Thursday, January 20, 2011

Three for Thursday: More from the Mom-Petitors, 'Modern Family's' Coitus Interruptus & 'Parenthood' Takes on Team Fundraising

Item #1: More from the Mom-Petitors

The creator of those crazy “Mom-Petitor” Xtranormal videos has posted a new one. Of course, it made me laugh because it rings true. This time, the insane helicopter mom on speed decided to grill the down-to-earth mom on what she plans to do when the perfect mom's kid sleeps over at the slacker mom's house. The helicopter mom plans on spending the night in her car outside the house, just in case.

Item #2: Modern Family’s Coitus Interruptus

The Spouse and I were rolling -- rolling I tell you -- as we laughed out loud while watching Modern Family last night as Claire and Phil’s three children burst into the bedroom to find their married parents doin’ the nasty. The kids’ reactions – literally washing their eyes and young Luke looking confused because he doesn’t understand what was going on, saying, “It looked like Dad was winning” – were priceless, as was Claire and Phil’s and the kooky confusion that ensued later when they had a confusing discussion with Gloria who was trying to sneak into their house to erase a horrific e-mail that was accidentally sent to Claire.

I, personally, think that when a couple’s first child stops sleeping in a crib, the parents should, as Claire’s father advised, buy a solid bedroom door lock. Hell, maybe it’d be a good idea to present a pregnant woman with a door lock at her baby shower and tell her, "You'll thank for me this later."

Did this particular episode ring true with any of you? The Spouse and I have had a lock on our bedroom door since day one so, thank goodness, we've not had this unfortunate "caught in the act" moment.

Image credit: NBC

Item #3: Parenthood Takes on Team Fundraising

I hate it, hate it, hate it, when you sign a kid up for a club or a team only to learn, after your check clears with the admission fee and/or you’ve already spent a mint on athletic gear, that you’re ALSO expected to sell crap -- lots of crap, hundreds of dollars worth -- in order for your kid to continue participating.

This has happened to us with both youth football and hockey teams, when we were saddled with raffle tickets for which we wound up eating the cost – like a hidden surcharge you don’t find out about until later – as opposed to putting the kids on the phone and making them harass everyone we know to raise money for their team/league. Why don’t they just incorporate the cost of the stupid raffles and fundraisers into the cost of the sport and get it over with once so that we know the full cost up front before our kids are already deep into the sport?

This week’s episode of Parenthood -- which I reviewed here on CliqueClack TV – tackled the issue of youth sports fundraising with an amusing storyline about a clueless teenage baseball player who didn’t realize it would’ve been a good idea to try to sell the $500 worth of Christmas wrapping paper that he needed to peddle to raise money for his team’s baseball tournament (or he wouldn’t be able to participate) BEFORE Christmas. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday isn’t really a great holiday for wrapping paper sales. His mom, upon whom he dumped this "I gotta sell this stuff immediately" argument, marched the kid out to a sidewalk in front of a corner coffee shop with a folding table and made him a quirky sign, “Support a Procrastinator.”

Though his mom wanted to bail him out and shell out the $500, she couldn’t afford to and told him if he didn’t sell it, that’s the way life is sometimes. But he wound up being bailed out by his grandpa instead.

Image credit: NBC.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fall-Out from ‘Tiger Mother’ Continues as Folks Seek the ‘Right’ Way to Parent

The new controversial book about “Chinese mothering” that I mentioned last weekBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua – which was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal under the title, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” continues to generate controversy. And responses. Loads of responses. Some of them are angry. (Chua has received death threats.) Some of them are defensive. Several are funny.

Here are a few of the responses:

Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, wrote a piece in the New York Times Magazine entitled “No More Mrs. Nice Mom” in which she placed Chua’s piece into context, as yet another reaction by parents who are sick of being told how to parent but are constantly searching for a new way to exert control and influence over their children:

“Despite the obvious limits of Chua’s appeal, her publisher is clearly banking on her message finding wide resonance among American moms worn out from trying to do everything right for kids who mimic Disney Channel-style disrespect for parents, spend hours a day on Facebook, pick at their lovingly prepared food and generally won’t get with the program. The gimmick of selling a program of Chinese parenting is a great one for a time when all the talk is of Chinese ascendancy and American decline. . . And there is true universality behind the message [Chua is] honest enough to own: that she is terrified of ‘family decline,’ that she fears that raising a ‘soft, entitled child’ will let ‘my family fail.’ Her deepest hope is that by insisting upon perfection from her children in all things, like violin playing, she will be able to achieve, in her words, control: ‘Over generational decline. Over birth order. Over one’s destiny. Over one’s children.’”

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bringing Forgotten Items to School . . . When to Stop?

The call came in at 7:35 this morning, just as I was sitting down to the kitchen table, a cup of hot tea in my hand, ready to read the newspapers.

The Girl: Mom, I forgot my sneakers and I have gym class first period.

Me: Yep. I see them. You really want me to bring them to you? Now?

The Girl: Please?

Me: (Paused for a beat) Okay. I'll bring them right over.

This is not the first time this has happened this school year. One morning, after I'd asked all three kids if they had their lunch money, I got a call from the twins asking me to bring lunch money down to their school otherwise they wouldn't be able to have lunch that day. I've also been asked to bring in homework, a textbook and gym clothes.

I feel compelled to note here that the Picket Fence Post kids are pretty self-sufficient in that they make their own breakfasts on school days and pack their own school lunches. Actually, the 12-year-olds pack their own lunches and we're teaching the 9-year-old how to do it, something he proudly said he did this morning, though The Spouse and I suspect he packed himself a Nutella sandwich as opposed to a Nutella and peanut butter sandwich, but we didn't really think that was a huge deal so we let it slide.

That being said, when do I stop this practice of rushing the kids' forgotten items to school for them? If I have a business meeting or conference call or aren't at home when the call comes in, then I wouldn't run the items over for them. But if my work schedule is flexible and I have the time to do it, I generally oblige them though I'm beginning to think that maybe I shouldn't any longer.

If The Girl gets reprimanded and marked down by her gym teacher for failing to remember to bring her sneakers or her gym clothes, perhaps that would prove to be a better incentive for her to remember those things the next time, especially when Mom won't bail her out any more.

Do you bail out your kids like this?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Three for Thursday: Controversy Over 'Chinese Mothering,' Teens on TV & 'The Middle's' Little Brick

Image credit: Wall Street Journal
Item #1: Controversy Over ‘Chinese Mothering’

Amy Chua wrote a book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It’s about how she started off her life as a mother of two girls as a very strict, “traditional Chinese” mother, like her parents before her. By the end of the book – in which Chua says she gets her “comeuppance” – Chua says she realized she wanted to “retreat . . . from the strict immigrant model” of raising her daughters, according to an interview she gave to the Wall Street Journal.

However the Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt of the first part of Chua’s book, when Chua was describing being fully bought into the strict, no messin’ around style of parenting that believes that children are strong and need to be pushed, not coddled or allowed to choose the direction of their lives. Outside of the context of the whole book -- and without knowing that Chua says she’s “not exactly the same person at the end of the book” -- Chua seems extremely domineering. Combine that excerpt with the headline (which Chua didn’t chose) “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” and you'll see why folks went nuts on the internet, calling Chua every variation on "Mommy Dearest" which they could come up with. Here are some excerpts which’ll give you a sense of why people were outraged by what ran in the Journal:

“Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.”
Then there was the anecdote about Chua's then-7-year-old who was having trouble with a piano piece and, after the girl and her mom worked on it “nonstop for a week” and the daughter wanted to give up, Chua ordered her back to the piano:

“Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have ‘The Little White Donkey’ perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, ‘I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?’ I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Notes from a Snow Day: Ice Rink, Movie Surprise, Chicken Stir Fry & Max in the Snow

Hey, What's This? Could It Be . . . an Actual Skating Rink? In Our Yard? YES!!!

I present to you . . . the ice rink as the foot-and-a-half of snow that fell from the sky since early this morning was being shoveled off of it.

The rink is brought to us by many, many hours of hard work and loving maintenance by The Spouse for his three children.

This week, I've added "buy skates" (for me and The Eldest Boy) to my "To Do" list this week.

The Spouse, who broke his wrist last year while skating on a public rink, is still shying away from skating, in spite of this great effort.

Eat, Pray . . . Whoa!!!

While the males in the family were snuggled up in front of the fireplace this weekend watching NFL playoff games, The Girl and I retreated to my room to watch the PG-13 rated film Eat Pray Love on DVD.

I'd read the book, so I figured that there might be one questionable scene near the last third of the film when the main character Liz is in Bali, which might require fast-forwarding or for me to mute the TV while The Girl averts her eyes. While I waited for Liz's relationship with Felipe, the man who would become her spouse, to commence, I totally did not expect a twentysomething male to drag Liz down to the waterfront and suddenly strip naked as he was trying to entice Liz to go skinny dipping.

Both The Girl and I shrieked as his butt was in the center of the screen and I hit, "Stop." The irony is that when Felipe and Liz were about to physically commence their love affair I suggested that The Girl go fetch a snack from the kitchen, only there was nothing she couldn't have seen, no nudity, no sex.

'Delicious' Chicken Stir Fries

More irony . . .

Whenever I pull out my wok, the Picket Fence Post kids roll their eyes. They're not fans of anything I might create inside of that thing. I've tried making them sweet stir fries, garlicky ones and even plain, soy sauce-based ones. But no matter how I prepared a stir fry, the kiddos usually take one bite, wrinkle their noses and wind up having cereal for dinner while The Spouse and I eat what I made.

Unless, of course, The Eldest Boy and The Girl happen to be the ones who made the stir fry. They're both currently taking Home Ec in their middle school -- which has been relabeled with the politically correct moniker, "Family Consumer Science" -- and in the past week they've both come home from school with a container of a chicken, vegetable noodle stir fry that they'd made. They were absolutely delighted with their creations and gobbled them up while I watched, amazed.

My new plan: The next time I pull out the work, I'm also going to pull The Eldest Boy and The Girl into the kitchen with me so the "experts" can show me how it's really done.

Cute Max Snow Pic

Max the dog -- who still spends much of his time rooting around the house looking for non-edible items that he can eat or gnaw on (tissues, dryer sheets, ball point pens, socks, etc.) -- was startled when we let him out onto our deck this morning and the snow was nearly as high as he is tall. He tried pushing his body through the snow, but stopped after traveling only a few feet and tried to get back into the house. (If snow was up to my eyeballs, I'd want to retreat too.)

However once The Spouse shoveled out several pathways for him, he romped around his little paths as though he were in a hedge maze. 'Twas very cute. The wet dog smell he has now that he's drying off, not so cute.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three for Thursday: 'Soccer Mommed' Spoof, 'The Middle' Parents Revolt & I Won't Watch Dead/Dying Kid Fare

Item #1: 'Soccer Mommed' Spoof

Jen Singer, of MommaSaid, has created a fabulous send-up video lampooning how super-involved and nutty the world of youth soccer has become. In the video, a mother of a 9-year-old boy wants to sign him up for soccer and another woman, whose son has been playing since pre-school, said it’s too late for the 9-year-old. When the first mom says she herself didn’t start playing soccer until she was 10 and played all the way through college, the second mom scoffed at that as representative of the “dark ages of youth soccer in America.”

My favorite part? When the first mom asks when practices are held and the second mom says matter-of-factly that they're on, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.” Sundays are reserved for games, of course.

Item #2: The Middle Parents Try to Take Back Their Lives
The Spouse and I loved the latest episode of The Middle in which the parents of three, Frankie and Mike, decided to spark a revolution and “take back” their house from the tyranny of their children after Frankie had raced around to three different fast food restaurants to get a separate meal for each kid, blowing off the parents desires. And her kids still weren't satisfied and wanted her, who worked all day, to run back out to different places and buy them a few more items. The parents had been caving on everything the kids asked of them because they thought that’s what they needed to do to be good parents.

And even though, after taking a strong stand that adults are in charge, NOT the children, Frankie and Mike capitulated in the end to their offspring, I think it’s worth having a substantive discussion about how American parents SHOULD aggressively strive to strike a balance between spending time with their children and attending to their needs, with the fact that the kids should NOT rule the roost and be catered to as though the parents are indentured servants at the children's beck and call.

Item #3: I Won’t Watch Dead/Dying Kid-Centric Fare

With the voluminous critical acclaim which has been heaped upon the film Rabbit Hole and its star Nicole Kidman, you’d think that a pop culture buff like yours truly would’ve put the film on my shortlist to see either in the theater or on DVD.

But no. Hell no.

Why? The film focuses on the aftermath of the death of a married couple’s 4-year-old son in a car accident. Kidman plays the mom in mourning while Aaron Eckhart plays the haunted father, their marriage fraying under the emotional gravity of what has happened.

My Pop Culture column this week over on Mommy Tracked is about how I tend to avoid, if I can help it, watching TV shows or movies in which kids are gravely ill and/or die. Why? Because I’m already an intense worrier – I think of myself as an in-recovery helicopter/safety crazed parent – who doesn’t need to start obsessing over the varied ways in which harm could befall my three children, nor do I need to try to put myself in the place of a grieving parent because that would prove painful. As Liz Lemon might say, "I don't want to go to there."

Does that make me a wimp?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bizarre Parenting News Stories from the Past 10 Days: Killer Coffee Tables, No Coats & Minivans are ‘Cool’?

While I was laying in bed over the past week recovering from the (swine?) flu, I came across a series of bizarre parenting stories that I feel compelled to share with you, my kind readers:

Killer Coffee Tables

Who knew that coffee tables were killers, lying in wait in living rooms and family rooms across America. Seriously. The New York Times dedicated a huge chunk of the front page of its Home section to the notion that for babies and toddlers who are learning to walk, coffee tables are a hazardous menace.

When my kids were learning to walk and started scaling furniture, The Spouse and I temporarily removed the coffee table from our living room until the kids were stable walkers and no longer climbed on top of furniture. No biggie. No expert warnings were necessary for us to figure out what we needed to do. When we brought the young ones to other people’s homes in which there were coffee tables, either The Spouse or I would bey at our toddler’s side watching them and removing stuff like crystal candy dishes or open candle flames from their reach. We used common sense until the kids were older.

Did this mean that our children were protected from never banging their heads and getting goose eggs? Absolutely not. Life's hard and bumpy and there's nothing we could do about it.

The Youngest Boy once walked straight into a pole at a grocery store when he was 3 years old, leading with his forehead, and he sustained a huge, ugly bump which, for some reason, he named “Edward.” One day The Girl was dancing in the family room and accidentally kicked her twin brother in the face; he got a big bruise on his head. When The Eldest Boy was a toddler who’d mastered the art of climbing stairs, he tripped down the three stairs leading to our front breezeway in our old house, landing on his head. (I was videotaping him at the time too.)

"Do not be fooled. The coffee table means your children harm. And when it attacks, results can be ugly.

Last year, 143,070 children age 5 and younger visited emergency rooms after table accidents, according to estimates from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Coffee tables, in particular, turn up in more than a quarter of the accident reports, in the commission’s sample count."

My question: Why single out the coffee table as the chief menace to toddlers’ heads? When babies and toddlers interact with the world, they’re going to fall, no matter how much you don’t want them to, or how much you want to prevent it. That's life. Sending new parents into a frenzy and making them fearful of furniture -- I remember experts terrifying me about almost everything in my home when my twins were small – seems unnecessarily over the top.

No Coats

When I drove my kids to school this morning – The Youngest Boy had to be there early for school band practice – the temperature on my dashboard read 21 degrees.

I was bundled up in fuzzy boots, a warm winter coat, a cap, a long scarf wrapped around my neck and toasty leather gloves. And I was in the heated car absolutely loving the perk of heated seats. (They bring me an unreasonable degree of joy.)

As I dropped off The Youngest Boy at his school then drove The Girl and The Eldest Boy to their middle school, I noticed kid after kid – all boys – in shorts and many of them without coats.

This, sadly, did not shock me. I spent most of the fall arguing with my 9-year-old son over the fact that he’d fallen in with kids who insist on wearing shorts and no wearing coats when low temperature clearly call for outerwear and long pants. The principal of his school has sent numerous e-mails to us parents, pleading with us to please make sure our children are dressed for the weather. Yet even when I showed these e-mails to my son hoping that perhaps the admonitions of his principal would prove persuasive, I'd still get into an argument with him on many a morning about the fact that, regardless of his street cred, I was irrationally making him wear a coat. And yes, I was aware that he removed the coat the moment he thought he was out of eye shot.

So it was with interest that I read this Associated Press story by Beth Harpaz about the phenomenon of young people who reject winter coats and, in some cases, opt for shorts during cold weather. Harpaz’s story began:

“Among the great spectacles of winter, along with the northern lights and frozen lakes, are coatless kids.

No coat, no gloves? No prob!

These teens and tweens are chillin’ out, literally and figuratively, in their sweatshirts and kicks. Maybe a boy will accessorize with a baseball cap, and a girl might choose stylish boots – but nothing weatherproof, please! Some boys even wear shorts year-round, and many parents say they’ve given up the fight.”

The bottom line of the article: If you live in Alaska and frostbite is a real possibility, you probably should make the kids wear appropriate clothing. If not, an ER doctor told Harpaz that, "If teens are 'going off to school in 30 or 40 degree (above zero) weather with less than ideal coverings, they're probably okay, as long as they do not find themselves stuck outside  for a long time at those temperatures.'" I'm going to choose NOT to share that particular quote with The Youngest Boy.

Minivans, Cool?

I once wrote a column about my reluctant journey from being a sedan-driving mom of two, to a minivan-driving mom of three kids under the age of 4. Though I knew that driving a minivan would designate me as a vanilla mom with a sub-zero hip factor, the minivan was a blessing in terms of affording my family space when we were out and about, giving me a safe, comfortable place to change my baby’s diapers and nurse him while my 3-year-old twins played. The stroller and other baby accouterments fit well in the back, even alongside bags and bags of groceries. However I was thrilled to ditch our minivan a few years ago when the Picket Fence Post family made the transition from a minivan family to an SUV family.

But I read with a skeptical eye, this piece in the New York Times which asserted that minivan makers are trying to market the family behemoths as the opposite of what they really are: Cool.

“In marketing campaigns featuring heavy-metal theme songs, rapping parents, secret agents in cat masks, pyrotechnics and even Godzilla, minivan makers are trying to recast the much-ridiculed mom-mobile as something that parents can be proud — or at least unashamed — of driving,” the Times reported. “Toyota led the effort early last spring with a campaign for its Sienna model that features a self-indulgent couple rapping about rolling through the cul-de-sacs with their posse of kids in their ‘Swagger Wagon.’”

Sorry, but I’m not buyin’ it. Are you?

Image credit: Andrea Levy/New York Times.

We Had Ourselves a Flu-ey Little Christmas . . .

Lots of folks are emerging from the Christmas holiday break and are politely asking one another how their holidays went. For most people, I hope the answer is, “Fun! The kids had a great time and I got some time to relax and see friends and family.”

But in the Picket Fence Post household, my answer is, “The kids had a blast, loved Christmas, but I was sick in bed for eight days with what my doctor said was the flu, perhaps the swine flu, and my husband sustained a very serious ankle sprain during a basketball game – had to be carried into the house by a friend – and a neighbor had to drive him to the hospital in the middle of a blizzard.”

Yep, after all the planning, the anticipation, yours truly fell ill on Christmas Eve day, when I brought The Girl to church to rehearse the Nativity play (she was playing Mary). I got out of bed for the Christmas morning gift-opening extravaganza, but spent the next week mostly in bed, not eating for four days due to crushing nausea, fierce head aches, dizziness and life-sapping fatigue. The Spouse’s ankle sprain occurred the day after Christmas but he was able to hobble around on crutches and an air cast.

It, in essence, sucked.

On the bright side, the children loved their gifts from The Spouse and I and Santa. The Eldest Boy received the item for which he’s been pleading for years, an iPod Touch, The Girl got a white desk for her room and a DSi, while The Youngest Boy spent vacation re-enacting A Christmas Story's Ralphie Parker with the airsoft BB gun Santa brought him -- think regular BB gun but it shoots non-toxic, biodegradable plastic BBs at a lower speed than the metal BBs -- while wearing the faux leather jacket we gave him that he loves so much he wants to sleep in it.

Unfortunately, because their parents were detained by illness and injury, the original plans we had for an active, fun Christmas vacation (I’d hoped to take them to play Laser tag, maybe go into Boston on New Year’s Eve day), it was a mellow week-plus. The Spouse did limp to the theater to see two movies with the kids and, on another afternoon, sat in the car while they went sledding, while I mostly laid in bed uninterested in reading or doing much other than sleeping and wondering when I'd get my appetite back.

This morning was the first morning since I’ve been sick when I woke up not feeling like utter crap. Plus I've eaten. So I consider both of those things major accomplishments.

Fingers crossed that 2011 will be a healthier one . . . and that The Youngest Boy doesn't shoot his eye out a la Ralphie Parker.