Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Distressed, Destroyed, Deconstructed and Dumb

Because this was my lucky week, I took my 14-year old daughter shopping yesterday for spring and summer clothes. In my ranking of errands, I would put this one neck and neck with cleaning out the litter box. It’s not fun and, in fact, sometimes it stinks. However, she has a few events and trips coming up and summer is, hopefully, just around the corner. I know from experience that you buy summer clothes in March or your kid will end up wearing a down coat in July.

We headed right to Old Navy, primarily because it’s relatively inexpensive. If there’s one thing I know about teenagers, it’s that today’s style will be so yesterday tomorrow. In other words, I’m not taking out a mortgage to dress my child in crappy clothes. Why, you ask am I buying “crappy” clothes? Because that is the hot style. Yes, folks, the days of buying new clothes that actually look new are SO gone. I hope you’re sitting down, because this is going to confuse you, as it did me.

The hot new fashion trend du jour is clothing that is distressed, destroyed and deconstructed. Yes, you will be spending your hard-earned money on apparel that looks like it went through your garbage disposal. When it’s new, it resembles the undershirt rags in your laundry room. I kid you not.

The first item that caught my daughter’s eye was a polo shirt. From a distance, the shirts were cute. They offered bright colors and had a little “popped” collar. Then I got a closer look. “What’s wrong with this?” I asked my daughter. The edges of the sleeves were ripped and it had large stitches sewn haphazardly in strange places on the shirt. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve seen homeless people in better clothing. “It’s supposed to be that way,” she explained in a gosh-Mom-don’t-you-know-anything kind of way. Here’s how this item is described on Old Navy’s website: “Distressed edges and random stitching give this pique cotton classic vintage appeal.” Oh, silly me. It’s vintage!

Now, here’s the next thing you have to understand: In an effort to explain to sensible adults why they should buy crappy clothing for their children, retailers are throwing around the term “vintage.” Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to stand on my soapbox and say that the only reason why anything is truly vintage is because at one time it was made well enough to actually last until now! Vintage does not have to mean crap! I know, I’m preaching to the choir here. If it’s fashionable, no matter how ridiculous it looks, they’ll wear it. I guess that’s why they’re called “fashion victims,” right?

Old Navy isn’t the only retailer in on this. Over at the Gap, a pair of “ high quality distressed” jeans (isn’t that an oxymoron?) will cost you $58.00. At Abercrombie & Fitch, “vintage destroyed” jeans with “unique grinding and abrasion” go for a whopping $79.50. At Aeropostale, their “Blown Out Deconstructed Flare Jeans” offer a “comfortable, broken-in look with extensive destruction” for only $49.50. At Hollister, they’re touting their destroyed polos with “nicking and grinding details and deconstructed hem” for only $24.50. What a deal!

People, I think this is insane! It’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes, but instead of naked it’s “not new.” I so desperately want to ask my daughter: “If your friends jumped off a cliff in torn clothing, would you?” But I think the answer would depress me. The fashion industry is giving us the royal shaft in so many ways. Instead of Project Runway, we have Project Pull-The-Wool-Over-Our-Eyes so that we think that this makes sense.

Another reason that this drives me batty is that as parents, we can’t help but worry about how our kids’ appearance reflects back on us. It’s the reason why we nag our sons to get haircuts and steal their favorite pants while they sleep so that we can wash the grime out of them. This new sartorial splendor, or lack thereof, says: “My mom doesn’t care enough about me to buy clothes that aren’t fit for donations.” Yes I do, but you won’t let me!

Alas, like many other issues in parenting, I’m picking my battles and this isn’t one of them. Because as much as I hate the idea of sending my kid out on the street in jeans that are holier than the Vatican, I also understand that teens need to make their own fashion statement, even if it is dictated by their peers. In the meantime, I’m taking a deep breath, remaining calm, and hoping for the day when the winds of change blow through fashion circles and somebody says: “You know what would look so fabulous? Neatly pressed slacks and sweet little Peter Pan collars! Sort of a June Cleaver meets Kate Moss – brilliant!” The only problem is that I’ll have to spend an arm and a leg for it. Between you and me: I won’t mind a bit!

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Real Mom's Guide to Photographing Your Children

This is addressed to newer parents. No, you don’t have to be young. You just have to have very young children. I’m here to do you a favor – to help you avoid the mistakes that I’ve made. I’m here to tell you how NOT to take photos of your children.

Let me first explain that I’m not a professional photographer, nor do I play one on TV. Although I will say that I have taken one college photography class. Yes, folks, my best photo from that class was the hands of a bum pushing change over a bar for a pint bottle of alcohol. Gritty photojournalism? Perhaps. Relevant to photographing children? Absolutely not. So, I’m here as an amateur just like most of you.

However, I feel that I’m uniquely qualified to counsel you on this topic because my youngest child is 14 and my oldest is 19. Yes, I’ve had 19 years to get it all wrong and I can either beat myself over the head for my nearly two decades of stupidity or I can save you all from yourselves.

This all came about because my daughter is preparing to graduate from 8th grade. One of the end-of-the-year graduation projects is a DVD/Video that features photos of all of the kids from the past 8+ years. It’s actually a really cool thing that makes everybody cry. Except the 8th grade boys. They don’t cry at anything. The 8th grade girls cry almost as much as the moms. It’s kind of pathetic.

Anyway, I needed to search for photos of my child for this project. So I hauled out my shoeboxes. OK, now those of you that are confused right now and wondering why I didn’t haul out my photo albums, well you can leave right now. This is not going to be one of those “Craft Corner” tip thingys where I tell you how cute it is to glue little ticket stubs and programs to a page featuring your child’s first musical performance. That is not me and your are at the wrong blog. OK, now that those photo snobs have left, we can get down to business.

The first thing I want to say addresses vacation photos. No matter how elaborate or simple your vacation was, the one thing you must do is only take a photo that includes a person, preferably your child. I’m sure the view from the top of Mt. Low Oxygen Level was great, but you can buy a book or go online to see something like that. It will mean nothing to you, unless there is a person in the photo. Years from now, the nice view will be just that, a nice view and definitely NOT a memory. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you should put a person in every photo. Yes, that’s what those other tourists are standing around for – to take a photo of your family. Just ask, they won’t bite. Unless they look like felons and are wearing orange prison jumpsuits, they probably won’t run off with your Kodak Funshare Camera. Trust me on this. Oh, but maybe you should make sure they speak English.

OK, the next thing is that when you are photographing your child, make sure that you can actually see them without using a magnifying glass. If you can’t, only take one photo. I said ONE. Yeah, I know it’s the biggest game of your kid’s sports life, then for God’s sake, watch the game! Years from now, you will NOT be looking at these photos saying: “Oh look honey, here’s the entire first quarter.” The same thing applies to when you photograph your child in front of a scenic overlook or historical monument. Do NOT walk across the street to get the entire mountain range in the photo. Nobody will care. Simply enjoy the scenery and make a mental note of the majestic beauty. Now move on.

Absolutely DO take photos of your child in ridiculous costumes and embarrassing situations. Well, within reason, of course. (I’m not that mean!) Anyway, these are the photos that people want to look at 20 years later. The Halloween where you convinced your child that wearing a spray-painted silver bucket on his head would definitely make him resemble a Y2K bug or the sack race at the family reunion when Billy and Uncle Bob paired up after Uncle Bob had entered the beer-chugging contest. Really, these are the things that make interesting photos.

Do not, under any circumstances, take more than five photos during any one event where the scene, uniform, event, game or situation does not look different. Unless you change lenses on your camera, all five of these photos will look exactly alike. Remember, you are not documenting a crime scene, you are creating a memory of an event.

Do try, whenever and wherever possible, to take close-up photos of your child. This is how you mark time and create memories. The point here isn’t really what they’re doing, but more what they look like. Because, and I know this is hard for those of you with adorable toddlers, your child will grow and change. No matter how hard you try, your child will not be cute forever. (Alright fine, the Olsen Twins are the lone exception to this, but at the age of 20, now cute is turning into creepy.)

Take loads of photos of your child with his or her friends, classmates, teammates, “camp-mates,” castmates, teachers and coaches. Outside of you and your immediate family, these are the most important people in your child’s life and whether you can’t stand them or not, they will be the subject of dinner conversations for years to come. Why not have a record of what they look like?

One final caution: Do not, under any circumstances, allow your teenage children (especially girls) to “edit” your photos. Young teens can be extremely sensitive to photographic evidence of their less than stellar appearance. One day, they’ll be able to look back without cringing, but in the meantime, keep the photos away from them. If necessary, keep them under lock and key. Just make sure that they do not throw away any photos...ever! They’ll hate you for it forever! Actually, they’ll hate you quite often along the way, but there’s no need to give them extra ammunition.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I Just Can’t Quit You

Dear Children of Mine,
I know that you don’t like me lately. No, seriously, I understand. And, I know this will be hard for you to hear, but sometimes the feeling is mutual. I know that you think that I miss the subtle eye rolls or the deep sighs or the angsty growls when your bedroom door is closed. Actually, I see and hear ALL. I’m not spying, I’m just feeling.

The mild contempt that you throw my way is not as silent or faint as you might intend. I can feel it blow towards me from the passenger seat of the car as we drive to and from school. The silence that you give back when I try to make conversation is, sorry to use a cliche, deafening.

I know that you believe that I have no idea how irritating, mean, patronizing, inflexible, dumb, lame, out-of-touch and clueless I am. Trust me, I do. You’ve told me as much in so, so many ways.

When I ask you how your day/night/movie/party/school was, I know that there’s so much more behind your answer than “good.” I can sense the nuances behind your response but also respect that sometimes one word is all I’m going to get.

See, here’s the thing, as much as you’d like me to back off/go away/stop it/leave you alone, I can’t. Not because this is always such a walk in the park for me. (Yeah, I’d like to say that being ignored and disliked is my idea of a good time.) In fact, I have to admit, that there have been times that I have wanted to walk away. There have been moments when you and I have been in the heat of a domestic battle and I’ve envisioned me, in a lounge, on a beach, with a book, only to have common sense whack me in the side of the head and yell: “Snap out of it!” I have wished that I could surrender to your whims, wishes and pleadings and just make it all stop. But I can’t.

To paraphrase a line from a recent movie: “I can’t quit you.” Sometimes I want to try, but as hard as I do, I can’t. For many reasons: Because I care. Because I was once your age. Because I once hated my parents. Because I’ve learned a thing or two in the past few years. Because I actually do understand why you’re mad. Because I remember how confusing being a teenager is and was. Because I’m still learning to parent as I go along. Because there are people out there who don’t care as much as I do. Because even when you make me so mad that I’d like to scream, I still love you. Because sometimes when you are at your worst, I look at you and see myself and know that in that moment, it’s really, really hard being you. Which is exactly why I will always be there.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Thank God You’re Safe, Now I’d Like to Kill You

If there's one thing I can say about parenthood, it's that it evokes passion, both positive and negative. Your child is born and you fall in love. They take their first steps and you're as proud as if you did it yourself. They get a part in the school play and you fight for a spot to park your video camera.

Then one day, they screw up and you get mad. It's shocking the first time it happens. Not because you weren't expecting it, but because life was rolling along and you were so into this great kid and then, well, you find out they’re not perfect. The natural reaction is to blame someone else: “That Jimmy Smith is a bad influence. Billy would have never done this on his own.” And that works for a while, until Billy gets in trouble again and then the thought dawns on you that like everybody else, your kid is human. Eventually, you grow to accept this fact because I’m pretty certain that every kid will do something wrong more than once or twice in his lifetime.

The tricky part comes when two opposing passions collide all in one episode. Our son recently drove his car back to college. This was a huge deal only because getting there required driving through Chicago, the third largest city in the nation. To say I was nervous was an understatement. In fact, I spent several sleepless nights trying to think of and thereby eradicate any possible disasters along the way. I’m not ashamed to say that when he left, I cried. Two and half hours later he called to say that he had safely made it through Chicago and had arrived at his first destination. Relief flooded over me and I sent a few thank you prayers to the man upstairs.

About an hour later, our son called again. He had just been pulled over for a speeding ticket. A $125 speeding ticket. Rage began to replace relief. I reminded myself and my husband that he was safe. Poorer, but safe. Still, we couldn’t help but be pretty steamed that he had gotten himself a ticket that would likely raise our already high insurance rates. It was hard to balance these two very strong feelings.

As my kids get older, I find this happens a lot – this juggling of emotions. I’ve spent many nights worrying that kids are safe and praying for someone to watch over them, only to have that worry and fear turn into joy and then anger the minute they walk in the door 30 minutes after curfew. You want to hug them and strangle them all at once. It’s a bit unsettling.

I’m beginning to understand that bigger kids mean not only bigger problems, but bigger worries that translate into this swirling cauldron of muddled emotions. I’m trying to teach myself to be patient, give my kids the benefit of the doubt and have a great parent network that I can use to alleviate stress and keep tabs on my kids. It doesn't always work.

In my house, I’m sort of known as the queen of mercurial emotions. I can go from zero to rottweiler in six seconds or just by walking into a child’s bedroom. But this fine line between worry and fury is probably just as confusing to the child as it is to me. I find it amazing that I can easily love and loathe at the same time. It feels sort of....schizophrenic. Nevertheless, I'll try to keep things in perspective and be thankful for safety, health and cell phones.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Mom Code

I guess it's time that I spell this out because there are some of you who don't know how it works. Perhaps you've been in a cave or homeschooling your brood in some compound in the middle of nowhere. Whatever the reason, there are moms (and dads) out there that need a refresher course.

The Mom Code, or the Dad Code or Parent Code, is the unspoken agreement which governs inter-parental etiquette. For instance, if I ask you about your kid, the Mom Code dictates that after you brag for 10 minutes about your baby genius, you will then ask me about my kid. I am then allowed an equal amount of time to bore you with the exploits of said offspring. According to the Mom Code, if I have multiple children, I should pick one about which to brag or lump them all into a group called "The Kids" or something generic. The idea here is that we share parenting tales equally. The exception to this rule is if one of my children is particularly awful and I am describing an embarassing or self-depracating situation. I am then allowed slightly more time.

The Mom Code says that you should at least try to remember my kid's name. It understands that mental lapses happen all the time, but if you forget, just ask about "your daughter" and pay attention when the name is given. If our kids have gone to school together for five or more years, don't ignore me at social events. Pretending you don't know me is not very nice.

The Mom Code dictates that whenever and wherever possible, I will give rides or offer play dates to your child and you will do the same. It will never be perfectly equal, but you have to try. I'm happy to help out in a pinch but if I am always the one you call to give your kid a ride home after practice, it would be appreciated if you would do the honors once in a while.

The Mom Code says that it's your responsibility to ask your kid about their day, their weekend, their week. Since children cannot always be relied upon to give us information, this is how you find out that for the third time a row, the English Group Project met at Billy's house and it's time for you to step forward and insist that they meet at yours next time. No, sorry, you don't get a pass if you work full-time. That is what weekends are for and yes, it sucks.

The Mom Code insists that you never yell at other parents, teachers or coaches without having a damn good reason, which should not be based on information supplied only by your child. If you haven't figured this out yet, children view the world with blinders on. They do not fact check and tend to believe what they hear, especially if it is a dramatic morsel whispered by their classmates. Do not automatically assume that your little angel has the story straight. Call me or any other mom or be prepared to approach the situation diplomatically first.

The Mom Code states that we compliment each others' children in sports or other performances. Pick something, anything, to be positive about. Even though my child might shoot a basketball worse than everyone on the team, make a point of mentioning how enthusiastic and dependable he is. I and everyone else sitting in the stands every weekend knows that your kid is the next Michael Jordan but we are growing tired of lavishing praise on you in your vicarious glow without anything in return. If my kid doesn't play sports, take a minute or two to mention how polite or friendly she is. On some days, this could be the only positive thing I hear. If my child sang badly in the school concert, be prepared to lie through your teeth and say how cute he was.

The Mom Code says that if you gossip, you'd better watch your back. It will come back to bite you in the butt. If you must gossip, it should be well-disguised in a veil of compassion: "Mary is so good-hearted. It surprised me that she didn't bring anything to the teacher appreciation party. She used to practically run that event!" This gives you a moment to think about what a bitch you are being while still allowing you to be human.

The Mom Code is not understanding of moms whose kids are in eight after-school activities or who have multiple children and therefore does not tolerate whining from said parents. It is understood that you chose to let your kid join all of those activities and, well, nobody told you and hubby to get "cozy" quite so often, if you know what I mean. Being busy does not give you a pass from the rules of the code. Passes are given out for deaths, divorces, injury, illnesses and mental health issues. And no, being a mom is not a mental health issue. Nice try.

The Mom Code insists that you never take advantage of stay-at-home moms even if they have only one child and seem to have all day to lounge. You are welcome to ask for a favor, but if you make it a habit, be prepared to offer financial compensation or lose any existing friendship.

The Mom Code instructs us to never criticize each other's parenting skills. We are all amateurs, no matter how many children we have. None of us has a manual and all of us are making this up as we go along. The day I criticize Sybill for the fact that her son can't sit still in class is the day that the principal will call my house to ask why my daughter can't seem to keep her mouth shut. All of us have the ability to be good or bad parents, although sometimes the lines are blurred.

The Mom Code, although seemingly tough at times, also encourages us to help each other out because on some days, parenting is a lonely job. We should be there to build each other up, not break each other down.

Oh and by the way, the Mom Code has another name. It's also known as Common Sense.