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.