Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seriously JCPenney? What is This, the 50s?

JCPenney is REALLY selling this shirt? The one that says: “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me?”

The sales pitch on the company's retail web site says, “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is.”

This abomination is designed for girls sizes 7-16. Way to aim high and enlightened JC Penney. Way to encourage girls to be, what's the word, sassy, that's right sassy . . . and stupid.

What the HELL were they thinking? This isn't a back-to-school item, it's a back to the Stone Ages one.

UPDATE 1: JCPenney has pulled the shirt off of their web site but I have yet to read a sincere apology from the retailer.

UPDATE 2: The whole T-shirt debacle just reenforced the the heartbreaking points made in the new documentary, Miss Representation -- about how the sexualization, degredation and marginalization of women in the media affects girls and women and has an impact on everything from self-esteem to the proportion of female politicians making public policy decisions.

I waxed melancholy about all this mess in my Mommy Tracked column, "Stop Selling Sexism to Our Daughters" and in another post on my pop culture and politics blog, Notes from the Asylum.

Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Image credit: JCPenney via MediaBistro.

Finally! A 'Normal,' Post-Irene Day

Let me first say that we’re lucky that we didn’t sustain damage to our house or to any of the members of the Picket Fence Post family in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.

That being said, a couple trees in our yard were knocked down by high winds, one of which busted the safety netting around the kids’ trampoline, another broke the top of a section of our backyard fence. The combination of the saturated ground and the heavy winds pushed one smaller tree in our front yard over to the side and The Spouse used rope and my SUV to pull it kind of upright after wedging two rocks around the tree trunk’s base. (That tree has begun lilting toward the ground again.)

But the biggest issue for us was the fact that we lost power, phone and internet for over two days, as did most folks in our town, and thousands in our state.

For one evening, not having power can be novel, like a pioneer type of adventure where you eat by candlelight, play Scrabble with an assist from a lantern, read out loud with a battery-operated book light and listen to the crackling battery-powered radio. But by the time you’ve already done one full day and evening without power, by day two, any pioneer charm you might've tried to appreciate is gone and being without modern conveniences is just damned annoying, particularly because I couldn’t do my work from home, we had no hot water, the kitchen sink was clogged with food (the garbage disposal hadn’t been run) and there were hundreds of dollars of groceries rotting in our barely cool refrigerator.

I was not expecting that the power would be out for so long given that in my area we'd only experienced as a tropical storm. (During previous epic snowstorms and even during Hurricane Bob 20 years ago, I’d never experienced losing power for more than a few hours.) We were okay for one day without power, but not for more than that. As I was throwing out thawed out meat from our freezer that we hadn't been able to cook, I started thinking with envy about the friend -- whom I’d moronically mocked when he told me he’d purchased a gasoline-powered generator – and realized that he was the smart one.

Luckily The Spouse and I were able to use our Blackberries, which we could charge in our cars so we could communicate with others and post wry comments to Twitter and Facebook. We could also go out for meals and for coffee, though it was very challenging trying to drive around on local roads because so many of them were blocked or re-routed. (I was very jealous that my husband showered with hot water at work on Monday AND got access to the internet.)

As for the Picket Fence Post children, specifically The Youngest Boy, those two days without power, phone and internet seemed very, V-E-R-Y long. We discovered that The Youngest Boy is insanely screen addicted. He greeted me in my bedroom in the morning whining that he couldn’t play video games or watch TV, as though he was the only one who was being inconvenienced. The whining persisted even though he knew there was nothing that could be done about it, and even when all the neighborhood kids got together and played soccer, epic games of Monopoly and various games outdoors and seemingly had a good time.

“I want to make some toast,” he said on the second morning without power.

“Can’t. No power,” I replied.

“Arghhh!” Then the kid refused to eat breakfast because there was nothing he said he wanted to eat unless it was a) hot or b) refrigerated. This was problematic because this child starts losing his mind if he doesn’t get something to eat every three hours, so I insisted that he eat a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich and drink a juice pouch or two because my patience was waning and I didn’t want to deal with a losing-his-mind 10-year-old.

This morning was the first “normal” morning in several days. We have all our utilities back (though I still had to, reluctantly, toss more food out for fear we’d be poisoned). The three kids returned to school and I could return to working while listening to news in the background and drinking a freshly brewed cup of coffee (or several). The things we take for granted . . .

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Back to School Supply Lists, 2011

Every year we receive The Lists, the ones for school supplies for the three Picket Fence Post kids that never cease to surprise me with their specificity and length. Even in a down economy -- or perhaps because of it -- I wonder how parents who might be out of work or short on cash right now can afford all these supplies, never mind the other unexpected costs (for field trips and the like) which spring up throughout the school year.

The Spouse and I spent one very long hour inside a local Staples over the weekend, trying not to scream or lose our patience as the kids ran around the store, clutching their lists (I finally found The Youngest Boy's fifth grade list stuffed inside his report card from June) and trying to slip some unnecessarily, overpriced goodies into the shopping cart, like an $11 3-ring binder when a $2 one would suffice. We spent over $100 to purchase supplies from their lists and we still have items left to buy, not including back to school clothing because the kids keep doing that growing thing.

What kind of supplies do suburban schools in the Greater Boston area ask parents to purchase for their children?

Here's the fifth grade list:
  • "1 soft, zipper pencil case (not the hard box)
  • 1 small, handheld pencil sharpener
  • 4 highlighters*
  • 4 pens (black or blue)*
  • 4 'jumbo' glue sticks*
  • 4 black and white composition notebooks (marble, 9 3/4 X 7 1/2) not recycled paper
  • blue pocket folder (plastic is strongly recommended as it will last the whole year)
  • purple pocket folder
  • green pocket folder
  • red pocket folder
  • orange pocket folder
  • yellow pocket folder
  • large size, soft, stretchy book cover for Social Studies textbook
  • 1 box of small binder clips
  • 2 boxes of #2 pencils*
  • 2 boxes of tissues*
  • 2 packs of 3 X 5 lined index cards
  • 1 roll of paper towels
  • Clorox Wipes
  • hand sanitizer
*These items will need to be replenished throughout the school year.

Also, please do not buy a 'trapper keeper.' Our experience has shown us that they do not facilitate good organization. An accordion style organizer works better."

And this is the one for seventh graders for which we had to buy double because we've got two students going into the seventh grade:
  • "One box of tissues per student (to be given to the homeroom teacher, so that every teacher has close to a year supply)
  • A 3-ring binder with paper for science and social studies
  • A 2-inch, 3-ring binder with paper for language arts and reading
  • A composition book or small spiral bound notebook for reading journals
  • A 7.5 X 10 inch hardcover composition notebook for science
  • A spiral notebook, many pencils, two dry erase markers and choice of a two-pocket folder, accordion file, or 3-ring binder for French or Spanish
  • A small, hand-sized notebook for Leaf Collection
  • A supply of loose leaf notebook paper
  • A two-pocket folder for the science classroom
  • Many blue or black pens, red correcting pens, and pencils, frequently replenished
  • A package of five notebook dividers for Language Arts binder
  • Highlighters
  • Note cards
  • 5-7 book covers (NOT BOOK SOCKS!! They can ruin the book)
  • 12 GB flash drive
Optional: A calculator for home use (a scientific calculator will be available in all math classrooms). Also, you will need an assignment book or planner. A [SCHOOL SPECIFIC] assignment book may be purchased for $5.00 when school reopens. If you choose not to purchase a [SCHOOL SPECIFIC] planner, please bring your own planner on the first day of school."

What about your kids' school supply lists, are they extensive, too much or just about right?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Only 1 Out of Every 4 of You Make Your Kids Do Chores? Seriously?

Could the article in this past weekend’s Boston Globe possibly have been correct when it reported on the results of a study published in Psychology Today which “found that fewer than 25 percent of American parents compel their kids to perform chores?”

As if that wasn’t dismal enough, the article elaborated:

“In several cases, children staunchly refused to do chores when asked or ordered by their parents. And one father who was observed for the study so frequently withdrew his requests for chores and performed them himself after his children refused that researchers described him to be functioning as his child’s ‘valet.’”

Which led me to this question: Who’s in charge, the parents or the kids?

Don’t get me wrong, getting the Picket Fence Post kids to do their chores (walking the dog, feeding the dog, cleaning up the yard from the dog, vacuuming, dusting, cleaning bathrooms, etc.) isn’t easy. At all. In fact I often feel as though I need a nice cool adult beverage after I’m unwillingly thrust into the role of the nagging mom in order to get them to do their assigned work. Even my attempts to short-circuit the griping and my having to nag by clearly assigning said chores next to a kid’s name on the family calendar don’t really work. I still receive guff even when they recognize that it’s their turn to walk the dog. But they know if they don’t do their chores, they won’t get paid. (Yes, The Spouse and I pay them.)

Sometimes it seems as though it’d be a whole lot easier, and that there’d be much less shouting and bickering in my house if I didn’t insist that the kids help us out and work as a team by doing chores. I wouldn’t have to nag them as much and things would be done the way I want them done. (For example, The Youngest Boy doesn't always "clean" the bathroom the way The Spouse and I think it should be done, but he's only 10, so we cut him ample slack.) If we didn't have them pitch in however, I’d be condemning myself and The Spouse to forever doing everything around the house while the children act like spoiled, pampered little princes and a princess while their environs are taken care of by their indentured servants. (I already cart them around places and organize my life around their activities, so I already feel like their valets.) By not enforcing the do-your-chores mantra, The Spouse and I would be sending kids out into the world not fully comprehending the notions of responsibility, self-reliance and teamwork.

I’m completely on board with the Los Angeles psychologist/author who told the Globe that: “Parents are doing themselves, their children and society a disservice when they don’t assign chores and make sure they’re done. Yes, it does take time to supervise kids in the beginning, but later on, they’ll make your life easier and save you money, as well as know how to take care of a home and family when they’re adults.”

If you go by the stats, the Picket Fence Post family is in the minority here. What about your family? Do you make the kids do chores, if so, do you pay them? If you don’t , why not?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quick Hits: Youth Hockey ... Already, School Shopping, Doggie Rescue Part 2 & Like This Blog? Vote for It!

Youth Hockey

Yes. Hockey. In August. When we’re still going to the pool, eating ice cream cones outside, running the air conditioning and having barbecues.

And I’ve already received several e-mails from The Youngest Boy’s new hockey team about upcoming practices for the August-through-April youth hockey season (because, you know, you need to GET READY, you know, for THE NEXT LEVEL, therefore you need to play 447 games per year to perfect your game, when you’re in elementary school and are still losing your baby teeth). Not that I’m bitter or anything.

I’m so not in the right frame of mind for the season to begin at this moment. However this time, I’m not going to be caught unprepared, I'm not a rookie hockey mom any more. For example, before the games begin in earnest, I think I’m going to buy some of those folding stadium chair thingies, the ones that provide back support, for those freezing cold games which I’m convinced kept me persistantly sick through much of last winter.

School Shopping

I have done approximately . . . nothing. Nada. Zippo.

I still, surprisingly, have The Youngest Boy’s school supply list that he got from his teacher in June. (Or I think I have it. I remember putting it away for “safe keeping.” If only I can recall where “safe” is.)

The supply lists for the twin seventh graders are available online.

Those pesky flyers advertising Back to School Sales have been everywhere. But I haven’t looked through them. I don’t want to.

I’m in denial.

No . . . I’m . . . not . . . ready for the madness to begin anew.

Doggie Rescue, Part Two?

When we brought Max the dog to his doggie camp during our Cape Cod vacation week, he was thrilled to be dropped off at “camp.” He simply adores playing with the other dogs. In fact, as soon as we pulled into the driveway, he started going nuts and scrambled to go outside. Once outside, he pulled really hard against the leash, never looking back once he was taken by one of the staffers to go into the yard to play with the other canines.

After relating this story to The Spouse he asked, “Do you think we should get Max a friend? Maybe he’s lonely. I feel bad.”

*palm smacking forehead*

We went through this last year, when I was telling him that I thought Max would thrive if we got another companion dog as he often looks bored when he’s home with me and I’m sitting with my laptop computer all day. Whenever another dog is around he simply lights up. But The Spouse was resistant. Energetically resistant. Then after the awful chocolate incident, I dropped the matter entirely.

And now The Spouse is raising a second dog as a possibility, the notion he thoroughly dismissed as yet another one of my hair-brained ideas. Which means I’m now finding myself irresistibly drawn to, the web site where we found Max (it features listings from dog shelters) and am e-mailing said dog listings to The Spouse.

No, I have no idea what I’m thinking. As if things aren’t already chaotic enough around here.

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This blog – along with my pop culture blog, Notes from the Asylum – has been nominated in Boston’s Most Valuable Blogger contest held by the local CBS affiliate, WBZ.

If you’d like to support the Picket Fence Post goodness you see here from yours truly, you can vote for it (and, unlike in real elections, you can vote once a day).

Here’s the link to vote for Notes from the Asylum. Thanks for your support!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Parenting Confessions: What are Some of Yours?

Did you happen to catch the news about this new Today Show/Parenting Magazine survey of 26,000 mothers which asked them to ‘fess up about their maternal secrets? If not, here’s a glimpse of some of the results of their poll:

-- Almost one in five said she medicated her child “to get through a special event like a plane flight; one in 12 does it just to get some peace and quiet on a regular night."

-- Half have sent a kid to school or daycare even if they knew the child was sick.

-- 44 percent said they’d “rather be 15 pounds thinner than add 15 points to their child’s IQ.”

-- “One in 10 wishes their child was the opposite sex – and of those moms, 60 percent have boys.”

This got me to thinking about my own parenting secrets . . . those I’m willing to share publically anyway:

-- I’ll cop to uttering profanity here and there. And when the kids call me on my potty mouth, I apologize for behaving badly and then tell them that swearing is an adult privilege so they can suck it. Kidding . . . about that last "suck it" part.

-- I sometimes hide food that I don’t want the kids to gobble up like seagulls – the good, junky stuff like Pringles or cookies or barbecue potato chips – on the top shelf of the pantry near the back where they can’t see it or reach it. I've also hidden candy in my desk in my office without sharing it with anyone.

-- Also along the lines of food, when I’m in the car alone, I will occasionally stop and buy myself an order of fast food fries . . . then I stuff the evidence (the bag and the cardboard container) into the trash can in the garage.

-- I do not enjoy watching hour-long youth hockey practices (not that I'm going to tell The Youngest Boy or the other hockey parents this), so once The Youngest Boy's suited up and on the ice (it's impractical for me to drive home and back again), I go out to my car and read a book or catch up on my e-mail, either that, or I go get myself a cup of coffee.

-- On Saturday mornings when we’ve got a slate of soccer games in far flung towns to attend, I lie in bed and pray that it has started raining so the games will be canceled and I can go back to sleep. If it does happen to be raining but the games are not canceled, I start up with that whole potty mouth thing.

-- Sometimes when the kids break stuff around the house, I tell them not to tell their father and that we’ll keep it as “our little secret.” Seriously, it’s better for everyone that way.

-- I sometimes sneak away from everybody, as a kind of  timeout for myself. I retreat to my room without telling anybody and proceed to read a book or turn on the news, a Seinfeld repeat or some crappy movie I've seen a dozen times.

-- The Spouse and I liberally pilfer from the kids' Easter and Halloween candy stashes at night after the kids are in bed. And thus far, they haven't noticed.
So, got any parenting secrets you’d like to share with the class?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We Heart Women's Soccer

The Picket Fence Post family celebrated The Girl’s birthday a tad early this past weekend by taking her and a couple friends to see the Boston Breakers, the Boston Women’s Professional Soccer team (which includes U.S. Women’s World Cup player Lauren Cheney) take on South Florida’s magicJack team whose roster includes my daughter’s sports hero, Abby Wambach also of the U.S. Women’s World Cup fame, along with her World Cup teammates Shannon Boxx, Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe. Sadly, star World Cup goaltender, Hope Solo wasn’t at Saturday night’s game.

And it was, pardon the pun, a magical night.

The Girl, her friends and her brothers were wowed by the athleticism on display on the field which they judged the action as much more exciting than watching the Boston area men’s professional soccer team, New England Revolution. There were women, men, girls and boys cheering on both teams, including one particularly besotted teen boy who was wearing a Hope Solo jersey, clearly disappointed that she wasn’t on hand and playing on Saturday.

After the game, in what’s called “Autograph Alley,” hordes of people surged forward against metal barriers to try to get players' autographs, as police were on hand to attempt to control this mob of fans of female soccer players. Wambach was the crowd favorite. She scored both the goals that night, including a stupendous one with her trademark header. All the people with whom I spoke in the crowd -- moms, dads and a police officer – were simultaneously surprised and thrilled to see such enthusiasm for female athletes at the top of their game. It made a powerful statement.

It made me so grateful that The Girl was able to witness this, this celebration of women athletes, a celebration so vigorous that Wambach required police accompaniment as she gamefully and patiently walked the line for what seemed like an eternity, signing soccer balls, posters, tickets, shirts and anything that was sticking out in her face. (For the record, one of The Girl’s uber-determined friends was not only able to secure Wambach’s signature on a Women's Professional Soccer league soccer ball for the birthday gal, but also got many other players’ Jane Hancocks as well. That ball is now The Girl’s most prized possession and is sitting in a place of honor in the middle of our mantle above the fireplace in our family room.)

Given the surge in passion and the wildly positive message the evening's events sent to the boys and girls in attendance – that women are just as tough competitors as their male counterparts – it was troubling to read this article in the New York Times saying that the Women’s Professional Soccer league, which has over 230,000 followers on Twitter, is in trouble.

“Attendance and television ratings have swelled in the three-year-old Women’s Professional Soccer league, but there is no guarantee that it will survive into Year 4,” the Times said. “Salaries, which average $25,000 but run as low as $200 a game for a few, according to the players, face further cuts. Front offices of the six teams are run by skeletal staffs.”

I, for one, who loudly griped about the paucity of U.S. Women’s World Cup gear in local sporting goods stores, really want this league, this exciting league populated by talented athletes, to continue and to thrive, if not for the likes of Wambach, than for the likes of The Girl, her brothers and for that kid in the Hope Solo shirt. Isn't it better to see people celebrating the likes of Wambach, Rapinoe and Solo rather than the vapid Snooki?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Kids Behaving Badly in Public Makes It Difficult for Everybody Else

When the Picket Fence Post family was on vacation on Cape Cod last week, we visited Marion’s Pie Shop in Chatham, Mass. and let each kid pick out their own, small pie. (For the record, they picked chocolate cream, cherry and Dutch apple pies. Due to my dairy allergy, I, unfortunately, went pie-less.)

It was the sign posted on the outside of the shop that caught my attention: “Well Behaved Children Welcome. The Rest Will Be Made Into Pies.”

Thus I was inspired to write this latest column for Modern Mom about how I thought there was an unspoken social compact that if your kids act like heathens in public, you, the parent, are supposed to take the screaming urchins from the premises until they calm the heck down (as I’ve unfortunately had to do on many an occasion).

But apparently there isn’t such a compact after all as there are a ton of parents with kids who act like nuts in public and the adults no longer feel required to reign in their young kids. They just let 'em run around restaurants, dump merchandise all over the place and take them to rated R movies at 10 o'clock at night. This behavior is prompting people who are sick of all of this to ban kids in public venues, making things difficult for the rest of us who try our best to teach our kids how to behave and when they don't, remove them from the restaurant/store/theater, etc.

When did things change?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Brief Blogging Break ‘Til Aug. 8

I’ll be enjoying a blogging hiatus until next Monday, trying to spend some quality time with the Picket Fence Post family (provided the boys don’t send me to the hospital with one of their pranks).

Not to worry, though. I’ll be covertly taking notes on all our adventures. (And when all this family togetherness gets to be too much family togetherness, I'll retreat to a "Mommy timeout" with a book in my hand.)

In the meantime, enjoy my latest piece over on Modern Mom about how I'm okay with the fact that I often say, "No" to my kids when they want to do things like watch The Hangover or play Call of Duty, making me supremely uncool and unhip. But it's okay. I can take it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pranksters on the Loose: This Doesn’t Bode Well

Went to use the sink this morning to fill my coffee pot only to find that the two boys had rigged it so that instead of having the water come out of the faucet, the sprayer would direct a shower of icy water at my belly, which, lucky for the two knuckleheads, was in between me and my laptop computer which was on the kitchen counter behind me . . . open.

The boys, of course, who were watching me, roared as their prank worked exactly as they’d planned. Then I overheard them conspiring with one another about future tricks, given that this one worked so very well.


Well, I’m going to have to fight fire with fire.

Believe it or not, this is how The Spouse courted me initially, via pranks (seriously, no love poems for him), so I'm well versed in this type of behavior.

Game on boys.