any glimpse of that alternate reality where love trumps everything and couples don't have to bother with the messy details of normal life. (I always loved how Elinor Dashwood's family was considered poor because they only had two full time servants.) I also collect vintage novels from 1900-1930, which are a wonderful glimpse at social customs and fashions - and in which the virginal heroines are oblivious to boys, other than as friends, until true love hits them and they marry the men of their dreams. And the modern-day beach novel is always a fun escape - characters in Judith Krantz and Nora Roberts books are always 'flame-haired slender beauties' who never have to diet because they're too busy jet-setting to polo matches and international conferences.

The modern romance novel, according to Wikipedia, was officially born in 1972 with a book called Flame & Flower, the first 'category romance' to be published in paperback. Since then, romance has become big business. Harlequin sells 4 books per SECOND! (which is an awful lot of windswept cliffs, heaving bosoms, and manly chests). But I beg to differ - I recently discovered a vintage novel from 1921, The Sheik, which I'd read was the inspiration for the Rudolph Valentino silent movies (as well as the inspiration for an attempted early morning romp with husband 2.0 - but that's another story).

Reading the book today is a hoot - Diana, our intrepid heroine, is immune to love and prefers big game hunting and exotic travel. Against everyone's advice, she sets out to explore the Saharan desert, but before she left, her stunning beauty caught the eye of a wealthy Sheik, who decides to bribe her caravan leader so he can capture Diana for his harem. Diana is astounded to find that Ahmed is surprisingly clean for a heathen (she comments several times on his manicured nails), and his large tent is sumptuously appointed with silk divans, priceless rugs, and a fully equipped bathroom. Still, she resists him and loathes him until one day she loves him. After a brief interlude where she is captured by a rival sheik and rescued, Ahmed turns out to be an English nobleman who was adopted by a sheik. So now it's okay for Diana to confess her love and they end up living happily ever after in the oasis, with occasional visits to their country estate. (Oh, and although the Sheik forced Diana to share his boudoir for several weeks, apparently all he'd taken from her was her dignity and a bunch of passionate embraces, so she didn't suffer 'the ultimate humiliation' until they were properly wed. Yeah, right.)

The Sheik has all the elements of classic romance novels - the characters are sublimely attractive yet unaware of their charms, they discover deep, abiding passion despite the obstacles, and the plot is about as realistic as my appearing on Dancing With the Stars. And, like those Harlequin best-sellers, it's a great escape from the hassles and annoyances of modern life - although in the case of the Sheik, part of the fun was that I kept cracking up. (The book is full of overwrought prose, lines like "The touch of his scorching lips, the clasp of his warm strong body, robbed her of all power of resistance" - it makes Jackie Collins look like Evelyn Waugh!)

Turns out, the Sheik was also the predecessor of modern romance novels' popularity. (When I get used books, I always flip eagerly to the page before the title page, to see if I've lucked into a first edition - this one was up to the 34th printing in only 9 months!) It was daring, and scandalous, and started a whole sheik/vamp fad that had a huge influence on the flapper era - so really, my fascination with The Sheik isn't about the romance, the seduction, and the Rudy Valentino fantasies, I'm just interested in the historical aspect. (Sure, and my brother snuck my uncle's Playboy magazines for the articles. . . . . )

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mommy playdates

It's been years since I was on the preschool 'playdate' circuit, where I scheduled my kids' social interactions, but I still remember one of the best perks, which was when I discovered a mom with whom I clicked. I'd go over to retrieve my kid, and we'd end up chatting for another hour, thrilled to find someone to talk to in complete sentences. At that age, the kids were young enough that they'd play with just about anyone, so it was easy to make most of their playdates with kids whose moms I enjoyed.

One of those preschool moms has become one of my dearest friends, so yesterday we met for a quick lunch at the Nordstrom Cafe, where we used to meet when our older boys were in preschool and our 2nd kids were in strollers. We reminisced about those 'good old days', remembering where Hannah (her perfect little girl) charmed the grandmother at the next table, or looking at the dent in the chair I'm sure was left by Ben (my rambunctious one). And we fretted that as our schedules (and kids' lives) have gotten more complicated, we no longer have those long, leisurely playground outings and Burger King lunches.

And then this morning I read an article (in the New York Times, so you know it's got to be true!) about how unstructured play time is good not just for kids' developing minds, but for over-stressed adults, specifically those raising teenagers. It was as if the article were written just for me - how did the author know I was play-deprived? We all get so loaded with work deadlines, household chores, kids to drive, volunteer commitments, and the idea of doing something just because it's fun has become alien - these days, my 'fun' tends to be a few stolen moments doing a computer jigsaw puzzle (which I hide the minute the kids come in the room since I told them I needed the computer for work).

Now that I know my stress is aggravated by being recreationally deprived, I finally have an excuse to schedule some play dates for myself. I just emailed my flute-playing friend about scheduling some time to play piano-flute duets (which I used to do with my best friend in 5th grade), and I'm meeting another friend for late afternoon tea. And I even decided married couples need play time. I'd just read a vintage copy of The Sheik, the hugely popular novel from 1921 which inspired all those romantic Rudolph Valentino movies, so I made Husband 2.0 get up earlier than the kids this morning to attempt a harem-fantasy-based quickie. (Unfortunately, his 'sheik' impression made me laugh so much that we ran out of time . . . but it was still fun! Plus I have scientific proof that play does reduce stress - this was the first morning in weeks that my not-a-morning-person-teenager's grouchiness didn't make me snap back!)

Now I'm remembering that although raising toddlers was incredibly stressful, we had all that mommy play time to help us cope, and I've missed it! I know how easy it is for us all to become 'mommy-martyrs', but now we have scientific proof that denying ourselves isn't good for us, or for our kids. So after I finish up some work, I'm going to email a couple of friends about getting together, then I'll go get a pedicure - not for me, but for the good of my family!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nag, nag nag, nag nag . . . .

I swear, in my pre-mom days, I was a patient, calm, quiet person who never raised her voice, who handled conflict with serenity and aplomb, who never sweat the small stuff, who rose above petty annoyances. That was before I had to get recalcitrant kids to do homework, clean their rooms, take out the trash, practice drums/sax/voice/etc., feed the dog, rats & fish, study for an upcoming bar mitzvah, and so on - all of which take multiple reminders, and supervision, and maintenance visits to make sure one kid isn't spacing out and another isn't slacking off after 5 minutes. ("I swear, mom, I worked so hard, I need a break, and my clock says it's been 35 minutes!") I think I spent more time yesterday reminding Ben to practice drums than he actually spent at the drum set - and this is a kid who actually likes playing an instrument, I shudder to imagine the suffering of my friends whose kids resist piano lessons.

When my mom nagged me, I remember vowing, "I will NEVER bug my kids, I will teach them to be conscientious and responsible on their own." Oh, how charmingly naive I was. First of all, 'self-reliant teenager' is the ultimate oxymoron, because although they really WANT to be independent, they keep forgetting little details, like oops, that 8 a.m. call right after you've gotten home from carpool, "Mom, I forgot my lunch/spanish book/science project". And face it, their standards of cleanliness and hygiene are somewhat different from those of anyone above 18. (My friends with teenage daughters claim they have it worst, describing rooms with piles of discarded clothes from the last "I have nothing to wear" melt-down, but I defy them to complain to me after they've smelled the room of a teenage boy who gets any sort of exercise. I once picked up a pair of freshly-used tap shoes, and nearly passed out!)

So sure, I have the best intentions of staying detached, letting them suffer the consequences of a forgotten lunch, a disappointed drum teacher, a room that needs fumigating. But I'm a mom, too, and sometimes I can't help myself. I think they need a new 12-step program for moms who struggle with letting go - "Hi, I'm Lauren, I nag my kids." "Hi, Lauren!". But come to think of it, nearly every one I know would need to join.

At least now we have very public examples that make the rest of us not look so bad. Ayelet Waldman has a new book out, "Confessions of a Bad Mom", that glories in her non-perfect parenting (as well as revealing way too much information about her wild sex life as a teenager). And apparently the talk shows and blog-o-sphere are all a-buzz with a recent episode of Jon & Kate which showed her screaming at her kids not to eat so many strawberries, and commentators are debating whether she is a control freak or just a human mom with way more kids than anyone should have. So all of us who merely nag can take comfort not just in numbers, but in knowing, hey, at least no one has caught me yelling at my kids on national t.v., or talking about my sex life on a book tour. And next time my kids accuse me of being a mean mom, I'll just rent "Mommie Dearest" and hope they appreciate me for never screaming "No wire hangers" at them - sure, maybe that's because I can't find a path to their closets, and they never hang clothes up anyhow, but at least in comparison I look like the saint I used to be pre-kids!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Surprise - you're old!

My first-born turned 16 recently, and that was just the latest in a series of reminders of my own aging - roots that need touching up way more often than I can afford, having two children with hair on their legs, my own dear husband referring affectionately to his '50-something' sweetheart (I'm 50, not 50-something!). But it wasn't so much the fact of the birthday that made me feel old - it was the celebration.

Between starting his summer job and exhaustion from the end of the school year, David was too wiped out to plan anything but let me know he'd be okay with it if I took over (by saying discreetly, "Mom, just in case you feel like giving me a surprise party, I wouldn't mind, and Danielle might know who I would want to invite, because you know my guy friends are clueless about this sort of thing.") So with the help of his friend, Facebook, and a quick trip to Costco, I was ready for our house to be invaded by teenagers.

It all worked perfectly - Husband 2.0 got David out the door for a driving lesson, his friends showed up on time to help me frantically set the party up (getting 24 helium balloons out of my car, where I'd hidden everything), and he was suitably surprised (yelling something unprintable). I was definitely in the thick of things, supervising the set up, telling kids where to put their coats, suggesting good hiding places, but once the party got started, I realized that despite my internal sense of youth, I was not a peer, I was merely the party planner/caterer/maid. The kids thanked me for the sodas I distributed and the pizzas I cooked, a few even politely asked where to put recyclables, but that was it.

At least I was used to being a wallflower as a teenager, so that sense of being ignored was familiar. For husband 2.0, it was an unpleasantly novel experience. He'd been one of those popular kids in high school who wouldn't have deigned to socialize with a geeky nerd like I'd been (although the biger obstacle to our early romance might have been the fact that when I started high school, he was in first grade). So after he'd made a trip through the living room collecting used dishes, expecting to be fawned over like back in his glory days, he came back crestfallen. "When did I become invisible?" I reassured him that I still thought he was fascinating and the girls who ignored him had no taste . . . .

As I refreshed platters, cleared garbage, and tried to keep the 12-year-old little brother from being too much of a pest, I felt a weird sense of being a housewife from a 50s sitcom, like June Cleaver chaperoning one of Ward's parties and reminding Beaver not to annoy his brother's friends. (At least under my apron I had on cute jeans and platform wedges, instead of a starched shirtdress & pearls.) Sure, in many ways we've changed as parents (I listen to my kids, I never say "Wait til your father gets home", and I don't roll my eyes at their taste in music, since they like what I like), but on a basic level some things never change. Teenagers have always ignored parents at parties, little brothers have always been moderately annoying, and adults have always felt weird about getting older.

I went to wake David up the next morning and looked at his long leg sticking out of the covers, thinking, "Wow, that tall hairy man was once my baby", I realized June Cleaver, my own mom, and generations before them have had the same feeling - and it was actually comforting to realize I was a cliche, sometimes. Then I touched up my gray roots, put on some Lynyrd Skynyrd, and washed the rest of the party dishes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

. . .snips and snails and puppy dog tails . . .

Okay, I've known from the beginning that boys are different from girls. I tried to be a gender-neutral parent, and when my boys were toddlers they used their dolls for weapons and their play cooking tools for 'rhythmic instruments' (i.e., noisemakers). I cope by taking neighbors' girls to movies and malls, and I let husband 2.0 teach them to play "Dodgeball In The Dark" and other games of mass destruction. But sometimes a girl just has to draw the line - or so I thought.

My boys have always been animal lovers. They've had hamsters, and a lizard, and various other small caged pets at various times. I said okay when the boys' godfathers wanted to give them tropical fish (and now that the weird-looking algae-eater keeps the tank walls clean, I actually enjoy them). And of course I was more than happy to get the dog (who, by the way, is a total girly girl, and refuses to do 'Sit' or 'Lie Down' unless she's on a soft surface). But for years Ben has begged for pet rats - and I refused to discuss the matter.

It's not just the basic idea of a rat. I lived in New York City for 5 years, and I saw subway rats the size of german shepherds, and I even had rats in my apartment. One night I woke up to an odd sound coming from the box of Rice Krispies on my make-shift shelf (created out of salvaged milk crates, painted green & nailed to the wall of my studio apartment). I turned on the light and noticed that the box was moving, with a large, brown tail coming out of the top and extending down the side. I did what any independent, Cosmo-girl Living In The City would do - shrieked, grabbed an industrial strength garbage bag and thick rubber gloves, and sent the cereal box & its inhabitant down the incinerator shaft. But it was as close as I ever needed to come to any of that species.

Ben pleaded, he showed me internet articles about how smart and trainable rats are, but it didn't matter how many times I agreed that the character in Ratatouille was cute, I wasn't sold. Until I needed a good 'hurdle helper' (a.k.a. bribe) to get him to keep his room clean, and I'd also run out of good chanukah present ideas for a kid who was too old for Bionicles and too young to appreciate clothing as a gift.

So Ben is now the proud owner two very cute, clean, white rats with subtle markings of caramel (which he named Peanut) and brown (Mocha). I actually enjoy feeding them, watching them take a nut into their tiny paws that look surprisingly human, seeing how daintily they nibble, how sweetly they nestle and groom each other. But I still don't like to hold them - it's too hard to ignore the tails, which still are awfully reminiscent of the Rice Krispies incident.

These days, I go to Petsmart for an assortment of rat food, dog toys, and aquarium filters, and I feel like the owner of a menagerie - but then again, that's what having a house full of boys feels like anyhow. (And at least the boys will go shopping with me when it's to the pet store - not exactly what I had in mind, but it's something!)

Thanks for the Mammaries (sorry!)

Women are notorious for being able to bond in almost any circumstance - my husband is constantly amazed at the conversations I strike up with other women in check-out lines, airports, doctors' offices, any place where having to wait in one place creates an opportunity for temporary kinship, and we can talk about children, trying to lose weight, the cute earrings someone has on, or any number of subjects (whereas men seem limited to 'how about those Lakers!'). So it didn't surprise me when I began chatting with a group of strangers in a waiting room, as we all sat around in our plush yellow robes listening to subtle contemporary jazz.

Only we weren't waiting for exfoliation treatments or pedicures, we were all there to get mammograms or related services at the oh-so-subtly named Women's Breast Center. (The name, prominently displayed on the wall, makes it hard to pretend we were there for any other reason, although it also made me wonder what the waiting room would look like in a Men's Breast Center . . . . ) At first we all stuck to our magazines and Blackberries, but eventually the long wait broke down our isolation and we began chatting. (There's something about the prospect of having your breast mashed between two metal plates and being told, Relax!, that breaks down barriers real quick.) We learned about each other's previous mammogram horror stories (technicians with cold hands!), we compared notes on whether it was more unpleasant for smaller or larger breasts (the jury is out, we all think it hurts!), and we wondered how weird it would be to do a mammogram for Dolly Parton or Pamela Anderson. And of course we cracked the inevitable jokes about men having to undergo a similar procedure for their prized appendages.

We also got into family history (many of us had relatives who'd had cancer) and one woman told us her bone cancer was detected by what she'd thought was an overly picky radiologist whom she now credited for saving her life. (Which made us all ashamed of the times we'd griped about those other 'overly picky radiologists' who wanted to take just one more image.) And of course, we all agreed that the whole experience would be more pleasant if the facility also offered the body wraps and massages that the robes & music seemed to indicate.

In my case, my wait was longer because my family history and cystic tissue merited an ultrasound (which is just like the ones for pregnancies, with the blue goo and the fuzzy black & white computer image - god, did that bring back memories!, but nowadays they warm up the goo and give you lots of towels, as opposed to back in my pregnant days when I felt cold & greasy for hours afterwards). But eventually I was told I was done - until next year, of course. I have that wonderful sense of accomplishment, of ticking off, and being free from, one of those unpleasant maintenance duties for a year or so (dental exams, blood tests, cleaning out the stuff that leaked in the freezer). (Okay, I don't clean out the freezer every year, but I know I should and I just did it so it counts!)

Meanwhile, I can rejoice in being part of a gender that bonds so easily, and if the Women's Breast Center takes the suggestions we all promised to send in, maybe next year I will be able to get that post-mammogram massage!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"At The Ballet" (in pink tights)

When I was 9, after taking ballet lessons for about a year, the teacher took me aside and told me that at my advanced age, it was time for me to decide between dancing & playing the piano, and given my ballet skills, she suggested I choose piano. (Yes, it's funny now, although I was traumatized at the time) But after a few decades (and a couple of good therapists along the way), I gave it another shot and enrolled in an adult ballet class, at a studio where I'd already been taking tap dancing for fun & exercise.

It was a scary transition. Tap dance is satisfying - it doesn't take long before you can make some cool sounds, tap prowess relies more on rhythm & relaxation than on the ability to put your leg over your ear, and classes are full of an assortment of body types, laughing and having a blast. Ballet is more serious, the music isn't as fun, and it tends to attract women who were serious ballet students as children - and who still have classic ballet bodies. (Every time I'm in class, next to those impossibly lithe, leggy beauties, I have this urge to hum the Sesame Street song, "One of These Things Is Not Like The Other". I'm a healthy, normal size who looks decent in regular clothes, but let's just say pale pink tights do not flatter my healthy, normal, and comparatively short legs, particularly when this nice Jewish girl is overdue for a leg wax!)

Still, I've persevered for several years, forgiving myself (sort of) for my slow progress, making adjustments for my limitations (proudly kicking my healthy, normal leg almost up to a 90 degree angle while everyone else has their feet at eye level or above) and trying to remember that my husband prefers my healthy, normal curves. And class has become my meditative oasis. Ballet is so demanding, my brain doesn't have room to focus on anything else, so I have an enforced break from money worries, kid stresses, or wondering if I forgot someone important on Ben's bar mitzvah invitation list. Plus there are wonderful moments of joy - watching someone who started out gawky do something graceful, hearing a favorite piece of music, or an unexpected bit of entertainment. For example, many of the women in my class are thin enough and wealthy enough to have had a bit of silicon enhancement. Most are extremely subtle and natural looking, but there was once a woman who must have been 6'1", almost all in her legs, gorgeously slim but with Dolly Parton's bustline; when she jumped, her double Ds didn't move an inch, despite having no more support than a flimsy spaghetti strap top. (To give you an idea of how weird that was, my healthy normal chest requires 2 bras and a leotard with a built-in bra, and I still bounce all over the place.)

And sometimes, I do feel like I've made progress. I realized how good ballet was for my healthy, normal body (have I said that enough already?) when I went for a physical several years ago. It had been 2 years since they'd measured my height (during which years I'd started ballet class and ended an unhappy marriage), and the nurse was astounded to see that I'd grown two inches. Vertically. All from the posture improvement I'd gained from dancing, with a bit of the divorce thrown in. There are the smaller accomplishments - like FINALLY remembering the 8 body positions (Efface or epaule?) or realizing I could do chainee turns across the room without getting nauseous, just dizzy. And this week, I completed a fouette turn (a pirouette while whipping the leg out & back in - hard to describe but it's what ballerinas do a dozen times in a row when they're showing off). It wasn't pretty, but I got around without falling on my face, and for a moment I felt like a real dancer. (Until my teacher returned me to reality by reminding me that my feet weren't pointed, my shoulders were hunched and my leg wasn't straight. . . . . But at least I did it!, I wanted to protest, which I guess was like saying, Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?)

So it's taken many years, but I think I've finally healed that childhood wound of being told I had no future as a ballerina. I still know I have no future as a ballerina, but after 41 years I can feel good about my healthy, normal body despite the pink tights and rail-thin gazelles, and occasionally do a wobbly fouettee. Sometimes, that's all it takes to make my day!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Easy Behavioral Modification (yeah, right!)

Usually, I delete those unsolicited emails offering tips on anti-aging superfoods (acai berries! no, tofu!, actually, now it's quinoa!), positive thinking ("send this to 5 supportive friends, and something amazing will happen in the next 9 minutes!"), and income ("Yes, you can turn your journalling into a 6 figure book contract!"). But one popped up the other day which I couldn't resist, promising 'Brand New Ways to Banish Bad Behavior for Good!' (Come on, the only person who could resist that title is the supermom down the block, you know, the one whose perfectly-dressed kids ASK for extra chores and love broccoli, the ones who've never heard of Burger King?)
So I read the article, which said that our culture gives kids too much of a sense of entitlement, and the only way to improve their behavior is to teach them gratitude, expressing thanks and by noticing small blessings. (This is brand new?) I can just see some harried mom, pulled over for speeding with 2 screaming kids in the car, doing her deep breathing and saying, "Justin, Ashleigh, let's say thank you to the nice officer for doing his part for our community." Or a frazzled mom breaking up a fight with "Boys, tell each other how grateful you are that this time neither of you actually drew blood."
I mean, come on. Kids act up, no matter what we do, and you can read 5,000 articles with tips on influencing their behavior, and have the exact same results. I've tried the gratitude thing - we say grace before meals by having each family member say two things he or she is grateful for. Usually I get a sullen, "I'm grateful for, food and family, um, do I HAVE to eat the tuna casserole?" Or the boys use the ritual as an excuse for pushing an agenda: "I'm grateful mom MIGHT let me stay up and watch Family Guy, and I'm grateful that Ben isn't as annoying as he usually is."
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for trying to limit this entitlement thing, where kids feel the world revolves around them. I give them regular chores, I'm sticking with being (in their opinion) the meanest mom in the world because we only have one television set in the house, and I not only make them do their own homework, I have never yet referred to a school project in the first person plural. (You know, "WE got a bad grade on the science experiment . . . ") But beyond that, I guess I sort of feel like bad behavior is part of childhood, and part of what we get to make them feel guilty for when they're grown.
Besides, if there really were brand new, fail-safe strategies for making kids behave perfectly, there wouldn't be such a proliferation of articles and web tips and emails advising us - the articles don't really help, but they do provide outside work for a whole bunch of moms who are probably thrilled to have something to do besides trying to make their own kids behave!
As far as I'm considered, my strategy for dealing with my kids' unpleasant behavior is
1) trust my gut instincts,
2) remember that the bad moments will eventually pass,
3) take the advice of the Wicked Witch of The West, when she used her broom to sky-write "Surrender, Dorothy", and
4) remind myself that the authors of those behavioral guides are probably the same moms I see with kids who behave even worse than mine!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Spam, spam, spam, spam . . .

Every time I turn on my computer, I hear that Monty Python song about tinned meat, and it’s not just the piles of unsolicited ads (“Lower your mortgage”, “You deserve sexual pleasure!”, “Money for you, Please to send account numbering to Nigeria bank”). I’ve also got accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and multiple blogging sites, and if I were to keep up with every message I get on every one of them, I wouldn’t have time to work, write my own blog, or deal with the kids who inspire the blog, much less eat or sleep.
So I was astounded to read an article in today’s paper about texting, which included the statistic that average teens send 2,000 texts a month and a case study of one 14-year-old girl whose parents cut her off when she hit 15,000 a month, and confiscated her phone until she promised to keep it under 5,000. (That's not a typo.) Even assuming that the girl’s texting skills are infinitely superior to mine (given that I take 20 minutes to send a single text, so I don't get much practice), those numbers are still both disgusting and impressive – disgusting because to rack up 500 messages a day, she had to be texting in class, at meals, and in her sleep; and impressive because she stayed so incredibly caught up with her messages.
I have no plans to start texting on a regular basis, TYVM, and I’m learning to delete the emails with cute cartoons of kittens, or touting ‘Free Shipping’ from stores I don’t patronize. And frankly, I don’t need to respond every time someone on Facebook lets me know she took the ‘What Musical Theater Leading Lady Are You?’ quiz. But I do want to get better at catching up with business emails, networking sites, and connecting with the old friends I’ve rediscovered on Facebook - you know, the point of all this internet access, right?
I imagine the 5,000-a-month whiz doesn’t fret over her piled-up inbox, she just responds quickly and concisely to the messages she feels are important enough, so that’s the one part of her story I do want to emulate. (The other good part of her story is that I was starting to get angry at my 15-year-old for exceeding his prepaid text limit of 200 – he looks really good by comparison, and now he’s won his argument that he really is saner about it than most teens.)
And I will no longer feel guilty deleting chain emails ( “Add your name to the panty-of-the-month club” – which I didn’t make up, even though it sounds like something out of a Monty Python skit . . . )

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Mothers' Day Reality Check

I've always hated holidays that smack of forced gaiety and commercialism - New Year's Eve, for example - and Mother's Day, after all, was created by the greeting card industry. But I couldn't help being touched by those grade school projects, the macaroni necklaces and coupons for services the kids never really meant to render ("one foot massage" "24 hours of no arguing"). And of course I always send my mother flowers and a sappy, totally heart-felt note that is as different as possible from last year's.

Now my kids are at that in between stage, too old to make something in school and too young to have an account with 1-800-ProFlowers, so for the past few years, I have to admit, mother's days have been pretty disappointing. Husband 2.0 is new to the concept (heck, it was only with my stellar example that he started sending his mother anything besides e-cards), but he's tried, usually without much success. There was the year they tried to make me dinner, and the power (conveniently) went out, so we celebrated with a gourmet meal at Burger King. A couple of years ago I told them I just wanted handmade cards, and I got a scribbled illegible message on ripped notebook paper from one, and an elaborate drawing of a fanged monster the other traced from his Star Wars encyclopedia. Not exactly the Hallmark moments I dreamed of, and frankly, I was starting to miss those preschool handprint cards.

So this year I lowered my expectations dramatically, figuring gender stereotypes DO apply, they're clueless boys and self-absorbed teenagers to boot, so if I get out of doing dishes it will be a miracle. And lo and behold, they did pretty well. David wrote a lovely note that included an accurate count of how many days he's been alive (and grateful for me as a mother), and Ben completely surprised me. Last week he told me an elaborate story about a survey they'd taken in social studies about preferences, and asked me to answer a few questions, including my favorite flower (sweet peas) and favorite type of cake (carrot), and then while I was teaching he rode his bike almost a mile to Safeway where he found a carrot cake and tried to purchase sweet peas (but had to settle for baby roses), and hid both in his closet for 3 days.

All the boys (including husband 2.0) also set a lovely table and prepared an elegant meal. (They didn't exactly cooperate in the menu planning department, so the feast included baked potatoes, french toast casserole AND garlic bread, plus the carrot cake, but let's just say with the leftovers, if I run a marathon in the next week I'm all set to carb load.) And the best part? We got through the meal with almost no bickering AND they let me watch reruns of America's Next Top Model, without teasing me, while they did the dishes.

Sure, it's only impressive in comparison to past debacles, sort of like finding $20 in your pocket when you thought you were broke, or how your headache feels better when you stub your toe, or how easy it is for Husband 2.0 to impress me compared to his predecessor. But sometimes I think that sort of lowered expectation would be good for us - growing up in southern California, I never understood the whole renewal concept of spring, until I went to college in Connecticut and experienced that first glorious day when we could go outside in short sleeves and see the daffodils. Likewise, my friends who are so comfortably familiar with sweet, unexciting husbands might value them more if they had bad memories of an ex. (Not that I'd wish divorce on anyone, of course . . . )

At any rate, of course now the boys HAVE raised the bar and next year needs to be even better - but by then David will have his drivers' license, Ben will have his bar-mitzvah-gift-savings account, and I think I'll have 2.0 hint that they could take me to dinner. (And I'll stop fantasizing about the creative way Ben will get me to reveal my favorite restaurant, or how David will calculate how many minutes I've spent driving him around . . . . . )

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I’m a Real Housewife - Where’s My TV Show?

The latest entry in the ‘Real Housewives of . . . ‘ series is going to be set in New Jersey, where for a change of pace (not) we’ll get to watch rich, tacky, shallow women shop for size 0 designer clothes and fret about important priorities like redecorating their powder rooms and getting a last-minute Botox appointment. This time I guess the difference will be even tackier accents and the vague suggestion of mafia ties, but overall it’s the same excuse for ‘real’ real housewives to snigger and feel superior: “I may not have that kind of budget, but I’m a better mom and I don’t sound like such an airhead on national television.”
Come on, we already have tons of shows where we can watch shallow, tacky people make idiots out of themselves, from reality competitions to daytime talk shows to most sitcoms. What about a ‘real housewives’ show featuring REAL people, with real problems, like how to keep your kids from bickering in front of your neighbors, or what you can make for dinner with 3 frozen chicken breasts and an expired jar of salsa?
I can see it now - Real Housewives of San Mateo, featuring me and my neighbors as we cope with such thrilling challenges as an excursion to Costco (where I promise I’m only buying toilet paper and batteries!), or Carol loaning me her carpet cleaning machine even though I think my carpets are beyond hope. We don’t have any trampy neighbor to have affairs with the pool boys none of us can afford to hire, but there is a rather hunky UPS guy we can occasionally ogle, and instead of comparing notes about our designer shopping sprees, we can let each other know when there’s a sale at Old Navy, or a special on ground beef at Safeway.
Hmmm . . . I’m even bored, and it’s my life!, so I can understand why producers aren’t clamoring to make a reality show about reality. Watching normal people cope with typical problems we all face doesn’t give one that thrill of schaedenfraude (taking joy in the misfortunes of others - I still remember my SAT vocabulary!), because it’s fun to feel superior to superficial morons with too much time and money, even as we envy them, not just for the expensive trinkets but for having lives that are interesting enough to merit a TV show.
That’s my dirty little secret - I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes I wish I had a more glamorous, unusual life, even though I love my family and can even find joy in some of my more mundane moments. Oh, I know raising kids and teaching music (and all my other odd jobs) are much more important than getting on television because I’m an airhead with a sugar daddy, but every now and then we all yearn for a bit of glamour, something novel to break up the routine. I think I’ll go wild on my next trip to Costco and spring for some new socks.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tomatoes, fish and blogs

No, it's not a list of ingredients for a weird recipe, just a list of things I have to remember to maintain, and all of which start out with the best of intentions, ending up in a few straggly brown plants, an algae-covered tank, and a bad case of writer's block.

To explain how these odd ingredients actually do connect, I'm borrowing a line from Alan Jay Lerner, the lyricist & playwright (for My Fair Lady, Camelot, etc.). In his memoir, he wrote that he became a theatre writer ecause of "a cigarette, a left hook, and a wrong turn on the way to the men's room". (The cigarette got him kicked out of prep school en route to a diplomatic career, the left hook in a college boxing match damaged his vision & kept him out of the war, and the wrong turn was taken by Fritz Loewe, causing him to meet Lerner and launching a very successful collaboration.) I always loved that elegant combination of seemingly unrelated events (even though the memoir also contains lengthy descriptions of the writing retreats Lerner & Loewe spent at their various country homes, complete with a full complement of servants catering to their every need, taking 2 months to write one song, and I want to yell, "Okay, let's see you write a song while shelpping 2 kids around, running a home, teaching voice lessons, and doing all your writing at 5 a.m. before the kids get up!")

Anyway, my serendipitous combination of circumstances may not lead to a successful career, but it has shown me I need to slow down a bit and take better care of myself, as well as take better care of the tomatoes I planted with such optimism but occasionally forget to water. Meanwhile, the fish tank was a well-intended gift from the boys' godfathers (my best friend from college, Andy, and his husband-until-Calif.-figures-out-what-to-do-about-the-gay-marriages-performed-before-Prop.8, Bob, who has proclaimed himself to be the boys' 'fairy godmother'). The idea of the tank was that the boys were totally responsible for it* and I was to do nothing but watch and enjoy. I guess I missed the asterisk . . . *until they both get really busy with their respective activities and mom caves in and cleans the tank . . . . and since I teach my voice lessons in the room with the tank, I have to look at the algae on a regular basis.

Then there's the lapses in blog entries. I had all these noble intentions, to post twice a week, to cross-post to other more popular sites so I could follow in Diablo Cody's footsteps (she's the Academy-Award-winning screenwriter who got her start blogging about her work as a stripper . . . not that I'm stripping, but I figured someone out there is reading these blogs . . . oh, never mind). Anyway, it meant I stopped writing for my own enjoyment and was thinking of my blog as a promotional activity, which pretty much took the fun out of it, and sure enough, over 2 weeks have gone by where I didn't even realize I hadn't been posting, I just got busy with other things.

So - I hereby resolve to water plants, clean the fish tank, and write blog entries purely for my own enjoyment, and if my efforts produce edible tomatoes, a beautiful aquarium, or a screenwriting contract, that's icing on the cake. Meanwhile, after I get myself more serene and then become an overnight success after 35 years, I can use this series of events to launch my own memoirs, and make Alan Jay Lerner look lazy by comparison.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

&*@# Ikea . . .

I've always had a love/hate relationship with Ikea, the build-it-yourself furniture superstore. One the one hand, even before the recession I appreciated a bargain, and I like to think that even if I had $5,000 to spend on an end table, I wouldn't be so wasteful. Walking through Ikea's beautiful but maze-like showroom and seeing the ridiculously low prices gives me the same high I got the first time I went to Loehmann's (back in the day when it was a real outlet with real discounts; heck, I went to the original one in the Bronx, where I fought for mirror space with an entire Mah Jongg club, only to emerge triumphantly with a beautiful lined wool coat for $40).

However, when I bring home my clothing finds from Loehmann's (or TJ Maxx or Target), all I have to do is cut the tags off, maybe fix a loose button or take up a hem. With Ikea furniture, even a simple end table comes in hundreds of pieces, and furthermore, there are no instructions, just a series of weirdly drawn, confusing diagrams. (hank goodness I helped my boys do all those stupid Bionicles and Legos, with pre-literate instructions - but it's still confusing. With almost every piece I've assembled, I've made a significant mistake (put on the drawer bottom incorrectly so the raw side shows, or screwed in the side legs backwards so the table is lopsided). And inevitably I lose or misplace one of the little annoying pieces, the wood pegs or odd-shaped screws.

Last night the boys and I started on David's desk (replacing the one he's had since he was a baby - he's almost 16, so even though we really couldn't afford new furniture, it was time!). For most of the evening it was actually a wonderful bonding experience, where I gained new appreciation for Ben's strength and David's coordination, and they realized that their mother actually knew something about assembling furniture. (It was also a great opportunity for the boys' favorite game, adding "that's what she said" to otherwise innocuous sentences to make them sound dirty - since we were dealing with screws, nuts, and protrusions that had to fit into corresponding holes, you can just imagine the conversation.) I was glowing with maternal pride (until we ended up screaming at each other about which parts needed to be put away so the dog wouldn't eat them, or something like that). I just pray today's session ends a little more smoothly - but I already have frayed nerves, scraped fingers and a sore back from the dresser we just completed, so even under the best conditions, assembling Ikea furniture leaves me pretty ragged.

So why do I keep going back? Sure, part of it is the money - I've bought (and assembled) 2 nightstands, a coffee table, the desk in my office, several bookcases, and 4 deskchairs for what a nightstand would cost in a regular furniture store. But it's also the thrill of the bargain, as well as that profound sense of accomplishment I get when I close the drawer in a bedside table that I built myself. (Okay, it doesn't close all the way, but I still built it!) And I hope I'm teaching my kids the satisfaction of doing something for themselves, as well as how to wield a screwdriver, how to read weird diagrams, and how to apologize to their loved ones after they lose their temper.

Friday, April 10, 2009

News Flash - Iowa is Hipper than California?

Sad, but true - California is way behind the curve these days. Oh, we may have led the way once, as the birthplace of movies, right-turn-on-red, flower power, and electing movie stars as governors, but we are hopelessly out of date when it comes to real cultural progress. It was bad enough when we were shown up by old fuddy-duddy New Englanders like Massachusetts and Connecticut. But now one of those mid-western, heartland red states we've always thumbed our noses at has shown us who's really up to date. And Iowa? How can the state immortalized for disapproving of pool tables (in The Music Man) legalize gay marriage before the really hip states?

It's gotten to the point where California and New York are trying to prove which is closer to getting there - here in Calif. we claim we sort of had gay marriage, but we're waiting for the court decision on Prop 8, the state referendum we insist was skewed by out-of-state Mormons throwing their money around; meanwhile, in Albany, legislators are bragging that their state was the first one to sort of get a gay marriage bill started without a court mandate, even though it hasn't passed the state assembly yet. While they bicker, betrothed gay couples will be leaving San Francisco and Jones Beach for such hotspots as Waterloo and Des Moines (or maybe Bridgeport, Connecticut) for their destination weddings, and stay tuned for leather bars and lesbian coffee houses to proliferate in Burlington and Montpelier. (And how's this for pathetic - I had to look up Vermont cities online, I couldn't even think of any!)

I actually feel sorry for those Defense of Marriage folks - it's one thing to rail against the cross-dressing commie pinko weirdos in the Castro or Miami Beach, or for Sarah Palin to insist she supports 'real Americans', not the effete liberals who live in California or New York (which I guess are no longer part of America?) But it's a lot harder to rant about the lack of traditional values in Vermont or Iowa. Meanwhile, none of their predictions has materialized, or at least I haven't heard of any Connecticut bluebloods petitioning to marry their dogs or Vermont maple trees turning gay.

What's next, folks, will South Dakota and Kansas be next? How can California possibly maintain its image as the nation's weirdest state? (Although when it comes to marriage, Utah still has that polygamy thing to live down . . . . ) Come on, folks, we have to get it together quickly, so that California is once again ahead of the curve - I mean, everyone else has right turn on red, there are indie music festivals in Kentucky, and in San Francisco's once bizarre Castro neighborhood, a proliferation of suburban-type families are living happily among the cross-dressers and "Hot & Hunky" hamburger stands.

If we don't restore our reputation soon, we'll end up being outdone by dozens of other states - and it would be truly humiliating if Utah legalizes gay marriage before we do.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Romance, mystery and the common cold

Every generation seems to have its version of advice on how to enhance romance. In the 70s, there was Marabel Morgan's Total Woman, which basically advised women to be a combination of biblical helpmeet and Playboy bunny. (Joan Rivers tried the suggestion that wives wrap themselves in Saran wrap and nothing else, and lie down on the kitchen table, and her husband's reaction was, "What, leftovers again?") In the 90s, there were The Rules, telling women to play hard to get and never to admit how much money they made. And these days you can find hundreds of books recommending that a wife turn over all the finances to her husband because "it's too hard for li'l ole me", even if she's the primary breadwinner.

But in between all the more lampoonable advice you can usually find some more reasonable suggestions, and what pops up most often is "preserve some mystery". In other words, you'll be more alluring if you don't let your husband see you putting on makeup, tweezing your chin, or squatting on the toilet. Which sounds great in theory, although between our hectic lives and my nice-Jewish-girl body hair, if I never let Scott see me grooming, we'd never finish a conversation. But the idea is good, and I vowed to start being a bit more reserved and mysterious, until I came down with a whopper of a cold.

It was bad enough that my husband got to see me wheezing, sniffling, and shuffling around the house in a fog, not to mention my oh-so-attractive watery eyes and red, swollen nose. (Why can't I ever get sick in a pale-yet-alluring way? I remember sharing a cold with a college roommate, and we dragged ourselves out to watch the Hitchcock classic film, Notorious, in which Ingrid Bergman's double agent character is dying from being poisoned, and she looked even more beautiful, especially compared to our haggard appearances, which made us feel even worse.) Oh well, we both swore to love & honor each other in sickness, not just health, and he was remarkably sweet, asking how I was feeling, fetching me hot tea, and ignoring my richter-scale-loud sneezes.

But then there's the matter of Kleenex - warning, this is about to get graphic, so if you're squeamish or lack a sense of humor, switch over to a scrapbooking blog or youTube videos of stupid cat tricks - anyway, it's not just the used ones that pile up on the bedside table but the ones in use overnight. See, I don't know about the rest of you, but when I have a cold, my nose drips all night, unless I employ a tissue as a dainty little barrier (those of you with good imaginations are thinking, please don't go any further here!). Anyway, that means I end up sleeping with an odd white protrusion from my nostril, as if I wasn't already unattractive enough with the aforementioned red nose (and does anyone else also get major chapped lips during bad colds?)

Scott, bless his heart, never said a word (maybe because during my last cold, he teased me and I burst into sleep-deprivation-induced tears), and if I didn't love him madly already because he thinks Nicole Kidman is too skinny, this would've clinched the deal. (Who knows, maybe Nicole sleeps with a weird face mask or something else even when her husband is home from tour or rehab?) Meanwhile, I'm mostly breathing clearly again, so tonight I plan to re-establish myself as a woman of mystery. No sran wrap or baby talk, but I will floss my teeth and bleach my arm hair in private.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Meat Loaf and Mood Swings

The only way in which I even remotely resemble Martha Stewart is weekday meal planning - no, I’m not smoking my own lox or carving radish roses, but I’ve learned to prep dinners in the morning, so on hectic days of driving kids to activities until dinnertime, I have something ready to heat up. This is less a display of organization than a bribe to myself (if I get through the hellish afternoon, I’ll actually have a dinner I enjoy instead of stale leftovers or take-out I can’t afford).

This morning was fairly typical - during the time it took me to assemble one meatloaf, I went through a day’s worth of perimenopausal mood changes. First I was patting myself on the back for getting dinner started. Then I started to feel sorry for myself - I’m not feeling well, and if I didn’t have kids to shlep and cook for, I’d be in bed. Then I started blaming myself - I’m a bad mom, I haven’t taught my kids enough to make dinner for themselves, alternating with, oh, come on, I’m not that sick, it’s just a cold, stop the pity party. (And this was just while I was getting the ingredients out!)

Chopping the onion gave me an excuse to cry, which strangely enough led to a wonderful sense of caring for my family (my husband loves this new meat loaf recipe I cobbled together from a few different cookbooks plus my childhood memory of the one my mom used to do). I may not be as famous or financially successful as, oh, nearly everyone with whom I went to college, but I’m a grounded, devoted mom and wife who knows what’s really important. At that point, I decided to try cooking the onions before I put them in, to see if I could avoid the “eww, what’s the crunchy white stuff” complaints, and I started to feel sorry for myself again, all I’m doing is cooking and cleaning instead of writing brilliant essays or getting quoted by the New York Times about how to solve the fiscal crisis.

Then I figured, what the hell, this is life, put on your big girl panties and be grateful you have enough money to buy food, enough free time to prep dinner in the morning, and a family to cook for. I even had a moment of feeling connected to my mother (as I used her trick of ‘frosting’ the loaf with ketchup, which sounds incredibly dull and suburban but keeps the meatloaf moist). And in the midst of all this newfound blissful serenity, I promptly knocked over the open bottle of Worcestershire sauce and gave myself extra work to do. (Fortunately, I was cooking while indulging in my current guilty pleasure, watching taped reruns of America’s Next Top Model - I know, my husband is horrified that an ivy league graduate has such unintellectual taste, but I think it’s a hoot and I occasionally learn something - but anyway, having the mess to wipe up let me finish the episode guilt free.)

They say that cooks transmit some of their emotions into the food they prepare - geez, I can’t begin to imagine what I’ve put into this meatloaf! But here’s the basic recipe, and feel free to add in your own mood swings -

Chop one small onion really fine, and saute in a bit of butter. Meanwhile, beat one egg, add the sauteed onion, a pound or so of lean ground beef, a handful of breadcrumbs, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, approx. 1/2 cup light sour cream, a splash of soy sauce, a dollop of ketchup, and a tiny bit of mustard. Mush together, put in a loaf pan sprayed with cooking spray, and ‘frost’ with more ketchup. Bake at 350 for oh, around 35-45 minutes or until it’s as done as you like.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Black Hole Of Facebook

Which are your five favorite movies? What ancient ruler are you most like? Who is your favorite character from Gilligan's Island? What Grateful Dead song are you? What Harry Potter wizard are you? Can you list 25 randomly annoying things about yourself? How many hours have you wasted taking - and reading - these ridiculous quizzes?

(I was going to write a cute line at the end of that list of surveys, saying "Which one of these isn't an actual quiz on Facebook?", but in doing a tiny bit of research I discovered that just on Quibblo, an affiliated quiz site, there are 613 quizzes about the Twilight series alone, so probably no matter what weird topic I would make up for a joke, someone has probably already created a quiz about it!)

I'm obviously not the target market for these quizzes ("How obsessed with the Jonas Brothers are you?"), but I'm not the only adult on Facebook these days. I regularly hear from high school classmates, people I used to work with, even old boyfriends, and it's also a great way to check up on my teenage son, even if all I usually learn is that "David is bored and thinks he'd like some ice cream". I tend to check it every few days, scroll through a mind-numbing list of tedious updates ("Melissa is psyched for the weekend", "Joey loves pizza, yo dude"), post an occasional staying-in-touch-note ("Love the photo, your kids are gorgeous"), and ignore the rest. But the other day I saw a theater colleague post his score from a 'how-well-do-you-know-Broadway-musicals" quiz, and challenging his Facebook friends to try to top him. I couldn't resist the challenge - and in fact I came within a few points! - but I can't believe I let myself get sucked in. I spent valuable time trying to remember how many Tony Awards were won by Angela Lansbury, and I realized how dangerous these quizzes can be.

There are tens of thousands of them on every conceivable topic (including art and literature, not just Zach Efron's love life, although that's there too), so no matter what subject you think you know, there is a quiz to tempt your vanity. I wonder how people have time to take all these quizzes - and then I start to wonder about the quiz creators. Like when those e-cards started popping up all the time, and I'd wonder who had the time (or inclination) to create a bunch of singing teddy bears or fluttering birds unfurling a 'happy spring!' banner. Hello, people, don't you have anything better to do? And don't get me started on Twitter (do I really need to see hourly 'tweets' about what someone is thinking about eating for dinner, what he ate, and what it did to his digestive tract?0

Making fun of Facebook and Twitter is ridiculously easy, like shooting fish in a barrel (or making fun of George W. Bush's word use); but someone has to point out how insane we're all getting, before everyone drinks the Koolaid and think we really need to spend our valuable time determining what beer we are (or trying to prove I know more about musicals than my friends). So here's a quiz for you; would you rather a) take 10 Facebook quizzes a day, b) catch up on sleep, c) have sex, d) read my blog, or e) go out and get some fresh air? (Hint, if you answered a), you probably won't have much time for the other activities!)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rock This House

My 12-year-old son is an aspiring rock/jazz/whatever musician - he plays drums (which means that eventually the band will have to rehearse at our house) and percussion in the school band (which means he loves experimenting with anything around the house that makes noise when banged, and he's learned to play the piano with his two index fingers pointed like xylophone mallets). I love that music is part of his life, even though it does mean we all have to schedule activities requiring concentration (business calls, homework, thinking) when Ben isn't practicing drums.

Who knows what he'll end up doing with it - but sometimes I wonder, what was it like for Keith Moon's mom when he was in middle school? Did Phil Collins' mother ever have to remind him to stop banging and start practicing his rudiments? Will I end up going to his concerts with earplugs and a walker? Occasionally I get little glimpses of my future as a rockstar's mom - the other day Ben played drums for a show I wrote & music directed at our synagogue for Purim (gotta love us Jews, Purim is a holiday all about spoofs and costumes, and in fact it is a commandment "to get so drunk you don't recognize anyone"). He did quite well, and after the show, several girls his age casually sauntered over to hang out and look at the drums - I tried not to kvell (yiddish for 'beam with pride til your kid yells, God, mom, you're embarrasing me'') as I watched Ben nonchalantly toss his sticks and show the girls a few fills. My husband's comment was, Wow, drummers really are chick magnets!

Ben has also discovered this wonderful computer program called GarageBand - no, it's not a video game, it's software that works as a home recording studio when you pair it with a midi-synthesizer (which is just about any cheap keyboard, trust me, I'm not that tech savvy!). I use it all the time for work, recording demos, making accompaniment CDs and editing other tracks, and it's pretty incredible, especially considering it's free (but only with Macintosh computers, yet another reason why I won't buy a PC). Sure, there are some limitations, but it's saved me thousands of dollars in recording studio time for projects that don't need album quality. Anyway, I showed Ben the basics, and he figured the rest out for himself (god love these modern kids weaned on nintendos and texting - they're not afraid of anything technical!). I found one of his compositions, and I alternated between gaping admiration and hysterical laughter; it was a long meandering opus with 3-minute wild guitar solos, and he had played with the speed to create impossibly fast drum beats, and while it definitely wasn't ready for MTV, I thought, sheesh, this isn't that far from those artsy pieces by 70s bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer or ELO. Actually, it was exactly what I would have expected from Keith Emerson if he'd had Garageband as a 12-year-old.

There are definite ups & downs to being a musician's mom - sure there's the noise, and driving to lessons, plus drum heads and the various paraphenalia get expensive. But oh, it was incredibly cool to play the synagogue show with my son, and if nothing else, having so much noise in the house has improved my ability to concentrate. In fact, I wrote this whole entry while he was practicing, apart from the break I took to argue with Ben about whether he'd practiced only 5 minutes or the 20 that he claimed - sometimes, even geniuses hate to practice!

Monday, March 16, 2009

My dinner with Andre

Last night my sons took me out to our favorite local Mexican restaurant, and I had visions of a lovely evening full of stimulating conversation, intelligent discussion, and familial bonding. Right. When you're done snickering, read on to find out what really happened.

This auspicious occasion wasn't prompted by my birthday or another celebration, but by my having blown my stack last week, screaming at them about how they were disrespectful and I was tired of being treated like the maid, adding, "I was going to take you guys out to dinner Sunday while Scott is at a gig, but you can forget that!" So after I stopped foaming at the mouth, and they apologized and promised to be perfect angels for the rest of their lives (or something along those lines), Ben actually came up with the idea of still going to dinner if they paid. Which is sweet, but not as amazing as one might think, given that both my boys have way more petty cash on hand than I ever do; David has a job as a hebrew school aide, and Ben collects loose change and hoards allowance on those rare occasions I remember to give it. Still, I appreciated the thought, as well as the chance to skip cooking for a night.

And we did have some lovely moments - David drove (ah, the dreaded permit) and only took 8 attempts before he sort of fit into the parking space; Ben opened the door for me (and didn't slam it in David's face, for the most part); they both waited for me to order first - so in my relaxed optimistic frame of mind, I decided it would be a good time to start talking about Ben's bar mitzvah project (they have to create some sort of community service effort, for a cause of their choice). David suggested something to do with animals, I mentioned we could check out the animal shelter where we got our dog, and suddenly both boys were off on a discussion of how gross the various cages would be, and what different animal poop might look and smell like. At this point, they both were in hysterics and Ben had Dr. Pepper coming out of his nose. My pitiful "Boys, I'm serious, this is important!" just made them laugh harder.

They eventually calmed down, and I settled for hearing about the movie they'd seen at their dad's, when the waiter brought a lidded container of piping hot tortillas - Ben lifted the lid, steam poured out, and this prompted another giggling conversation about how effective a weapon they could make out of hot mexican food (and yes, flatulence did figure into the discussion). Meanwhile, I stared enviously at the family at the next table with three well-behaved little girls who were probably talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder and saving polar bears. But when I refocused on my own family, the boys were in a deep discussion of why bar mitzvah parties were cool and what kind of suit David thought Ben should wear - okay, it wasn't Nietzche, but it was still heart-warming.

So all in all the evening was a success - only next time, in the hopes of a slightly more civilized conversation, we're not going anywhere near a restaurant that serves beans. (Mothers of sons will understand what I mean!)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

If Jessica Simpson is Fat, What Does That Make Me?

The tabloids and entertainment magazines are filled with the recent brouhaha over Jessica Simpson's figure. Apparently, she was photographed in a couple of not-so-flattering outfits, and after she read some unkind comments about her weight gain, Ms. Simpson blogged and blurted her way to several cover articles, detailing how hurt she was, and how she was comfortable with her womanly curves; several other celebrities offered support, including Jessica's lip-synching sister Ashlee. On the one hand, I love the fact that a tabloid darling is resisting the pressure to be a size 0; on the other hand, this is the same bubblehead who gave umpteen interviews about the workout regime she used to get into short shorts to play Daisy Duke, and honey, if you became famous largely because of your body, it's a bit hard to complain that people are judging you based on what you look like.

Still, Jessica looks like a model of sanity and healthy self-esteem compared to this month's issue of More Magazine, which I usually love for its intelligent perspective and focus on women over 40. The March issue has an article about older women with amazingly firm bods, and after breathlessly detailing how hyper-sinewy cougars like Madonna and Sheryl Crow get so ripped (severely restricted calories and two-hour daily intense workouts), the article simply concludes that it takes a ton of work to look that good. Excuse me, where is the rant against societal pressure? Where is the reassurance that the rest of us can look good without such extreme measures? More, I'm disappointed in you - or maybe the other half of the article never got finished, because the writer felt compelled to quit work and go start her 3,000 crunches?

Normal people who have to work, run homes, raise kids, etc., can't devote that kind of time and attention in order to look like a muscle-bound starving marathoner - but even if we could, would we want to? Since when did being bony-yet-with-a-6-pack become our standard of attractiveness? Years ago, back when fashion models were only a few pounds thinner than average women, the beauty icons were women with luscious figures, like Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Annette Funicello, none of whom would be able to appear in People Magazine today without critical comments about their flab. Granted, my resemblance to Marilyn is about as faint as my resemblance to Paris Hilton, but at least I wouldn't have to starve myself and work out for 15 hours a week to emulate Marilyn's figure - a good push up bra would do most of the work!

Fortunately, my husband is like most men, who prefer curves to sinew. I knew I loved him when he saw Nicole Kidman's photo and said, "Ewww, she's way too skinny", and he sealed the deal when he told me he hoped I didn't lose any weight, he liked a woman with a figure. His actual phraseology left something to be desired; he was trying to compliment my legs, so he told me he loved how my calves 'had so much meat on them' - as his friend Doug commented, "When talking to a woman about her body, never use the word meat!' - but he tried!

So Jessica Simpson, good for you for eschewing the super-ripped bod, and for doing something else besides being a busty bimbo who thinks Chicken of the Sea isn't tuna; but could we stop all the discussion of her weight ups & downs? If my husband sees one more photo of her in her short shorts, he's liable to ask me to put on some Daisy Dukes, and as comfortable as I am in my curvy body, that's one act of self-celebration I think I'll skip.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Our Closets, Our Selves

Back in the '70s, awareness of our own bodies seemed to be the prerequisite for self-knowledge. (Anyone else remember reading Our Bodies Our Selves and trying to find her cervix using a hand mirror?) At other times, the key-du-jour was spirituality, or feng shui, or knowing what color your parachute was. But I think the real secret is examining our closets.

I share a decent-sized one with my husband, and it's not a total mess, but it does say something about the chaos of my life. There are a few choice outfits, tons of clothes that sort-of-fit-but-aren't-that-flattering, a few slightly stained or pilled items, and those random piles that don't belong anywhere (the sweater I meant to fix, the jeans that need hemming, the workout clothes that don't have a drawer because I use them so rarely). And this economy has spawned a number of helpful articles with titles like "Go Shopping In Your Closet!", which makes me think, geez, who'd want to shop in this dump?, so I know I need to do some major overhauling. Time for a closet purge again, and even though starting isn't fun, it does make me feel lighter and cleaner (but don't worry, I won't extend the purge metaphor any further).

And it got me thinking about closets as a representation of our personalities. I imagine my analytical engineer neighbor having a perfectly neat closet with all the shirts facing the same direction, and my fashionista girlfriend might have a cool sections grouped by style and an artistic display of accessories. Mine is slightly scattered and chaotic, lots of excess bogging it down, but very colorful (what can I say, I like fuschia!), so I want to keep the cheerful creativity and get a bit more orderly, just like in my life. (My husband once took a seminar that was an offshoot of EST or Lifespring or one of those all-day-no-bathroom-break-marathons, and the one piece of advice he still remembers was that when you're feeling like your life is out of control, start by cleaning out your car. The teacher was a man - I'll bet a woman would've recommended cleaning a closet!)

Closets are already a useful metaphor, being a place to store skeletons, or out of which to come, or into which to stuff shameful secrets, so it makes sense that they could tell us a great deal about ourselves. I'm going to clean out my closet so that it says 'Unique and creative but uncluttered and on top of things', and I can achieve useful self knowledge without ever having to look at my cervix again.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama's A Better Parent Than I Am, Too!

I just read yet another gushing article about the new first family, where Barack & Michelle explained that they didn't want their daughters to become spoiled, so they would continue the same rules they'd had in Chicago. The girls had to make their own beds, they'd be cleaning up after the dog about to join them, and they'd stick to their usual morning routine, where both girls set their alarms, woke themselves up and got ready for school on their own (presumably cooking their own organic hot cereal and ironing their own impeccable private school uniforms). And of course television watching and junk food would be strictly limited.

Great - both Obamas already make me feel like an unintelligent failure with no fashion sense. Now I find out they're infinitely superior as parents, too. How many of us even know a 7-year-old who can figure out how to set an alarm, get herself up and dressed, all without help? My kids are old enough to dress themselves, of course, but like most normal kids, they need a bit of nudging along the way. In fact, the 15-year-old could sleep through five different alarm clocks and a 21-gun salute (so we've trained the dog to jump on the bed and lick his face until he gets up). And sure, they have chores, and I try to limit junk food, but like most parents, or so I thought, I frequently cave in ("Mom, I have to study for spanish, could you pack me a lunch?" " I'm starving and we're late for hebrew school, could we just grab some pizza?" "It's too dark out to pick up dog poop, and it's Ben's turn anyhow!") I blamed my lack of consistency on my crazy schedule - I mean, I work weird hours, I have lots of pressure, raising perfect kids isn't even possible for my stay-home-mom friends. But now we have Michelle Obama, who's always worked and had a fabulous career, but she's apparently never been too busy or stressed to make her girls stick to rules and to discipline them firmly yet lovingly, so that they've turned into perfect, adorable young ladies who make the rest of us look bad.

What makes it worse is that I've spent my entire life feeling superior to the White House inhabitants. The first president I remember thoroughly was Nixon, whom my liberal parents raised us to believe was the devil incarnate, and it was easy to feel smarter than a crook who talked to portraits of dead past presidents. I adored Betty Ford for her honesty about her addictions, but I could still feel a bit smug since (at 15) I didn't have a problem with painkillers, and of course we all imitated Chevy Chase imitating Gerald Ford tripping. In college I could feel superior to the Carters with their down-home mannerisms and redneck brother (remember Billy Beer?), and I looked down my nose at the Reagans (a former B-movie actor with an astrology-fixated wife) and the Bushes (boring and matronly). Clinton was just embarrassing - I mean, I understand the temptation to cheat but at least pick someone with brains and some fashion sense!, and anyone who could form a complete sentence could feel superior to W. ("Is our children learning," anyone?)

But when Obama was elected, it was dismaying - not only was he incredibly articulate, handsome, and successful, he was even younger than I am, married to an equally accomplished, gorgeous wife with two picture-perfect, yet engaging, offspring. I find myself looking for little cracks in the armour - can't one of the kids have a tantrum in public? ( "Mo-o-om, I HATE this outfit and I don't wanna wave at any more people!" "Da-a-a-d, Sasha's sitting on my side of the limo seat!") So I find myself looking for minor quibbles - Michelle's election night dress wasn't very flattering, and Barack does have an annoying tendency to mix up his pronouns ("This was a great day for Joe Biden and I" - honey, it's an object, use 'me'), but that feels like grasping at straws. And it's not as if I don't WANT to like them, I just wish they didn't make me look so damned inferior!

This morning, as I struggled to get the boys moving, I tried, "Sasha Obama is only 7 but she can make her own breakfast, her own lunch AND prepare dinner for the family in 15 minutes!" They just rolled their eyes and sneered. On the other hand, I frequently hear from teachers and other parents about how well behaved my boys are (which inspired a song on my first album, "Have Aliens Replaced My Kid?") So now when the first family's apparent perfection makes me feel bad, I indulge my new fantasy, that the perfection cracks in private, Sasha whines ("where's the puppy already?"), Malia has pre-adolescent tantrums ("All the other girls at Sidwell watch Family Guy!"), Michelle has a perimenopausal meltdown, and Barack snaps at everyone and then sneaks a cigarette. I feel better already!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Who I'm Wearing To The Oscars

In case you've never seen a celebrity stopped on the red carpet and asked about her gown, that title is not a grammatical mistake, at least by today's standards. Awards show reporters must be convinced that we are much more interested in designers' names than in actresses' upcoming movies, or political opinions, or plans to adopt African orphans, so consequently every three minutes, you'll see an overly made-up bimbo run up to the next arrival, gushing, "Kate! (or Cate! or Katie!), you look absolutely fabulous, who are you wearing?"

I keep hoping for some actress with an IQ higher than her bra size to snap, "Hello, I'm wearing a dress, not a person," Or at least "It's WHOM, not who." But apparently, this grammatically-impaired fascination with clothing designers is ubiquitous (a word I doubt anyone on Project Runway could use in a sentence). We have reality competitions, fashion shows covered in the NY Times, and instantaneous knockoffs available of the dresses worn by the new, chic First Lady (we even know who designs her kids' clothes). I'm not knocking the fashion industry, even though I wouldn't spend $8,000 on the latest purse even if I had it to spend. But can't we celebrate movies and creative accomplishments beyond what the women are wearing?

Last night I heard an essay on NPR, of all places, by a writer whose film-maker husband was up for one of the minor awards given out by Rikki Lake or William Shatner before the telecast, and while most of the piece was about how the hubby's previous Oscar had changed their marriage, she had to mention that she'd be 'wearing' a pair of hip young Oakland designers who'd lent her a fabulously structural, modern yet vintage, ruched Aubergine satin gown with a sheer lace bolero (or something along those lines). Come on, now even anonymous spouses are drinking the Koolaid? I know I couldn't say 'who I was wearing' without snorting, it sounds like I'd have a pair of little designers, one on my back, one in front, holding hands and suspended from my shoulders.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not immune to the allure of glamour, and I'll be watching the pre-Oscar telecast and critiquing the arrivals ("Strapless gowns don't look good on women that thin," "Jeez, with all that money she couldn't manage to get her hair done?"), hoping for a really good Fashion Don't like Bjork's swan-laying-an-egg dress, or the year Gwyneth looked like a goth vampire. But just once, I'd like to see the actresses asked something besides 'who they're wearing'. (As for me, I'll be wearing Lucy - the dog who likes to sit on my lap - and sweats by Target.)

Friday, February 20, 2009


There is nothing more delicious than an engrossing book, and time to read it; so it’s doubly frustrating when the only available time is right before bed and the book is even remotely thought-provoking or disturbing. (I learned this the hard way when I thought I’d get sleepy by reading one more chapter of “The World According To Garp”, and the chapter in question was the one with the infamous oral-sex-in-the-parked-car-accident - ignore the rest of this paragraph if you haven’t read the book - and I was up for another 2 hours until I found out what happened and could get my heartrate back down.)

I love re-reading favorites, and at the top of my list has always been The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, a story of a totalitarian, male-dominated society run amok and stripping women of all rights. I actually couldn’t open the book during the Bush administration, because the political story was a bit too close to home, but now that a Democrat is back in the White House, I was ready. But of course, I made the mistake of starting it last night before bed, and I had to put it down and read a cooking magazine before I could relax. Of course, I rarely have the time, energy or discipline to read an entire book - but this one ‘had me at hello’, again.

Atwood is a genius at parcelling out little bits of the back story, so the reader has to wait hungrily for each explanatory detail, to find out how the heroine ended up a ‘handmaid’ (women owned by childless couples in order to provide them with babies), what happened to her own child & husband, the fates of her feminist single mother and adventurously rebellious lesbian best friend. Even though I remembered the basic plot outline, I’d forgotten novel touches like hoarded-butter-as-lotion and the forbidden nocturnal Scrabble games. A combination of admiration for Atwood’s story-telling and impatience to find out what happened next meant I had trouble putting the book down. (I had to bribe myself - “Finish that proposal and you can read another chapter”, “Run your errands and then you can read while you wait for Ben to finish practice.”)

But in my fervor, I’ve gobbled the book up, and there’s none left, so I’m that greedy kid who ate all her Halloween candy in two nights instead of making it last until it was stale. Really good books are a form of pigging out, only without the sour stomach and cellulite, just a sense of sadness that it’s all gone. Oh, I can re-read it to savor the word use and literary structure, but it’s a diluted pleasure, like a weak cup of tea from a squeezed-out used teabag . The first time through (after 8 years) is such a weirdly wonderful hodgepodge of creepiness and fascination and spine-tingling horror and titillation - I’ll have to wait a few years to have that again. On the other hand, I have a few hours for my adrenaline to subside, so I should have an easier time falling asleep tonight.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Day In High Heels

I've never been good at suspending disbelief when I watch movies or sitcoms; seeing a coffee-house waitress with a fabulous luxuriously furnished apartment, or the 22-year-old heroine of a romantic comedy who happens to be a world-renowned forensic attorney, has always made me snort in disgust (much to the dismay of whoever is watching with me - "Oh come on, Lauren, it's just a TV show!") But what I'd always found most ridiculous was the characters on Sex In The City, running around Manhattan's hard pavement in thin-soled, spindly stilettos. I mean, come on - after ten minutes in those torture devices, any believable female character would be switching to Crocs and complaining about foot pain. (Not to mention the fact that on Carrie's columnist salary, a closetful of Manolo Blahniks wouldn't leave room for extras like fabulous brunches or rent.)

However, after all my sneering remarks about designer footwear and the ludicrousness of heels, I'm starting to change my tune a bit for purely selfish reasons - my kids are getting to be taller than I am. I don't have the budget or pain threshhold for stilettos, but I have found a couple of pairs of heels (with nicely padded soles, chunky heels, or other concessions to comfort), which I'll wear for a few hours when I want a bit of extra authority with a class I"m teaching, if I'm out in public with the son who passed 5'9" last week and is growing every day, or if I just feel like looking cute.

Yesterday, I had a combination of all 3, a long day of teaching an early morning class, a couple of meetings, and tons of running around with the kids, and so I spent the whole day in Naturalizer half-boots with a 3 inch heel (which fall somewhere between Carrie's prized strappy shoes and orthopedic oxfords). And it was amazing - I felt confident, I felt cute, and I loved how the additional height made people ask if I'd lost weight. (I also was finally able to wear the nice jeans that I got with my Nordstrom bonus points, but that I've been too lazy to hem. Those fashion magazines are right, longer pants legs do make you look thin!)

My feet held up till we were home for good around 6, at which point I changed into sweats and my old beat-up slippers (unlike the Sex In The City gals, whose leisure wear seems to be skimpy camisoles and their boyfriends' boxer shorts worn with designer flip flops, but my husband wears those boxer-briefs, which don't look remotely cute on me, and the sight of me in a tank top would horrify my sons, who think cleavage on an adult woman is gross, particularly if she happens to be their mother). Of course, as soon as I changed, my feet began to ache, and I remembered why I don't usually wear heels more than a few hours at a time. But I also felt like Cinderella after the ball - including having my lovely memories of being fashionable and glamorous for a day.

I don't think I'll give up on the heel idea, I'll just get some of those Dr. Scholl's pads so that the balls of my feet aren't so sore (and wonder how Carrie & her friends survive without them). And I'll make sure I stick to semi-sensible heels (there are great companies like Naturalizer and Aerosoles with affordable, cute, comfortable shoes). I'll leave the $700 strappy ones to the 18-ear-old former model playing a research scientist who does field work in a bikini, and other similarly believable characters.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rainy Days And Mondays . . .

Only women around my age or older will be able to finish that line (" . . always get me down", from a Carpenters hit song) - but here it is, Monday and raining nonstop, and it's President's Day so I have bored kids with cabin fever - let the bickering begin! Plus they're annoyed because they only have the one day off - our neighborhood isn't affluent enough for "Ski Week", the mid-February vacation taken by school districts who got tired of battling low attendance around now.

I'm trying to think of strategies to cope with rainy days, besides just being grateful that this might avert real drought measures. Anyone who lived in Northern California in the late '80s may remember water rationing and the awkwardness of using someone else's toilet and trying to figure out the etiquette of flushing - looks like we'll be spared this year!

I remember a particularly bad rainy Monday several years ago; I was recently divorced, the kids were driving me nuts, we were all bored and stir-crazy, so in a fit of mommy-creativity, I decided we should all put on raincoats and go for a walk and get soaking wet. The kids were 4 and 7, so they loved it, particularly when I encouraged them to splash in every puddle they could find, and then when we got home, we changed into dry pajamas and roasted marshmallows (over the electric range, actually, but it sort of worked). It turned a lousy lonely day into a family memory we all still cherish.

Unfortunately, family memories are hard to encore. (I feel a little like Woody Allen in "Annie Hall", who tries to recreate the hilarious lobsters-crawling-out-of-the-pot with a new date, who is not amused.) I tried the 'let's walk in the rain and get wet' idea, but these days the boys are too old to splash in puddles, and they both have homework to finish and rats to feed and Facebook updates to write (you know, those urgent status reports, "I'm stuck inside doing homework").

However, I'm still determined to make this a rainy day to remember. While they finish homework, I think I'll download a Carpenters' album and reminisce; plus we now have a working fireplace, so tonight I'm making a fire and we'll roast marshmallows, I'll tell them stories about the last drought or flooded streets when I was a kid and they'll roll their eyes, and maybe I'll give them some material for when they have kids of their own.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Son's Girlfriend

There is no such person, for now, but I can dream, can't I?

Husband 2.0 is now the 15-year-old's confidante, and all he'll tell me is that there is a girl David likes, and he's asked for some advice. When I oh-so-subtly asked Scott (a.k.a. 2.0) for more details (I think I pounced on him and said, "Spill it!"), he told me I was nosy. As if that was news? But I realized it's less about my natural curiosity, and more about my own situation - I'm the lone female in a sea of testosterone, and I need reinforcements!

I have this lovely fantasy of family dinners & movie nights where the girlfriend(s) are comfortably integrated into our circle and I no longer have to borrow the neighbor girls to have a dose of femininity around the house. Meanwhile, it is fascinating to see how differently my sons both approach romance. When David was in 7th grade, he decided to like the popular cheerleader, who was rude to him and whom all his friends liked for similarly silly reasons. And I had to hear about it from Scott, after the fact. However, Ben, who is now in 7th grade, is much more up front. He told me about the girl he liked, and he likes her because she's nice and funny and talented, and not particularly popular, and he even asks me for advice about what to say to her. (Of course, dating in 7th grade is mostly a question of saying you're going with someone and texting each other, but it's still fun to talk to him about it.)

Okay, I have to admit, it's not just longing for more female energy that has me following my sons' dating lives - Part of me wants to heal my own socially frustrated adolescence, just like a frustrated performer turns into a stage mother or a deprived child grows up to be an overindulgent parent. I still bear the scars from 7th grade, when I asked the boy I liked if he wanted to dance, and his response was, "Yes, I want to dance, but not with you." And my only real teen romance was when I was 16 - we'd gone to debate camp together, he was in my brother's hebrew school class, and his mother was my sister's therapist. He'd drive me home after a hot date at the symphony or a chess tournament, I'd come in about 2 hours later and tell my mother we'd been talking the whole time. To give you an idea of how geeky I was, my mother believed me - to give you an even better idea, it was true!

It's not even about making up for my own pain, but wanting to spare my boys heartache, and hoping they know what it's like to love and be loved. I'm blissfully happy with Husband 2.0 (and I had a few deliciously romantic months with the boy from hebrew school - I still have the Ray Bradbury books he gave me!), so I know how wonderful it will be when they do connect with a girlfriend who adores them even half as much as I do. And if she'll go shopping with me, that's even better!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tip To Mother of Octuplets: If You Hire A Publicist, Don’t Ask For Privacy!

The recent birth of octuplets to an unemployed mother of 6 living with her parents in a 3 bedroom house raises enough eyebrows to fuel thousands of blogs, hours of debates, and several tabloid stories. But even disregarding the ethical, moral, societal and financial issues, what struck me the most was that the mother, Nadya Suleman, begged everyone to leave her alone and to respect her privacy - and she issued this statement through a publicist, as well as on an exclusive interview with Ann Curry on the Today Show.

Excuse me? Honey, I hate to tell you, but going on the Today show violated your own privacy! People don’t hire PR specialists if they only want to be left alone and aren’t looking for corporate sponsorships, free diapers, or book deals. Suleman’s hypocrisy reminds me of all those movie stars who complain, “I didn’t ask for celebrity, I just wanted to tell good stories and do my work.” Great, then go be a children’s librarian or do regional theater. When you accept $15 million to star in a studio blockbuster, or audition for a reality show, or have way too many children and then go on national TV, you’ve made that Faustian bargain to give up your privacy in return for the perks - if you seek attention, deal with the consequences.

Life is full of those bargains. I wanted to be a mom, and that comes with years of sleep deprivation & endless laundry - part of the deal. I prefer being creative and artistic to working in a cubicle or going to law school (sorry mom!), so the consequence is that my income is lousy. Sure, those compromises suck, but that’s part of being an adult - which you’d think would be a pre-requisite before a fertility specialist agreed to in vitro, even if the mom in question didn’t already have too many kids to support.

In her interviews, Ms. Suleman insists people are just negative because she made the unconventional choice to be a single mother. Actually, I’d be just as judgmental if she were married, and spouting the same trite rationalizations that I’ve also heard from other mothers of obscene numbers of multiples. So far, she’s explained that she just loves being a mom (great, I think having six kids already made her a mother). She claims she’ll give every child unconditional love and individual attention ( while she’s also a full-time college student, juggling interviews and photo opps). She also apparently has a deep need to heal the pain of growing up as an only child in a dysfunctional family (with dysfunctional parents who are now her sole means of support). And she didn’t reduce the number of embryos, because she wanted to make sure at least a few of them worked out (because god forbid she only had one this time). At least she didn’t make the claim that selective reduction is wrong because it’s ‘playing God’ - and in vitro fertilization isn’t?

It makes me mad to see someone so irresponsibly hypocritical get the free diapers and the multi-part interview with Ann Curry, and presumably a cover of Good Housekeeping, complete with adorable matching outfits for all 14 kids, while millions of ordinary, hard-working moms slog through totally on their own. Where are OUR free diapers and invitations to the Today Show?

I think I’ll hire a publicist to inform the world that I also love children and want to devote myself to mine, which is why I stopped at the two I knew I could afford, even though I have boys and I’m a girly girl who always longed for daughters (and has to content herself with borrowing the neighbor girls for an occasional shopping trip). I’m available for corporate sponsorships, interviews, and magazine covers, and what’s more, I won’t insist on maintaining my privacy. Heck, with two sons, a husband whom I count as a third child, and a dog, I don’t get any privacy anyhow. Come to think of it, that makes me wonder - how does a mother of 6 get any privacy, anyway, and how does she think she’ll find more privacy with 8 additional babies? Now THAT’s an interview I’d like to read!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Moms as Executives

The Obama administration has announced a new policy for financial firms receiving future federal bail-out money; no executive can receive more than $500,000 in total compensation, including bonuses and salary. Naturally, the executives are shocked, sputtering that bonuses and huge paychecks are a critical element to retaining good talent. Besides the obvious oxymoron (these firms have lost billions of dollars, so obviously the talent they’d paid so much for wasn’t worth it!), I’m also stunned that firms really think there are no competent prospective executives who wouldn’t be insulted by a paltry half-million.

Why don’t they start with moms? I for one could probably manage to scrape by on $500,000. (In fact, I'm terribly amused by the fact that some of these guys' complain about reduced bonuses which are more money than I've made in my entire life!) And moms all have developed, and utilized, most of the key skills executives need, as well as other critical skills that are unique to moms and could get us out of this financial melt-down, including:

Diplomatic people skills - moms can referee a play-date, talk a recalcitrant toddler into getting dressed, avert a fight between siblings who each want the last Eggo waffle, and listen tolerantly to a teenage girl’s hysteria about her horrible Facebook photo for the fourth day in a row, while simultaneously reassuring her husband that he really doesn’t have a beer belly.

Multi-tasking - oh, please, moms define multitasking, and we do it infinitely better than any overpaid CEO! (written as I’m feeding the dog, making a phone call about my teenage son’s driving lessons, and mentally calculating whether I have enough frozen chicken breasts to cobble something together for dinner so I don’t have to pay for takeout)

Leadership capability - Hello? Moms can get the carpool to agree on a radio station, keep order backstage during a children’s play, nudge a soccer team into agreeing on hair-ribbon colors, and convince 20 moms that they have nothing better to do on Saturday afternoon than assemble wrapping-paper orders. Managing well-paid subordinates is a piece of cake!

Financial Expertise - Even moms who share the family financial responsibilities with husbands usually take on the primary share of the budget-cutting, including reminding kids to turn out the lights and take shorter showers to cut the utility bills, scouring the sale racks at Target for out-of-season deals on clothes they’ll eventually grow into, we hope, and dealing with the inevitable melt-down when we veto stopping by Starbucks for a venti vanilla iced low-fat frappuchino, oh, please, please, please????

Creative Strategic Thinking - I challenge any CEO to look at my refrigerator and figure out a dinner for which I have the ingredients, that everyone will eat, that can be assembled in the 5 minutes I have between dropping off one kid after drum lessons and driving the other to rehearsal, and that won’t blow my Weight Watchers points. Then tell me moms don’t know how to think ‘outside the box’!

So Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo, et al., if your reduced pay structure has you struggling to find skilled talent, you know where to find me!