Thursday, July 28, 2011

Quick Hits from a Nutty Homefront: Midnight Hound, Orthodontist X 2, 'Hunger Games,' Room of One's Own, B'Day Mania

Midnight Hound

Max the dog has developed a very bad habit of getting up in the middle of the night and demanding to go outside. I don’t know what he does when he's out there under the moonlight -- and neither does The Spouse who, to be fair, is doing the most of the letting the dog out – but Max stays out there for up to 15 minutes while we yawn and rub our eyes waiting for him.

Now we are fortunate enough to have AC in the house, so it’s not as though Max is overheated at night. And he hasn’t been ill, so we don’t know what to make of these middle-of-the-night rousings. But I do know that we don’t like it. Not one bit.

Paging the Orthodontist, Times TWO

Yes, I realized that when I had twins I’d be buying twice as many diapers, twice as much baby food, twice as many clothes (as the twins are comprised of one boy and one girl), pay two pre-school tuitions and later, two college tuitions simultaneously. What I temporarily blotted out of my mind was the possibility of paying for two kids to get braces at the same time, something I’d been putting off.

But after our recent family trip to the dentist, I realized I can put it off no longer. The Spouse and I were told that both The Eldest Boy and The Girl need to see the orthodontist. Oh goody. Let the braces games begin.

Hunger Games, Here I Come

So as to keep current with all that’s beast (i.e. – cool) with the young adult set, I’m planning on reading The Hunger Games three-book series by Suzanne Collins. While its premise is a dreary one – teens have to participate in a kill-or-be-killed televised competition – I’ve been told by The Girl and The Eldest Boy that I’ll really like it. We shall see . . . I'm still busy mourning the loss of new installments in the Harry Potter series.

A Room of One’s Own

When my parents took my brother and me to summer vacations on Cape Cod when we were kids, they rented a tiny cottage within a five minute walk to the ocean. It was a very rustic cottage, meaning there was one bathroom, no dishwasher, no cable TV (there was a TV with a VCR that didn’t get any channels), no AC and two bedrooms, one for my parents and one for the kids. Sharing a bedroom with my younger brother – who I nicknamed “Scum’s Rash” because he didn't like to bathe – wasn’t exactly fun, but hey, we were at the beach on vacation. We got to swim, build sandcastles, go mini-golfing, eat ice cream and maybe go to the drive-in movie theater depending on what was playing. It was all good.

Flash-forward 30 years and you can understand why I have a hard time sympathizing with The Youngest Boy when he squawks about the fact that when the Picket Fence Post family goes on vacation to Cape Cod -- to a rented house with AC, cable TV, wireless internet and three bedrooms – he’ll have to share a room with his brother while his sister gets her own room. Cry me a river kid.

Birthday Coma

In the days leading up to The Youngest Boy’s 10th birthday, the kid worked himself up into such a frenzy that he could no longer take the anticipation. And, frankly, he’d become supremely over-excited. So he said he wanted to be placed in a coma until his birthday . . . not that the child was building up his birthday to such heights that anything short of a parade, a fireworks display and the arrival of the Stanley Cup accompanied by the entire Boston Bruins team would be a disappointment . . .

Image credits: Meredith O'Brien, Amazon.

Friday, July 22, 2011

How Many Kids Should You Have? That's Nobody's Business.

Several weeks ago I wrote a column about Bryan Caplan's book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, in which he not only encouraged people to think more long-term when they decide how many children they want to have (like looking at it from your future sixtysomething self's perspective), but suggested that we modern day parents are making child-rearing more complicated than it really needs to be with all our hovering, overprotecting and overscheduling (which is a notion I can entirely get behind).

Then I received an e-mail from psychologist Susan Newman, author of the new book, The Case for the Only Child. So I proceeded to read her book too. It's a guide for parents who are considering being a one-child family and provides them with ammunition and statistics with which to fight off those who judge them and make negative assertions about their decision and how their only child might turn out. The result is this latest column examining Newman's assertions.

As for which situation is preferable, having lots of kids or simply one, that all depends on you, your partner, your lifestyle, your finances and your personality, and also if you can have -- physically or via adoption -- any more. My bottom line: How many kids you decide to have (or can have) is an intensely personal decision and no one can make it but you. Everyone else -- including the buddinskis who criticized the Beckhams by saying that the birth of their fourth child makes them bad, selfish role models because they're contributing to and promoting overpopulation, AS WELL AS the ones who pressure parents with one kid to have more -- should just butt the heck out.

Image credit: Amazon.

Quick Hits: Kids Review 'Harry Potter,' 'The Mentalist's' 1st Season, Outside Resistance & Poop In the Pool

Picket Fence Post Twins Review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Yes, we Harry Potter addicts were among those who went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 on opening weekend. We just had to as the anticipation had reached frenzied levels. The Eldest Boy and I went to see the movie on Saturday morning and The Girl accompanied The Spouse on Sunday morning to catch Harry Potter in all his glory. (The Youngest Boy is only on book six of the seven-book series – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – and we didn’t want to spoil his reading experience so he’s only seen movies one through five.)

I, personally, adored the movie. Cried four times, much to the shock of The Eldest Boy. What did my two resident Potterheads think of the cinematic finale of the series that has so influenced their childhoods? I wrote about their reactions over on CliqueClack Flicks. Check out my bibliophiles’ assessments here.

Learning The Mentalist’s Backstory

Back in May I wrote about how watching The Mentalist with The Eldest Boy has become “our thing.” After watching the dramatic, tension-filled season finale that month, we decided that we needed to go back in time, back to the first season of The Mentalist to find out the backstory about this whole Red John business.

So last night we started our journey and watched the first two episodes. We were stunned to see Eric Stonestreet, who plays the hilarious Cameron on Modern Family, playing a murderer who threatened the life of The Mentalist guy, Patrick Jane. So far, so good.

Outside Resistance

Okay, so it’s like a convection oven outside right now with 90+ degree heat (closer to 100 today), plus lotsa humidity. So I can understand why the kids don’t want to go outside and hang out in that soupy discomfort. That’s entirely reasonable.

But when the weather HASN’T made you feel like you’re walking through a pot of beef stew, I’ve been surprised to encounter enthusiastic resistance to my suggestions that they . . . wait for it . . . GO OUTSIDE. Oh, the horror!!

We have a trampoline, a basketball hoop, a badminton/volleyball net, rollerblades, a hockey net/soccer net, driveway chalk and playground balls (for Four-Square), footballs, Wiffle Ball stuff, scooters, bikes, a very battered pogo stick and a play structure complete with a little fort-like thing which affords them privacy. It’s like a kid amusement park here. And yet they still resist when I, seeking some quiet so I can write in my office without hearing "It's my turn!" "No, it's MY turn!" (*scuffle, scuffle*), suggest that they partake of those amusements . . . OUTSIDE. "Take a book outside if you don't want to play," I pleaded one day.

It has almost (I repeat, almost) made me want to do what essayist David Sedaris wrote that his mother used to do with him and his siblings when they were young: Shove them outside and lock the door. However I’ve not reached that point. Yet.

Poop in the Pool

This year we joined a summer swimming club, as we have for several years running. (Since I'm a lousy swimmer, it was important to me that my kids be strong ones.) I tend to take the kids to the pool in the late afternoons, depending on how much writing I’ve completed during the day, or The Spouse will bring them in the early evenings to give me a break.

Yet twice in the past two weeks, the kids and The Spouse have returned home early, spoiling the blessed peace in our domicile, because the pool had been evacuated because some kid pooped in it. Nothing's more of a summer buzzkill than poop in the pool.

Particularly vexing, last night The Spouse was swimming right near where said excrement was spotted on the pool floor. As soon as they came home, they all took showers.

Image credit: Warner Brothers.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Shopping for Women's World Cup Gear: A Fruitless Enterprise, At Least Locally

Took The Girl out yesterday in search of some Team USA Women’s World Cup gear. Given that last month I went on a special shopping expedition to pick up some Bruins stuff for The Youngest Boy when the Bruins were vying for the Stanley Cup (I've done lots of "special" things in honor of big Patriots, Celtics and, of course, Red Sox games), I wanted to try to treat the U.S. Women’s World Cup final similarly, as no less important.

Unfortunately, after driving around to five different stores -- including four sporting goods stores -- we found nothing, nada, zippo related to the Women’s World Cup. There was a lit bit of U.S. Men’s World Cup merchandise for sale at one store, but nothing for the superior U.S. women’s team.

Our last resort was to go to a party store -- which had lots of Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots and Celtics stuff (even some stray Yankees stuff) -- and pick up some generic soccer merchandise (soccer ball plates, napkins & some soccer shaped chocolates) to enjoy while we watch the final game on Sunday afternoon with a couple of The Girl’s gal pals.

I tried to buck The Girl up and told her not to try not to read anything into the lack of availability of Team USA’s World Cup stuff in local stores, suggesting that we'll just go online. In the meantime, I think it’s insane that one sporting goods store would have, hanging among the posters of professional athletes, a giant image of Abby Wambach and nothing by way of merchandise representing the American team on which she plays.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to search online for Team USA soccer merchandise, even though many places are out of stock when it comes to the more affordable players' T-shirts. The VERY pricey jerseys are still for sale on many web sites though. (The Girl, whose birthday is coming up, will have to wait for her coveted Wambach jersey/birthday gift as there's no way it would get here in time for the game on Sunday.)

With the success of the women’s team and the popularity of soccer among girls in the area in which I live, I think my local retailers have blown a golden opportunity to capitalize on the excitement these role models bring. Maybe they'll wise up so that when I head back out to the stores next month to pick up gear for the new soccer season, I'll spy a Team USA shirt hanging on the racks. A gal can hope, can't she?

Image credit: ESPN Shop, Eurosport.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Attempting to Exploit Potter Mania for Household Peace

Up until last week, we were a Three Strikes household . . . as in each kid could accrue up to three strikes a day for behaving badly. Upon receiving a third strike, a privilege would be revoked for the remainder of the day, say, watching TV, playing video games or going to a friend’s house. If the kid continued to misbehave, privileges would be revoked for the following day. (Frequently, though, I was a soft touch and allowed the kids to “earn away” the strike by being super good.)
However the Three Strikes technique had mixed results here in the Picket Fence Post household. Thus I decided to try a different tact this summer.

Image credit: Warner Brothers via Yahoo Kids
Capitalizing on the excitement regarding the release of the final Harry Potter film – and the fact that The Spouse and I are still doing our Harry Potter Reading Aloud Project with The Youngest Son – I went a different way. Instead of using the punitive Three Strikes system, I’ve decided to implement my own version of Hogwarts’ “House points” system. It works like this:

If a kid exhibits “good behavior” – a completely subjective determination made by either The Spouse or me – he or she gets a penny (or “House point”) deposited into his or her jar on the kitchen counter. Just like at Hogwarts, if someone behaves badly, he or she can lose one or more “House points.” At the end of the week, the child with the most House points gets to select a film for Family Movie Night. At the end of the month, the kid with the most points will be able to select a family activity (which needs parental approval) for a Saturday or a Sunday.

The first week yielded an absolute blizzard of good behavior. The kids were doing the dishes, taking out the trash, offering shoulder rubs, fetching my newspapers from the driveway, making me cups of tea. It was a pleasure to have such doting people around, even though I knew they were only in it for House points. But by the end of the week, The Girl realized that her twin brother had been outgunning her and protested, saying that kids shouldn’t be rewarded for “sucking up.” And she had a point.

Now, in its second week, there’s not so much a blizzard as there are intermittent flurries of good behavior, especially since we said that they shouldn’t overtly try to suck up to us. Plus, there’s been an uptick in the deduction of House points for bad behavior.

Maybe I should channel a bit more of the tough-minded albeit fair Professor McGonagall for the remainder of the summer.

Image credit: Warner Brothers via Yahoo Kids.

Monday, July 11, 2011

U.S. Women's World Cup Wows



Image credit: AP via The National

Between Nike's women-power ad and the unbelievable, come-from-behind win by the U.S. Women’s Soccer team to advance to the semi-finals of the World Cup, I am truly reveling in the awesome lessons that the team’s performance is providing all three of my kids, as well as the respect that my sons are rapidly gaining for the women’s game as they're now almost as into this World Cup contest as The Girl is. (She's even more thrilled because she met a couple of the players who've competed for the World Cup when she and her soccer team attended a Boston Breakers professional women's soccer game earlier this year, a wonderful experience for my gal.)

Image credit: Getty Images via The New York Times
This morning, the kids happily perused the newspapers sitting on the kitchen counter, amazed by the still photos which uniquely capture the amazing feats of Abby Wambach’s pivotal header goal as she leapt high into the air and Hope Solo’s game clinching save which makes her look like a superhero as she’s seen sailing over the grass to snag the ball.

During the quarterfinal game against Brazil, the TV commentators seemed to be dumping the dirt upon the grave of this 2011 U.S. World Cup bid at the end of the game after Brazil broke the tie. Yet the U.S. team came back, a player down -- as Brazil's players tried to kill time and fake injuries -- and proved, not just to us, but to all sports fans how the gender of the players on the field doesn’t matter because determination, spirit and tenacity are universal, and universally thrilling to behold.

UPDATE: Read my Pop Culture piece on the importance and meaning of watching and celebrating the Women's World Cup with The Girl here.

Image credits: Getty Images via the New York Times, the Associated Press via The National.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Notes on a Family Vacation, from New England to Orlando

A random collection of observations from last week's trip where two 12-year-olds, a 9-year-old, a mom and a dad jumped on a plane in Providence, Rhode Island bound for Orlando, stayed for a week and visited all manner of amusement parks and a space center just to mix things up a little:

“Feeding our family is difficult.”

That was the astute observation of The Girl. It was also a gross understatement.

Take one mom with a dairy allergy, one 9-year-old insanely picky eater who pitches a nutty if he doesn’t eat something every two hours or so (preferably something with carbs), one 12-year-old boy who gets very distinct notions in his head about what he does and doesn’t want and toss in a trying-too-hard-to-please-everyone-dad and you have the recipe for angst and drama during lunch and dinner times. (We had breakfast at our room each day, so breakfast didn't stress anyone out and I could eat without fearing that I was being poisoned.)

When your eating choices are limited to the crap at amusement parks for most of the week, by Day 6 figuring out what to do for lunch for people with disparate needs becomes a tense proposition. Add to that the fact that I wound up going on an involuntary diet comprised of mostly salads --because they were safer choices for me because they didn't contain dairy -- that yielded one hungry, cranky mom. Made me long for being back at home where I could control the ingredients in my own food.

Key Cards are Cool and Coveted, Apparently

The Picket Fence Post kids still argue over who gets to push the button to call the elevator, press the button for the floor number and who gets to use the hotel key card. Somehow, these things never get old and they never seemed to work it out between the three of them.

Image credit:
Princess Fiona as a Human Princess, Not an Ogre

While we were visiting Universal Studios, The Spouse made his own interesting observation: In nearly all the images of Princess Fiona on the products for sale in the gift shop at the end of the Shrek ride, she was shown in her human form, not as Shrek’s ogre wife. Why?

Red Sox Nation Really is a Nation

The Picket Fence Post family wore Boston Red Sox caps a lot while we were in Florida, a fact that tended to elicit a lot of responses from people, ranging from thumbs up and knowing nods to sarcastic digs:

The wise-cracking Donkey from Shrek, who was posing with the other characters from the film and amusement park-goers, broke out into Boston's “More Than a Feeling” upon hearing that we were from the Boston area and noticing our hats.

A guy running an amusement park game in the Amity section of Universal Studios kept yelling out, “Hey! Boston Red Sox!” every time I saw him. It was cool the first time. After that, it was just awkward.

The manager of a nice hotel restaurant, upon learning that we were from the Boston (as we weren’t wearing our hats in the restaurant), talked our ears off about the Sox and the time he said he used to work for the team. Afterward, we couldn't decide if he'd really worked for them or whether he was just trying to chat up gullible tourists. You never can tell.

One cute-as-button senior citizen employee manning the Men in Black ride at Universal saw our hats and eagerly pulled out his wallet and extracted a laminated photo of himself and his grown daughter standing in front of the baseball diamond at Fenway Park. He wanted to let us know he was a "real fan."

That was a stark contrast to the snarky hotel employee who gave The Youngest Boy’s Miami Heat hat his approval while telling the rest of us he’d have to overlook our Sox caps.

Once our waiter at the NBA City restaurant learned we were Sox fans from the Hub, he told us he was a Yankee fan but would still give us good service nonetheless.

We ran into another Yankee fan at the car rental return next to the airport who joked that he was going to charge us at a higher rate for being members of Red Sox Nation.

And there must’ve been at least one other female Red Sox fan in the women’s bathroom in the Jurassic Park section of Universal Studios because when The Girl accidentally left her Sox cap there, it never turned up again, despite the fact that we checked the bathroom and Lost & Found three times over the course of three days.

Jaws & Reliving the 70s

The Spouse got to relive part of his 70s childhood by venturing onto the Jaws ride at Universal Studios. Twice. I, the Picket Fence Post family's ride wimp, accompanied him during his second time through while the three kids, who had absolutely zero interest in the ride, sulked on a bench and played with my cell phone. As the cheesy plastic shark first emerged from the water, The Spouse and I realized that this was the only time during the daylight hours that we'd alone the whole week.

Space Shuttle: The Last Mission

It poured, absolutely poured to the point where you couldn’t see the road in front of you, as we were driving from Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center and The Youngest Boy was thoroughly ticked that we’d taken a day off from patronizing amusement/theme parks and opted to visit a NASA institution. And boy, did he let us know it, during that awful car ride in torrential downpours.

After spending a half hour sitting in the parking lot and waiting for the rain to let up, then another half hour standing in line to buy tickets to get into the Space Center, we finally boarded a bus to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis that's currently sitting on the launch pad. By the time we scaled the observation deck, luckily The Youngest Boy’s skepticism, and whining, was on the wane. When we left, he was thoroughly impressed, mostly because he "touched the moon," meaning a moon rock that was available for people to touch.

Image credits: Meredith O'Brien,

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Left Us Wanting More

The Picket Fence Post family just returned from a week of Orlando amusement park madness, highlighted by many hours spent at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure in a life-sized replica of Hogsmeade, and replicas of Hogwarts, Ollivanders Wand Shop, Zonko’s and Honeydukes. We also had a rather disappointing lunch at the Three Broomsticks, all places right out of J.K. Rowling’s beloved classic books and the subsequent film series.

I, the resident family ride wimp, didn’t go on any of the three Harry Potter rides, though I was able to walk through the Hogwarts castle without having to actually go on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. The Girl, who’s fearless, rode on all three Harry Potter rides, including the Dragon Challenge rollercoaster which goes upside-down. (She dragged her super-reluctant father onto the Dragon Challenge with her and he reported later that he kept his eyes closed the whole time, which is a heck of a lot better than I would've done.)

All three of the Picket Fence Post kids, however, rode on the Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster multiple times while I bided my time marveling at the very cool Hogsmeade storefronts many of which were simply just for show and had nothing behind them. For example, one storefront had the boastful books written by Professor Lockhart but they and the storefront were for display purposes.

Cool bits:

-- The Girl and The Youngest Boy liked the Butterbeer, which they said tasted like cream soda with a creamy, whipped kind of topping. They each imbibed two of them on the blisteringly hot day we spent in the Wizarding World where the rooftops of Hogsmeade are covered in faux snow.

-- There’s a hallway of talking, moving portraits in the Hogwarts castle. (If you go to the park, after you ride on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey be sure to check out the castle walk-through, where you can linger and look more closely at the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and other Hogwarts rooms.)

-- Pumpkin Fizz. Simply delicious. I sincerely wish that they’ll bottle it up and ship some up here to New England. It would be perfection with an autumn meal.

-- There’s a Hogwarts singing group, complete with oversized "frogs" in their arms, that performed. They were very good but I felt badly for the singers in their robes and Hogwarts-issued sweaters as they sweated profusely in the chest-crushing Orlando humidity.

-- Chocolate frogs. In blue boxes. With trading cards inside.

-- The Harry Potter film soundtracks playing over the loudspeakers.

-- Moaning Myrtle’s voice in the bathrooms.

Not-so-cool bits:

-- When we were at the Three Broomsticks, which didn’t nearly live up to my high expectations, I asked the cashier (as you order at a counter then pick up your food at another counter) if I could have a Butterbeer without the creamy topping because I have a dairy allergy. Alas, me experiencing Butterbeer was not to be as the cashier told me she was forbidden by law from serving up said non-dairy Butterbeer without the creamy topping. (?!) Though I was denied a coveted mug of Butterbeer, I was able to order Pumpkin Fizz instead. The Picket Fence Post family agreed that we wished the Three Broomsticks was a sit-down, full-service restaurant instead of cafeteria style, though they do find a seat for you. It ruined the ambiance of Hogsmeade to walk around with a plastic tray in your hands and packets of ketchup.

-- The line for Ollivanders wand shop – where they’d let a couple dozen people into the tiny shop at a time to witness a bit where the wandmaker selects a person from the crowd and goes through the process of having the wand “choose” that individual – was gigantic. And you couldn’t use an Express Pass (a pass for which you pay extra in order to cut the lines) to skip the line. We decided to wait anyway (or I did, while the family rode on rides multiple times over and I lusted after other people's Butterbeers) and, since we’re all huge Potter fans, we believe it was worth it. But we could’ve easily skipped it and gone straight to the gift shop where there were tons of wands and salespeople, dressed as though they were a part of the wizarding world, waiting to assist us with wand purchases.

-- Several of the storefronts were just that, fronts. I was hopeful that there’d be more stores than there were, but then again, I guess that’s the sign of a good theme park isn’t it, that I was left wanting more, even after spending about five+ hours there?