Friday, February 26, 2010

Summer Camp in February

I have spent the last three weeks obsessing over what to do with my kids during the summer. Most of February has been consumed with looking at summer camps for July and August. Something wrong with this picture? It's rainy and cold here in L.A. (sorry for you folks up to your eyeballs in snow), our typical winter weather...a few Christmas decorations still haven't found their way back into the rickety cardboard box in the garage, and I'm contemplating taking a small home loan out in order to be able to afford to send my kids off to frolic in fields, skip rocks on ponds and toast marshmallows over a fire pit so that I can go to work while they are out of school. It's February...okay, almost March, but still, I can't manage to wrap what's left of my parenthood addled brain around the idea of planning for summer.

One year, I tried winging it. I was going to adopt a free and easy, "everything will work out as it is supposed to" attitude. I hate that attitude. I hate people who espouse that attitude. It almost never works out as you want it or need it to and I guess it is primarily for people who don't care that “that’s how it's supposed to be” isn't always the way you need it to be. It was a nightmare...truly, one of the worst summers of my life. It seemed like I spent the entire summer with my butt plastered to hot leather car seats as I drove different kids to different camps, none of which lasted a full day and required me to use my lunch hour to shuttle them back and forth between camp and babysitters. It was cheap, but in the end, not worth the cost of the mental anguish it caused me.

The next summer I swore to send them both to one, full day camp which was close to where I worked...walking distance in fact. Oh, it was a swell idea until I opened up the brochure and found that picture perfect camp arrangements come at a price...a price that would have been enough to send my entire family of four to France for two weeks and still have money left over for tickets to Disney Paris. But unfortunately, it was camp, not Paris that we ended up shelling out a small fortune for and even though it was easy on my psyche, my pocketbook is still hurting.

So now, it's time to plan for camp again…in February. A friend told me about a camp her children adored which was not far from where both our husbands worked. I liked the idea - it was a real camp in the woods, it was full day, expensive but not bank breaking, and because it was near my husband's office, he could take on part of the summer shuttling duties this year. But then she added, "Unfortunately, new families don't always get in on the first try. You might end up on a wait list." A wait list for camp...not Harvard or Yale, not opening night at a new nightclub...a summer camp. I felt defeated but managed to shove down the growing fear about having to face another summer of winging it and picked up the phone. I called the camp office to see if I could find some way to better my odds of getting my kids in. Cowboy Bob answered the phone. I found that charming, but still had to bite my ever sarcastic tongue not to respond by saying, "Hi Cowboy Bob, this is Crazed Mommy Dawn..." He told me which program days might give us a better chance of not getting wait listed but suggested we drive our application and deposit check over the next day instead of using the mail.

I quickly filled out the application and then decided to use a tactic that helped us get our first house by winning over the owners with a personal note and photograph as a way of begging them to sell it to us and not the five other couples making offers on the house. It worked for a house, so why not for summer camp? I printed out a picture of my girls from last summer and had them each write a little note on the picture about why they wanted to go to the camp, folded it up and tucked it in the envelope along with the application. I felt foolish, like one of those parents you read about who hire consultants to get their kids into the right kindergarten. But I didn't want to get my kids into kindergarten, I just wanted them off the streets during the summer at a camp that wasn't just open from 9 to 12 and that wouldn't require me taking a second job to pay for it!

I sent the application off yesterday. So now we wait to see if we get into camp. In the meantime, I'll think about what other trip - maybe Greece, maybe Rome, maybe just fixing the leaky roof we discovered in all the February rains - all the things we could have done for the cost of summer camp.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Privacy, Schmivacy

It felt illicit, like I imagine you would feel looking at Internet porn on your iPhone in the middle of a crowd of children. I was surrounded by kids, straddling the bleachers of a girls’ basketball game at the rec center, waiting for my daughters come out of their dance classes. But I wasn’t porn surfing, I was doing something that felt far worse, made me feel dirty, drenched with guilt yet gleefully delighted. I was reading my daughters’ emails.

David and I set them up with those KOL accounts which have all the bells and whistles in the security department – people can’t email my kids unless my kids have emailed them first, websites are blocked based on keywords, we get weekly activity reports showing us what websites they visit and how often they email. It seemed fun and safe for them. But of late, Nicole would rush in from school and before doing anything else, log onto the computer to check her email. I discovered that even my six year old, Natalie, had been having an extensive email conversation about puppies with an old friend of mine for over a week before I learned about it. I realized that my children were having email lives of their own and I was suddenly mortified. They were having interactions with other people three thousand miles away and I couldn’t control it. But the idea of surreptitiously logging onto their computer and reading their emails felt wrong. It is something I would never do. It seemed like the 21st century version of breaking into your child’s diary to check up on them.

So why now did I find myself going through their emails, checking to see who they were from and what the content was? Because it was on my phone!!! Several weeks into their email infatuation, they begged me to add their accounts on my iPhone so they could check email while they were out, “Just like you do,” they said. Knowing that I am addicted to checking email, with my iPhone serving as a major enabler of my problem, it didn’t seem unreasonable. Before running off into her dance class, Nicole pried the phone out of my hand in one last desperate effort to check her emails (because she couldn’t wait 45 minutes to find out if someone might have written to tell her that a Jonas Brother had a new gal pal or Taylor Swift had dumped and written a semi-revenge love song about another ex-boyfriend). As Nicole handed the phone back to me and dashed off, I realized she hadn’t changed it back over to my account. Instead, all her email conversations were in the palm of my hand. I knew it was bad. I knew I should have clicked off. But instead, I started reading.

Over coffee, I confessed what I had done to two mothers. The first bolstered my belief that I was just being a good mom, that I was keeping my daughter safe online. I liked that. It absolved me of the guilt I felt, particularly at the pleasure of being able to look so deeply into Nicole’s world with the touch of my finger on my phone. I savored my mocha latte like a glass of well aged wine, congratulating myself on my fine parenting instincts. But then the second mother ripped into me like a hyena devouring a fresh kill. She ranted at me, tossing out phrases like invasion of privacy and breaking a sacred trust. Email, sacred? She said I had destroyed any possibility of a future relationship with my daughter based on mutual respect. Wonder what she would have said if I had been looking at Internet porn?

I scrolled through Nicole’s emails, all of which she keeps as “new” in her inbox. There are hundreds of them, going as far back as 2008. There were emails from classmates, girls she’d met at camp, grandma and grandpa, a family friend of two. I looked at the preview lines to see what they were writing about. Clothes, music, school drama, movies. For all the guilt I felt about invading her privacy, the titillation at looking at the confidences she’s shared with her friends, I was both relieved and amused that what I discovered reading her emails was that her exchanges were harmless, age appropriate, and honestly, really just a little bit boring.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nanny Speak

There was an article last week in the New York Times called, “How to Talk Nanny,” (, which really got under my skin. The point of the article was that there are a growing number of high powered executive women who employ nannies but are constantly frustrated with them because the nannies don’t do what they say because the women executives don’t know how to talk to their domestic help and aren’t communicating their needs to them. First off, apparently, if you based it on what you read in this article, no fathers employ or deal with nannies. Secondly, only wealthy corporate climbers hire nannies. Thirdly, there is an implication that somehow the nannies are at fault and that the employers have to find special ways to communicate with the help and their limited abilities to comprehend things. The article even talks about consultants, workshops and psychologists who are sprouting up to address the problem, specializing in improving communications between parents and their nannies. Really? You need a consultant for this? A therapy session with your maid? Really?

Here’s what I’m guessing - just because these moms are on the corporate fast track doesn’t mean home is the only place they don’t know how to communicate with their employees. I’m thinking the same people needing nanny speak instruction are probably pretty inarticulate, passive-aggressive, demanding or simply unavailable to give instruction (you fill in the appropriate blank) at work as they are at home. Their problem communicating their needs isn’t unique to dealing with their domestic situation – it probably is an issue in many areas of their life. It just bothers them more at home because it’s their home, they have to return to it after the rigors of the day, they’ve entrusted the care of their children and household to someone else and they want it to be right. I get that, but making it seem like there is some communication issue that is unique to the parent/domestic help relationship is absurd!

Trust me, I’ve had my own nanny issues. We won’t even go into detail about the one who locked my 2 year old in a car on a hot day while she ran inside the store to pick up something and then didn’t understand what the problem was when I found out later and spoke with her about it. I think her response was something like, “I was only in the store a minute.” Needless to say, that was her last day in my employ. I’ve never been a fan of having someone else in my home handling my children or doing stuff when I’m not there. Inevitably and often through no fault of their own, they’re not going to do it exactly the way I want it every time. I’ve learned to either accept that or go crazy. If they can follow the instructions I’ve given and gotten close, then we’re good. If I didn’t ask, instruct, inform and they did their own thing – then that’s on me.

“How to Speak Nanny,” really should be titled, “How to Communicate and Get What You Want… or At Least Close To It.” But that isn’t anywhere near as offensive as “How to Speak Nanny,” and doesn’t give these moms suffering from this communication malady an out to imply that the problem is really with the nanny and not themselves.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Texting for Babies

The National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) has partnered with public and private groups to start a service called text4baby (, where parents can register to get free weekly text messages sent to them on their cell phone with advice to help them through their pregnancy and baby's first year. Being the geek loving babe that I am, I think this kind of stuff rocks! In fact, I got my first magazine writing gig doing an article called "My Online Pregnancy," which was about an experiment David and I conducted while trying to have Nicole where we decided to see how much baby preparation we could do online, from conception to delivery. Yeah, I know, muy geeky. Anyway, I love this text4baby thing because here's yet another way technology's being used to reach out and support someone. How helpful to have little tips and info about babies sent to your phone. Because let’s face it, even though when they are born, they do in fact come with an instruction book (at least at our hospital they did), but who has time to read it??? Between feeding, burping and vomiting, and that was me, not the baby, I don't think I had a spare moment to sit down, read a book and see what I was doing wrong. So this idea of texting short little tidbits of baby info is pretty cool.

The way social media is being adapted for everything from saying hi to helping parents to raising cash is a good thing. I was blown away by how it was used for fundraising for the last presidential campaign and how much dough was raked in for Haiti by people texting. Email, texting, skyping - they can all be used in ways to make our lives easier and to help those in need, or for those who just like being connected...all the time.

I know I've ranted about being too connected, too stimulated by all the technology. And yes, I'm of that mind for the most part. But I also think that when tech is used for good - kind of like The Force in Star Wars - then we should embrace it like a cup of cocoa on a cold night.

That being said, I shut off the text function on my iPhone...much to the dismay of David, who can't imagine how anyone could live without texting (I feel the same way about email). But I started getting spam texts. I hate spam in all variations, phone (in the form of telephone marketers) and emails (do I really want and/or need to get a lap band, enlarge a penis or get a master's degree online in as little as three weeks?) I don't even like spam as meat from a can (and no, you can't really make it taste better by frying it with eggs)! So when I started to get spam text messages, I was done! At least for now. Until they figure out a way to de-spam my texts, I will remain the email obsessed Diva that I am.

So text/email for good.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Set Up for Failure

Ran into a woman at a party who I hadn't seen in almost a year. She had lost thirty pounds and when I asked her what she did, she said, "I realized that being the mother of twins made me feel like a failure. Once I realized I really was the kind of mom I always aspired to be, I stopped eating to make myself feel better."

Her comment really hit me. We set ourselves up when we're pregnant (and for the next 18 years), imagining what motherhood will be like and then when the spit up covered truth is revealed, we aren't always as organized, creative, patient and loving as we'd like to be. Often no where near - we won't mention the times I've screamed at my children for a minor infraction, served potato chips as a vegetable at dinner and strapped Nicole into her carseat, but forgot to strap the carseat onto the car, causing her to flip over and ride suspended upside down for several minutes, enjoying her new perspective on life - (BTW, hanging upside down made her giggle.) Point is, we're awfully hard on ourselves and we set ourselves up for failure by having expectations of how we should be as parents and inevitably, we fall short. Yes, we should aspire to be our best as parents, but we should also give ourselves room for the variations which come along with raising kids. I got so made at mine one weekend when I'd planned the perfect two days of activities and fun. It was going to be our weekend to be "a real family." We'd go on day trips, eat at interesting restaurants, do crafts, play in the park. No doing laundry, trying to knock something off the household to do list, no sneaking in an hour or two of work. It was just going to be fun family time. What did my girls want to do instead? Sit in their pajamas all day and watch t.v. I was furious. My dream of a perfect weekend planned by a perfect mother was ruined. I stewed over it for about an hour, then let it go and did the laundry.