Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ego Bruising in the Checkout Lane

As if I wasn’t feeling old enough this week. On Monday, I dropped off my “baby” for her first day of high school. It didn’t hit me how this landmark day would reflect back upon me until afterwards when I headed to the grocery store. You see, I was long overdue to make a donation to a couple of the food pantries in town and figured the first day of school was a good day to fulfill my obligation. One of the things the pantries most needed was diapers, and so I bought a lot of them. And just as I was chuckling to myself at the gossip I would start if somebody saw me checking out with all of those baby products, the cashier interrupted my humorous train of thought.

“So, do you run a day care center or something?,” she asked.

“No, actually, most of this is for a food pantry. They need diapers,” I replied.

“Oh, I was wondering if you had a day care center or if the grandkids were coming over today,” she continued.

I stopped. Speechless. Did she just say “grandkids”? Did she just tell me that I looked like a grandmother? I have friends with infants! HOW OLD DOES SHE THINK I AM???!!!

OK, I go to this grocery store a lot. I know this cashier and, not to be unkind, but she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. Yes, she is younger than me, but not by a century or anything. This was the first time that someone had mistaken me for a grandmother. Aw, hell. I may as well send in my AARP application because it’s all going downhill from here.

Look, I know there are lots of grandmothers out there and I’m friends with many of them. Heck, I look forward to being a grandma. And I’d like to think that I’ll be a fun grandma. But not yet. My kids are 19, 18 and 14 and it’s going to take a lot for me to think of them as anything but kids.

I know one thing for sure, I’m not buying my diapers at that store ever again! Just call me Cleopatra, the Queen of Denial.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Parents Guide to TheirSpace, TheirBook, TheirCell, TheirIM, TheirPod...TheirWorld

One of the biggest challenges of parenting teens and pre-teens today is keeping up with the blitz of technology that engulfs many of our kids. It’s not so much a rising tide of new gadgets as it is a tidal wave of social overload. For those of us over the age of, um...19, it can be scary.

Well, I’m here to try and calm your fears and tell you that I’ve been to the other side, have returned safely and honey, the kids are alright. Yes, I fully acknowledge the inherent dangers in an internet lurking with predators and the ability of today’s kids to completely lose focus when digital information is flying around. But I think like any generation, our kids are simply finding their voice, even if it has no verbs and is completely abbreviated and filled with emoticons.

MySpace is one of the most popular destinations on the internet. In fact, it’s third, trailing only the popular search engines Yahoo and Google. Based on news reports, many parents have the idea that MySpace is a virtual candy store of pedophiles waiting to pounce on our children. Sure, dangers are there, just as they are out in the real world. However, there’s probably more danger in problems such as what fellow blogger Maryanne describes. Kids are not accustomed to the power of passive communication and how innocent comments can easily hurt.

On the positive side, some of the kids’ MySpace pages are, well, adorable. Their MySpace pages are the way that they express themselves to the world, even when, sometimes, the world doesn’t want to listen. For kids that are shy and soft-spoken, they finally have a venue through which they can showcase their personalities. On each MySpace page, they choose blinding backgrounds, hip music and surround it with lists of favorite movies, TV shows, music and long missives about anything they feel like saying. Along with all of this is the ability of kids from other MySpace pages to comment and then become a “friend.” Tom, one of the guys that founded MySpace, is on everyone’s friend’s list (don’t worry, he’s safe and doesn’t leave comments), along with 80-90 of the kids’ BFF (best friends forever). And here’s a typical comment on a MySpace page: “Hey yooooooooooo grrrl?? Wasssssssuuuuuuuuuuuupppppppppppp?!! I luv ur new background!!! It’s so hottttttttttt! Call me 2nite!!!!!!!!!!” Dangerous? Probably not. Waste of time? Definitely.

Facebook is another similar site that is restricted to high school and college kids. You MUST have a school e-mail address in order to register, but most schools absolutely forbid access to this site or MySpace so warn your kids ahead of time to save it for home. Facebook is a little less free-form than MySpace but gives kids an opportunity to check up on old friends and see what they’re up to. If you want to start a virtual conversation with someone, you “poke” them, which is apparently one of the more annoying things to do and can be ignored. Most kids just look at each others’ pages, join a group (there are millions) and surf through this mini-community. My son and his friends have used it to find old grade school and day care friends and perhaps reconnect. There are lots of instances of kids being “stalked” on Facebook because your identity is not hidden, but there are privacy controls that give kids the power to ignore the “stalkers.”

If the internet is the Information Superhighway, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) is the Express Lane. AIM allows kids to create a screen name and instant message each other, ad nauseam. What’s crazy about AIM is that kids carry on conversations (albeit incomprehensible, abbreviated conversations with lots of exclamation points!!!) with 4, 5 or 6 kids at once. In our household, I quickly learned that AIM had to be turned off while homework was being done on the computer. I almost worry more about AIM than MySpace or Facebook because it is such a powerfully addictive form of communication. I’ve even watched my own children go the computer to instant message their friends instead of calling them to ask a question. This is fine, in the sense that our phone lines are free, but a little unnerving when you are trying to teach your kids to improve their face-to-face communication skills. My advice: try and limit kids’ time on AIM. It’s a time-waster of major proportions. On the plus side, my son in college can easily keep in touch with his friends across the country without having a gigantic long-distance bill.

Cell phones are here to stay, folks. For many of us, they’re security blankets between us and our kids. When our kids are out with friends, we can actually find them before panicking and alerting the police...that is if they answer our call. They’re really a false sense of security and another potential time-waster. Most kids’ cell phones have text messaging capability giving them another opportunity to share useless information at all hours. If your kid has a cell phone with texting, watch your monthly bill very carefully lest it spin wildly out of control. Oh yeah, and teach your kid how to charge his/her cell phone. Murphy’s Law says that their battery will run out when you need to find them the most. One more thing: Teach your kids cell phone etiquette. Limit your calls in public and while driving and don’t talk on your cell phone when you’re with other people.

iPods and iTunes have taken our kids hostage, much like FM radio did to us in the 70s. Our kids love their ‘Pods and especially love that they can go on iTunes and buy the latest hit song for just 99 cents. Not to sound older than the hills, but this is so much like my teen years when we’d head to the music store to buy a 45 rpm record so that we can play it over and over again. I have no problem with iPods and iTunes, unless you’re talking about hearing damage. Without sounding alarmist, we’re going to have a generation of kids with serious hearing loss if they’re not careful about the volume blasting through their little white ear buds.

In short, we shouldn’t be surprised at how technology has taken ahold of our kids. We knew it was coming. Now our choice is to fight it, or simply sit down with them and try to understand it. If you choose the latter, be patient and don’t be quick to criticize or you’ll be shut out of a huge part of their world. Ask your kid to see their MySpace or Facebook page or to show you what Instant Messaging is all about and do talk to them about the dangers lurking out there in the virtual world. You might be surprised and enlightened in many ways and open up a healthy line of communication between you and your child.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's a Wonder I Can Read

I was born in 1960. And although I am technically at the end of the Baby Boom generation, I think that my generation would be better known as the “Experimentation Generation.” Not as in the fact that we experimented with "things," although we did, but more that we were experimented upon.

By the time I arrived at elementary school, the educational wizards of the world had brainstormed and were excited to offer me and my peers two groundbreaking concepts: New Math and ITA (Initial Teaching Alphabet). Since I am horrible at math, I cannot even tell you what New Math was except that it meant that our parents couldn’t help us with our homework because they had no clue what we were doing. But ITA was something I remember very well.

Here is what ITA looks like:

Here’s what they say that ITA was supposed to do: The Initial Teaching Alphabet is a phonemic alphabet based on the phonemic sound system of the English language. It was designed to present the beginning reader and writer with a logical and reliable reading and writing system. The phonemic alphabet consists of 44 sound-symbols with each symbol or character representing one sound in a word. The alphabet adheres closely to traditional orthography. The symbols are lowercase. Certain conventional English spellings have been retained such as the c and k, which have the same sound.

While all that is true, it simply meant that by the time we reached about 3rd grade, we had to relearn the alphabet, thanks to ITA. Sure, we learned to read more quickly, but what good was it if what we read had no basis in reality? It’s not like there was a bookstore full of ITA books. They could have taught us Greek or French or Spanish or German in that time and at least we would have come out of it with some useful skills!

Although the ITA Foundation will say otherwise, it is commonly believed that ITA was a giant failure, which is probably why it is rarely used today.

Today, one of the biggest concerns of today's parents is whether or not Instant Messaging will be the end of good grammar. I am a testament to the fact that sometimes kids can learn, despite what they are taught in school, so I wouldn't lose sleep over IMing. However, I will say this: If somebody tries to teach your child to read through ITA. away faest.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Unkind Cuts Are The Deepest

It’s no secret that life can be unkind. There are accidents, bullies, disasters, illnesses and worse. And then there is the other kind of unkind. It’s the type that you ask for. You sign up and put your proverbial neck on the line and hope for the best. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. And although it’s a risk and you say that you know it, the crushing disappointment afterwards is sometimes just too much to bear.

This morning I received an e-mail from my son who is already back at college practicing with the university marching band. He said that his “audition” went well and he received lots of compliments. His friend, who last year played tenor drums, had a distinctly different experience. There were five spots on tenor drums and five kids trying out. They told my son’s friend that he didn’t make it...even though he was one of the five. Essentially, they said they’d rather have less tenor drummers than let him be one of the five. Ouch. My son admitted that his friend wasn’t very good, but thought that the decision was too harsh. Apparently this boy was so upset that he abruptly left band camp, slammed his fist into his car windshield and cracked it and drove home several hours. As a mom, I could feel his hurt. The moment I read the e-mail, I wanted to find that boy and hug him, because what else can you do when a kid goes through something like that?

Reading the paper this morning, I saw more unkind cuts on our local major league baseball team. One of the relief pitchers, who, earlier in the season had been referred to as a rock star and had gone on to the All-Star game, had once again lost the game in the final innings last night, most likely losing his coveted role as a closer. And another player on the team, who had been a starter for several seasons, was told that he was being benched in favor of younger players, due to a lingering batting slump. Not surprisingly, the benched player had nothing to say to the media.

There are very few times when I have put myself in such a position. It’s more likely that you’d find me in the stands safely cheering on a team than auditioning or playing or trying out. I’ve generally lived life very safely, perhaps to a fault. The one time I remember truly taking that big fat leap of faith was in high school.

I went to an all-girls’ high school. We didn’t have cheerleaders but we had a pom-pom squad. A really cool, well-choreographed pom-pom squad. The year before I attended that high school, I went with a friend of mine to watch her sister practice with the pom-pom squad. I was enchanted. Here were at least 40 gorgeous girls, many with curlers in their hair for their evening’s date (this was pre-curling iron days, folks!) all in lines going through their kicks and and symmetrical routines. This is what I wanted to do...more than anything. And so when I arrived as a freshman, I patiently waited for pom-pom tryouts. I practiced diligently with a friend. My friend made it. I did not. I was crushed, but not surprised. But what was surprising was what I did the next year. I tried out again...and didn’t make it, again. By the end of high school, I had tried out and not made it four times. Thinking back, I wasn’t very good. But what amazes me is that I kept trying. The happy ending to the story is that by my senior year, I had several friends on the pom-pom squad and they convinced the choreographer that I should be the squad’s music manager that year. And at the end of the year, they let me “suit up” and perform with them in their last appearance. It was a wonderful memory.

I can think of only one other instance in my life where I have had such single-minded determination and that was after my husband and I were married three years and I wanted a baby. Throwing caution and financial advice to the wind, I did everything I could to convince him that we were ready to start a family. And even though our journey into parenthood was very bumpy (another story for another time), I’ve never regretted pushing us into it when I did.

Still, it’s so difficult to sit back and watch our kids and their friends go through devastating ego blows. When our son was applying to colleges, there was one school where he wanted to go more than anywhere else. He even had a glowing recommendation from the head of the program in which he was interested. He, and we, thought it was a lock. He did not get into the school, based on his percussion audition. He was, of course, knocked flat. I haven’t felt that sad, and helpless, in many years. The sadness that hung over our house made it feel like someone died, which made us all realize that nobody did die and we’d all better pick our sad faces off the floor and move on. And as it turns out, he went to a different school, a school he liked even better and he was glad that he didn’t get into that original school.

Life works out that way...sometimes. And sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, as a parent, you’re at a loss to explain to your kids why s*%t happens to them or their friends. You tell them to take risks, but you’re ill-prepared to deal with their disappointment when the risks don’t equal the reward, or lack thereof. So you look for the teachable moment and hope that words of wisdom will somehow enter into your brain when you need them the most. And when all else fails, give out lots and lots of hugs.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Not Crying. Definitely Not Crying. OK, Maybe Crying A Little Bit. Alright, Fine, Dammit - Crying!

I didn’t think it would happen, but I admit it. I’m sniffling a wee little bit. Not like last year, but, yes - a tiny bit sad. My son left for college just a few moments ago and although he’s a sophomore, I still can’t help but feel my heartstrings twanging a touch. First, I’m worried about him driving. It’s six hours away through Chicago traffic. I won’t rest easy tonight until I know he’s safe and sound in college town. So, yes, a few prayers have been said. Feel free to join in.

Maybe this is just a mom thing. My husband left for work with just work on his mind. I know he shares my concern over the driving thing, but he’s at work – working – and I’m at home – blogging...and perhaps obsessing. My daughter is practically thrilled. No longer will she have to share the bathroom, the basement or the television. She gets sole possession of everything, including our attention. This, she knows, can be a mixed blessing.

But me, well I guess I’m a little peeved. I’ve put a fair amount of time into that young man and yet he always seems to be leaving. I know that it’s what I would want more than anything, but it’s a bittersweet taste of success. Here he goes into the world, being all talented and funny and charming and clever and he wants to share it with others and develop more of it. Well, hey, what about me? Share it with ME! I know, I know – I sound positively insane. I’m really much more rational than that, but I find myself wishing he’d hang around just a little bit more.

Boy, have things changed. When he was little, he was positively obsessed with me. He’d follow me around and talk and hang on me and follow me into the bathroom and talk some more. He couldn’t get enough of me and, I admit it, I sometimes felt a little bit smothered. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a little of that smothering right now.

And so, we’ll start all over and adjust from a house of four to a house of three. We’ll fix meals that he hates and watch TV that he can’t stand and do a little less laundry and have a few less lights to turn off and go to restaurants he doesn’t like and generally ease into a routine that is different. A new normal. That is until he waltzes back in here and messes everything up and leaves the lights on all the time and doesn’t pick up after himself. I can’t wait.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Please Don’t Tell Me Our Parents Were Right

OK, so remember way back in the 1960s (if you’re too young for that, just pretend) when the Ed Sullivan Show was on the air and Elvis Presley made that legendary appearance and the camera couldn’t show his entire body because his dancing was deemed inappropriate and too risqué? And the reason why was because if we listened to music like that, let alone watch it on TV, it would lead us to bad things. Things like “necking” and sitting on boys laps which, of course, would get us pregnant. This is what many parents told us. If we listened to rock and roll, bad things would happen. In our heart of hearts, we knew they were wrong...or were they?

Yesterday, Associated Press published a story saying that, according to a recent study, “Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs.” Gulp. This is exactly what I was afraid of and now there’s proof.

Look, I drive teenagers around...a lot. I listen to their music because it’s better than arguing with them. And when I hear songs like “Candy Shop” by 50 Cent, I turn the volume off faster than you can imagine. If I didn’t, we’d hear things like this:

I'll take you to the candy shop
I'll let you lick the lollypop
Go 'head girl, don't you stop
Keep going 'til you hit the spot (woah)

I'll take you to the candy shop
Boy one taste of what I got
I'll have you spending all you got
Keep going 'til you hit the spot (woah)

I don’t know about you, but I’m not taking my kids to that candy shop! And I’m not letting them listen to this crap! Still, I know that when I’m not around to change the station or turn the radio off, they listen to this. And, according to this very scary study, it makes an impact on them and the choices they make.

I like to think that I’ve had more influence on my kids than 50 Cent, but I remember being a teenager, full of angst and woe and drama, and I remember thinking that the only person that understood me was that rock star on the radio. He was singing to me, wasn’t he? Or at least that’s what I thought. Are kids today thinking the same thing and super-charging their libidos while they irreversibly damage their eardrums? I don’t know.

All I do know is that next time “Promiscuous Girl” comes on the radio:

Promiscuous girl
You're teasing me
You know what I want
And I got what you need

I’ll use this opportunity to have a discussion about what promiscuity is and how it can totally ruin a night, a weekend and a reputation. Yes, there’s nothing like a lecture from Mom to totally kill the mood. You're welcome. That’s what I’m here for.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Middle-Aged Maven Haven

Lately, I’ve noticed that my personal demographic has least as far as clothes and shopping are concerned. Although I still like the clothes at The Gap, my middle-aged body can no longer wear them very well. My high-rise hips have a hard time squeezing into their low-rise jeans. I appreciate the colorful and eclectic look of the merchandise at Chico’s, but their wacky sizes are too complicated for my fading brain. Kohl’s is great and cheap, but unless you look like Daisy Fuentes, everything there is looking a tad too dowdy for me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Dowdy is OK. Dowdy is comfortable. Dowdy is often friendly on the pocketbook. But dowdy is most definitely not cool. And, call this my own personal mid-life crisis, but once in a while, I want to look a little bit cool.

There’s this store that gives me an opportunity to sometimes look cool. I’ve received their catalogs for years and I always find something bright, colorful and a little bit cool-looking. It’s called Coldwater Creek and a couple of years ago, one opened in my local mall. I was pretty excited to be able to see this coolness, up close and personal.

Well, here’s the deal: Coldwater Creek...or should I call it Coldwater Creak, is a really great store with outstanding service. But it is, to be perfectly honest, a middle-aged maven haven. It is shopped at by middle-aged to senior women. It is staffed by middle-aged to senior women. There are women oozing out of every pore of its retail existence. If there are men in Coldwater Creak, they look miserable. Children there would rather be doing homework. There is so much estrogen in Coldwater Creak, it probably gets crabby once a month!

But, for some reason, I like this store. I usually find what I need without breaking the bank. What I don’t like is that I feel like I’m being waited on by my mother. I know this because one of the sales clerks (who was easily pushing 70), was trying to sell me a top that only my mother would like. I was waiting for her to ask if I’d gotten enough rest the night before. Maybe it’s just me, but I want the sales clerks to look much cooler than me...or my mother. I also want them to be able to hear me without me shouting. If I want to shout, I’ll go and visit my parents.

And to add insult to injury, when you go in the changing rooms, they ask your name and put it on the door with a Post-It Note. I know it's so that they can glide by and inquire: "Everything going OK, Karen?" But part of me wonders if it's so that you can remember your own name when you go back in.

Look, I’m all for women going back into the workplace. I’m on the cusp of being an empty-nester myself. I’m just a tad uncomfortable to be hanging out in places where AARP cards are more prevalent than iPods. I wish that they’d mix it up a little bit and hire a few youngsters (without the ‘tude, please) so I didn’t feel like I just walked into the Shady Acres Gift Shop. I realize that I’ve matured past the point of shopping at American Eagle, but it would be nice if the folks at “The Creak” would be a little less obvious about it.