Sunday, January 30, 2011

Battle Hymns of a Bridgewater Soccer Mom?

After all the media buzz I'm afraid to buy Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I am worried about getting a case of suburbia's worst disease: Comparative Mothering.

Has Tiger Mom read this?
Without having opened a page, I the think author is - at least partially - RIGHT. Kids need to learn that hard work pays off. And very hard work pays better! We see it in Bridgewater all the time. Many families send their kids to Kumon or Saturday schools to get ahead, and they do. But have we done that? No.

Americans are suffering from a coddle-til-you-choke mentality. That's why I loved this take on Marketplace.  I heard Michelle Rhee's description of her soccer-playing kids and their awards, despite their lack of ability and it reminded me of the soccer trophies in my son's room. He is no athlete. He hasn't quite bought into "practice equals results". He still thinks you are either smart or not, athletic or not, musical or not. Even in music where it is plainly clear for my son's audience: the more he tries it, the more he sounds like a musician than a dying elephant, he still hasn't learned that work = success. My daughter has been a long-time believer, but instead of a mantra for everything, sometimes she "works only as needed". If she wants something she knows how to go for it, and does. But in classes that "don't matter to her" (like Health) she doesn't care and that shows too.

It's not just a book's level that counts
I disagree with Michelle Rhee on one point: kids KNOW. No need for formal ranking. I've seen that all children, even as young as kindergarten, know who is "smart" who is "challenged" and who is "in the middle". Teachers can label reading groups as "book clubs" with flowery names instead of numbers, but every kid knows. They see which peers struggle with Dr. Suess and which are reading chapter books. But kids can't see (nor do rankings demonstrate) who LOVES reading or which kids recognize Suess's bigger themes. Isn't the child who reads One Fish Two Fish and says "I guess it doesn't matter what you look like" getting a significant advantage over someone reading Harry Potter who comes away with nothing beyond "I wonder how Potter will slay the next serpent"? No greater meaning beyond the face value.

I agree with her main point. If people in the US saw education as a means for national economic strength, as Ms Rhee points out is the norm in Singapore, perhaps the US would focus much more on education. Instead education is seen as a social issue and thus lost to politically motivated sloppy seconds. Some parents may see it as an economic issue, paying for expensive tutors, Kumon or test preparation, but does the nation as a whole? No. The next time you see an elite musical performance in Bridgewater you can ask any parent, they all pay for private music lessons to reach musical goals. But have parents who put money into private soccer lessons put the same funds into Algebra?

How much $ did we spend on cleats?
Why are mainstream American parents willing to shell out so much money in sports but not for academics? I see it in my own home. Between the two of them we've paid more than college tuition in extra curricular activities, but only once have we paid for academic tutoring. We have spent money on private tae kwan do lessons, special soccer training and ski lesson. I just wrote $300 of checks for Cheerleading. But why won't I get N help in writing or give C test prep when just a few hours would probably mean the difference between getting into e- programs or not? Won't academic success breed confidence as success in sports, music or other extra curriculars do? 

I guess the question becomes what is the goal? Elite colleges, large homes on wealthy cul-de-sacs in American suburbs? Positions as CEOs, Senators or board-certified surgeons?

Tiger Mom makes me think: what do I want for my children? Probably exactly what I want for myself. Interesting lives filled with great experiences and meaningful friendships. I want them to explore things. I want them to love and be loved. I want them to be happy. I do want them to attain economic independence through meaningful work. I want them to be healthy.

Reading on vacation for the love of it!
Maybe that's the problem. Economic success is not a goal on this list per se. But to me an interesting life includes learning for the sake of learning. The subject is almost irrelevant.  In order to have the means to do this, they have to have jobs to support their interests. Hiking the Himalayas is expensive. So are lots of other things. My father LOVED his career as a Pathologist. He's been retired for 10 years but still frequents the hospital's library daily to keep abreast of his field. That to me is a sign of success: loving what you do every day. (That he was "a doctor" is irrelevant.)

So, if a well-paid job is the means to support an creative and fun life, then they really do need to hit the books.


But if I really think about it, what kind of adults do I want them to be? I see examples of "success" all around me - in successful careers that fulfill people, beautiful homes filled with families... what do I really want for my children? How do I want them to be?


Are your kids seeing love? (Mom & Nonny)
I want most of all for them to be loving, to be loved and to be compassionate people who don't judge others, who are kind and considerate and thoughtful people. I want them to have some material success and interesting lives, but without empathy, it doesn't matter where they live and work, or where they go on vacation, what brand shoes they wear. If they aren't caring, only thinking of themselves and their own worries, how can they be considered successful people or have meaningful lives? Well rounded, doesn't just mean As in both Language Arts and Math.

Tiger Mom, love is something children learn in the home. It can't be quantified, but it still counts.  Are you withholding love when your child isn't meeting their academic goals? If my children are learning to think of others, by what they read, what they do, who they model, then one of my main parenting goals is met. If they get As in math, go on to a top college and get great job, I'll be very proud. If they stop at an accident to help a stranger, I'll be just as proud.


*******Postscript and CLARIFICATION********

I am commenting on Michelle Rhee's commentary on Marketplace. Of course I should have put together two and two and recognize her name as former DC-school's Chancellor, I have to admit, I only heard her on the Marketplace commentary where she was described as "commentator and educator". My bad for not making the connection. Also, I realize that Amy Chua wrote the Battle Hymn book, but I didn't name her in the blog. Their points were slightly different. I'm sorry if I seem to have mixed them up. Sometimes things are clearer in your own mind.  Thank you to my 2 friends who e-mailed me off-line.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Praise for a good idea

A couple of times a year my son's school throws a 5th or 6th grade Fun Night.

Each child is required to bring a parent to Fun Nights. In past years the PTO Presidents turned the library into a cafe for parents where they can be present but can enjoy themselves too. This fall they had a Fun Night without a room for parents, who ended up meandering around the hallways, needing a quiet place to sit and talk. I e-mailed the coordinator and suggested they reinstate the practice. The PTO Board didn't like the idea ultimately decided not to do it.

Luckily someone came up with even a better idea: a book club night for teachers and parents! It was the first time I'd been to anything like it run through the schools. We read Jon Gordon's Soup. It was a very open conversation, geared toward parenting and teaching.

I have never had 2 hours fly by faster. It was a wonderful evening and there was an interesting mix of teachers, administrators and parents. The talk was engaging and inspiring. Usually by the time Friday night rolls around I want to be in my PJs by 8:30pm and I fall asleep waiting for Bill Maher. Anything at the school - fun nights, rec nights, pasta dinners, and the ever horrifying Monster Mash are so taxing on my senses. Tonight I feel invigorated. The book was predictable, but the conversation wasn't. I've been a parent in the district for many years and I've rarely had teachers be so open about how they feel about teaching, or parenting. Lots of examples of best practices by seasoned teachers who truly expressed compassion and love for our kids.

Although the "what happens in Vegas..." rule wasn't stated, I'm quite sure it was implied, so I won't share anything else except it is good that I can still learn new things about myself through a good conversation. Thanks for organizing this, Mr. P!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snowday number 17 (actually 3)

Our street - 11am today

There are a bunch of kids hiding from "paparazzi" (i.e me)

Our house
Snowball fight. We had 8 kids here today.
They canceled school today... I spent the morning clearing snow. I spent the afternoon trying to finish a sweater I've been knitting. I've sewn the shoulders together and ripped it up (just the sewing) 4 times now. I'm about ready to give up. But I have to finish what I started.... 

Enough about me. It's dinner time. Something easy. Just like today's blog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yes, it's all for the best....




"When you feel sad, or under a curse
Your life is bad, your prospects are worse
Your wife is crying, sighing...
And your olive tree is dying,
Temples are graying, and teeth are decaying
And creditors weighing your purse..."


I'm back to my curse. CHEER! It's January - and I'm worrying about August 2011.

Who makes the decisions? Do I guide my daughter in making a smart choice subtly, force it upon her harshly, or let her make up her own mind and let the chips fall where they may? She's 13 years old. Shouldn't she have a say?

Three years ago we were in the same boat. Do you remember, back when I really was a soccer mom? We went through a very similar conundrum with C in picking soccer leagues. Which organization best fits her (and, let's face it, my) needs. I pushed her and I still believe we made the right choice.

This time, it's cheer. I spent the fall stressed about the BFL coaches and their decisions. But I am concerned about Pop Warner, too.

C's friends are signing up for both, paying fees to both sides and then making decisions later this Spring. BFL hasn't even made a decision about entry requirements, while Pop Warner has open admissions. Do I give C the option to pick BFL, and try to swallow my acidic aftertaste and distrust of the coaches' motives regardless of what her friends do? Or do I force her to do the harder squad in order to teach her principles of boycotting an organization that treated her friends so unfairly this fall?

I guess it comes down to her goals - how far does she want to take this? If she wants to go far, Pop Warner may be better for her needs. If she just wants to have fun with it, BFL might meet her needs more, despite my reservations about coaches that drink with abandon at the girls' end of year party.

"They get the center of the meat, cushions on the seat
Houses on the street where it's sunny..
Summers at the sea, winters warm and free
All of this and we get the rest...
But who is the land for? The sun and the sand for?
You guessed! It's all for the best!"


 What's the best here? With which team are the winters warm and free????? Which team is the best for C's needs? I simply don't know.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Aruba dreaming on such a winter's day....

One of the best Christmas presents I EVER received was a cassette. With it were strict instructions. "Find a single source of light, like a desk lamp and put it on, put on a bathing suit lie on my bed with the light facing me. Close your eyes and play the tape." I was transformed from a snowy winter day to a hot afternoon on the dock of my friend's summer rental in the Finger Lakes of New York State.

Rental car is the key to a great trip
On this cold January day when Bridgewater is digging out from yet another snowstorm, let me offer you a similar vicarious experience. You don't need to wear a bikini! Just pour yourself something warm in your mug and read, imagining yourself exploring Aruba.

We arrived in Aruba and found that their motto of "One Happy Island" did not include taxi drivers, so we rented a car.  It was a defining choice and made the vacation interesting.

N plays "where's iguana"
We spent a night in the Aruba Renaissance.  The Renaissance has two hotels in one. An "adults only" hotel and "family" hotel. Our reservation, made through Priceline, was accidentally made for the adults' hotel, but we had 2 children.  The receptionist very, very reluctantly changed our room after much discussion. My mother- and father-in-law stayed at the adults section. We stayed in the family hotel.

Private island filled with wildlife
The best part of the hotel wasn't facilities on-site which were very nicely designed but otherwise unremarkable. The treat was their private island. A free boat takes guests to an mini-island filled with wildlife. We spent a wonderful day relaxing and swimming on this little piece of paradise. While the rest of us were sunbathing or reading, my son spent the entire time enthralled by the geckos, hermit crabs and iguanas. The island had everything we needed. A restaurant/bar, an opportunity for SCUBA diving or snorkeling, private massages, bath-water temperatures in the enclosed beach area and hammocks for relaxing with a good book.

Our private pool with a view of the lighthouse
For a family of six, including Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad, and C and N, two hotel rooms during high season can get very pricey. We chose another option. For the next six nights we rented a house. Casa del Viento was perfect for our family's needs. The website's pictures were true to form. Although it wasn't walking distance from restaurants or shops, the location couldn't have been better for us. We didn't want to be in the middle of a strip of at-capacity hotels. We wanted something more quiet and personal. Located across the street from Arashi Beach, and a short walk from the California Lighthouse, we felt very safe both day and night in this residential neighborhood. Having our own pool was perfect.

The streets of Oranjestad
Generally speaking, no one plans for rain when packing for an Aruba vacation. We didn't either. Boots would have been more useful than flip-flops on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Since we couldn't swim when it started to thunder, we headed out to explore the island. Unfortunately, we got stranded by flash flooding. At one point the rain was coming down so hard that it was difficult to guess the water's depth and we had to pull over and wait. There was stayed, watching cars try to maneuver flash floods for more than an hour. 

We would have gone stir crazy in a hotel room. Casa del Viento had games, plenty of English language TV channels and a good selection of books. Best of all, for our teenager sporting a new ipod touch, the house had a fast wireless network! C was in 7th heaven as she Facebooked and chatted her way through the rainy days. I didn't mind internet access, either.

Andicuri Bay - Where you don't find hotels
Luckily it cleared up. When we weren't trying the local beaches (Arashi, Boca, Malmok and Hadicurari lie walking distance from the house), we explored the island by car. One day we drove across the island, past San Nicolas. It was a stark reminder of the difference between "clean tourist Aruba" and the many towns scattered throughout the Caribbean where poverty and financial struggle are the norms. Although some neighborhoods were sketchy it was good to show the children this side of Aruba as well. We drove past San Nicolas only to be more shocked by widespread garbage washed ashore on Bachelors Beach. Still, it had an eerie beauty. Despite all the trash, we watched harsh waves crash against the shore where windsurfers and surfers were having a great time.

Diego's cousins?
Alto Vista Chapel
Our car also offered us a chance to see other island gems. We were saddened by the number of underfed street dogs. Our own Diego was a rescued "Sato" from the streets of Puerto Rico, so these dogs touched us (and made us miss him more). Alto Vista Chapel is beautiful and simple. Finding several stray dogs there, emaciated but friendly, moved us to buy a bag of dog food and return to feed them. We found we loved this part of the island, away from the "High Rise" or "Low Rise" hotel neighborhoods, where we got a taste of how many people live on Aruba, in their (mostly) single-story, colorful houses along windy dirt roads.
A "natural" cacti planter?
Christmas spirit outside a bright home
It's the little things that we liked about Aruba. The beautiful sunsets, the warm-but-not-too-hot weather, the small beaches scattered across and the funky houses. Along one side of the island, wherever you are, you can just start wading. Many tourists praise Aruaba's restaurants. A broken refrigerator forced us to try a few. Madame Janette (expensive but great) and the Dutch Pancake House (cheap and good, but slow) were our favorites.

Sunset
The fresh morning air inspired me to start the day with a run. During the day we played in the water and read on the beach. We ended each day with a good meal.

As I sit in the sub-freezing, dropping temperature, it's hard to believe that Aruba is only 4 1/2 hours away. I hope these images have helped you warm up a little as you took a vacation in your mind.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cough....

I'd like to share an epiphany. I was going to write a blog earlier this week about how one of the benefits of being a "working Mom" is that when you do stay home from work because you, yourself (as opposed to your kids) are sick, people take it seriously and let you rest.

This is what I started to write:

Yesterday I was talking with my 13 year old buddy CM that being a stay-at-home Mom sometimes sucks because you can't really take a sick day. Her mom works full time in banking and rarely gets sick (they have good antibodies). I explained that when someone who works gets sick enough to stay in bed, it is expected that they stay in bed, or at least, horizontal. When you are at home all the time, it is assumed that you can spend your days napping at leisure, so why get sick?


But for a stay-at-homer, a long weekend plus a snow-day is overtime. My husband went into work and left me to deal with the injured dog and kids-play dates on the snow day. Not to mention laundry, grocery shopping and the aforementioned soup-making. Granted I could have opened a can of Campbells and proclaim dinner served, but I felt they needed a real meal...and I craved home-made food.

You get the gist of it. 

I realized that this isn't true. We, collectively as women, have been socialized that everyone else comes first. Perhaps, YOU, my reader (male or female, working/not) have no problem cuddling under a duvet when you are ill. Maybe it's specifically me? I'm the daughter of Gloria-don't cry-for-me-Argentina-martyr-syndrome. Maybe it's rubbed off? No matter what your age, your parenting status or your income, maybe you know better! If you are sick, sleep is the best medicine. Why should *I* be the martyr?

And I shouldn't! Last night as I truly believed I may cough up a lung, I had a revelation: If I'd stayed in bed for the first few days of this cold and slept it off, I could have been well already.

Instead I acted as if I were perfectly fine and now I'm paying the price. If martyrdom = illness. Time for healing = health.

Lesson learned. Today I slept late, and the kids managed to get themselves to school without my supervision. I didn't do anything stressful today (I didn't nap either, though). And while I didn't exactly order in, dinner is very easy-peasy. It's good to be needed, but it's acceptable to take care of myself first sometimes.

Just as we learn every time we get on an airplane. Adults sometimes need to get their own oxygen before they can assist others. A most important lesson!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January

"In January it's so nice
while slipping on the sliding ice
to sip hot chicken soup with rice
Sipping once,
Sipping twice,
Sipping Chicken soup with rice"

Isn't it nice when children's literature inspires you? I'm going to check the fridge and freezer right now. Chicken soup sounds perfect for dinner...

If you live near Bridgewater you don't need me to tell you the weather. Today it is everything but sun. We've had snow, we've had freezing rain and now it's raining. It's windy too. I'm still hacking away. My cough and cold reminding me that my time would be best spent in bed... except in order to get there, I have to put away the clean laundry.

***

Update:

Got to Wegmans and decided to try to make home made clam chowder. The butter and cream don't help my diet, but it just looked so good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A day of service?

It's Martin Luther King Day. My children are oblivious. To them it is a day off school to spend with friends. Say what you want about Obama, but I like that he is encouraging people to use this day for service to others.

I wish I'd spent my day in service to the needy... There's always room for improvement tomorrow.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

All the news that's fit to... um?

Some of the news that's fit to... um?

A HODGEPODGE of News that's fit for Soccer Moms!

When I grew up we had my local paper, which we referred to as The Star Regret but my Mom devoured daily. I haven't lived in that area in 20 years or so, but I still check it online every day. We had 2 TV affiliates based in my hometown... CBS and PBS's affiliates were 60 miles away, everything else was out of New York city. When I'm home I never miss the 11pm news, if only as comedic relief, because it always looks more like a college journalism class than a serious news broadcast. There are technical glitches, errors in information and, of course, enough grammar mistakes to make any English teacher cringe. But it's a local broadcast with reporters who speak my home-town accent and I love the sound they make. You can click on the local NBC affiliate here for a sample.

In Bridgewater I often feel disconnected. There is no local TV news just for Somerset County, despite the fact that the population base and the income level are much higher here than in rural New York State. Yes, I listen to NJN daily (the PBS/NPR affiliate) and on occasion News 12 New Jersey. But both of these sources seem to focus on Trenton, Newark and fluff from around the state. (NJN is actually quite good about state-wide school information). NJN is partially supported by the NJEA (the teachers' union for the state) and so I wonder if they are biased, but I don't mind, since it is often critical analysis of Christie vis-a-vis the education budget - and my Biggest Beef.

I also hear about "stuff" from New Jersey 101.5. They do focus on the whole state (again, mostly Trenton-based) but I find them at best challenging, at worst offensive and can't listen to them much beyond the 20 minutes or so when Jim G wakes me up raving about the Governor and beating up the teachers union each morning. It's not healthy to hear conflict as the first voices in my brain each day.

I must admit that I don't get the Courier News as a daily paper, but I do read it daily online, always clicking on Bridgewater under the Somerset News section. Often in vain. A week can go by before there is anything related to the school or the township. I realize that the Courier has very tight allocation of resources. Kara Richardson, who is the only reporter I know on the Bridgewater beat, is a nice woman, generally fair in her reporting, but she can't be everywhere. I also read the Bridgewater blog. But as a retired non-parent (his kids are grown) who is looking to control taxes at any cost, we sometimes attend the same meetings and walk away with very different opinions. He's a nice guy in person, but we can't help it - we see things very differently.

As far as the New Jersey's premier paper The Star Ledger - I read it through www.nj.com  only when I know there is an issue I want to follow up on, but not as my go-to news source. There is also the Messenger Gazette. I don't read that either daily, but always enjoy the free copy in my driveway every week (or two?). Finally, on occasion once a month I read BReeze. To me it seems like a High School paper. A friend suggested that it is actually run via the BREA (Teachers' Union for BRRSD). It doesn't appear to be  formally linked, but I don't know.  Do you?

Recently I've started to get news through Patch. They seem to be where the other papers aren't. And at a minimum, they focus on Bridgewater, so all news is local. There is a lot of sports coverage, and not having an athlete or a child in the High School means I'm only minimally interested, but they seem to send someone to every BOE meeting, regardless of the issues. The other papers are there on an as-needed basis.  I must admit that I haven't been to a single BOE meeting all fall as it conflicts with my C's TKD schedule and lately we've been with ES every Tuesday.

I do have one source that never fails: I have the network of local parents who know I'm interested and never seem to fail to keep me informed. Like it or not, they put a mirror of sorts in my face and make me see things critically that I've missed. I have a couple of friends who are especially well-tuned to what is going on in the area and keep me in touch. They e-mail me links, they post things on Facebook and the call with an appropriate "did you hear...?" It is through these kind of sources that I became aware of the local world and the politics surrounding the district. A Truman Show moment where I realized that things aren't as they appear.

So with so many sources, why isn't there one source that can streamline my needs for local news?  Something that filters for everything Bridgewater, but focus on the school district and township without a bias or a mandate? To facilitate this, I'm adding a news link section to the right on my blog. You can go here to find all the sources listed above.

Anyway, this is a long blog and not necessarily of interest to my F&F. I find that with all these sources, I am still best informed by my friends. People who ask questions and inform. Isn't that what a good source of journalism does? Thank you parent-journalists and paid journalists! I need you.

I'll end with the most important news: Diego seems much better today! He woke up doing a happy dance and that's the best news I can think of!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

SLOW DOWN BRIDGEWATER!

Last night at 7pm, our lovely dog, Diego the wonder dog got away from N who was bringing him from the line in the back yard. Diego ran toward the street and was hit by, or hit a car. The driver didn't even slow down after the thump...

Both N and Diego were pretty traumatized. We took Diego to Anemerge. The vet seemed nice, but ka-ching! Just a 5 minute visit and 2 prescriptions (an antibiotic and a pain med) cost $200 - it could have been ten times that if we followed her suggestion: leave him overnight for tests and stitches on multiple sores. We declined and promised to bring him to our regular vet this morning.


I'm so glad I followed my gut! Our vet, Dr. Sam at All Pets was great! He took us in immediately - no nurse getting preliminary information, just the vet, straight to the point. Dr. Sam brought me into the operating room before he started and showed me Diego's armpit. It looked much worse than I thought. When Dr. Sam said he might need surgery and a drain, I didn't doubt him. It turns out all he needed were stitches and staples, but they did put him to sleep. Before releasing him to me, Dr. Sam showed me all of his x-rays, his EKG and his blood work. He was very thorough and very inexpensive!

Diego's home from the vet, but not back to his old self
Whenever accidents happen - and they will happen - there is plenty of blame to go around. I should have supervised better. N should have been more careful in letting the dog in. The driver should have stopped, even if it was an accident. Although N said the car wasn't going really fast, it probably was faster than it should be on a dark residential road.

Several friends said I should report this to the police. But what good would that do? The police can't chase a car without a plate or a make and model. And if they did, beyond the monetary compensation to cover vet bills (and Dr. Sam was EXTREMELY generous!!!) how do you pay for the real cost: the trauma such an incident causes both pet and family?

I hope this teaches you - and me - to be more careful when driving. It isn't just the deer we need to look out for! It's our pets, our kids and ourselves.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Insensitive?

Sometimes I can be "very thoughtful". Tonight I brought the rest of our dinner to ES. Turns out I wasn't the friend who brought food. When I checked Facebook, this blog entry about bereavement foods came up as some sort of ironic timing. Bringing food to the sick isn't exactly bereavement, but it's not exactly a celebration dinner either. I practically begged ES, DS and LS to call me when their daughter (LS) needs something - ANYTHING - and to call anytime - even when C isn't home or isn't available. They were worried about being rude or pushy yesterday (and ES didn't realize that we'd invited LS over today), but I insisted that they call from now on. Watching ES and her family struggle through these weeks has been beautiful and painful. So many friends with the same message: let me help you, let me love you.

But as I inevitably do, I then said the wrong thing. "Please, please call me. All I have is time. I'm home all the time!"

How insensitive of me to state the obvious- time is, of course, the one thing ES doesn't have. Her time with us is nearly up. She's got plenty of love. She's got TONS of friends, a beautiful daughter, a loving husband.  Family surround her and help her each day. They have a lovely house, cars, etc...

Cancer has robbed her of her body. And her time. She's almost out of it.



I know it's a break-up song and mostly irrelevant, but right now I feel it's about my big mouth. I can bring a nice meal... knowing what to say is a lot harder!

"I’m out of hope, I’m out of touch
I fell too fast, I feel too much
I thought that you might have
Some advice to give on how to be
Insensitive"

The cons...

...of being a stay-at-homer...


 

In the world of banking and finance I'm a 2nd class citizen. This spring/summer I'll need a new car, but to get a loan I'll need a cosigner. None of my working friends would need this (unless they were buying outside their budget).

Even though most wives are in charge of household finances, and many of the most important decisions - wills, mortgages, savings, etc. - the banking world doesn't see us that way.

I wonder if I were a stay-at-home Dad would I be in the same boat?

And that doesn't even scrape the top of how women are treated on the car lot once we've figured out financing.... and the assumptions being made a mile a minute, whether you work outside the home or not. Can anyone say "pink minivan"? I guess I'm not doing much to help this stereotype. I'll be looking for a seven seater, after 3 years of a hot Acura sedan. We'll see what I end up with. But I promise you it won't be pink!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Toning down the rhetoric....

There was an interesting juxtaposition going on in my kitchen yesterday morning. In the background I was listening to NPR's Scott Simon discuss his friendship with Gabrielle Gibbons, in the foreground we were discussing me. Specifically, we (my daughter (C), her friend (who mostly kept quiet) and I) were discussing how virtually all of C's friends have been scared of me at one time or another. I loudly berate C for various things she does - real and perceived. I can scream, yell and nag for up to an hour after any particular incident. C reminded me that once I said no I wouldn't take them to the mall, and when the girl then called her mom to see if she would, I freaked out for no apparent reason. (I probably thought the girl was being manipulative, if one parent says no, try another). This week alone I have called my daughter, "The world's most spoiled child." I have also called her "vain" and "irresponsible" for wanting to wear brand new Uggs to the Bridgewater Sports Arena (if she weren't going with the church youth group, I wouldn't have let her go at all). Earlier this week I've also criticized her friends as being a bad influence on her and I also called the mother of one so-called bad influence "a complete idiot", referring to her behavior toward C's other friends. Did I use my outside voice? Yes, I most definitely did.

This morning the tables were turned as I made bagels and eggs for my daughter. My tone had softened despite having just listened to NJ 101.5 complain about the liberals who were criticizing Sarah Palin's rhetoric for possibly influencing the Arizona shooting. I'm sold! Sarah encourages people - on her website -to "take politicians out" if they disagree with her (Gibbons was on that list), plus she has a newly-canceled reality show where she proudly shoots things (well, only animals, I assume, since I didn't see it). My blood was boiling, but I called my daughter "sweetheart" as called her down to "please come eat your breakfast". My pre-dawn rhetoric was warm and loving.

How can I call myself a pacifist, or even an anti-bully when I yell at all the children in my life? It's to the point where my daughter and her friend both admitted that they don't listen to my rants half the time.

How do I convey my passion for whatever point I am trying to make (including how much I distrust my daughter's friend's Mom) without bordering on emotional abuse? How do I change my nature? Yoga? Pro.zac? Pot? Would Palin ask the same questions? Doubtful. Should I?

But there's the difference: I see my failings and that their continued toxicity can evolve into very negative results. Instead of pushing my daughter to be more responsible about her $150 boots, I know she enjoyed proving me wrong. Her boots weren't stolen on Saturday night.

While writing this, I started to read this article about Chinese parenting techniques.  Who knew I was part Chinese?! I don't call my kids fatty or trash - but I have called them lazy and spoiled - in fact I've used those terms regularly! Saturday's argument wasn't about homework or practicing, it was about responsibility: not wearing your boots where you shouldn't wear them.

But unlike the Wall Street Journal Super Chinese Mom (and clearly if she is a Yale-Professor and comments for the WSJ she is better than I am) my goal wasn't to boost C's self-esteem, it was to teach her that she needs to take care of her things. Of course, it backfired! I came off as the hysterical mother, shouting about nothing of consequence, she did what she wanted (wearing the shoes) and she showed how wrong I was (they didn't get stolen by BSA drug dealing 9th graders). Or did it? Did I teach her an even more valuable lesson: take care of your stuff or your Mom will be RIGHT?! The lesson, after all, was responsibility...

or was it?

Women demonstrate their power in many ways: successfully encouraging you to shoot your enemies, force-feeding their daughters piano practice to the best results and Sicilian-tempered rants and raves in order to save the Uggs. On the other hand, can't we women have our Prozac and be good moms too?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My LIFE program...

People who follow this blog because they know me outside of cyberspace know that about 4 years ago I participated in (and won - me? win anything?!) something called the LIFE program at Somerville Martial Arts. It was hard work and I was thrilled to pry the $850 bucks out of the owner's hand at the end of my hard work. I don't know when I've been so proud of myself as that day. I only lost a total of about 16 pounds, but I gained so much knowledge and self confidence that I surely thought my life would be different forever.

Old habits creep up, and before I knew it, my favorite Thai place kept showing up on the Mastercard bill and my new clothes seemed to have shrunk in the wash. That first summer I was complimented at the beach for my hot bod' but the following summer you could see I was back to my less than athletic self.

I tried several other times to return to my former winning glory but I fizzled out almost every time. According to SMAA's evil scale I'm within 5 pounds of my original pre-LIFE weight and my BMI begins with the wrong digit!

I'm 40 now. It's now or never. The longer I wait, the harder it will be to make these changes. So I'm trying again. What's my goal? It's not to be a certain weight - although that is a good way to measure my accomplishments. My goal isn't to be super skinny. I'm just trying to be more healthy. I know the program works even though I'll be the first to admit that I don't always agree with the owner's "bedside manner" (what would you call the equivalent in a studio?).

The program works because you get out of it what you put into it.

This morning was day one. I can tell I worked hard based on my aching muscles. As I said, you get out of it what you put into it... so for once a pain in the ass* is a great sign!


*And, no I'm not referring to the owner, I'm referring to my derrière!)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Where my thoughts are this week...

They are mostly with ES.

She is coming to the end of her 51-year life and she is doing so with dignity and with love. E is spending her final days as she seems to have spent all of them - focused on friends and family. I watch her with pain and admiration. It's like watching the Twin Towers fall - I'm powerless to change her fate, yet so overwhelmed by the enormity of it all that I can't think of much else. All I can do is be good to her daughter and take her to camp - that's the job she has delegated to me and some of our friends. She has found other tasks for others: help with the house, the finances, the computers. (I offered to make out with her husband from time to time... but I was clearly joking, in a small attempt to lighten her spirits, and I doubt he's interested, even if we had the same hair.)

And I can learn something: it is plain to see that what has mattered most to her in her life are her family - her daughter, mother, husband and siblings and the broad expanse of friends who are flocking to see her and spend any time they can with her in the time she has left. This is also the gift she can give her daughter in her final days: love counts.


I bitch and moan about a lot of things - the state of the schools, the state of my children, the state of the world, my lack of viable employment, the little things that happen to me every day. But when I think about it, there is one thing that I cannot deny - my focus in life is my family and my friends. It's how I spend my time... lunches, coffees and walks with my friends and family. 

I spent my youth traveling the world making friends and visiting them. In "almost middle age" I spend my time building a life full of love and friendship for my children closer to home. Except if we've been on vacation, I can't think of a 48 hour period in the last 10 years when one of my children did not spent time with friends.They too are learning that the cornerstone of life is friendship.

Perhaps my legacy won't be very different from E's?

Losing her is heartbreaking, and having only known her about two years. I can barely fathom the pain of her closest, lifelong friends. What a loss they must feel.

As I said, love counts. In the end, what you earned, what you weighed, where you lived are relatively meaningless.... whom did you love? How did you show that love? That's what life is about.

Monday, January 3, 2011

January 3rd... has a nice ring to it.

One of my favorite jokes as a kid:

Q: What happens if you play a Country song backwards?



A: You get your car back, your house back, your girlfriend back...

Today I get my house back... the kids are off to school and my mother- and father-in-law, who have been here since before the Revolutionary War (well, only since 12/15), fly home tonight.

There are no new guests on the calendar until Spring Break! 

Happy first day of school in 2011, everyone.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Minerva

C is taking Latin, as I've said before. She gets a lot of projects that require creativity, basic knowledge of Ancient Rome (the point, I hope) and some non-Latin skills. She did great on her last project where she outlined a Roman house and it's parts - she made sure that hers included a spa, as any dream house should!

This time she is making good use of a very expensive doll that has been lying unloved in a box in the basement: she is transforming American Girl Elizabeth into Roman Goddess Minerva. It is wonderful to see C use all of her creative juices in conjunction with her brain.  Can you believe that there is a site online that tells you how to make a toga for an American Girl Doll??? And while that was the original plan - C also learned women of ancient Rome (and their Goddesses) didn't wear togas. I had Latin for 3 years, I never knew that.

I am also very happy that she hasn't dropped the ball and left everything for Mom to fix. My soul contribution will be finding the needle and thread and taking her to the library (GASP - as an aside, they were closed - and it wasn't mentioned on the website) as she is finding the internet gives too much conflicting information.

It's nice to still be needed - it's nicer that she needs me less and less. It's been a long break. I've felt pulled in lots of different directions. So it's nice to watch her work. On her own.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Off to a bad start......

Last year I spent the evening of Jan 1st in the ER with my son. It was the first of some TWENTY January 2010 doctor visits where I schlepped the well or infirm to various doctors and hospitals. I hope that Jan 1, 2011 isn't indicative a of a month when people tease me....

I just got off the phone with a friend who asked me if I knew where my license was... I found it in my clutch in my husband's car where I left it the night before. Now I wish I didn't. One of the hostess' "friends" thought he was being really funny when he drew eyebrows and a goatee on my driver's license picture. It was "only" in ball point pen (I think he meant that he should be forgiven since it wasn't sharpee - it wasn't washable crayola either, like that would help), so I got 80% of the color out, but there are scratches that you can easily see around my mouth and chin.

Monday I get to go to the DMV and get a new license. Sucks to be me. If I worked, I could charge him for my time. Since I'm home and my time is "worthless", I can't even do that!

This is so high school and I feel as humiliated as if I had been bullied. The weird thing was that everyone was being so nice to me at the party and I left a different party (where people wouldn't do something like this) to be there! Even he commented on how nice it was to see me. His wife invited me to a concert with her and their friends in February... and irony would have it, I had put a note on her Facebook wall saying I was happy to see her yesterday - and she answered with the same.

I left the party thinking that I want to spend much more time with MB (the hostess, not the "license-artist") in 2011.  "I want to change my resolution to be in 2011 I want to spend more time with people I like." I just hope that the next time I see MB I am not associating this incident with her and her childish friends.

I know most people would just look forward to seeing this big jerk so that they could do something similar - maybe shave his head, or do something to humiliate him equally - but that isn't my nature. My nature is to cry and to internalize. And to worry...

... all this bullying in the schools. It's in the media, it's on the internet, it's in our lives everywhere today. Kids teasing each other and parents calling it "just being kids". C seems pretty immune... apparently she's in the popular clique in school, but that doesn't mean boys won't be mean to her. N on the other hand - the boys in his grade are awful and aren't afraid to be jerks, even in front of the teacher or parents!

Guess what, it still goes on when we are well into our 40s. And it hurts just as much as it did when I was taunted for my curly hair in Mrs. L's 2nd grade class or for a silly dance I did for the neighbor kids one summer. The whole school heard about it and repeated what I had said afterwards... the memory still biting. Some things never change. In high school, it was my friend's boyfriends who sometimes made me cry. Now it's their husbands.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can be nice for other people - knitting hats for the needy, surprising the school staff with cookies, hosting huge amounts of friends and relatives for a free stay in our B&B. Not to mention all I do for my family every day. I put other people ahead of me to a fault - I even felt guilty leaving my son to go and spend a few hours last night at a New Years party on my own. "Poor N" (really he was fine, playing his DS with the TV on in the background). It doesn't occur to me that people who be hurtful to me for no reason. "Why would you leave your license out?" someone just asked me...

...because in my friends' home why shouldn't I?



Postscript:

I guess I did react to something seemingly benign pretty emotionally. He thinks (I am guessing, if he even remembers) it was all in good fun. Fun is very subjective.
Don't feel bad for me. There are plenty of people in my life. And I don't feel sorry for myself. I just know who to avoid. T thinks I should send him a card thanking him for the 4 hours I'll be spending at the DMV next week. Perhaps I'll include a bill for a new license. 

Why should *I* feel that my stuff isn't safe on the kitchen table at a friend's house? I don't want to be that cynical!