Monday, January 30, 2012

Guess What We Did This Weekend . . .

I decided to take out the good old Picket Fence Post family's digital camera and, along with some internet surfing, decided to depict for you, via photographic images, what our weekend was comprised of:

After this weekend . . . even Max, who does little other than sleep, eat, play outside and lie in wait for people to leave doors open so he can rifle through trash cans, is exhausted:

Image credits: Moneyball image via Sony Pictures, Ferris Bueller's Day Off via Wikimedia.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Laugh When We Really Needed One: Claire Campaigns for Town Council

Take one part political debate, one part farce and one part auto-tuned, viral YouTube video and what do you get? The really funny latest episode of Modern Family, “Little Bo Bleep.” I really needed to laugh out loud and this new episode delivered. And after the week everyone in my house had, this had us rolling.

Remember a year ago during the ill-fated Valentine’s Day hook-up Phil and Claire tried to arrange at a nearby hotel? They were going to meet in a hotel room but Phil went into the wrong one, stripped down to his birthday suit and was discovered in a stranger’s hotel room and later was questioned by police. That incident came back to haunt Claire as the straight-laced mom of three saw her campaign for town council potentially derailed by the antics of naked Phil. And Claire was already worried about a new poll where voters said she was “unlikable,” hence her home debate prep with the Dunphy clan.

If you haven’t yet seen the episode, which also features a storyline about toddler Lily’s sudden affection for the F-word (Cam and Mitchell disagreed about how to handle a sudden spike in pint-sized profanity), do yourself a favor and watch. It’s available online for free.

Best line of the episode: "I am Phil Dunphy and I am not a pervert."

*Originally posted on Notes from the Asylum*

Regaining Your Mojo After a Nightmare & Counting One’s Blessings

As you might have been able to surmise by my last post, it’s been a very rough period in the Picket Fence Post household. After the untimely death of one of The Eldest Boy’s friends, at 12 years old, it’s been difficult for everybody to just pick up where things were when we learned about this unthinkable turn of events and simply carry on, even though that’s what we’re told we’re supposed to do.
In the days immediately following the loss, the kids had lots of sleepovers. Lots of friends hung out together. The Spouse and I chatted with parents over coffee and tea, glasses of wine. We sat together with friends at our many youth games and got hugs from folks at our church. We enjoyed watching the Patriots punch their ticket to the Super Bowl with my brother's family while we ate junk food and talked via Facetime with my parents. We all drew comfort from one another.
But still . . .
As I’ve been keeping a hawk eye over the kids, trying to check in on them without being smothering, trying to give them a chance to talk if they want to, I’ve found myself completely out of sorts. Trying to get back to “normal” seems a challenging task because I keep thinking about the family in town for whom “normal” will never again be a resident of their home. I keep thinking about that family and feeling guilty that they have pain while I have the luxury of getting super annoyed that no one put a new role of toilet paper in the bathroom, that the boys won’t stop fighting over the stupid video games (I hate video games) or because one of them is being mouthy. One parent with whom I spoke at a youth basketball game yesterday confessed that she too feels guilty simply because she still gets to give her son a hug while the family of the boy who has passed away does not have that opportunity. Perhaps empathizing a bit too closely with a mother who had a child our children’s ages, we cannot stop thinking about her and her pain. It kind of freezes you in place.
When I’ve sat down at the laptop to write, it’s been challenging to be whimsical or wry, something I like to do in this space and on my other pop culture and politics blog. Aside from the pieces I’ve needed to submit in order to meet deadlines – reviewing TV shows like Once Upon a Time, Parenthood and Grey’s Anatomy – I’ve found the creative well dry. I’ve not much felt like being snarky on my blogs so I’ve been busying myself by observing the increasingly insane, unpredictable roller coaster of a presidential election and by pouring through books upon which I’m going to be writing columns. (Just finished Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas.)
Little by little, I know that the shock will fade but I hope that through the everyday nuttiness and insanity of going 10 rounds with The Youngest Boy over why he needs to wear a winter coat when it’s 10 degrees outside, why The Girl needs to put athletic tape around her tender ankle before basketball games, why The Eldest Boy is going to church whether he likes it or not and when I wake up at 4 a.m. to let Max the dog go outside (only to discover that he wanted to simply chill out on the deck and bark into the darkness), that we never forget that we’re lucky, that not all parents are as lucky as we are, and that we shouldn’t relegate the ones who aren’t to the dustbins of our minds.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Out of Tragedy, a Stirring, Powerful Discovery: Community Matters

For several days I was perpetually choked up, felt as though there was a lump in the middle of my throat after learning that a young boy – who was friends with my oldest son – had suddenly passed away.

But as I forged on, pushing through the heavy sadness and unmooring shock of the news, I realized that there’s power in something about which we don’t place nearly enough emphasis these days: The power of being a physically present in a community, not just being a part of an amorphous, sometimes antiseptic community online.

The horrific news about the 12-year-old boy’s passing circulated throughout my town in dribs and drabs. Initially, cryptic, mass, automated phone calls were made from the schools to students’ homes telling parents to check their e-mail for an "important" message. After reading the stunning e-mail, some parents went old school and called one another on the telephone, then quickly turned to local web sites and Facebook to share their collective grief as they prepared for their crestfallen children to come home from school and melt into their arms. No one could quite believe that a young, seemingly healthy seventh grader could really be gone. He just couldn’t be. It made no sense.

He had just been playing basketball the night before, some said. He’d been online with friends the day before too, added another. He seemed fine at school yesterday . . . this didn’t compute for anyone, not for the students or their parents who fearfully eyed their own children wondering, “What if?”, not for the educators who cared for these children or for the church community which spiritually embraced the boy’s devastated family.

I read and re-read the note from the middle school not quite believing its contents. There was no way that a child – a polite, smart, talented shining light about whom no one had a bad word – as young as he was could’ve gone to bed and then passed away because of complications due to a seizure. There was no way that this was happening to his nice family, particularly to his mother, about whom the most frequently invoked adjective when her name came up in conversation around town was “sweet."

Parents literally clung to their children, holed up in their homes as after-school activities and practices had been cancelled. At first, we all marinated in our grief from behind our computer screens or on our phones, in an electronic isolation of sorts, sharing despondence, warm memories and effusive compliments about the boy and his bereaved family online. People, particularly the children, texted one another, exchanging sentiments as simple as, “I am so sad” that conveyed an ocean of heartbreak.

The next day, however, the community began to stir, to rise from the ashes. In school hallways throughout town and at the regional high school, students donned a commemorative color – green – in honor of the child who was universally well liked and respected. One of the boy’s classmates labored to make hundreds of green ribbons and distributed them to willing takers. It was a sea of green, people said, a sea that coalesced around that vacant space where the lost soul used to be because that’s all that the people wearing green could do, because they couldn’t bring him back.

Then, as the children and their parent-coaches eventually resumed their sports activities, this boy’s name became a clarion call from indoor soccer arenas to youth basketball courts, a rallying cry, a cause: He will not be forgotten. His easy smile, his talents, his kindness would guide them through, no matter what it said on the scoreboard. He will help us go forward.

Parents bought green socks and handed them out to players in his memory. Kids texted their teammates suggesting that they don green T-shirts under their uniforms. Green duct tape was adhered to the fronts of basketball jerseys, and, band-like, around the upper arms of coaches and the parents in the stands who teared up every, single, time a parent from an opposing team asked what was up with all the green. Girls took makeup pencils and decorated their cheeks and their hands with their classmate’s initials and shouted, “Go Green!” at the beginning and the end of their games. This is for him, they said. And, for the first time since I could remember in my very athletically competitive town, it didn’t matter who won, who scored, who fouled. All that mattered was that we were all together. We were one. And our hearts were broken.

People came out of their homes, out from behind computers and cell phones and spent time with one another in person. Children hung out and played video games together or watched the Patriots’ game in groups, drawing comfort from merely being in one another’s presence while their parents embraced and tried to console one another, remarking about how rare it is these days for them to just ditch their packed schedules and hang out together. Parent after parent said that this grab-you-by-the-lapels moment which shakes you to your core has taught them that, no matter how insanely busy they are, time with friends, with one another, in the flesh, is important. Checking in on Facebook, while comforting and a useful source of information, was not enough. Not by a long shot.

“I’m really glad we live here,” my daughter said to me the other day. “People really care about one another.”

Out of this tragedy, my children, as well as almost every person with whom I’ve spoken, seemed to have stumbled upon something basic, something that we all too often take for granted in this era of instant digital communications and over-scheduled lives filled with the busy-ness of child-rearing: Being together matters. Community matters. Everything cannot be done via electronic or cellular forms of communication.

This sudden, grief-stricken coming together, this recognition of the importance of just being together as a community was one final gift from a boy whose short life was a gift to all of us who were lucky enough to meet him.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

'Tiger Mom' is Back ... Because She's Selling Her Paperback

I really didn’t want to leap onto the Tiger Mom bandwagon again, now that the Yale University Law Professor’s controversial book – The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – is now out in paperback. But Amy Chua’s latest Wall Street Journal essay and her appearance on news programs -- where she says  that, despite all the time she’s had to reflect and all the negative reactions her book sparked, she wouldn’t change anything and that her methods are superior to the "soft" American style of child-rearing-- has pulled me back into this quagmire again. (The return of Chua’s somewhat tamer version of her Tiger Mother persona is the subject of my latest Pop Culture and Politics post.)

In her Journal essay, Chua tries to persuade readers that because her eldest daughter is now a college student (attending Harvard no less), she is “hands-off” and thinks of herself as pretty much done with child-rearing.

“When our kids go off to college, we want them to have the confidence, judgment and strength to take care of themselves,” Chua wrote in the Journal. “Even critics of my approach to parenting would probably concede that, after years of drilling and discipline, tiger cubs are good at focusing and getting their work done. If instilled early, these skills also help them to avoid the college-prep freak-out that traumatizes so many families.”

This is from the woman who wrote that when one of her daughters was 7, she made the child sit at the piano, with no breaks for food or the bathroom, for hours, until the kid mastered a piece. She was also the one who said that her kids weren’t allowed to “attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play . . . watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A . . . play any instrument other than the piano or violin."

I, for one, don’t see a parent who had as much invested in her kids doing well and succeeding as Chua does, just turning that switch off if, for example, her daughter wanted to drop out of college, join the Peace Corps or start a rock band, and play the drums.

As the Ankle Twists

It was a very sad sight: The Spouse carrying The Girl off the basketball court this past weekend after she turned her ankle and an opponent accidentally stepped on it. (Yes, it was the same ankle that took months upon months of physical therapy and acupressure to heal the last time she injured it several years ago.)

After two days of icing and elevating her ankle, of The Spouse and I forcing her to don the air cast we still have from the last time she went through this, she’s still complaining about pain but is walking with a somewhat regular gait.

Now we wait and hold our breath.

Will she fully heal and be able to rejoin her two basketball teams with whom she’s anxious to play?

Will she be pain-free soon and not have a repeat of what ailed her a couple years ago?

I’m going to be positive about this, damn it. The power of positive thinking: It will all be good. (But I’m still going to cross my fingers and knock on some wood for good measure.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Orange Braces

The Eldest Boy has had his braces applied to his teeth. Orange braces to be exact. (He chose the color. I like it.)

He's been a very good sport about them, hasn't been complaining a lot, though he did take a pass on the mango smoothie I made for him (we had very little in the house I could use to make him a smoothie) saying he didn't like it, no matter how much sugar I dumped into it. (It must've been pretty bad because The Girl, who adores smoothies, wouldn't drink it either. I couldn't tell what it tasted like because I have a dairy allergy and I'd added dairy to the smoothie. Oh well, what's that they say about the best intentions?)

As for The Girl, she just had the "spacers" (small rubber things) put in between molars in the back of her mouth removed and mold was made of her mouth so a palate expander can be made for her. In about two weeks,  she'll have to get new spacers placed between her teeth which really stinks because when they were placed in her mouth just after Christmas she was in a lot of pain. In the meantime, I told her to go wild chewing gum and eating all the foods and candy that will be verboten once she gets the palate expander, followed by the braces . . . that palate expander, man, I am so not looking forward to THAT and I'm not the one who's going to be wearing it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christmas, Hanukkah & New Year’s Came & Went…and No One Died, Got the Swine Flu or Went to the ER

Believe it or not, aside from a short period of time during the Wednesday evening before Christmas (that’s my personal hell day), I made it through the entire month of December without a significant incident. You might think this is no biggie. Lots of people make it through December without incident, illness or catastrophe. But to me, emerging from December relatively unscathed felt like a major accomplishment.

The month of December and bad stuff has precedent in the Picket Fence Post house. Last year, as I’ve mentioned before, I missed Christmas because I came down with the swine flu on Christmas Eve and on, the day after Christmas, The Spouse severely injured his ankle while playing basketball, during a snowstorm I might add, and had to be driven to the ER by a neighbor because I felt like death not even warmed over. (The only plus from the whole thing was that I lost some weight . . . which I eventually gained back.)

The year before that, The Spouse broke his wrist on New Year's Eve Day while ice skating with the Youngest Boy and we rang in the New Year while my husband was high on morphine and The Eldest Boy had a raging fever. That was delightful, I'm telling you. A couple years before that, both my father and I came down with either food poisoning or the same stomach bug on Christmas Eve night and essentially spent Christmas Day feeling and looking like something you accidentally stepped on and then scraped off of the bottom of your shoe. Several years before that, my grandfather died on Christmas Day.

Luckily none of those things happened during December 2011, so once it officially became 2012, I felt as though I could finally breathe, and let go of the Yuletide Zen upon which I had a death grip throughout the month, determined to enjoy the season no matter what happened. I’ve even decided to extend the Christmas spirit by allowing the holiday decorations to remain up in the house until this coming weekend and have still been playing Christmas music . . . quite unlike me who’s normally an up-on-December-1-down-on-New-Year’s-Day kinda person.

So, how was Christmas et al, you ask?

X-Box Wars: Well, Santa brought the boys (*godhelpme*) an X-Box which became not only the focal point of their Christmas vacation, but the source of many a lively, uh, discussion, yeah, discussion’s a good word for it. (Sounds a lot better than "heated screaming matches.”) The Spouse and I told them that there was no way in hell that we were going to allow them to buy any video games which were rated M (for Mature), like Call of Duty, even though they swore up and down that EVERYONE they knew had that game. We, they claimed, were being unreasonable, overprotective control freaks.

After we celebrated Festivus with two other couples with whom The Spouse and I used to hang during our UMass days, along with all their kids (nine juveniles, up way too late, trying to comprehend what the adults found so amusing about the Seinfeld Festivus episode and why The Spouse brought an aluminum pole to the gathering), The Eldest Boy started to grill us and ask if we thought our college buds were good parents. It was a set-up because my pals had gotten their children a rated M version of Call of Duty which the kids played it on Festivus night. It was an annoyingly torturous lobbying campaign that the two young bucks waged, culminating with The Spouse proclaiming that they could only buy games that were rated T for Teen or E for Everybody. The knuckleheads felt as though they’d pulled a fast one over on The Spouse when they found a Call of Duty game that was rated T the following day. Of course they did. They excitedly ran up to me as I was scrolling through my e-mail in our local Game Stop, clutching the coveted video madness in their sweaty hands and declared victory. They’ve been obsessed with the simulated shooting and mayhem ever since.

Cell Phones: We, as Liz Lemon might say, went to there, that place we’ve been trying to avoid for so long.

The Spouse and I gave The Eldest Boy and The Girl cell phones for Christmas. And yes, they can text. The Spouse dropping The Girl off at a gym where he thought she had basketball practice on his way to run The Eldest Boy's practice, then learning, after he'd left her, that she didn't have practice and was in fact stranded, alone at the gym at night (and he couldn't abandon the practice he was running so I had to go get her) was what motivated us to finally make this move.

And since December 25, it’s as though we’ve unleashed a technological monster as far as The Girl is concerned. She's already composed and received hundreds of texts. (Thank God for unlimited texting packages.) The Eldest Boy, by contrast, seems genuinely pleased to have a phone but isn’t crazy about texting, at least for right now. When his sister kept texting him when they were both in the house, he would yell, “Just talk to me!”

Forget Brand a New Bag. Mama’s Got a Brand New iPad: I now own my very first Apple product. Everyone else in the Picket Fence Post family, except Max the dog, has some form of an iPod or an iPod Touch. And, until this year, I’d never really been jonesing for a tablet or Apple product. Now that I have my own iPad, The Eldest Boy is in his glory explaining to me, the Apple virgin, how it works and frequently informs me that I’m “doing it wrong.” That’s because I’m an ancient, know-nothing, power-mad, anti-X-box kinda mom I suppose.

Gone in 10 Minutes: Max the dog consumed one of his presents in, literally 10 minutes. While the dog toy that we gave him for Christmas was edible and meant to eventually be eaten, it was intended to last for more than the time it takes to listen to two songs on an iPod. Watch the video for the Spinz Bone and you tell me that it’s normal for my 26-pound dog to eat that product in 10 minutes.

Oh, and as of New Year’s Eve, Max had also killed the stuffed, faceless toy we called “Dough Boy” (after the Pillsbury Dough Boy). Max gutted Dough Boy, removing his squeaker and much of his stuffing. I kept thinking that this was an apt metaphor for . . . something, but, as Dick Clark counted down to 2012, I couldn’t put my finger on what metaphor for which I was grasping and fell asleep.

The Braces are Coming. The Braces are Coming. The Eldest Boy and The Girl got “spacers” put in between their back teeth a few days after Christmas, rendering their mouths sore to the point that they didn’t want to eat very much for a few days. I whipped up milkshakes, soups and other soft foods and doled out ibuprofen to no avail, especially for The Girl who was in a lot of pain. The spacers are a precursor to actual braces that The Eldest Boy will get in the next week or so and the palate expander The Girl will get (to which I’m not looking forward because The Spouse has declared that I’m going to be the one who’s going to have to turn the key to expand it every night, but more on that later).

Their younger brother’s response to this development? To grab the container of gum that he got in his Christmas stocking – the 13-year-olds can no longer have it – and pop a bunch of pieces of gum into his mouth. Right in front of them. “What?” he asked mischievously when I called him on it. Let me tell you, there’s no question that The Youngest Boy’s will need braces and, as my mom noted, payback’s gonna be a bitch.

Happy New Year Picket Fence Post peeps.