Friday, December 16, 2011

Mommy says…

I got caught talking in the third person again. I don’t do it often. In fact, I only do it when I’m speaking to my kids. Not all the time, but on occasion. Apparently, one time is more often than you should ever do it. The problem is, I look at my 8 and 11 year old and sometimes I see a 3 and 5 year old. I try to blame it on their behavior, rather than my warped perception of how fast they are growing up, and sometimes they buy it, but most of the time, they don’t.

I was telling Natalie something and instead of saying, “I want you to…” I said, “Mommy wants you to…” Natalie looked at me, lips tightened, and controlling the urge to scream, (I’m afraid anger management classes might be in her future) replied, “You’re talking about yourself in the third person again.” Ugh, I was. I didn’t realize it. It’s an occupational hazard of parenting. Damnit, I just got over calling the bathroom, potty, but apparently, this is going to be a harder habit to break.

I never should have started talking like that in the first place. When Nicole was born, I didn’t. I vowed I would speak to them like little adults so that they would have good vocabularies and not mimic baby talk. That lasted about as long as my vow never to lose my temper with them…how foolish new parents can be.

But now they’re big, as they constantly remind me and unfortunately, I recognize, but try to deny. Subconsciously, of course, which explains the talking in the third person. Natalie said to me recently after I fell off the wagon and had another slip into third personhood, “Mom, people who talk about themselves in the third person sound crazy.” She’s right, of course. “But maybe I am crazy,” I quipped, “Driven there on the superhighway called parenthood.” Natalie, queen of the straight faced one-liners, completely ignored my point and said, “Thanks Mom, I feel really loved,” and then went about whatever thing she was doing that she knew would make Mommy mad! I mean, would make me mad. See, maybe she’s right, I am crazy.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Farmer Dawn

We’re having chicken at our house this weekend. Not the kind you eat, although that would have been preferable. No, we are playing host to 2 chicks from my eight year old daughter Natalie’s science class. She has been talking excitedly for weeks about the day it was our turn to take the fluffy little birds home for the weekend. She made me promise not to serve poultry while they are here. However, I couldn’t help but give the chickens my own special nicknames – Barbecue and Extra Crispy.

When I was in school, most of our science experiments were dead, except the worms we dissected and nobody wanted to take them home for the weekend. I guess my reluctance to taking the chicks home is that I didn’t want to be the parent who took 2 chicks home and only returned 1. I was afraid the puppy would eat them or we’d feed them the wrong food or they’d freeze without the heat lamps. And then there is the question of how to care for them. I have barely managed to keep my own kids alive and thriving and get them to school on time. Now I am supposed to manage chicks, too?

The other part of my hesitation came from the fact that I come from a long line of women with chicken issues. Okay, the line isn’t that long, two, to be precise, but isn’t that enough? Both my mother and my aunt used to terrify us as kids with stories of their teenage summer jobs on the farm – wringing the necks of chickens – it must have been an Indiana thing. So when Natalie came to me begging to bring home Barbecue and Extra Crispy, all I could think of was my mother and my aunt and their chicken killing antics.

So now the chicks are sitting on top of a table in my front hall where hopefully they are far enough away from the dog so they aren’t mistaken for a chew toy. I hear them chirping – as I am sure they will continue doing throughout the night. And Natalie, who wanted to have them over for the weekend so badly…is out with her friends at a play, leaving farmer Dawn home alone with the chicks.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Thanksmas Eve Day


I get it. The earlier retailers get you in the stores to do your holiday shopping, the more you’ll spend and the more likely it will be (in this rotten economy) for them to make a profit this Christmas season. That’s always been the case. I’ve watched over the last few years as Christmas decorations have appeared in store windows and holiday items on the shelves earlier and earlier. First, it was right before Thanksgiving that you’d start seeing Santa on display to get you in the buying spirit. Then it was November 1st, before you even had time to take down your Halloween decorations. But this year, I spotted a snowflake or two decorating the toy aisle at Walmart, some time in early September while finishing up my back-to-school shopping.

That was just the start of the new holiday season timeline. We no longer have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years. The retailers have found it more profitable, and we as consumers have bought into it, to condense them all into one holiday that my family has started calling, New Thanksmas Eve Day. It’s out of control. The first and second week of November, Disneyland and a high end mall in L.A. called the Grove, both held their tree lighting ceremonies, complete with Santa and faux snowflakes falling from the sky. All the store ads and television commercials are hawking Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales weeks before their real dates – the Friday and Monday AFTER Thanksgiving. And to make matters worse, driving home last night, we noticed that more than a couple of houses in our neighborhood have already turned on their Christmas lights.

What ever happened to Thanksgiving? We’ve skipped over it all together for the sake of creating a more robust economy. Because of all of this pressure to rush into Christmas, my daughters and I have made a conscious effort to put the brakes on and not race over November 24th. We’ll take a moment to be thankful for the family and friends around us, our health, and a roof over our heads. We’ll chow down on some turkey, sip some cider, read a book or two about the pilgrims (remember them?) and have the dishes washed in time to rush out to the midnight opening of Target! I might be frustrated about the rush into the holidays, but I’m not going to miss out on the savings either.

But clearly, my family isn’t up-to-speed on this New Thanksmas Eve Day tradition the stores are trying to start. Natalie, my eight year old, asked me what Black Friday was. I asked her what she thought it was and she said, “Black Friday is the day that they celebrate Black people.” I laughed and said, “No, that’s February, we get a whole month, not a day.” Nicole, my eleven year old, quipped, “…the shortest month.” So my kids aren’t shopping savvy, but at least they have a strong sense of irony.

Happy New Thanksmas Eve Day to all of you!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Silent Treatment

My 11 year old daughter Nicole got angry at me the other day. She decided that as punishment, she would give me the silent treatment. She huffed and puffed around the kitchen, getting ready for school, her usually chatting self completely silent. She was so happy with herself and the punishment she had selected for me. When Natalie came into the kitchen, Nicole conferred with her. When I said good morning to Natalie, they both said, "Do you hear something?" And then Natalie joined in the silent treatment with Nicole. They were united in their efforts to ignore me. Can I tell you, it was the best thirty minutes of my week! Quite possibly the year! Nobody asked me for anything, nobody chattered on about who was doing what to who at school when they should have been getting dressed and eating breakfast. Nobody complained about what was packed into their lunch or why I'd decided to serve pancakes for breakfast instead of waffles. I was downright giddy! There was nothing but quiet from the children and for once, I could watch Good Morning America without having to turn up the volume so I could hear it over their incessant chatter.

I love my girls dearly, but (like their mother, I guess)they do LOVE to talk. Endlessly, they can rattle on about nothing with great belief and conviction in the importance of everything they are saying. Sometimes, on that rare occasion when there is nothing left to say, they will make up things just to hear their own voices. We always joke that Nicole was born talking. She even talks in her sleep. Natalie came to it slightly later, sometime after she turned a month old. They started talking early and they've never, ever stopped. People always comment on how polite and verbal they are. Oh yes, they are verbal...but now they were silent.

They'd seen someone give someone else the silent treatment on tv and they thought that was a great way to punish me. Little did they know that to their stressed out, over stimulated parents, giving them the silent treatment isn't a curse, it's a blessing.

But all good things come to an end and by the time they were ready to go to school, whatever Nicole was mad about had passed and she announced she was talking to me again...and she hasn't stopped. If I could just figure out another way to piss her off, maybe I can get some rest over the weekend.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Toaster Oven is My Friend and Other Lessons I’ve Learned in Suburbia

I cooked a three tier chocolate cake in a toaster oven last week. It was my daughter Nicole’s eleventh birthday and a few days before her party, my regular oven decided to break. In addition to filling the house with gas fumes when it coughed its final breath, my oven left me with no way to make the food or cake for the birthday party. Panic started creeping in. I had 35 kids from her homeroom class and assorted aunts and uncles and cousins descending on the house and no way to feed them.

Normally, I would never have agreed to host a party this big for a kid’s birthday. Last year she had a few girls sleepover, I made pancakes in the morning and they were done. But this year I was riddled with guilt. I’d dragged Nicole around in the car for the last 6 weeks while her sister, Natalie, performed in a show out in Thousand Oaks. Nicole endured hours of endless car rides and late nights and waiting a Starbucks for rehearsals to end, rarely uttering a complaint. So when she asked for this extravaganza of a birthday, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. But now my oven was broken.

I revamped the party menu so I could cook everything on the stove – pasta, spaghetti sauce – it would work with a little salad on the side. But there was still the cake to bake. I called my friend and neighbor Lyn and asked her if I could use her oven. She kindly agreed, but when it was time to finally bake the cake, it was the night before the party and it was late…very late. I didn’t want to knock on her door, pans in hand. I was about to give up and call the bakery department at Ralph’s to order a cake when the Kitchen Aid toaster oven I’d bought my husband David last Christmas caught my eye. It had been sitting on the counter barely unused for almost a year. I got it for him almost as a joke because he’d always complain about using the microwave and reminisce about how he used a toaster oven all the time in college. Well, I think he has used the toaster oven twice since last year. He must have realized that he doesn’t have much need for it since he’s moved beyond his college diet of broiled cheese sandwiches.

I took the largest of the cake pans and stuck it in the toaster oven to see if it would fit. When it did, I was giddy with the idea of trying to cook the entire cake, one layer at a time, in a toaster oven. Now it wasn’t just a cake that needed to be made, it was a challenge! Nicole wanted a s’mores cake. It needed to be three tiers of chocolate cake with fudge filling and dark chocolate frosting. On top, a glob of marshmallow fluff which would ooze down the sides and be covered with graham cracker crumbs and shavings of dark chocolate. The cake turned out beautifully and I was bursting with pride that I’d actually pulled it off. Who knew you could bake a cake in a toaster oven? That necessity mother of invention thing is powerful stuff. On party day, I couldn’t help but bring people inside and show them the toaster oven cake.

Over the week it took to get a repairman out to fix the regular oven, I cooked everything in that toaster oven, my new best friend. I beamed when I talked about it to the point that my family tired of hearing me announce what was for dinner only to follow it up with the phrase, “And I made it in the toaster oven!” I cooked pot roast and meat loaf and a roast chicken. I cooked 4 frozen pizzas – one at a time, of course. Each time I pulled a dish out of the toaster oven, I felt like some type of new age domestic diva. Who needed Viking or Thermador or some other high end appliance? With just my toaster oven, I felt like I could conquer the culinary world. We had bonded, like new friends who instantly seem like old trusted ones.

Just as I started eyeing the toaster oven to see if I could cook my Thanksgiving turkey in it, the repairman came and replaced the simple but expensive part which had caused the whole problem – the starter. Now my regular oven worked without gassing us and I’m back to my old cooking routine. But now every time I pass the toaster oven, it’s bittersweet. I miss it, but I also happily remember the fine meals we shared together. Who knows, maybe I’ll cook my turkey in it anyway, just for old times sake.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Afraid

I’m afraid of the dentist. Not the actual person. My dentist is a very nice man, as is the hygienist. No, it is the whole concept of the dentist and what they do to you there that scares me. It is not the normal, “I hate going to the dentist” kind of fear. No, it’s one that is almost overwhelming and causes me to change my behavior in ways to avoid this every six month ritual of having my teeth cleaned.

I always postpone my appointments. Sometimes it is for legitimate reasons, a work conflict, a school thing for the kids. But sometimes, it’s just because I’m scared. I’ll postpone it several times, pushing it months into the future. When the day finally comes and I have to go, my palms sweat as I flip through an Architectural Digest in the waiting room. Once they get me into the chair, I try to make small talk to keep my mind off of the inevitable. My heart palpitates and I get the sudden urge to get up and run. Then they start with the scraping. The noise vibrates in my head, I feel as if my teeth are about to shatter. They put that suction thing in my mouth to keep me from drowning in my own saliva – and how embarrassing would that be? My obituary would say, “Died in the dentist chair, choked on her own spit.” Not the way I want to be remembered. Then more scraping and poking and prodding which reminds me of the Nazi dentist in Marathon Man and all I can hear is Laurence Olivier saying “Is it safe? Is it safe?” Then images of Steve Martin as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors flash through my head and I’m certain that I’m about to be tormented by the real life version of these evil movie dentists. I feel on the verge of panic until they finally say, “…all done, now rinse and spit.”

This is an irrational fear. I know that. I still can’t shake it with all the logic in the world. I don’t admit it to my children because I don’t want them to pick up my phobia. I want them to love the dentist. And they do. In fact, my eight year old has already decided what she wants to be in life…a dentist. Sometimes I find her searching the internet for pictures of teeth or information about dental schools. She’s serious about this dental thing. It figures…anything to upset your mother.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Bed You Lie In

There’s an old saying that goes, “You make your bed, now go lie in it.” It roughly means, if you create a situation, you have to deal with it yourself. But whenever I see my children’s beds unmade and my repeated pleas for them to pull up their comforters are ignored, I think of that phrase and of the literal importance of my kids making their own beds. Yes, it would be easier not to push them to do it. That would be one less daily battle to fight in a seemingly endless war of skirmishes over shoes left in the middle of the living room, clothes dumped everywhere, and an endless array of dishes that pile up in the family room, making it look more like a diner than a place to watch t.v. Yeah, letting them skip making their beds would be easier. I could make the beds myself in a shorter time than it takes for me to yell at them. Or I could let the cleaning lady do it. But then what would my kids learn if someone else always does those types of things for them?

When I was about six or seven and my mother worked as a nurse, there was a woman who came to our house to watch us after school and to clean and cook until our parents came home. Her name was Ernestine Johnson, I think – funny I can remember that far back when I can barely remember my own children’s names. Even as she cleaned the rest of the house, Mrs. Johnson was given strict instructions not to empty the trash cans or make the beds in our bedrooms. My brother and I had to do those ourselves. I vaguely remember complaining to my parents and wondering if Mrs. Johnson was here to clean and make beds, why she didn’t clean and make beds in our rooms.

When I was in my early 20s, some old family friends came to stay with us for the weekend. I went to make the bed in the guest room. Our friend watched me do it for a second, and then shook his head. He pulled the sheets off and instructed me to make the bed again, but this time he wanted to show me how to make a bed the way he’d learned in the army. To this day, I don’t know if he was every really in the army or not, or if he was just trying to give me a difficult time about my sloppy bed making. Whether he was a military man or not, he sure knew how to fold crisp hospital corners and make the bed look as if, once tucked in, you could bounce the proverbial quarter on it. Here was a guy, a very successful businessman with a car and a driver, a own household staff and several vacation homes, making the bed with great precision. It’s important to know how to make a bed correctly,” he said, carefully tucking in the last corner, “It’s not just about how you make your bed, it’s about how you make your life.”

He was right, although it took many years of unmade beds for me to figure it out. I know it’s silly, but in a way, I find I feel better when my bed is made. Things feel more in order. In a weird way, I feel more in control. If I can have some order in my bed, in my room, at my desk, then maybe, just maybe, can be at peace with the chaos in life I can’t control.

My children need to know how to make a bed correctly because just as you make a bed, you make your life and however you do it – well or sloppy – you will be the one who will have deal with what you do. So will I continue to push them to make their own beds? Will I force myself to pull up my own covers and tuck the corners in properly during the rest of the week and not just on the weekends? I will try. Now if I could just remember the trick to those hospital corners!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

All Bets Are Off

Lefty liberal that I am, when I’m searching for my daily news fix, particularly when I’m looking for someone to validate my opinions, I’ll channel surf my way over to MSNBC. There I can find a plethora of pundits who share my viewpoint on the world. I usually find myself in agreement with Rachel Maddow on most things, that’s why when I saw this article about her reaction to the al-Awlaki killing, I was surprised to find myself on the other side of the fence for a change. Maddow and other journalists and politicians have raised questions about the legitimacy of the president issuing a kill on sight order for an American citizen without due process. The argument is that since there was no trial, no conviction, no court determined guilt to justify an execution order, how could the president issue one.

When they announced Bin Laden was killed, my daughters were surprised by my reaction. Nicole asked me why I was happy that a man was dead. I tried to give her context, explain to her what Bin Laden had done not only to the people who died in the building on 9/11, not only to their families and co-workers and friends, but to an entire nation. We had a friend and a friend’s mother who worked in the Towers. Thankfully, both got out, but despite that, our world and our outlook changed that day. Everyone’s did. I talked to Nicole about how life was in our country before 9/11, what our perceptions were – that we were so na├»ve to believe that an act of terrorism wouldn’t and couldn’t happen on our own shores. I described to my ten year old about a time before airport security checks and homeland security departments and terror alerts. I told her about planes crashing into buildings, underwear and shoe bombers, lone shooters on military bases, the reason officers with mirrors check under our cars when we enter parking garages, and why back then, before all this happened, we weren’t so afraid. I tried to explain to her that back then, the average person never believed that groups of people in foreign lands hated us so much that they would take their anger to the streets in a campaign of terror and target civilians rather than soldiers. Still, on some level, to my child, it didn’t justify why I was happy that someone had been killed. Hadn’t I always taught her that killing was bad?

When they announced al-Awlaki’s death earlier this week, again, I was pleased with the action and again, my daughter was confused. Another man had died, this time, an American. I started to repeat what I had explained months earlier; finally, I gave up and just said, “If you publish on the internet, make video and audio recordings, stand at a pulpit and declare that you are at war against America and urge others, even help them plan how to kill Americans, all bets are off.” It wasn’t the best answer a mother could give. I know that. But in a way, it’s true. If you do something bad, all bets are off. You might get a trial, you might not. Maybe you should have thought before you started doing bad things. A guy walks into a bank with a gun drawn; I’m thinking he’s declared his intentions, whatever happens after this, he brought it on himself. I really don’t want to hear him complaining if he gets shot by the police before he gets a chance to have a fair trial before his peers – that’s on him. Like I said, I usually find myself on the side of the left wing pundits but in this case, I’m not too worried about the precedent being set by the president placing a kill order on an American citizen (here or abroad) without due process. Obama campaigned saying that he would target and dismantle the terrorist network. That’s what’s he’s doing, systematically, thoughtfully. I’m pretty sure he didn’t make the decision to sign the kill on sight order between grabbing a bowl of Cheerios and watching an Everybody Loves Raymond rerun on t.v. But now even Obama’s own supporters are giving him a hard time for doing the very thing he promised to do. Despite getting to live in a really big house with someone else to clean the bathrooms, it can’t be all that fun being president.

There was clearly no question that al-Awlaki was an enemy combatant and was engaged in behavior that resulted in a military action being launched against him. Is the lady on our block that leaves out peanuts for the squirrels going to be taken out by a drone missile without first being given due process of law because this precedent has been set? Sadly, no. As much as I would like her to stop her behavior – can I tell you how many rats she attracts to the block through her actions – I think it’s safe to say she’s not going to be targeted by the U.S. government for execution.

My daughter doesn’t get it. Maybe someday she will. Sorry Rachel, as much as I’m a fan, this time I’m not on the bandwagon.

If you want to read more about Maddow’s response, check out: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/01/rachel-maddow-al-awlaki-killing_n_990394.html

Monday, September 26, 2011

Now This…

We’ve been warned social security will be gone by 2025. We’ve been threatened with the elimination of Saturday mail delivery. But now this...they’ve fired the librarians from the public elementary school libraries in Los Angeles. How can you have a public school with no librarian? Libraries are a fundamental need in our schools and communities and yet some collective of Einsteins at LAUSD thought that getting rid of the librarians/library aides, which would then require the schools to close the libraries if they were not adequately staffed, was a good money saving idea. Really? Why don’t we just eliminate the cafeterias too and stop feeding those kids? We have a childhood obesity problem in this country anyway, right? That would save some money for the school district, too.

It makes absolutely no sense that an educational system that is designed to enrich its students and support learning on every level would think that a library was not an essential tool in that learning process. So, now that our school has no library aide, the parents must sign up for shifts in order to keep the library open until another plan can be developed. In order to save the library, parents, grandparents, even the principal’s cousin, many of whom have neither the time nor energy to add yet another thing to their already chaotic lives, have volunteered to train and staff a public school library because the district won’t do it. At first, the district refused to even let us use the district wide system unless a union aide was present. They relented, and now the parent staffed library will be open for now. All I can say is, somewhere, Ben Franklin is rolling over in his grave.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mommy Justice

Leaving your kids unattended in a bookstore for almost seven hours while you “run errands” is probably not a good idea. You certainly won’t be get nominated for Parent of the Year. What you’ll get is a criminal record. That’s exactly what happened to Charlene Sutherland. She is an Alabama mother who decided that Barnes & Noble was a suitable place to leave her 11 and 6 year old unattended and now she’s facing jail time. Six years of it. And what’s going to happen to the kids now? Foster care? She was trying to look out for her children, but because she made poor choices or was desperate or both, her kids are now facing a worse situation than before.

While I don’t condone what she did, I get it. One of the biggest challenges of summertime is childcare. It’s hard to find ways to keep your children happy and supervised even if you have money and time…imagine if you don’t. She probably had no one or no place to leave her children that was relatively safe (probably while she went to work or was looking for work – I can’t imagine taking 7 hours to run errands). Rather than leaving them at home where they could get into all kinds of trouble, she thought that a public place where her book loving, well behaved (according to the store clerk) kids could be occupied was a better choice. She was wrong, but she saw no other options. If you don’t have money, friends, family or other resources to help you out, sometimes you do desperate things or make bad choices.

There are two things that bother me about this story – what is so tragic is that rather than sending her to jail and forcing her kids into the system – and we know how bad and dangerous the system is – there isn’t some way to intervene, teach and provide. Intervene in families where there are no childcare options before problems arise. Teach positive parenting and sound decision making by supporting and modeling good care on a national level. And most importantly, making available more childcare options for low and no income families that are safe and convenient so that they are not so desperate that they put their children at risk because it is the only alternative they have while they go out and try to earn a living (or run some errands!).

But the other thing that bothers me about this story is the mommy justice part. Here was a mother trying to figure out a way to keep her kids safe while she did what she needed to do. She did make a bad choice, put her kids at risk, and should be punished for it. But six years? Casey Anthony walks (gets a book deal and probably a reality show some time soon) and this woman gets six years in the slammer? Just doesn’t seem fair.

Read more about the story at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/15/charlene-sutherland-barnes-noble_n_962954.html

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What I Love About Back-To-School

I’ve been unable to post the last week or so because of summer. Summer is lovely, and I always have the fantasy that it will mean leisurely times catching up with friends and family, doing all the things we don’t have time for during the hectic part of the year. Oh, how silly I am…delusional even. The summer seems more jam packed than the rest of the year, with everyone trying to cram in all the travel, nights out, playdates, sporting events and concerts that we don’t have time to do the other nine months on the calendar. But now, the temperatures are dropping (sort of) and t.v. networks have started pushing the premieres of the fall shows – a true sign that summer is over!

On the first day back to school, I think I was more giddy than my kids – for their return to class, my newly regained freedom from having to hear them complain when they weren’t atcamptravelinggoingtoamusementparkshavingsleepoversandplaydates, “We’re bored, what should we do?” If I heard that refrain one more time last week, someone was going to have to call social services on me. Not really, but almost!

There are a number of things that I love about back-to-school time. I’ve listed them below in no particular order.

The kids are out of the house. Even if I’m not at home, neither are they.

I can hear myself think again.

I don’t have to constantly entertain anyone.

The funny back-to-school ads on t.v. Check out Target’s Denim ad or the Staples’ kid with a mime college ID.

The fact that my older daughter now has to wear a uniform – goodbye morning clothing fights!

Going back-to-school shopping with my other daughter who’s still young enough to take my advice when picking out clothes and still likes wearing pink and ribbons.

Seeing the parents of my children’s friends who I really enjoy talking to but never seem to be able to find the time to socialize with outside of school drop off, pick up and the occasional school social event.

The excitement of attending a new school.

The excitement of returning to an old one.

The bittersweet feeling that comes from watching your little kid go off to junior high school.

Not a soul to complain that they are bored and asking what they should do. Now I can say, “…homework, reading and piano practice.” When they asked me that during the summer, I started giving them a rag and some cleanser and telling them to go clean the bathroom shower. Maybe that’s why my kids are happy about going back-to-school as well.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Growing Up With Dogs


I had a dog growing up. My husband did, too. So when our children started begging for a dog two years ago, we knew that eventually we would cave and get them one. After all, we’d had the chance to have a dog when we were little, why shouldn’t they?

In an effort to put off the inevitable, we told the kids that they would have to prove that they could be responsible dog owners before they could get one. They did that and more. Natalie started reading every puppy training book she could get her hands on. They started walking, feeding and bathing a neighbor’s dog on occasion, even picking up the large dog’s poop without complaining. They researched the cost of dogs online and started holding lemonade stands for their dog fund. They declared that if we wouldn’t get them a dog, they’d buy it themselves.

When I was young, we did not do any of those things. We got our dog Benny from a breeder. No one even thought about training him. He was a wild, crazy lab who bolted when the door was open, jumped up on visitors, sometimes peeing on them if he was too excited. My mom fed Benny, my brother and I walked him from time to time, but mostly we just opened the back door and let the dog out. We didn’t boter to pick up the poop for a long time because the lot was so large we could go for weeks without visiting the waste minefield in the backyard before finally having to grab a shovel and clean it up. When we did walk Benny, he would drag us down the street. He never heeled or sat on command. He would beg at the table and get anything he wanted. He was so pampered (mostly by my mother) and so convinced he was a human that he would protest if we went to McDonald’s and he didn’t get a burger and fries. That was my experience growing up with a dog. It was hardly a learning experience for either the kids or the dog.

I realize now that my children’s experience is already much different. My brother and I have fond memories of our dog, but we didn’t really learn or grow with him. As a family, we never did anything to raise Benny – training him, correcting bad behavior, incorporating him into the family – we changed our family completely to fit him.

With my kids and their dog – a loveable rescue puppy named Frannie – the learning started even before we found her. Initially, because I have so many, many allergies, we had to find a dog that I could live with without going into anaphylactic shock every time I petted it. That sent my children directly onto the internet, researching breeds that were hypoallergenic. I received many emails from them of pictures of cute dogs that wouldn’t make me sick. The girls, like hover parents, are overly prepared and responsible for their pet (although I am waiting to see how long this lasts). I see them being responsible and thoughtful in ways that I had not seen before, engaged and playful as they train and learn about their dog. They worry about the ground being too hot for the dog to walk on (we have had 100 plus days on several occasions this summer). They even wipe her face after she eats and her bottom after she does her business (I know that is silly and won’t last either but it is a hilarious sight and I will let it continue as long as it can. I need to get my laughs where I can). They fix Frannie’s food, bathe her and brush her with great care after her grooming. Natalie turned to me the other day and said, “Mom, I love having someone to care for.” I looked at her and thought, “So do I.”

Frannie has brought a new joy to our house, in some ways familiar to the happiness, newness and apprehension we felt bringing home a new baby for the first time. And as my dear friend Carol said to me when I told her about our new puppy, “It might be a little more work, but it’s cheaper than therapy.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

Orange Tang

For those of us old enough to remember drinking orange Tang as a kid, the words bring up memories of playing with friends outside for hours on end on hot summer days and then rushing inside to quench our thirst on an ice cold, (slightly grainy tasting) beverage that we’d been convinced through clever advertising, was not only good for us, but tasted good, too. As I was driving over Beverly Glen the other day, I was reminded of that orange drink, a taste I hadn’t thought of in years. The words “Orange Tang” were on a window decal of the car in front of me. I chuckled when I saw it, couldn’t imagine why anyone would have that on their car – maybe it’s the name of a band I’m not hip enough to know about. I looked more carefully at the driver of the BMW. He was 16, if a day, with blond highlights that might have been natural, but probably weren’t…only his stylist would know. But this Justin Bieber wannabieb was weaving in his lane, the car swerving slightly back and forth as he chatted on the phone pressed up to his ear.

I assumed he was driving mom’s or dad’s beemer, on the phone bragging to his friends about the cool ride. Then I remembered, this is L.A. - It was probably his own car to drive over the edge, which he almost did on several occasions. His driving behavior triggered my fears about Nicole starting to drive. She has reminded me several times that she’ll be behind the wheel in five years. I pictured her driving the orange Tang beemer and worried that she might drive as irresponsibly as the kid in front of me.

Some friends of ours with a teenage son who just started driving described with glee how they were eager to buy him a car for his 16th birthday. As first, I couldn’t imagine why they were so excited to plunk down 20k to give their kid yet another tool for self destruction…until they explained their plan. Our friends were going to buy him a car with a standard transmission. He would have to learn to drive by shifting gears so both hands would be too busy doing that to hold a phone, text or check email. As someone who knows, when first starting to drive, having to learn to coordinate your feet and changing gears and steering all at the same time, it’s not easy. Their plan was brilliant and sneaky – they were heroes in their son’s eyes for giving him a car. Little did he know the motive behind it.

I screeched to an abrupt halt to avoid hitting orange Tang, who had stopped short in front of me because he didn’t see that the traffic in front of him had slowed. Nearly avoiding a multi-car pile up caused by this kid in the beemer, the idea of a stick shift became much more attractive. Yes, Nicole would learn to drive stick. There would be plenty of opportunities for her to drive an automatic in her lifetime. Hopefully, by then, she can make better decisions behind the wheel than orange Tang boy. In some ways she already does. And as our friends pointed out – there are several benefits to teaching your kid to drive a stick. Yes, their hands will be too occupied to text, and they’ll be able to drive any car they jump into…just in case they need to make a quick getaway.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ten (or More) Reasons Why My Mother-In-Law Rocks

After my well thought out summer childcare plans blew up in my face in early June and a trusted and much beloved caregiver suddenly wasn’t available, I did what any reasonable working parent would do – I buried my head in the sand, lived in denial for weeks and kept telling myself that everything would work out. Three weeks before camp was over and the kiddies would be home unattended unless I got my act together, I started to email around to all my regular, fabulous teenage sitters hoping that some of them would be available for the rest of the summer - two weeks...two long weeks.

The plan was to create a patchwork of childcare options between teen sitters and playdates. Unfortunately, everyone else was much better organized – their kids were in camp, their nannies or sitters were hired, multiple playdates weren’t an option. Most of the teen sitters had family vacations planned so they were only able to help a day here and a day there, not for the two weeks...two long weeks...that I needed.

I checked with the camp director to see if they had space in their August program and if I could extend the 4 weeks we'd originally signed up for (at the cost of just about what it costs to send a space shuttle to the International Space Station.) The director laughed, saying they booked up months ago and weren't even taking names on the waitlist. I continued going through my rolodex of sitters. I found several adult sitters who were available to watch my girls, but at $15 -18 an hour, it was going to cost me around $1,200 to $1,500 to have them watch the girls for two weeks...did I mention it was a long two weeks?

After a few sleepless nights picturing my children in a John Hughes' Home Alone movie, it occurred to me to call my mother-in-law on the off chance that she might agree, at the last minute...and I mean LAST MINUTE...to come out to Los Angeles from New York to keep my kids, her grandchildren, from living a summertime childcare nightmare. She had just come out to visit at the end of June for Nicole's graduation. She's not a fan of airports or air travel, and she'd been having health issues lately. I asked my husband if he thought it was a good idea to ask her, and all he could say was, "You can try." I asked her and the first thing she said was, "When do you need me?" Less than two weeks later my mother-in-law arrived at our house after a flight on an overcrowded red eye financed entirely by frequent flier miles. That's reason one that my mother-in-law rocks - in a time of need, she doesn't ask why, she asks when and how she can help. Always has.

I have to try not to gush about her when other women complain about their mother-in-laws. I have it lucky, I know. And I try to take note of what she's doing because she's a great role model for how I'd like to be when I hit the mother-in-law/grandma phase. Now don't get me wrong, everything isn't always perfect and we do sometimes have our disagreements. She thinks I undercook meat, whereas I think she overcooks it. She'd rather see the girls in dresses more often and I let them dress themselves - most of the time resulting in less than coordinated looks. I know she thinks I can do better with their hair and she's probably right on that one! Sometimes she speaks to me the same way she does to her own daughter, my sister-in-law. For a second I bristle, but then I realize that in a way, it's a compliment. She's treating me like she treats her own daughter, even if it makes me crazy in the same way my own mother would.

Other reasons I love my mother-in-law:

She's always game for something new – last week she ran through sprinklers in her swimsuit because it was just too darn hot! (I think that’s really cool!)

She will eat experimental food and not hold it against me if it's bad.

Rum and coke is to her as Merlot is to me.

She is always respectful of space, time and relationships.

I've been told that in her day she could drive from New York to Florida by herself and make Speed Racer look like an amateur.

We both worship coffee.

She will bite her tongue when she doesn't like something I do and yet she will also speak up when she feels it's important enough.

She is thoughtful not only to her son and grandkids, but to me as well - sending us cards, notes of encouragement, even tucking a few dollars of mad money into the girls' pockets. The last time we went to visit her, she left a hand written coupon for an ice cream cone and a manicure on my pillow :)

She can be assertive without being aggressive.

She will pick up a load of clean laundry and fold it without asking. Ditto for washing dishes. Yes, now I'm gushing...

She never complains, although I know that she is often in pain, putting others concerns ahead of her own.

She'll tell me funny stories about my husband when he was a kid even if it pisses him off.

And most importantly, I know that she would throw herself in front of a train if she had to in order to protect my children.

I'm lucky, I know. I try to remember that when my mother-in-law cuts out self-help articles from newspapers or magazines and leaves them on the table for us to read...It makes my husband crazy. Me, I’m used to it. My mother used to do the same thing.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lying Children

I have a hard time with lying children. Don’t get me wrong, my children lie, but right now, thankfully, they lie badly. There is no question when a whopper is coming out of their mouths. Nicole will pause awkwardly between every other word, thinking up her tale as she goes along and then force a smile when the lie is complete. Natalie will lie with more finesse, but the guilt factor is too high for her. She breaks down almost immediately after the lie has flawlessly slipped her lips and tearfully confess to even the most harmless of tales – I really didn’t brush my teeth, I did take a bite out of the cookie. Then she’ll beg for forgiveness in a way that always makes me worry that I’ve been too hard on her.

My girls have a long way to go in perfecting the art of deception or even telling the little white lie. They will, however, question at every turn when mommy tells one. The other day they were with me when a man approached asking if we needed any home repairs. I waved him off, saying “we just remodeled recently…” granted, we remodeled 9 years ago when we moved in, but that’s still recently in some ‘hoods. The girls immediately pounced on me for telling a lie. I tried to explain to them the difference between why my lying was okay and theirs isn’t and found myself in an ethical debate with two people who’s ages combined barely make them old enough to vote. Explaining the difference between lying to spare someone’s feelings, to be diplomatic or to fend off unwanted advances and telling a lie for personal gain is a difficult distinction to make. It’s one of the eternal parenting challenges like trying to help your kids recognize the difference between good strangers and dangerous ones. They are still all strangers in the end, right?

So the other day, some kids were over playing and every time I asked them a question they had a direct, straight forward answer. Both kids said the same thing and there was no sign that a tale was being told. In fact, when they left, I remember thinking, “Wow, what nice polite kids they are…” That night a received an angry call from their mother, furious that I allowed them to do the things they told me they were allowed to do at home. My children are so poor at lying that I’ve grown sloppy at detecting dishonestly in other people’s children. That’s not good. Having kids who don’t lie well has left me at a disadvantage. I have to sharpen my internal mommy lie detector and remember that other kids might be better versed than mine at the art of deception. It is one of those parent survival tools that you have to have when dealing not only with your own children, but more importantly, with other people’s kids. If not, they’ll eat you alive.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The One Who Lags Behind

My ten year old daughter Nicole can’t seem to keep up with the rest of us when we are walking. She is always about three to six feet behind us. Sometimes she’s just strolling, sometimes she’s dancing, but usually she’s just in her own world. She does this on the sidewalk, crossing the street, in parking lots. I worry that a car will come around the corner and clip her, not seeing her because she isn’t walking with the group. Or that once she starts hanging out with friends on her own, she might fall behind from the crowd and lose the safety that comes in numbers. I also just want her to keep up with us and stop strolling so much in a world where others are walking as if they have someplace to go.

Nicole has recently become interested in horror movies, even though the most horrific thing she’s seen is some Disney show about vampire babysitters. So, in order to get her to keep up with the group, I explained to her how in those horror movies, it’s always the one who strays from the group, ventures into the empty basement or lags behind who gets eaten by the monster. Natalie, my eight year old, finds that particularly amusing, so whenever Nicole is walking behind us, she warns her, “Remember, the one who lags behind…” In our family, it’s become a funny reminder about safety. Until it isn’t funny anymore. In a summer full of horrific happenings – the Caylee Anthony case, the case of the teen who killed his parents with a hammer then threw a party that night inviting his friends over via Facebook or the mother and daughter found beheaded in their home – the story of the murder and dismemberment of an eight year old boy from Brooklyn, Leiby Kletzky, moved me so that it caused me to rethink, as a parent, how I talk to my own children about being safe.

Leiby, like my girls, wanted to have more freedom to be on his own. Mine are constantly asking when I’ll let them walk home from school, visit a friend or go to the mall on their own. Leiby’s parents agreed to his request to walk home from his first day of camp on his own, and seemingly did all the right things to keep him safe. They did a practice run with him on the day before, walking the route home. But the next day, when he tried to walk home alone, he got lost, turned around in his own neighborhood, and asked the wrong person for help.

I joke with my girls about the horror movie stereotype of bad things happening to the one who lags behind. But after hearing about Leiby, even though I normally shield them from hearing those types of stories on the news, I decided to tell them about what happened to him – not in gruesome detail, but enough so that we could take our conversation about safety to a different level. I want them to know that sometimes the one that lags behind does get devoured by the monster. I want them to know that the monsters aren’t only in the movies and that most of the time they don’t even look like monsters. I want them to understand that the monsters can be very clever or very crazy or both. And I want them to have the mental, emotional and physical tools to avoid the monsters or do battle with them if they have to.

So I told them about what happened to Leiby and explained that I was telling them because I wanted to make sure that they understood that things do happen and the need to be careful. We used it as an opportunity, another “teachable moment” to talk about what you do when you’re out on your own, how you ask for help, how you protect yourselves. Yes, we’ve had all these conversations before, but in a much more theoretical way. But this was something real that happened and in that same situation, with the stakes at life and death, I wanted them to think about what they would do and how they would react. We talked a lot, and cried a little, thinking about the young boy from Brooklyn, his family and his community. Wishing that no child, no parent, no family would ever have to deal with such unimaginable pain again. But knowing that more than likely, tomorrow’s news would bring another story and that the best we can do as parents is try again and again to remind our children what to do to be safe and how not to be the one who lags behind.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Instant Family…Just Add Water

My daughters and I went to a family reunion in Indiana last weekend. It was my mother’s side of the family and she grew up in a small, rural town called Crawfordsville, less than an hour from Indianapolis. We flew into Chicago and drove several hours to get there. As we passed cows, corn, and rivers cutting through forests of lush trees, Nicole and Natalie questioned me about everything. They are L.A. girls and their journeys from home have been limited mostly to cities, Cape Cod, or tropical resorts. The Midwest was a whole other world to them. I very much wanted them to come home with me and meet my mom’s family, especially since they never knew my mother, who died from breast cancer at the age of 59, long before I was married and had kids. I spent vacations in Indiana when I was young, in both Crawfordsville and East Chicago, and I remember fondly visiting grandparents, playing with cousins, setting off fireworks (which are legal there) and chasing fireflies on humid summer evenings when everyone would sit on the porch late into the night waiting for the house inside to cool. I wanted my kids to have those same experiences, if only for a weekend.

At the reunion, we’d all come together and I was both excited and concerned about how my kids would fit in. They didn’t know their cousins – 1st through 4th generation were there – and most of them were from the area and many knew each other already. We arrived at the hotel and checked in. When the girls met their cousins in the conference room set up for the reunion, they were shy at first. My Aunt suggested we go swimming in the hotel’s indoor pool. She asked me to chaperone because she and my older cousins didn’t know how to swim.

We hit the pool with five kids and a couple of teens – some kids were in floaties, some splashed about and a few of the older cousins dared to take the impromptu swimming lessons I decided to offer. With my daughters serving as assistant instructors, we taught back floats and dog paddles, how to fall in and swim to the edge, how to tread water. In no time, all the cousins who had been strangers were more than friends, they were family. They did canon balls into the pool, lounged in the hot tub, played Marco Polo in the shallow end of the pool as if they'd known each other for a lifetime.

The rest of the weekend my girls carried around their little cousins, ran between rooms with their cousins playing games, fussed with each other about who would hold the baby of the family. The boy cousins teased the girl cousins and the girl cousins pranked them back. From strangers to friends to cousins…All it took was a little water.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Small Town in the Big City

I live in a neighborhood full of delusional people. I am one of them. We like to believe that our four block radius is actually a small town, even though we are in the middle of a big city. Kids run in and out of each other’s homes as if all the homes on are street are one big house that all the kids share. People watch out for each other’s children and pets and property as if it were their own. We pass down outgrown clothes to the next youngest child on the block, do dinner trains when someone is sick or there has been a death in a family. We have group trips to the beach, picnics in the park, and potlucks throughout the year.

The way our neighborhood celebrates the Fourth of July reminds me most of our small town longings. There is a big, neighborhood-wide block party with hot dogs and sack races and pie contests. An antique fire truck leads a parade up and down the street. Mini flags are placed on lawns, children decorate their bikes or scooters and themselves in anything red, white and blue. Last year, a mom on the block used her artistry, face painting our children’s faces with stars and fireworks and flags.

After the block party, we gather at someone’s house for a potluck and the musicians in the neighborhood bring out their guitars and drums and even a violin and play as the rest of us sing Beatles songs off key and the kids splash around in the pool, completely ignoring any warning not to swim until 30 minutes after eating.

As evening falls, a group of us from our street will walk together carrying folding chairs, pulling little red wagons full of children or juice boxes or jug wine, and we will go down to the wash where the street dead ends and set up an area to view the fireworks. We’ll sit there until it is dark and then marvel at the streaks of color lighting the sky. I glance over at our children, thrilled, happy, safe, and try to keep our small town delusion going a little bit longer.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Three Pack Tissue Day

I got emotional in the car yesterday. I was driving home from the doctor's office and it hit me - my baby is going into middle school. She isn't a baby anymore (hasn't been for some time). I felt surprisingly sad, didn't think it would hit me that way at all. I spent the rest of the day trying not to tear up over even the most mundane of things - pile of laundry on the floor, school picture hanging on the refrigerator. I didn't think I was going to get all melancholy about this - elementary school culmination. Heck, even if Nicole is moving on to middle school, I still have several more years of taking my soon to be third grader, Natalie, up to that elementary school every morning.

When I arrived to pick Nicole up from school, she and her fifth grade friends had just returned from a culmination party held on the backlot of CBS studios. They had hot dogs and popcorn and snow cones with ice cream underneath the ice (talk about indulgence), a DJ and a photo booth. They danced in 90 degree heat under the blazing sun and came home exhausted, happy and slightly dehydrated. But most of all, ready to move on. As much as Nicole will miss her friends, teachers, and school, I felt like yesterday, she realized that she would okay leaving. As sad as it would be, she was excited about the future. She was ready to go to middle school.

I tucked three packs of tissues in my purse for this morning's culmination. One for me, one for her, one for everyone else who vowed they weren't going to get emotional over an elementary school ceremony. I don't believe them. I'm bringing the extra pack of tissues just in case.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tears

There has been a lot of crying around here lately. I’ve been having health issues for the last six weeks and sometimes the pain is so intense that my eyes will tear up and I don’t even realize it. Natalie has been dropping things. A soda into her father’s favorite slippers, a full orange juice container in the back of my newly detailed car, and a nightly tipping over of whatever beverage she has for dinner. She gets so frustrated when it happens that she cries.

The other night, I heard loud cries coming from the living room and rushed from my bed to see what had happened. As I approached, David said, “You don’t want to go in there.” But I never listen. Fearing the worst, I looked around the corner and saw Natalie on the floor in tears, the table in front of her covered in red liquid. My first thought was that she’d struck her mouth on the glass table and that blood was everywhere. On closer examination, the “blood” was fruit punch and Natalie had had yet another spill, this time on the living room carpet, which prompted her crying fit. She was terrified I’d be upset that she had spilled again and ruined the rug. Actually, finding out that it was only fruit punch instead of blood, I was so relieved that I didn’t care about the rug. I was just glad she wasn’t hurt. It didn’t matter. She cried uncontrollably for ten minutes.

As I was calming Natalie down, Nicole came into the room and curled up on the bed next to me and she started crying. She’d been fine earlier and I couldn’t imagine what had sparked this emotional downpour. Natalie was still whimpering in my lap, and now this! In between crying jags, Nicole told me that she’d been thinking about fifth grade graduation and realized how much she was going to miss her friends. She said she didn’t want to grow up, go to middle school and that she wanted to stay in elementary school the rest of her life. I tried to comfort her and assure her that she would see many of her current friends in her new school. I reminded her how often she had talked about and made plans for middle school and how much she would enjoy it when she actually got there. (I should have seen this coming because she’s been listening to some song called, “Never Grow Up” endlessly for the last week or so.)

But the tears continued. So the three of us sat on the bed and had a good cry – Nicole, longing to never grow up, Natalie wishing she were more grown and not always spilling things like a little kid, and me wishing that my body weren’t growing older and betraying me in ways I never imagined. Sometimes you need a good cry and sometimes it’s just hormones. The trick is knowing the difference.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Whatever We Do

When David and I were taking prenatal classes at the hospital before Nicole was born, the nurse said something I’ll always remember. She said, “Babies are irritated by everything, and everything you do to make it better irritates them more.” I thought of those sage words the other day as I was trying to coax Nicole out of a stinky, I’m-ten-not-a-teen-but-I’m-going-to-act-like-one mood, but everything I did made her more cranky. It was then that I realized that the nurse’s advice applies to every stage of parenting.

Babies are irritated by everything and everything you do to make it better irritates them more.

Tweens are embarrassed by everything and everything you do to make it better embarrasses them more. (Note to self, do not sing Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive” out loud in public with your children nearby.)

Teenagers are angered by everything and everything you do to make it better angers them more. (In other words, don’t try asking them about anything without expecting a surly response, in fact growling and hissing may even be involved.)

College students are always in need of money and the more money you give them always makes them need more. (Second note to self, change phone number, email and mailing address as soon as they head off to college. They can’t get money from you if they can’t find you.)

So if we irritate them, embarrass them, anger and enable them, why do we subject ourselves to this parenting process in the first place? It seems like it would be a win-win for kids and parents. But no one said parenting was easy. In fact, they said just the opposite. My friend Miriam once said that the divine plan was to make babies so cute so that you would forget about all the other crap you have to put up with. And they are cute, even if it can be tough going sometimes.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Culmination

When I was growing up, the only graduation ceremonies we had were from high school and college. Nowadays, there are graduation ceremonies from pre-school, kindergarten, fifth (or sixth) grade, middle school, high school and college. We celebrate accomplishment at every stage, no matter how small. I mean, really, how difficult is it to get through pre-school? But as I watch my daughter and her fifth grade friends buzzing with excitement over their upcoming (and very elaborate) culmination ceremony – the PC phase instead of graduating – I can’t help but get caught up in the energy of it all. They are thrilled, proud of themselves; really see it as a demarcation from their childhood years into being more mature young people.

They are flexing their independence in a variety of ways – from going places on their own or in small groups but with nary a parent to be found, getting and using cell phones, arranging their own study sessions and social activities. I can feel Nicole’s babyhood and childhood slipping through my fingers and have to allow myself to let it go. I can remember endless nights trying to get her to go to sleep, feeding her, changing her, and I’d often wonder, “Ugh, when is this going to end?!?” Now she gets up, gets herself washed and dressed and has even been known not only to feed herself, but the rest of the house as well – she makes a fine pancake, her grilled cheese is stellar, even if her mac and cheese still needs a little work. So those baby days have ended, replaced by chatter with girlfriends on the phone about homework, clothes and who likes who. Nicole will sit in the front seat of the car with me occasionally as I drive and has now started asking me questions about technique. I can see the wheels spinning in the back of her mind as she takes driving notes and plans her moment climbing behind the wheel. She and her best friend have already planned out their college experience. Now if only the SAT scores, college acceptance letters and financial aid all come together to support their goals, they have decided at the ripe old age of 10 that they want to go to Harvard together and be roommates. Look out Harvard.

The aisles in the stores are filled with graduation cards and decorations. And as Nicole’s big culmination draws closer, I find myself throwing an item or two in the shopping cart. I found myself in the bakery aisle debating whether to order a cake. And Natalie, Nicole’s little sister, leaned over to me and said, “don’t forget, we have to get her flowers and balloons.” I swore I was not going to make a big deal out of it, but know that I will. And I’ll cry…a lot. I’m a crier to begin with for almost no reason, so something like this just gives me license.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Don't Start the Rapture Without Me

Apparently it was the end of the world last Saturday and I almost missed it. My husband emailed me to let me know that it was coming in about two hours. I announced to our girls that some minister predicted that the end of the world was imminent. Nicole asked what imminent meant. I replied, "Any time now." Natalie cheered and said, "Tthat means quesadillas for dinner." I'm really glad my children don't take anything I say too seriously, but it’s somewhat puzzling and a little disturbing that Natalie continues to equate Armageddon with Mexican food.

I told them, honestly, if the end of the world were coming, I would have tried to have been better prepared. You can't let something that momentous that happen without preparation. Nicole asked me what I’d prepare. I told her I’d pack my favorite clothes, some comfortable shoes and some heels (just in case). I’d pack a little snack for us as well. Natalie started suggesting treats we could bring when Nicole burst our little end of the world plans with real facts learned in science class. She announced that the end of the world would only happen when the sun died out, which was in about a couple of million (or did she say billion?) years. Natalie chewed on that fact and asked me if I intended on being around then. I informed her that I would not. Natalie thought about it for a moment and decided that she too was going to miss the sun dying out event. Nicole, again with the facts, assured Natalie that none of us would be around to witness it, not unless they froze our bodies and then defrosted us just in time for the end. I let them both know that there would be no freezing of my body under any circumstances (although I think I better put that in writing). I went to college in Chicago, I know what cold is. I’m not going through that again, especially not for a few million (or possibly) billion years.

One of the things that I love about kids is that you can have nonsensical, theoretical conversations like our doomsday discussion and they will present their arguments and opinions and look at all sides of the issue even if the issue makes absolutely no sense at all. Adults like to call it “out of the box” thinking. Kids were born out of the box. We’re the ones who put them in there when they’re young and then they spend the rest of their lives trying to relearn how to think outside it again.

But enough about that…I have lots of packing to do. Apparently that minister has discovered that he made a miscalculation. The end of the world wasn’t May 21st; it is going to be on October 21st! Now I still have time to get the fixings for quesadillas.

Friday, May 20, 2011

That’s So Porno: Part 2

The tweenager shock jock talk continues at my daughter’s school. Last week, Nicole came home and asked me for a definition of porn because some friends in her fifth grade class were tossing the word around and mocking her for not knowing what it meant. This week’s word starts with a “c” ends with a “t” and I don’t really have to tell you the letters in between. Why do I feel like I’m on an X-rated version of Sesame Street? Her two friends (both of whom have older siblings) were using the word to describe another girl and when Nicole asked what the word meant, they again laughed at her and walked off. Now, knowing that I’m a fountain of information when it comes to defining four letter words (all those years bantering with Teamsters on set weren’t wasted), Nicole came home and immediately asked me to make things clear.

I gave her a very clinical definition, told her my opinion of the word, and of the use of curse words in general. The next day she came home and said that she’d told the kids that she now knew what the word meant. When they asked who told her, she said to their shock, “my mom.” She went on to tell them, bragging ever so slightly, that she can ask me anything. I told Nicole I was glad that she felt she could ask me/tell me about anything and encouraged her to continue to do so, no matter what my response was.

I both love and hate that my daughter feels like she can talk to me about anything. She should be able to and I want her to feel like there is nothing she can’t say to me. That’s my grown up side talking. Sounds so adult and together, right? But what I really want to say is, “OMG, I don’t want to deal with it! Don’t ask me those things! Don’t make me explain that stuff to you! I want to get mad at you and your little friends for growing up too fast – IMO - and already starting to talk about that stuff! La,la,la,la…I’m not listening!” Whatever happening to picking up this stuff in the street instead of asking your parents about it? Damn this progressive, 21st century, uber communicative childrearing. Can’t we go back to the days were misinformation was passed around in school restrooms and you learned about cursing and sex from your friends gossiping at sleepovers or at boy girl parties where the fast kids couple always disappeared into darkened basement bedrooms and whispered details of it later? Oh, yeah, remember those days and they weren’t all that informative. Most of what was said, rumored and done was incorrect or just plain stupid. I still giggle when I think of my seven year old friend who said in all earnestness that her big sister claimed you could get pregnant touching a doorknob. That must have been a hell of a doorknob.

I have no doubt that Nicole’s friends will test her theory that she can tell me anything by feeding her more salacious words to bring home and ask me about. I will continue to keep informing and correcting Nicole when she comes to me with these questions, even at the risk of being labeled the foul mouth dictionary mom - I’ve been called worse…starts with “c” ends with…you get the idea.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

That's So Porno

Porno, porno everywhere…it was found in Bin Laden’s compound, and now in the classroom at my kids’ elementary school. This week, while the news reports continued to come out of Washington that the treasure trove of information seized from the raid in Pakistan included large quantities of pornographic films, my daughter’s fifth grade class was shown a “maturation” film. The film is something they have been showing to the graduating fifth graders for decades, one for boys and one for girls, which talks about how their bodies mature, sexuality and personal responsibility. The parents had to sign a release form to allow their kids to view it. Nicole was more excited about the promise of goody bags at the end of the screening which were rumored to contain tampons, pads and deodorant – all in a nice little carrying case for girls, than she was about actually seeing the movie.

The reports of porno films in Bin Ladenville had already intrigued me as I grappled with the irony of a religious sect hoarding skin flicks when Nicole came to me and asked, “Mommy, what is porno?” Surprisingly, I didn’t freak out about how to respond to the question as much as I thought I would. We have had the ongoing conversation about where babies come from, body maturation and sexuality ever since she first started asking at age six. I always tried to answer only what was asked, not elaborate unless she wanted more information, be direct, honest and non-judgmental in my responses. My husband, David, would rather our girls not get any information at all because in his mind, that means they are growing up, something I don’t think he’s quite ready to face. He cringes when Nicole comes out dressed for school looking more mature than her 10 years only by virtue of how clothes are now fitting her and he often sends her back into her room to make her change out of skirts and tank tops into sweats and camp shirts. So when Nicole asked me the porno question, several questions of my own raced through my head. I wondered where she had heard the term – assuming at first that she had picked it up from the news reports I’d been watching. But then, the thought popped into my head that maybe someone had exposed her to it. Before I could start imaging the worst, I said, “Why do you ask?” Nicole explained that after they’d seen the maturation video, the boys and girls were exchanging notes about it and one of the boys said to her, “Oh that film, that was so porno.” I smiled, relieved that she hadn’t been pulled into some back alley somewhere by persons unknown to watch Debbie Does Dallas.

I back-tracked, asking her what she thought of the girls’ maturation film. As expected, she said that we had already talked about almost everything that was in it. I asked her if she had any questions about what we hadn’t discussed or what she had seen. She circled back to the porno question, clearly the only part (which wasn’t even in the school film) which confused her. I searched for the appropriate words (I’d gone over in my head a million times how to answer the where do babies come from question, but this one was off my radar in terms of questions I’d be asked) and finally said, “It’s a movie that exploits people having sex.” She thought what I said for a moment and then asked, “What’s exploit mean?” I gave her a Merriam Webster response for the word. She didn’t ask for any more details about porn and I didn’t offer any. Finally, she shook her head knowingly and said, “He was so wrong about the movie.” She went on to tell me that when she didn’t know what the word porno meant, the boy waved her off dismissively and went to chat with the other girls who were up on their porno definition. Rather than being upset or bothered by the concept of porn, she was more frustrated by not knowing a word that everyone else seemed to know. Although I suspect a lot of those girls were smiling and nodded without having a clue. I explained to her that different people learned about (say/do) different things at different times (a mantra in my house that my girls make fun of me for saying) and that if he was rude enough to dismiss her for not knowing the word, that it was his problem not hers.

Fifth graders, who are generally 10, 11 or in some cases even 12, are so conflicted at this age. They want to be grown, and like this boy, toss around titillating words or phrases, pushing to see movies or listen to music which is probably too mature for them, asking for cell phones and solo visits to the mall or ice cream shop – all things which they think prove how grown they are or that they are in the know, while at the same time, they are still so little, wanting a hug or a cuddle. They struggle daily, caught between the desire to remain a kid and the wish to be adults.

So now, at the ripe old age of 10, Nicole knows what porno is. Not really, but at least she has a sense of the word and she knows it is not the maturation movie shown at school. But she was disappointed; they didn’t get the tampon-pad-deodorant goody bags this year because of budget cuts. The economic crisis strikes again.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Extreme


I don’t like reality shows. Cheaper to make and often much more profitable, they have just about killed scripted television and the incomes of those who work in it while simultaneously rotting our collective American minds. Who today doesn’t know who Snookie is, whether they want to or not? But ask them to name the senator from their state and they’ll stare at you blankly. Reality t.v. has created stars out of ordinary people, rich kids, experts in obscure fields and B-list stars seeking a comeback, people who in many cases have no particular talent other than a willingness to exploit their personalities and, as my grandma used to say, “Act the fool,” for the camera, inviting millions of people into their lives as housewives, bigamists, extremists of any kind, hoarders or residents of a house by the shore.

My daughters forced me to watch two of the competition type reality shows with them and I am slightly embarrassed to say I enjoy them, despite my rallying cry against reality. But at least dancing and singing take talent and passion and watching people struggle to get a routine or wow a judge shows honest effort and sometimes real defeat – something that I think is often missing from television today, both scripted and reality. As much as I love Law & Order, the detectives always get the perp and the prosecutors always win their case. Unfortunately, it’s not so in real life.

I was laid up in bed in recovery mode, drinking a Diet Coke and munching on one of my homemade cookie creations, a “faux nut” butter cookie – a recipe I created to satisfy my desire for a good old fashion peanut butter cookie for someone who can’t eat peanuts or wheat. Natalie curled up in my lap and started channel surfing and together we happened upon a new show, “Extreme Couponing.” Natalie and I looked at each other, both wondering how watching people who cut coupons could be an interesting t.v. show. We had to watch. They profiled a woman who spent 4 hours a day cutting coupons from the 9 newspapers she subscribed to (not to read the papers, of course, but to get the insert coupons – why be bothered with all that current affairs dribble?), and then spent 6 more hours of her day prowling the aisles of her local grocery store checking on special in preparation for her shopping day! She bragged that she usually put close to $1,000 in items in her shopping cart and usually only paid, after coupons, $5 to $10 dollars for all of it. Now while that savings is impressive, hell, it’s extraordinary, she complained about not being able to spend time with her husband and children because she was couponing, and how her house was being over run with the 2 year stockpile of products that she had. One woman they profiled even had a very expensive, complicated looking rack (which I think she designed herself) made to store her purchases in a way that the items with the oldest expiration date were pushed to the front so nothing would spoil. All the couponers complained of running out of room in their homes – one woman had 1,000 rolls of toilet paper stuffed under her son’s bed - in the same breath that they boasted of saving $40,000 or more a year on groceries.

As much as I’d like to cut back on the cost of my groceries, that kind of effort, time, dedication and ingenuity (a specially designed rack???) is being wasted on shopping. And despite the fact that they had stockpiles which would see them through five natural disasters with enough to feed the entire block, they still continued couponing and shopping. I had to turn the show off. Their obvious obsession was difficult to watch. As much as I was fascinated, I was also repulsed. It’s like the hoarder show – amazing to get a glimpse into their minds and their homes, but it’s a little uncomfortable once you’re inside.

I tried to watch the couponing show again, but I had the same response. I was talking with another friend of mine about it – he’s a reality show devotee who keeps up with several of them – and he told me that some of the coupon women actually use their “talent” to get groceries for free (or nearly free) and then donate the grocery items to charities/shelters, which made me feel slightly better. I mean how many families need a two year supply of dishwasher soap?

But I guess if it wasn’t extreme, it wouldn’t work on t.v. Who wants to see me go to Ralphs, fumble through my purse at check out for the three coupons I managed to tear from a mailer tossed on my lawn, to find that only one of the three coupons was for an item I actually purchased? I got $1 off because they doubled the coupon and I felt like a winner. But that’s how most people deal with coupons in real life. And real life would never work well on reality t.v., now would it?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Half Baked


My husband doesn’t like it when I sell things on the street. Now I have my daughters doing it, too. Today it’s cookies, last time it was cupcakes and brownies. It’s always for a good cause – political campaign, puppy rescues, or like today’s sale, it’s to raise money for a camp for kids with sickle cell disease.

There is something about a bake sale that is in some ways far more effect in getting people out to support a cause. Unlike a dinner dance, pancake breakfast or wine tasting – all of which I have been involved in organizing – there is something so simple about a bake sale. It is a low cost, easy way to contribute. It doesn’t require any long term commitment on the part of the person making the donation. And besides, who can resist a cookie?

A friend of mine who donated twenty but declined to take the twenty cookies because she said she didn’t need an excuse to eat a plate on her own, told me she liked that my girls and I did cooking fundraisers together. I confessed to the reason behind it – I love to bake. Second only to writing, it is my favorite thing to do. If someone would actually pay me for my baked goods in the retail world, I would jump at the chance to make it a second act profession some day. I also want my girls to know what it feels like to help others, to raise money and turn it over to a charity, to recognize that no matter what we might be going through ourselves, that there is always someone else worse off and in need of our efforts. My mother used to always say to me, “Whenever you’re feeling bad, find someone who’s feeling worse and do something for them. You’ll find that it’s the best way to make yourself feel better.” Lastly, it is an easy ask of friends, neighbors and family – come by, eat a cookie, help someone.

We did a benefit bake a few years ago where the girls raised over $300 in less than two hours. Thanks to the beauty of email and forwarding, people we didn’t know, who were friends of friends, showed up to participate. David refused to be involved, citing his objection to my selling things on the street habit. At one point, we had about twenty or more people milling in front of the house eating baked goods and contributing for the cause. David was finally forced to come out of the house where he’d been hiding for the duration of the sale, hoping that the neighbors didn’t call to complain. Thing was, most of the neighbors were now out in front. When he finally came out, I overheard him chatting with a neighbor, who assumed he’d been part of the fundraising effort. When he didn’t deny it, I had him, and he was forced to help with clean up.

Today we’re adding milk to the occasion. And at $1 a cup, that’s extra money for the camp. Besides, what goes better with cookies than milk?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Missing Part 2

My daughter Nicole came back from her Washington D.C. trip a changed person. The person who came back is much more mature, confident and independent. It’s a little frightening and as much as I marvel at the change, I miss the little girl she was before she went on the trip.

When we went to pick Nicole up at the airport, there were fifty or more other parents waiting for the plane to land. Natalie, Nicole’s younger sister, made a beautiful welcome back sign which read, “Welcome home Nicole! We love you! Don’t Ever Go Away Again!” I felt the same way. I would never say, but part of me yearned to yell at her, don’t ever go away again! I missed her, badly. But Natalie then decided, as eight year olds will do, that she was too embarrassed to hold it up because she had drawn a bunny on it and she didn’t want the fifth graders to think she was babyish.

The parents gathered, excited and eager to see our kids, a little fearful until all of the wheels of the plane touched down on the runway. We waited, making small talk about end of the year festivities – the upcoming fifth grade culmination ceremony which seems to have grown to mythic proportions making it only slightly less important than graduating from Harvard. We talked middle school choices and thoughts about what the next school year would bring. I had brought balloons, but David made me leave them in the car. He said, “She’s not coming back from Iraq, just a week in D.C.” I didn’t care, I was getting balloons anyway, even if she would only enjoy them for the car ride home! Other parents filtered in as their arrival grew closer, balloons clutched in their hands. I gave David a look which he pretended not to see.

When the first kids started filtering into baggage claim, the parents let out a cheer, screaming, clapping. I felt sorry for the other passengers on the plane. Not only did they have to tolerate a 5 hour flight with 44 kids, but now they had to deal with the parents, who were probably missing their children more than their children missed them. We spotted Nicole, but it was difficult to get through the crowd to embrace her. She hugged and kissed us, and Natalie flashed her the welcome sign so quickly that I’m sure Nicole barely got to see it. But instead of being teary or bubbling over with excitement to see us, Nicole said – in a voice that seemed liked she was making an effort to sound grown, “Hi Guys, good to be back. Let me get my bag.” She walked over to the luggage and refusing help from both me and her father, insisted on taking her giant, 45 pound suitcase off of the carrousel. I couldn’t believe it. The girl who used to ask me to carry her lunch box into school for her because it was too much to juggle with her backpack – why she refused to put it in her backpack is still one of those mysteries of the universe which will never be solved – was now handling a suitcase that was almost as big as she was, as well as a backpack. She looked at me and said, “Mom, I’ve been lugging around my own stuff, getting myself washed, dressed and ready every morning for eight days, I got this, I can handle it, I’m Miss Independence now!”

I was shocked, surprised and amused by her comment. We’ll see how long her Miss Independence reign lasts, but I do know that the change in her has been marked since she returned and that in some ways, what my neighbor said was true – a trip away, an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. (or anyway away from their parents for a week and be on their own) will be life changing. It’s a good change for the kids, harder on the parents. I love Nicole’s newfound confidence, but in some ways, I was missing my little girl. The next day, I told David how I was feeling about it and he looked at me like I was crazy, reminding me of all the times I’d tried to get Nicole (and the rest of them) to do a better job of picking up after themselves, keeping track of their own things, basically being more responsible and independent and now that she was doing it, I was complaining? As we were talking, Nicole, who was starting to show signs of jet lag on her first day back, interrupted us and curled up on the sofa next to me, burying her head in my arms. She murmured, “Good night, Mommy,” and allowed herself to drift off before the sun had even set or dinner was served. She was tired from her trip, from all the changes, and when everything was said and done, she still needed me to comfort her and help her get some rest. Okay, independent, but always my little girl.

Note: As we head into spring break, I’m going to do just that and take a break from posting next week. Okay, yeah, I know, I’m not in school anymore, but some habits, like taking spring break, die hard. Also, isn’t half the point of having kids so that you can relive all those things you loved about childhood even though you are an adult? Posting again on 5/6!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Missing


I don’t know where my ten year old daughter is at this moment. She is somewhere in Washington D.C. on a class field trip. Four teacher/chaperones, who clearly give Job a run for his money when it comes to patience, are taking forty-four fifth graders on a tour of historic sites – Monticello, Congress (unless it’s closed), the Liberty Bell. They will travel over three states during eight days where the kids will be responsible for packing and unpacking their suitcases, keeping up with their belongings, personal grooming (at least enough that they don’t offend each other), making sure they get proper nutrition, all in addition to doing written assignments and keeping a photo journal. Oh, and the kicker…they can’t call, email, text or contact their parents in any way for the entire trip! I’m not sure I could do all that now, let alone at age ten.

When Nicole was in second grade, she announced that she would never, ever go on the D.C. trip. She repeated her declaration in third and fourth grade. But suddenly, when the teachers started talking about earning points to go on the trip – being allowed to go is merit based – Nicole promptly forgot her vow of several years earlier and became obsessed with not losing points so she could take the trip. I had mixed emotions about letting her go. I had been relieved when she said that she didn’t want to, but when she made an about face, I resigned myself to her going, knowing that I would be nervous and would miss her terribly. However, I also knew it would be, as parents of some older kids from our school have told me, “a life changing experience” for her. And indeed, I know now that it will be. It was amazing watching her in the days leading up to the trip. She has never been to sleep away camp, never traveled without us to visit family or friends. Yet, she was not nervous, and on the ride to the airport she was giddy, not worried or homesick. Even her goodbye as she got into the line to check her bag was more like a “goodbye I’m going to school,” rather than “goodbye, I’ll see you in a week!”

The teachers are tweeting the experience several times a day so we get to see photographs of the kids at various monuments. As a friend of mine said, it’s like playing Where’s Waldo? with the pictures, hunting each one to find your kid, making sure that they are still present and accounted for, checking to see that they have on their coat or combed their hair. It is our only way to know what’s going on during the trip. But the one thing I noticed in each photo is how happy and engaged the kids appear. And I marvel that my baby of ten is three thousand miles away from me, for the first time having experiences on her own. A mom I know with a toddler scolded us for letting Nicole go on the trip and said that she would never let her child travel on a school trip that far away at such a young age. She said that she knew her child would not be ready for it. And that may be true. However, I firmly believe that even if they aren’t exactly ready, most kids will rise to the occasion in order to have a chance to experience such a journey.

When I was 13, my French teacher aunt took me to Paris under the guise of taking several of her students on a study abroad trip. In fact, it was really just a booty call on foreign shores, with her promptly coming to our hotel room a few moments after arriving, teaching us a few survival phrases in French, informing us that we should not come to her hotel room for the next two weeks and instructing us not to tell our parents about it. And then she was gone. I was 13, alone in Paris with a hotel room, return ticket, guide book and a credit card. I was scared for about a nano second and then realized what an amazing opportunity I had. I cut a deal with the two girls I was traveling with, both older, high school juniors, but unable to speak the language as well as I could, that if they would go with me to museums during the day, I would translate for them at night when they went on the prowl hunting cute French guys. It was an arrangement that met the needs of all the travelers and resulted in hilarious results and lifelong memories. It turned out that my aunt had a boyfriend who I suspect was at the embassy and that she’d been following around the world for years and meeting in exotic locales. We had always marveled at her foreign trips and wondered how and why she went on such fascinating journeys – now I knew. But as a woman teacher in her day who’d lose her job to a married man with kids to support, I guess she thought it best not to marry and keep her relationship hidden – maybe her embassy guy was married, or maybe she just wanted to keep her job, either way, in retrospect, it was both terribly sad and horribly romantic! However, the biggest thing I learned on the trip was that I could take care of myself anywhere under any circumstance and it was a lesson that sparked a lifelong interest in travel and one that I carried with me as I traveled extensively, often alone and to unusual places during my pre-kid years. And as my aunt asked, I kept her secret and didn’t tell my father about my abandonment in Paris until I was 36. He shook his head and said, “That sounds like my sister.” I had been left alone in Paris for two weeks and I survived. So I knew that Nicole, who is way more mature than I was at that age, would do fine. I was the one who might not fare so well on this trip. I would miss her.

So Nicole is out of the house and it is very quiet now. There is no one dancing in the kitchen after dinner when she should be sitting and finishing her meal, no constant chatter repeating stories which she’s told us time and again, no bickering between sisters over what to watch on t.v. or who was longer on the Wii. Instead, there is a place at the table which goes unset, a bedroom neat and bed nicely made without clothes strewn about the room and the daily morning angst over what to wear. I thought I wouldn’t miss all those things, but I do. Nicole is missing from our home, and I miss her and the liveliness and love she brings to our life. Even though I know that within hours of her return, I might long for some of that quiet time again, I will be glad that she went on her journey, but happy to have her home.

Friday, April 1, 2011

No Fooling



Because I have a daughter who was born on April Fool's Day, we have ceased to celebrate the prankster's day in lieu of celebrating her birthday. When I was in labor, at about 11:30pm on March 31st, when it seemed as if Natalie was not coming out, my husband tried to get me to push her out before she was ready to avoid her having to be an April Fool's baby. He felt that it was a label that would haunt her for her entire life and that with one determined push, I could eliminate this potential hardship which might damage her psyche. But given that our doctor wasn't even at the hospital - she'd dropped by earlier on her way out to dinner with a friend - there was no way I was pushing that kid out early.

Midnight struck and April commenced. It was then that Natalie, obviously a prankster in training, decided to make her appearance. I spent an incredibly long time pushing - I remember asking the doctor, in a drug induced haze, "At what point do we give up and just take her out?" But before the doctor could answer, one final push and Natalie made her appearance at 12:58 a.m. My April Fool's baby wasn't fooling around - calm, quiet, she barely cried when they cleaned her off and she was as patient and sweet tempered then as she is today.

As a kid, I remember one April Fool's Day, I believe I was 8, when I decided to go all out with the pranks. I put salt in the sugar bowl, dipped my brother's hand in warm water while he was sleeping and seasoned the scrambled eggs with sugar. I don't remember anyone laughing. I do remember getting punished, badly. And I don't think I've played an April Fool's joke since. Which is a good thing, because now on April 1st, we have something wonderful to celebrate instead!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Low Expectations

There is something to be said for low expectations. My daughter competed in the school spelling bee last night. In the weeks before, she was hesitant as to whether she even wanted to compete again. She did the competition last year, studying words nightly, going to 3 practice bee sessions, making note cards. She invested a great deal of time and energy into it and then had an early and embarrassing defeat, the second or third kid kicked out in round one over an easy word that she knew, but misheard. She spelled further instead of farther. She went into this year’s competition with a very different attitude. She didn’t study at all except for twenty minutes last weekend when she and her classmate were over at the house and we practiced some words. He’s an expert speller – studies the roots of words, knows all the origins – Nicole refuses to even bother to break them down in to syllables when trying to spell them. But other than that, Nicole’s plan for the bee was, “I’m gonna wing it.” Her only goal – make it through round one and don’t be the first kid out.

As the competition started, it was clear there were kids who were very invested in it. Nicole was not. Earlier she refused to change clothes into something nicer or even comb her hair. I was able to get a comb through her locks under great protest and redo her pony tails, which over the course of the school day had become wild, with hair standing straight up in a fashion that made her look just a little bit like Don King’s daughter. Nicole got her bee number and took her seat at the back of the stage.

Round one came and she got her word correct. I could see the relief on her face. She had achieved her goal – she made it through the first round – after that, she didn’t care what happened. The bee continued and she kept getting words she could spell. With each word spelled correctly, she appeared more confident, more interested in competing, which is odd to see because she’s not a competitive person – except when it comes to her sister and t.v. viewing time – but sports or academically, she’s more easy going than that. It’s rare that there will be something she wants to badly that she’ll kick into competition mode. The last time she did was for the student council elections. She was disappointed when she didn’t get voted president, but then about ten minutes later, after a few tears had been shed, she came back to me and tried to figure out how she could make herself the political confident of the girl who won. Clearly, she's a born back room operator.

Nicole continued spelling and suddenly, we looked up on the stage and realized it was down to her and three other kids. They were all spellers from her class, one of them was the friend she practiced with, the spelling bee champ from the last two years. He practices words and roots and is by far the strongest speller in the class. He was going for a three-peat. A few misspelled words later, and it was down to Nicole and her friend, a fierce speller who amazes me every time – there doesn’t seem to be a word he can’t tackle. Between them, there would be a winner and a runner-up. I thought for sure that Nicole would be out after the first round of the finals, but they went back and forth spelling three or four more words until they both got one wrong. They continued spelling again until finally, one of them got a word wrong that the other could answer. Nicole was out, the runner-up, not the winner, but for her, for us, it was a huge win. The kid who was out in the first round with further, made it through a dozen or more words that her dad and I sat in our seats trying to figure out how to spell. But the best part about it was, because her expectations had been so low, she wasn’t really invested much either way. Sometimes that’s the best way to go – then you’re pleasantly surprised when go farther than you planned…or is it further?