Friday, December 24, 2010

Short and Sweet (Like Sugar Plums)

Merry Christmas! Happy belated Hanukkah! My daughter has asked me to make latkes for Christmas eve. Glad to see my little seven year old black girl is in touch with cultural roots. Someone else's cultural roots, but that's okay for now, too. The more culture the better. So I'm going to make sweet potato latkes on Christmas Eve as a new family tradition. Happy New Year. No resolutions really, more shifts and adjustments.

Have a wonderful holiday! Track Santa's sleigh ride tonight on

Friday, December 17, 2010

No Naughty Children Here

Santa has a list. He checks it twice to see who has been naughty and who has been nice. I’ve always hated that depiction of Santa, yet have been guilty myself of warning my children that they better be good or they’ll end up on the dreaded naughty list. A punitive Santa – a guy who will retaliate against a kid for their bad behavior by denying them toys on the one day of the year when everyone should get a present. Not a nice concept when you really sit down and think about it. We want our children to behave nicely regardless of the threat of the naughty list. But anyone who has children knows that just doesn’t happen and we need everything (from bribes to threats) to keep them in line.

But really, when you think about it, for the most part, there are no naughty children. There are children who are scared, misunderstood, frustrated, tired and hungry. There are children whose parents are impatient or distracted or frustrated in their own right and taking it out on their kids. Under those circumstances, those kids are going to act out, they are going to misbehave and they will end up with the naughty label and their name on the dreaded list.

Recently, when my kids were going bonkers one afternoon and really making me crazy, I started to lay into them, shouting (or barking as my daughter likes to describe it) and ordering them about. But before I exploded, I stopped for a moment and tried to think about how we went from peaceful morning to afternoon anarchy with more bad behavior than you’d find in congress on any given day. I caused it. Not my children. They were behaving badly, naughty enough to end up on the list, but they got there because I had been rushing them, not listening to what they were saying, misinterpreting their actions and yelling at them because of it. My bad behavior incited their bad behavior. Now I’m not saying my kids are angels or that they never behave badly on their own. There are too many instances for me to mention of them crossing the line from good little girls to unholy terrors. In fact, one of my oldest friends affectionately calls them “Children of the Corn.” But in this particular instance, they were naughty not nice because of parental bad behavior. I think, probably more often then we’d like to admit, it is our own unfortunate reactions to things, our own bad behavior which brings out undesirable behaviors in our children. Conversely, we can bring out the nice as easily as we can incite the naughty. I’m only hoping my behavior doesn’t earn me a spot the naughty list this year!

Friday, December 10, 2010

'Tis the Season for Behaving Badly

Is it the holidays that tend to bring out the worst in everyone or is it just that we notice it more now because the bad behavior is such a contrast to the expected seasonal cheer? The foul attitudes, childish antics and rude comments are on display everywhere - from the grocery store, on the daily commute, and at holiday open houses. I had a septuagenarian try to bum rush a seat I was saving David at a school holiday concert yesterday. She asked if the seat was empty and when I told her I was saving it for my husband (and I was not the only person saving a seat – in fact, I might have been the only person saving just one seat), she snapped, “Well, he’s not in it now, is he,” and started to climb over me to claim the chair. I thought about tripping her but figured those calcium deficient old bones of hers would probably snap and she’d crack a hip or something. But before I could come up with another plan, the woman in the seat next to me, on the end of the row, contributed a silent assist, refusing to move her legs, blocking the row and keeping granny from pushing through. The old woman hissed at us both and moved on, trying to find someone else to bully. I was actually caught off guard by the old hag’s behavior. I guess I was fooled by the silver hair, sweet smile and the cheap but festive looking Christmas tree brooch pinned to her red wool lapel and thought, “Oh, here’s someone’s sweet grandma.” Yeah, right…sweet in the way that arsenic tastes sweet until it kills you.

And then there is the usual bad behavior resulting from holiday regression which, despite all vows to keep it from happening, occurs to anyone over the age of 30 when forced to be in close proximity with their parents for more than 48 hours. Before they arrive, you swear that you will not let them push your buttons, treat you like a child or allow yourself to behave like one in response. You’re able to manage maintaining your adult persona for a day or two, three if you’re a therapist, Oscar winning actor or trained hostage negotiator, but after that, the facade explodes, usually over something trivial like your dad leaving dirty socks on the kitchen table or your mother sneering at your choice of landscaping, and you find yourself engaged in a screaming match with your parent. There is shouting, maybe even a little foot stomping involved, names might even be called and inevitably your parent will accuse you of behaving in a way that you haven’t since 1982. You will respond as if you were back in 1982. And let’s face it, that tactic didn’t work then and it won’t work now. But these little holiday induced temper tantrums and acts of childish behavior aren’t limited to interactions with your parents. Try spending even a few hours with your siblings when your parents are around and see what happens. I do find it odd that my brother and I can get along great when my father isn’t in residence, but as soon as he enters California air space, the temptation to start acting like we’re 6 and 10 again is almost more that we can resist. A few years ago, over Christmas, my brother and I were out and I snatched something from him as if I was in second grade. He grabbed it back and I took it again. He responded the way any teenage big brother would and punched me in the arm. It was hilarious to us, but a woman passing stopped and glared at him, I guess assuming she’d just seen some spousal abuse or other horrible act of violence. My brother, in an effort to explain the punch he’d just thrown, said, “It’s okay, she’s my sister.” The woman laughed and continued on. Her parents were probably in town, too.

Ah, the holiday parties, another excellent place for witnessing completely inappropriate behavior fueled by brandied egg nog and other holiday stresses. I was at one recently where a group of five or six moms had gravitated into the living room while the husbands watched the game on the flattest of big screens. While they were watching pigskins, we were listening to a pig. This one mother rattled on about her perfect children and their perfect lives and the perfect private school that she insisted – and here’s the piggy part – they had to go to because they couldn’t possibly attend their local public school which was overflowing with too many minorities! Yes, she said it. If you have that world view, you might think it, you might even say it in the privacy of your own home, but out in the open at a holiday party? There was a very awkward pause as the other women looked down at the floor and the perfect mother realized what she’d said in front of the two minority moms. I took a deep breath, kicked back my Merlot and tried to figure out the best way to respond without putting a damper on my friend’s party. However, before the words, “Listen you bitch, what’s wrong with a little diversity…” could come out of my mouth, the other minority mom changed the subject. She had to go to school with these people, I didn’t, so I guess overlooking the comment was her way of surviving. But I was immediately angered that I’d let the moment pass without at the very least pointing out the stupidity of her comment. I felt guilty, almost complicit in her bigotry by letting her statement go. But by the time I’d worked through all of this in my head, they were onto talk of winter breaks in Aspen and where to get the best take out in Beverly Hills. Another mother came over to me later and said, “Oh, she was talking about the Latinos, we have a big population of them in our area,” as if it I would think it was okay to make fun of the minorities as long as it wasn’t my minority group. So much for Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men.

Twenty-two days until the holidays are officially over. I know the bad behavior will continue after that, but at least the behavior won’t seem so ironic in contrast to all the good tiding that are supposed to be inherent in the season. I sound cranky. I guess I better be careful or three ghosts will visit me in the middle of the night. My luck, the ghosts will leave laundry, dirty dishes and bills for me to pay.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What Parents Shouldn’t Do

One of a parent’s main responsibilities is to keep their under-aged kids out of bars. Yet a few weeks ago, we spent the better half of a weekend trying to sneak our 7 and 10 year old girls into a club where their father’s band was playing.
David invited us to join him for the weekend in Palm Springs where his band had booked a gig at an Indian casino. Rarely do the girls and I get invited along on gigs, and given that there was a free room in a new hotel with a nice pool involved, we drove down and met him there, ready to enjoy.

The first time he mentioned trying to get them in to see him play, I pointed out that he was performing in a club in the casino and that even if the girls were, “…with the band,” their age would not be overlooked. But David got it in his head that he really wanted them to see him play and he was going to “explore” every opportunity to get them in. He asked the front desk to check and see if there was an age restriction in the lounge where they were playing. Of course there was. It was a bar with people kicking back shots and the shots were not smoothies. Then he talked to the sound man and asked if they could stand next to him in the booth. He asked the waitress if there was a dark corner in the VIP lounge (because that’s where you want your kids to be, in dark corners in lounges with bottle service) where they could sit unnoticed for 15-20 minutes. He tried bringing them in during rehearsal while the club was closed and having them sit at the table by the stage. The bartenders and waitresses were fine with it, but when the manager saw my girls sitting ring-side, she quickly informed David that they had to go. He tried to feign innocence, seeming surprised that even with the bar closed, it was off limits to them. I used to waitress in a bar in college. I knew his multiple schemes were not going to work. After all, a liquor license is a terrible thing to lose.

At first, I tried to talk him out of it. Then, I mentioned how (truly) tired the girls were. There are many reasons kids shouldn’t be bar hopping, one very basic one is that they get tired early and want to go to bed. Finally, I told him that I didn’t want to be the one to get yelled at or incarcerated because he wanted me to sneak them into a club to watch him play. Yes, it was important to him, and in many ways his reasons were incredibly sweet and sentimental, but was seeing him worth a criminal record?

As a compromise, I looked around and realized that the ice cream parlor next door to the club lounge was open from 5am until 2am – because every club needs an ice cream parlor next door – and that if the girls and I ordered ice cream and stood directly in front of the ice cream parlor door pretending to read the menu, we had a direct view of the stage from the front door of the club.

So my children got to see their father play without breaking local, state and probably federal laws. I’m glad, because even though it’s holiday time, my idea of a family Christmas portrait is not a mug shot.