Thursday, October 28, 2010

Three for Thursday: Rotting Jack-o-Lanterns, Homework Monitoring & Hockey Schedules

Rotting Jack-o-Lanterns

Once again, I have the scariest doorstep in the neighborhood.

Why? Because The Spouse and I have left the three jack-o-lanterns that the kids carved on Columbus Day weekend on the front steps. Now they’re moldy, collapsing piles of mush. So the question is, do I leave them on the doorstep to "scare" people on Halloween or toss 'em out to prevent the spreading of the mold-infested mush all over my doorstep? (I'm inclined to go with option number two.)

Homework Monitor: Helicopter Parenting or Responsible Parenting?

He knew that he had to finish the hat. The vocabulary word hat to be precise. Each member of my 9-year-old’s class was assigned a vocabulary word and was asked to create a hat which represented the meaning of the word without using other words.

For days I’ve been nagging The Youngest Boy about his hat – had he thought about what he’d like to do, had he pulled together the necessary material, etc. “You don’t want to wait until the last minute,” I told him as he'd tell me it wasn’t due until Friday.

When he presented me with his hat yesterday, I suggested that he needed to use something sturdier than Scotch tape to hold up this big piece of cardboard he wanted to attach to a hat. I offered to help him attach an elastic string to it later, later meaning today.

Then, as we were pulling out of the driveway this morning, with 10 minutes to spare before he was supposed to walk through the school door, The Youngest Boy started shouting that his hat wasn’t due on Friday, it was due TODAY. And because I was the one who suggested that he ditch the tape and replace it with an elastic but hadn’t yet done so, all of this was my fault.

I will admit that I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory when I reacted angrily to all of this. Luckily, The Spouse was still in the house, so I told The Youngest Boy to get out of the car and have his father assist him while I drove the other two kids to school so they wouldn’t be late.

Here’s my question: Where’s the line between being a helicopter parent (who is doing her offspring no favors by doing everything for them, coddling them, instead of making them learn to do things for themselves, always coming to the rescue) and being a responsible parent who’s trying to teach her kids, as they gain the maturity, how to be responsible for themselves?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Martha Stewart & Perfect Crust Dreams . . . Crushed

Several years ago, a fellow Mommy Tracked columnist, Risa Green referred to the Pottery Barn Kids catalog as “mom porn.” Well,  when the November issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine arrived in my mailbox this weekend, with its cover featuring picture perfect slices of Thanksgiving pies, I felt like I was looking at “bakers’ porn” or “domestic goddess wanna-be porn.”

I bake a lot of pies around this time of year. I even use some of good old Martha’s recipes from her magazine when, for example, I make apple pies for the church fair or for Thanksgiving. But they never look like hers.


It’s those damned crusts. Whenever I make pie crusts (as opposed to buying the pre-made ones from a box which I do in a pinch), there’s a 50-50 chance that they’ll wind up looking as though a ham-handed preschooler mashed them into the pie plate and make 'em all lumpy, uneven or torn. The other half of the time, they look okay. But it’s hard to refer to the perfection I see on those glossy magazine pages and not feel depressed when mine don’t look at all like that.

And as I leafed through the magazine and my mouth watered at the likes of cranberry tartlets and corn bread, bacon, leek and pecan stuffing (The Spouse and I usually use Martha’s corn bread stuffing recipe from years ago) I wondered when or if I’ll be able to find the time to try these recipes out.

Ah, ‘tis just the beginning of the holiday season (and it’s not even Halloween yet) in which I try to enjoy this time of year with the Picket Fence Post kids without making myself crazy that I don’t, and won’t, live up to Martha Stewartian standards. Those pies do look amazing though.

Image credit: Martha Stewart Living.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Three for Thursday: Jail for Missing Parent-Teacher Conferences, Former Bully Target Asks Parents to Help, and Spoiling the Kids

Miss Parent-Teacher Conference Go Directly to Jail?

Say you’re a single working parent in the Detroit area, or you and your child’s other parent both work and neither of you can’t show up for a parent-teacher conference, and perhaps you're not in contact with your kid's teacher even though your kid's not doing well. In that case, the district attorney in your area thinks you should be incarcerated. Because putting a parent behind bars makes a bad situation better, right?

According to the Detroit News, the Wayne County prosecutor is trying to convince the Detroit City Council, as well as the county commission and the state legislature to implement her proposal which “would require parents to attend at least one conference per year or face three days in jail. Parents of those excelling in school would be exempt, as would those whose health issues make travel difficult and those ‘actively engaged’ with teachers through e-mail, phone calls or letters.”

While I think parents being involved in their children’s education is very important (I wear the "Bad Guy" hat all the time when I inquire about the Picket Fence Post kids' homework and school papers and pester them until I see the pieces of dead trees), I shuddered when I read comments like this one from the Detroit city council president who said, “If you aren’t involved in your child’s education, and he or she is failing, it’s child abuse.” Seriously? Child abuse?

Formerly Bullied Kid Asks Parents to Intervene

The web site Lemondrop recently ran a guest blog post from a now-23-year-old woman who started getting harassed by her peers when she was in third grade. The torment lasted all the way through high school. She once asked a teacher for help, but that teacher was unable to make a difference in the student's situation. The writer said:

“Even after I sought help, the bullying didn't stop. From third grade until the age of 16, I was bullied every day. I became increasingly walled off. In class, I would sit in the back, too afraid to say a word, in case anyone would laugh. I tried to become invisible.

Every day, the bullied shrink further into themselves.”

Now that she’s an adult, she’s pleading with today’s parents to step in and stop it if they see or hear about it happening. “I was one scared and lonely girl,” she wrote. “Looking back, I wish I had known that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't the only one going through such a dreadful experience. That's why now, as a well-adjusted adult, I'm choosing to write this letter.”

Author: Stop Spoiling, Start Parenting

The Motherhood web site held an online Q&A with Richard Bromfield, the author of the new book, How to Unspoil Your Child, Fast.

One of Bromfield’s quips was apt about the pressures parents face to act a certain way or buy their kids certain things:

“. . . [A] majority of parents see their own children as spoiled (and also feel handcuffed to do anything about it). It, I think, has been a creeping process that has been fueled mostly by the influence of advertising and media, making everyone want and need more. Previous generations indulged less (or differently) but it can’t be that those parents were good and we are not. We are up against huge and powerful forces that lead us to indulge.”

Whenever I think about this subject – something of which I’m about as guilty as anyone else at times – I think about how my kids are always telling me how bad they’ve got it as compared to all those "other kids" whose mothers, they tell me, are always around to drive their offspring wherever they want whenever they want, frequently schedule awesome sleepovers, sign the kids up for any and all activities their hearts desire (and don't cruelly limit them like we do), give them all cell phones (except for my kids) and whose moms (this is key) don’t do work like I do, even though I work from home.

While I have to listen to my kids tell me how far I’m falling short in comparison to their friends’ mothers, I like to say that they’re just learning to make do with less . . . less of mom completely sacrificing every second of every day for their own, personal enjoyment and enrichment and teaching them to do a little bit more on their own. Making their own snack after school, making their own school lunches and breakfasts in the morning . . . all good things, at least in my book, even if I don't win the Mother of the Year award.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do YOU Dress Up When Taking Your Kids Trick-or-Treating?

Image credit: NBC
While watching last night's Halloween-themed episode of Parenthood as all the parents with small kids, along with the children's grandparents, dressed in costume while the children trick-or-treated around the neighborhood, I wondered, "How many parents actually do this?"

Sure, I might put on a pair of Groucho Marx glasses or don a weird hat when I'm answering the door to trick-or-treaters while The Spouse is taking the Picket Fence Post kids out to collect sugary goodies which'll turn them into actual monsters, but I've never donned a costume. Neither has the The Spouse. And neither have the parents who've taken their kids to my house to trick-or-treat on Halloween.

Do parents in your area dress in costume on Halloween night when they take their kids trick-or-treating?

Best part of the Parenthood episode -- "Orange Alert," which I reviewed here -- was when the parents looted their kids' Halloween candy afterward. So. True. (It'd be a lot easier to pilfer from their Halloween bounty if The Eldest Son didn't literally count his candy before going to bed.)

Image credit: NBC.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

'Waiting for Superman' Prompting Real Discussions About Education. Finally.

Sure, the new absolutely heart-wrenching documentary, Waiting for Superman, is controversial. Teachers and their unions say it demonizes them and heaps upon them the blame for the failures of the U.S. public educational system in many parts of this country, even though there are plenty of kudos in the film given to talented teachers. They're described as vital to a student's success, even called works of "art" in the movie.

The filmmakers have also been taken to task for promoting charter schools as the big answer. They didn't spotlight any public schools which might be doing well and which could be used as a role model for success in the public sector.

I'm fine with all that criticism. I welcome it. I want people to talk energetically about this documentary and to vigorously debate it. I also want them to see it. Only by getting intellectually engaged by the subject and emotionally involved in it will people actually start to give a hard look to the schools to see where we can improve and where we should stand up loudly say, "Awesome job!" to those who are making a positive difference in children's lives.

After having written a column about the film for Mommy Tracked, I wrote a note to one of my kids' teachers thanking him for inspiring my children to become interested in current events and make them feel like they have a stake in what's going on in the world. If you've got a kid and that kid goes to school, you've got a stake in this subject too.

Oversharing Parents Mocked with New Video

While reading the web site Gawker today I saw this Taiwanese video from Next Media Animation mocking parents who overshare personal information about their children online, on Facebook and on Twitter. For such a brief video, it made a very big point. It even lampoons the infamous "Charlie bit my finger" video as well as the Google Street-cam chasing a kid down a street to record every move for all eternity.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Should I Read Anything Into This Jack-o-Lantern?

My 9-year-old carved his jack-o-lantern to look like a jail.

He took two of his Star Wars action figures which our dog Max had already decapitated and put them inside, prisoners. One was dangling from the top cover by his foot.

A fully in-tact Clone Trooper was placed next to the toothpick bars, reaching out for his freedom.

An analogy of sorts?

The War on Coats

My 9-year-old has announced that coats are his enemy.

He will no longer wear them, he says, because they're not necessary for a kid like him. As an out-of-touch adult, he says, I just wouldn't understand. I also shouldn't pay attention to him when he's shivering and says he's not really cold.

If we lived in a warm climate, that wouldn't be a problem, necessarily.

But we live in New England.

Just this morning, I was getting ready to drop The Youngest Boy off at school when I realized he hadn't brought a coat. (I had to strong-arm him into putting a long-sleeved shirt over his short-sleeve one after breakfast. This was after The Spouse made him put on jeans instead of the shorts he was originally wearing.)

The temperature outside the school was 40 degrees. So I turned around, drove home and insisted that he run into the house to grab a coat. This is a kid who's been dressing in shorts and short-sleeve shirts up until this morning.

And when he was leaving the car, he hand his coat in his hand but informed me he wouldn't be wearing it while he was at school.

How long will this go on, only time will tell. But next time I drive the kid to school, I'm going to make sure his coat's in the car first.

Image credit: Standish web site.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Documentary Spotlights Anti-Gay Bullying in Schools

I just saw the trailer for the educational documentary Bullied: A Student, A School and a Case that Made History, produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and found it powerful, as well as extraordinarily timely given the recent news out of Rutgers University regarding the student suicide, as well as other stories about children committing suicide after being taunted by classmates.

According to the SPLC press release:

"Bullied chronicles the powerful story of a student who stood up to his anti-gay tormentors and won a landmark federal court decision that school officials could be held accountable for not stopping the harassment and abuse of gay students.

Despite that ruling, anti-gay bullying continues to be a severe, nationwide problem. In Massachusetts, for example, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself with an extension cord in 2009 after being bullied by classmates who perceived him as gay. In September, at least four teens killed themselves after being subjected to anti-gay bullying and harassment. In the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, at least four students have committed suicide in the past year alone."

The documentary is being made available to schools free of charge. I think this film could be a valuable tool of which I hope schools take advantage.

Three for Thursday: Spaghetti Tacos, No Time for Life, No Cheers for Skimpy Uniforms

Image credit: NYT
 Item #1: Spaghetti Tacos

The New York Times ran a feature story this week about a joke from a children's television comedy, iCarly, that has become, unironically, an alleged reality: Spaghetti tacos:

“On an episode of the hit Nickelodeon series iCarly, the lead character’s eccentric older brother, Spencer, makes dinner one night. Glimpsed on screen, the dish consists of red-sauce-coated pasta stuffed into hard taco shells. What could be more unappealing?

. . . That punch line has now become part of American children’s cuisine, fostering a legion of imitators and improvisers across the country. Spurred on by reruns, Internet traffic, slumber parties and simple old-fashioned word of mouth among children, spaghetti tacos are all the rage.”

To crib a bit from Saturday Night Live: Really New York Times? Really? Parents – aided and abetted by “mom blogs and cooking web sites" – are honestly serving their children carbs inside of carbs with a coating of tomato sauce? Really? It looks like something you see on those gross surgery scenes from Grey's Anatomy.

Have any of you heard of this trend? The Picket Fence Post kids watch iCarly, but I'd never heard of spaghetti tacos before reading the story, nor had I fielded any requests to serve spaghetti tacos. You?

Image credit: NBC
 Item #2: No Time for a Life

Maybe I should just write a weekly segment: What happened on the NBC show Parenthood this week? The show has been so on the mark about issues facing today's parents that I sometimes wonder if the writers have planted spy cameras in my house.

This week, the issue of family overscheduling was highlighted via the characters of Adam and Kristina Braverman. They, along with the at-home dad character Joel, were the stand-ins for parents who don't have enough time to have lives of their own -- to enjoy their own hobbies, to connect with their spouse -- because of the fact that the expectations of modern day parents dictates that they be hyper-involved in all areas of their children's lives, to enroll them in myriad activities and ultra-competitive sports, and to sacrifice their lives so that they can take their kids to all their activities and oversee/correct homework assignments. It’s, on the surface, a small story, not having time for a date night, but it goes right to the heart of discontent, at least in my house.

While I find myself struggling not to be negative or resentful about the sheer quantity of the time-demands placed upon our family by our children’s many activities, I cannot escape the fact that I frequently find myself mourning that I don't have the time I crave and need for myself and for my marriage. Time with my friends? Forget about it. Our schedule is almost entirely devoted to work and kids' stuff, with a bit of volunteer work tossed into the mix. (That last hour-and-change after the kids have gone to bed in the evening and the dishes have been cleaned, doesn't count as grown-up time in my book because The Spouse and/or I are frequently doing work or we're both falling asleep.)

You can read my review of Parenthood, including how the at-home dad of a kindergartner freaked out because he said he has no life outside of taking care of her and the house, here. At least when I'm watching the show, I don't feel like I'm the only one trying to figure out a way to deal with these issues without losing my mind.