Jun 30, 2010

Revolutionary Road--Warning

I'll do my best to avoid requiring a special spoiler alert but I just feel a duty to warn my fellow wives and mothers about Revolutionary Road.

I went in completely blank. I could tell from the trailer that it was some kind of heartbreaking/aching look at suburban life...but that's it. It might have been funny in parts, it might have been uplifting, it might have been any combination of suburban life and anything else. I wasn't quite sure. I did know enough to know that I wasn't really looking forward to seeing it. When was I going to feel like spending two hours away from my kids in a dark room watching a young vibrant couple deteriorate?

And then it went and got all mentioned at the Awards shows... and I ended up deciding that it was one of the movies I should see.

I went with another mom when the kids were at school on Thursday. We sat in a row behind Lauren Hutton--and I spent a little bit of time wondering if I should tell her that I was her personal shopper at FAO Schwarz about eighteen years earlier, and that I remember she had an eight year old boy with her who was in to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that I hand-delivered her purchase to her Noho loft, and then decided not to.

I won't give away any specifics about the movie, but I can say that when the lights came on again a few hours later my mom friend and I turned to each other in tears and said 'at least we live in Brooklyn...that's different, right?'

The movie's stayed with me these past few days. Every now and then I feel myself slipping into despair about all the dreams I had when I was younger and about how having children means that I won't ever realize those dreams, and I shake a mental fist at the movie for putting all that pessimism into me at such a vulnerable time.

I had breakfast with another mom the next morning and was telling her why the movie depressed me.

It hit me in all my weak spots, I said.

Like what? she asked.

Well, before my third child was born I had this idea that my husband and I could do a house swap for some portion of the year, and everyone kept telling me that I couldn't do that because of school. And I really hated hearing that because, like, who makes up those rules? Why can't we just live somewhere else for awhile and not get all trapped by the limitations of the school year and testing and stuff. And I half expected and fully hoped this friend to agree with me that anything is really possible and that I shouldn't feel like I can't have these enriching experiences just because I have children.

But she didn't. But you can't do those things once you have children, she said definitively and in a tone that made me feel like a silly little girl for thinking I could.

And I want to be strong in the face of it...just like Kate and Leo with their schadenfreudey neighbors. But it's winter time, and my mood is low, and even though I have the life I want and I'm even getting to do some great travelling in the midst of it, I've let go of certain dreams, dreams that people told me I shouldn't bother to have, but that I wanted to have anyway. And that's what depresses me.

So be warned, if you're thinking about going to the movie. Yes I live in Brooklyn (not Connecticut) and yes I saw the movie in a row behind Lauren Hutton which probably doesn't happen in the suburbs too much. But it got to me, and I can't let go of it. It's going to take a whole lotta lighthearted date movies (He's Just Not That Into You? anyone?) to bring me out of this funk.

Jun 29, 2010

So Long, Sarah

I have a secret to tell you, my four year old whispered to me on the couch a few weeks ago. She got up on her knees, cradled my head with her hot little hands, and managed the following, very serious statement:
Sarah's not real.

Wow. For over a year we've been hearing about Sarah. First Sarah lived in Africa. Then Sarah lived in a house in the woods somewhere near the Hudson River (she pointed it out as we drove over the Bear Mountain Bridge one Sunday in the fall). Sometimes Sarah lives in Manhattan--"Muh-hattan."

Sarah's parents were dead. Sarah has an older sister and an older brother. Sarah is much smarter than anyone else in our family.

When we were driving back from Ohio after Christmas we used our new blackberry/GPS device to find a family style Italian restaurant a few miles off the interstate. As we pulled up to it, the four older people in the car (ie. everyone but the four year old) were admiring the curtained and cozy little brick building--we were all so grateful for a change of pace from the same-old same-old service area places.
My daughter was unimpressed. Sarah brought me here when I was two, she said, dismissively.

It's been hard to keep up with Sarah these past two years. Sarah knows so much more than any of us do. One time when my daughter and I were butting heads about dressing warmly on a cold wintry day, I told her that it was going to be cold all day.

No, she said, it's going to be sunny.

No sweetie, the weatherman just said it's going to be freezing cold.

Well Sarah said it's going to be sunny.

Well maybe Sarah didn't see the news this morning.

No, she told me it was going to be warm out. And she told me--and then she paused for effect, and she slowed down her words so there'd be no mistaking her--before YOU were born.

So Sarah was a big know-it-all who breathed all kinds of words of wisdom to my four year old daughter, over forty-two years ago. It was pitiful watching my little one--the baby of the family--try to keep up in this world of taller smarter people, and kind of heartwarming that she'd invented this Sarah--a clear attempt to level the playing field a bit.

I'd often wondered how far to take the Sarah business. There was no evidence that my girl knew that Sarah wasn't real. While we never brought Sarah up out of nowhere, we did nod along and pretend to believe most of the stories that involved her.

The name Sarah would pop up here and there as well. Any new doll or stuffed animal was instantly named Sarah. And once, when recalling the day she was born my daughter told this story:

I was born at the dentist's office and you came to pick me up. And I wanted you to name me Sarah but you didn't so I was sad.

Sarah had hair like my daughter's (blonde), but then once it turned out that the lovely Asian dancer spinning in front of my family as they sat on a curb watching the Macy's Day Parade go by was Sarah.

It was hard to keep track of Sarah, and yet some things always remained the same.

I got worried one day when I was handed the telephone and told that Sarah was on the line. If I pretended to talk to Sarah wasn't I going a bit too far? Turns out Sarah wanted my girl to come for a sleepover. When I expressed concern that Sarah's parents had died so the two girls would be all alone, I was told that before they died they'd told Sarah that my daughter could come sleep over.

So, this Sarah isn't real comment was a bit of a jolt. Clearly my daughter was ready to put her to rest. The big question is: Am I?

Have you been waiting a long time to tell me that? I asked sympathetically.

Yes, she nodded.

Should we tell anyone else?

She glanced towards the kitchen where her brother and sister were doing their homework. No, they might miss her if we tell them she isn't real.

Well then, do you want to keep pretending that she is real. Just only sometimes? I asked--adopting her 'just-only' phrase, another thing I'm not sure I'm ready for her to be done with yet. She shrugged. We didn't hear about Sarah for about ten days after that.

And then, her PreK class went ice skating on Tuesday, and when I asked her about it in the car this morning she offered this:

There were lots of animals with us. And I only fell down once. And there was a unicorn, and I got to ride on it. And the animals weren't wearing ice skates, they just slid around on their hooves, and Sarah was there and everyone wanted to hold her hand. But she just only held mine. And when I fell down, I did a flip, and I landed on my feet.

I was glad to hear that Sarah made an appearance. They're much fewer and farther between these days.

Of course it's sweet that the unicorn was there too. None of the parents who chaperoned the outing mentioned that part to me.

Jun 28, 2010

The Downside of the Loftbed

We hear it from the moment our baby boys are born. Older people (and even younger people with older kids--who always end up feeling like older people) seem to love to tell us mothers of little boys that they'll grow up and leave us someday. My sister in law used to say she wanted daughters 'because they never really leave their moms.' It all kinda creeps me out, like there's some set rule out there. It's odd to think that my unique little baby boy could ever just become one of those grown up guys these women love to tell me about.

What a love affair it's been with this little boy! And to top it off he was kind of shy and preferred to be with me, hanging out, with us, in our living room, at home, than anywhere else. He wouldn't even take a class that didn't involve a parent being right by his side (we settled on rock-climbing, with his father spotting him). Of course we'd roll our eyes like everyone seemed to think we should and complain about his lack of independence, but frankly I didn't find anything wrong with it, plus I was perfectly content to hang out with him at home as well.

A few years ago his shyness morphed into an extreme self-awareness--almost like he was watching himself be a little boy, instead of just being one. By second grade he started to ditch us at the corner, half a block away from the school building. It was heartbreaking to watch, especially since I knew that he was aching to be with us. But I totally got it. I remember not wanting to be seen with my parents when I was a teenager. Sure, it was happening to him sooner, but the feelings still seemed the same--hyper-awareness of who he was in the eyes of the other kids, and a need to appear to have separated from his mom.

I stopped reaching for his hand when we'd cross the street. I stopped ducking back into his classroom to tell him things, I stopped waving hello to him if I saw him with his buddies in the school yard. Of course I'd keep my face open, waiting to return any gaze he'd send my way, but I wouldn't initiate anything. I respected his need to create his own little existence.

In our home he has the tiniest little bedroom at the top of our stairs. His two younger sisters share a larger room, and my husband and I have a medium sized room in the back. His room was so small that his door would bump into his bedframe when we opened it, and you had to sit on his bed to get the right leverage to open any of his dresser drawers. At one point, in a fury of adding things like floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and other desperate space-saving measures, we realized that if he had a loft bed that ran parallel to his back wall, he would have an entire room to play in, to celebrate all this new independence.

Some great workmen from Queens designed and built a really high bed, with a ladder leading up to it, and a built in desk underneath. When their work was done we all painted it, and the walls, a Shrek green. His favorite color. His room seemed enormous. The door opened all the way, he had his own little universe under the loftbed (he can stand straight up underneath it)--with his desk and his globe and his drawers and his chair and his desklamp. A little green paradise!

And then it came time to say goodnight. And I stood below him and watched him disappear up the ladder--almost like Jack climbing up the beanstalk. By the time he got to the top and pulled his barefeet off the ladder and onto the bed he looked teensy and very very far away. I tried, on a couple of occasions, to climb up with him, but the ladder was too vertical and while going up wasn't a problem, I had a genuine fear of getting in the right position to climb back down again.

The best I can do now, when I go in his room to say goodnight, is to reach up and grab a toe and wiggle it and say "I love you kiddo,' or something lame like that. There's no such thing as snuggling up with him, lying in his bed reading to him, or even stroking his forehead if he feels sick, or waking him up with a kiss.

Why didn't anyone tell me about this?

To make matters even worse, he's now a self-assured fifth grader, who will reach for my hand on occasion, even when his friends are around. Who wants to snuggle up and read, who wants me to come on his class trips, who gives me spontaneous hugs. I'm aware that this might be one big last push of closeness because he's sensing all the growing up that's just around the corner. But whatever it is, it's really there, and it's really great, and yet this crazy loftbed just makes some simple parenting moves feel impossible.

His loftbed makes him seem very very far away, which is kind of too bad since pretty soon he really might be really really far away, but right now he isn't, but still, he is.

Jun 27, 2010

Teller No, Teller yes

this originally appeared on nycmomsblog on December 11, 2008

This time of year is tricky, what with all the online shopping and packages that can never be received during regular daytime hours. I'm always either playing 'tag you're it' with the UPS and FedEx guys--scrawling notes on the backs of their slips with sharpie and rigging them to the door so they won't blow away but will be noticed by them on their return, or playing hide and seek with these same clever deliverymen who will sometimes take pity on me and find crafty places to hide my packages. Of course it always takes me awhile to think to read their handwriting, usually I just assume I've missed the package yet again. One guy leaves my boxes down in the stairwell (a dramatic word for the two steps down) of the garden apartment. Another guy sneaks the package between my garbage can and our neighbor's stoop, which makes me nervous because that's where we put recycling, sometimes, when our inside area overflows. Of course they only do this sometimes, and most of the time I just have to hope the planets line up and someone will be here to receive.

But the worst thing is to come home and find the vomit colored beige-pink slip from the post office several blocks away. Did they pick that gross color on purpose? How much different would it be if the slip was a pretty green, or a mango-yellow?

Of course once I read the fine print and realized that it wasn't just a plea to come try to find the package at the post office but rather, an invitation to a dialogue about how I might want them to attempt to redeliver it, even those ugly slips didn't seem so bad. I'd simply sign the back, stick it back on the door (again with clever rigging since it has no stickiness on it), and wait for the Post Office guy to bring it 'round again.

This morning however I got an email from Amazon stating that my post office had attempted delivery of my package (full of 'word combination locks' for my children--one of whom is anticipating a locker in middle school next fall, and the other of whom has taken up ice skating and so will need to become familiarized with the lockers at Wolman Rink, and the third of whom will need one just because the others have them) but that no one had been here to receive it (duh), and that it would be waiting for me at the post office.

This was confusing to me because I didn't expect the package for another few days, and because I never received the little slip notification from the post office.

After I dropped the kids off at school this morning I did a few errands and then attempted to return home only to find that my entire street was being blocked off for tree pruning. So when I set out to find a parking spot on another block my mind was doing its usual calculations about how I could maximize this unexpected extra mileage. I remembered the package at the post office.

I drove over and parked nearby and braced myself for what would no doubt be a really long and angry line. At one point my post office was rated 'worst in the city' and I heard a rumor that it was rated 'worst in the country,' but I never found evidence that that study had been done. There's no organization whatsoever, and long lines are often compounded by the fact that people who've gone to fetch something (like an ID) tend to be allowed to barge back into the building and go straight to the next available window ahead of the people in line. Sometimes the package slips are handled at the regular windows, and at other times, just as I'm about to get my very own teller, some new 'packages only' window will open up and I'll find myself forking over my slip along with about seventeen other slips and then they just come out in whichever order the grumpy teller deems fit.

When I got there there was no one in line. Hallelujah. I had no slip but I did have ID so I figured there'd be no problem. The woman however, wasn't interested in taking me at my word that I'd gotten an email from Amazon, even though I knew that the combination of a package with my name and address and my ID with matching information should have sufficed.

"We have a new system, since four weeks ago." She explained. Great. I needed the tracking order. A 'fine' escaped my clenched jaw and I turned to leave, visualizing the next hour or so, of looking for a parking spot, printing out my Amazon email, returning to find that dreaded long line, etc. All of this was feeling extra emotional to me since we only found out (yesterday!) that my four year old won't have school tomorrow, so my second day 'off' of the week wasn't going to resemble a day off at all (so much for slipping into a movie theater for a half price matinee while the kids were at school).

As I approached the door I found myself wishing there was some way to get that tracking number without going home and just as I was inventing a little handheld device that could access the internet it dawned on me...I already had one of those! I've had this Samsung Blackjack II now for about a month and despite the fact that it's been fun to check email on the fly (and depressing to realize that I don't get that many interesting emails), my main issue with it has been that I don't get reception in building where I teach three days a week--seems at&t doesn't work, t-mobile works fine, and Verizon works in all areas, even the basement and the elevator. So I've owned this little at&t device but because of the at&t poor-reception complication it hasn't felt like a life-saver yet.

Until today.

I whipped it out, and within minutes I'd called up the Amazon email, followed links to the tracking page, and was writing the tracking order down on paper for the teller, who seemed a lot friendlier this time around.

She was able to locate the package (eventually) and even called me 'sweetheart' as I left. There were tears in my eyes as I left, but not the same kind that I'd fought back moments earlier when I'd turned away in defeat, cursing the inhumanity--distraught at the fact that I could prove who I was and where I lived but that that wouldn't hold a drop of water in the face of their new and impersonal 'numbers only' system.

So an enormous personal victory today at the post office. Hard to believe I'd ever write that sentence. Anyone who lives in this part of Brooklyn would understand.

Jun 26, 2010

I Love You But...

this post appeared on nycmomsblog.com on November 16, 2008

I love my family. My husband, my kids, my sister, my in-laws, my nieces, my nephews. I love my dad. I love my mom, my sister... I love my friends. But on the first Sunday of every November, every year, as I stand on the sidewalk just around the corner from my brownstone, I am struck with the realization that I probably don't love them enough.

For My Dad With Cancer! screams the permanent marker scrawled across the back of some NYC Marathon runner's purple shirt.

Running for My Mom!

In Loving Memory of (fill in the blank)! And so on and so forth.

The NYC Marathon becomes a blur of fast-moving, dedicated, people who love their families more than I love mine.

As I stand there applauding and shouting out the name of every person who bothered to draw their name out of tape on their shirt "Go Lucy! Great job Robert! Lookin' good James!' I feel like less of a human being. Do I even have a heart?

Probably not.

It's possible that the voice in my head that doesn't want me to work out is stronger than my capacity to love the people in my life. The few times I've tried to run more than a few blocks (and of course, I have to be wearing the exact right no-bounce bra--one that's earned 5 barbells in the Title Nine catalog--or I can't even attempt to dash across the street) my head is filled with this:

Oh, come on. Give it a rest. What's the point. You hate this! It'll never be over. This is going on forever. Nothing about this is good. Everything hurts. Just stop, why bother?

Stuff like that.

So family members and friends, I've said this to you every November, and I'll say it again. I will be so sad and sorry for what happened. I'll miss you more than I can ever explain. I will be filled with grief and I will pull the curtains closed and eat chips and dip in front of the television for months. I'll shave my head, I'll get a tattoo. I will go to a thousand dark movie theaters and sob away, in between milkduds. I will be unable to get out of bed.

I might consider moving to the Seychelles and starting over. And I might consider going about my life, business as usual, but with a hole in my heart, eyes that will never see the same way, and a brain that will be forever altered. And I might consider doing something heroic in your honor. But training for and then running twenty-six-point-something miles? Forget it.

I'll draw your name on my shirt. I'll wear that shirt all the time. I love you, everything I do will be for you. But I won't do that.

Jun 25, 2010

His Sister--His Beard

I leave in a few minutes to take my daughter to see High School Musical 3. I'm dragging her ten year old brother along with me.

Actually, that's what he's hoping it looks like. In reality, we chose the 6pm movie time so he could come. The 4:40 time we originally chose would have clashed with baseball practice. And he wouldn't miss that for the world.

Poor guy, having to schlep along to see HSM3, right? But that's life with a little sister.

And he's pretty discerning about movies. He actually didn't want to see Wall-E this past summer, and Journey to the Center of the Earth came close to not being, I don't know, man enough? for him. He's more of an Ironman, Hulk, Dark Knight kind of kid.

But he does tend to gravitate towards the TV in the afternoon when the girls are watching Hannah Montana. And as the chief DVR-operator in the family, makes sure to tape High School Musical and other similar movies when he finds that they'll be coming on. Then he usually hounds his almost less-interested sister into watching them with him. Come on! he'll scold, we have to watch this before it gets erased! Once it's on, she'll drift away here and there, but he remains glued, blaming her for making him watch it, but glued nonetheless.

I remember growing up with a sister and being very intrigued by boy stuff. This is definitely one of the perks of growing up with opposite sex siblings. Maximum curiosity-satisfying. My poor son has had friends--boys with older or younger brothers--show up to play with him, and then watched in horror as they've gotten drawn into games of house, or family, or gotten sidetracked by Polly-pockets. Of course now that the boys are all ten they're officially uninterested in the girls' things. Officially uninterested, that is.

Unofficially? Who knows?

Last night he reminded her that the movie was opening today and then whumped in the car this morning when he found out we were aiming for an earlier show that would begin while he was still at practice. He acted like we were over-planning and, in a very casual slightly annoyed voice with the perfect tone of put-outness, suggested why don't we just all go together tomorrow or something? For logistical reasons, she and I decided to stick to the 4:40 plan, and I dropped them off at school. But as the day went on I started to feel bad for him. When would he get another chance to see High School Musical 3? When would the 'ugh they made me do it' moment happen for him, if not tonight? So I picked up some 6pm tickets, and I'll spring it on him at the end of baseball practice at 5:30.

Quietly, of course.

I won't say what we're doing in front of his buddies. I'll just let him complain about it in school on Monday with all the other boys who have sisters. Poor guy.

Jun 23, 2010

Average Joe Lane

originally on nycmomsblog, summer 2008

I was watching the Olympics from my hotel room in Florida and noticed a guy named Keith Beavers from Canada preparing to jump in the water to swim in some competition that ultimately resulted in Michael Phelps winning another gold. This Beavers guy had an Olympic Rings tattoo on his bicep (or tricep?)--somewhere on his upper arm. He clearly got this tattoo in excitement about participating in the Olympics. You go guy. Good work, must have been a long hard road to get here, etc. etc. etc. Of course, the race began and he was in lane 2 and he ended up coming in 8th and it's hard NOT to watch and think--hmmm, kinda slow.

Of course this guy's not slow! Of course he's an incredible talent. But we'd just been shown this piece about Michael Phelps' 'genetic superiority' (a phrase that made me cringe as they broke down his parts, "dinner plate sized hands," size 14 feet that "may as well be flippers," the legs of an average man, the torso of a really tall guy...)--and, frankly, everyone else seemed kind of regular after that. Even the guy who ended up being the 8th fastest 200 meter individual medlier in the world.

Which is why I'd like to propose the Average Joe Lane.

How slow do the other swimmers look when the winner blows past them to the finish? Michael Johnson used to make the other guys look like they were stuck in mud or like they thought the race was over half way before they got to the finish line. You kind of felt bad that they even showed up. And let's face it, the guys in the outer lanes in the swimming pools look like they're just there as filler. Wouldn't it help put things in perspective (for all of us couch potatoes, eating York Peppermint Patties while watching the Olympics) to see how fast the average guy could run? swim? I don't know...throw a shotput?

I'm not suggesting that there be regular guy lanes in all the events. It clearly wouldn't make any sense in gymnastics--though it could be awfully entertaining. I've heard that the average American can do zero chin-ups. Does that mean that for every American who can do one there are about a dozen that can't do any and for every American that can do twenty there are two thousand that can't do one? (I'm in the can't do any category, by the way. Full disclosure, and all that.) I imagine an average American guy attempting to do the rings in the gymnastics competition and basically just hanging there from the rings yelling 'ouch' the whole time. I suppose watching Meredith Viera flop around on the gym equipment at Chelsea Piers while Shawn Johnson looks on supportively and amused comes close, but again, I don't need any help realizing how difficult those balance beam moves must be. I get it. I can't even stay on the tightrope in the wii fit game. It's hard, we know.

I am suggesting there be a regular guy lane in any sport with lanes. Any straight up race, that'd be a good place to start. Let's say the lane had a sponsor; we could have the Starbucks Average Joe Row, or the Doritoes Regular Dude Ditch. My sister came up with the La-Z-Boy Lazy Guy Lane. That has a nice ring to it. People could win the chance to be in the lane by tearing off labels or scratching off that silver film with a penny.

Perhaps the Average Joe could be plucked from the crowd minutes before an event. It's important that there be no opportunity to train for it. Average Joes finding out they were about to board a plane to China would be given a pretty broad packing list (swim suit, sneakers, sports bra...) and it would be great if the person could have average measurements or something. But that might be asking too much.

As much as I've been into watching these Olympics (and I never think I will be, it always sneaks up on me), it's not the gather-the-family 'round the tv opportunity I'd hoped it would be since the time difference with Beijing puts all the fun stuff on way after the kids have gone to bed. Having an Average Joe lane would really change it I think. It would, at least, make that Beavers guy seem more deserving of those rings on his arm.

In one swimming event, the announcer said about one of the faster women she doesn't like to do the hard work if she doesn't have to (explaining some rare necessary surge on her part). Hey, me neither! That's why I'm not an athlete, that's why I'm not in the Olympics. I'm like that swimmer, I tell myself, as I pop another snack into my mouth.

See? It's really really easy to sit and watch and feel kind of like 'maybe I could do that if I liked doing hard work.' And it's thoughts like that, coupled with my thinking that the 8th fastest guy in the world is a little slow, that make me realize that I could use a little perspective.

From my couch, in my air-conditioned hotel room, on my beach vacation, far from anything that resembles hard work.

Jun 22, 2010

World Wide Day of--Whoops

My four year old woke up Saturday morning and put her soccer uniform on. Navy blue top with flames on the shoulder, maroon shorts, with a scratchy white waistband, 'knee badges,' and those impossibly thick navy socks. I said 'Oh there's a Blue Dragon in my house!' and she nodded in agreement since that's the name of her team. She smiled and added, but not a really scary one.

She then waited patiently at home while her brother and sister were shuffled to and from from their own athletic events. She played with her imaginary friend Sarah (who has several houses: one in Africa, one upstate near a little bridge in Beacon), and sat and played her new Zingo game by herself (I think..but Sarah might have been there) for about forty five minutes. Zingo had been a surprise gift for her yesterday when, after having her walk fifteen blocks under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway with me to fetch our car from a mechanic, I had to drag her to two different Brooklyn neighborhoods to fetch aforementioned brother and sister from various friends' houses.

At eleven thirty she ate half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then went off to soccer where she played like she usually does--running around the field after the ball, waving and beaming at everyone on the sidelines, stopping the ball with her hands to line it up for a perfect kick (a tactic that doesn't fly with the referees), and generally exhausting herself.

When she came home she took a bath and then asked to watch some television and I ushered her upstairs to watch a kids' show, because the guys were watching a crucial Mets game (the one where Santana ended up pitching the entire game). We turned on Noggin and saw a placid little scene with some fish in an aquarium. I checked the guide and noticed that the same 'show' was playing on Nickelodeon, our other favorite channel. Three hours of something called World Wide Day of Play. Hmm, maybe three hours of fun kids' shows? Perfect!

We watched the scene a little bit longer and then some words began to race along the bottom of the screen. Something like: Noggin is participating in Nickelodeon's World Wide Day of Play, a day when we celebrate all things active, so turn the tv off, and go play! We'll be off the air from 12noon to 3pm. Have fun!

My four year old and I stared blankly at the screen, waiting to see if the same words would rush by again, or if we'd just hallucinated. And then, here they come again...is this really happening? A warm sense of community flooded over me, what a great idea! Followed by a tinge of guilt, oh I'm one of the idiots who actually needs Nickelodeon to tell me to spend more quality time with my daughter.

Oh look, I said, playing along. They want us to go play instead of watching tv. Freshly bathed from her muddy midday soccer game, she looked up at me incredulously.

See? Those words are telling us to turn the tv off and go play a fun game! I wasn't sure if I'd have the stamina to keep up with a fun game, but it was still kind of interesting and I was inspired to share it with her. She looked back at the screen. Moose A. Moose walked on from stage right. 'Hey what are you still doing here?' he asked, looking out at us, standing there in the upstairs bedroom. 'You should be playing something! Turn off the tv!' (something like that).

Look, even Moose A. Moose wants us to turn the tv off and go play, I said.

But I want to watch Dragontales, she said.

Ummmmmm (I'd like to think this pause lasted longer, but it really wasn't that long). Okay, I said, scrolling through the higher numbers to find Kids On Demand. Select. Preschool. Select. PBSKids. Select. Dragontales. Select. Some episode about teamwork. Select. And I left her alone in the room, with a tiny bowl of cashews and almonds. A good snack for my soccer star, right?

A World Wide Day of Play a nice idea. But it's also nice to have about a zillion other opportunities to call up some great show for her.

Today is a rainy rainy Sunday, and she just spent the morning playing dodgeball and capture the flag in the backyard with her older brother and seven of his best friends. And once we get back from Gus's birthday party at two, it'll be nice to curl up and watch some kids' shows.

After a World Wide Morning of Play, we're ready to soak in some shows.

Jun 15, 2010

To Read or Not To Read

I just got home from Curriculum Night at my kids' wonderful public school. No matter what grade a child is in, the teacher reminds the parents to read to their children. It's a promise that we continue to make, year in and year out, PreK on up to fifth grade. As they get older they're supposed to take on some of the reading, but we are never supposed to stop reading to them ourselves. Apparently it's great for them to hear more complicated passages and ideas--it builds their vocabularies and expands their minds, and makes them ready for higher levels of reading themselves.

I don't do this. Isn't that terrible? It's really the one thing they keep drilling into us. Read to your children. Keep on reading to your children. Read, read, read. I get it.

My kids have never known the feeling of curling up with one of us, hearing Harry Potter or Little House, or Anne of Green Gables, or whatever. I've read to them before. My son and I read The Great Illustrated Classics version of Frankenstein, and The Prince and The Pauper. And I read The Secret Garden to my daughter. But these are the exceptions...the handful of books I can recall sharing with them. And my oldest kids are only eight and nine. Still at that cuddle-up-and-read age (something that, apparently, won't be true forever).

So what's my excuse? I've done some of my own calculations on the subject (never a good thing, given my inability to consider dissenting opinions with a clear head) and I'vecome to believe that it's not about the reading, but rather the quality time with an adult. I choose to share my quality time with them in different ways.

We play lots of games. Skip-Bo is a favorite game of ours, and fantan too. Very simple concepts, but still room for bits of strategy here and there. The Game of Life is too long for pre-bedtime, and Clue should be perfect, except that my mind isn't usually that sharp at 8:30 or so (were there always so many rooms?) and then everyone's mind wanders a bit, and then it takes longer than it should. Qwirkle is a huge favorite--a little known game where you build on shapes and colors with tiles, kind of like Scrabble. Set is fun too.

And then there's the old 'event tv' bit. I know it's a cheap move, but we really do enjoy bonding around American Idol, or a crucial Mets game (like the one being played right now). Huddled under a blanket offering up criticism, taking turns singing during the commercials, or second and third and fourth getting some bad call? It all feels like classic family time to me.

These things are more my speed than curling up with a book. I have plenty of guilt about it--I am a big reader myself, but rarely 'model' it around the kids since much of my reading time takes place on the subway to and from work. Wouldn't it be great if they came into my room at night to ask a question, and found me wrapped up in a novel rather than catching up on last night's Daily Show? Yeah, it would be great. Just not now, not in this lifetime.

Plus I've tried reading to them at night and I really struggle with it. I'm just too tired by night time to be able to keep my focus, and have often reached the end of a passage without having paid attention to a single word of it. What's the point of that then? That doesn't seem like sharing. And there's often more inflection in my voice from trying to stifle yawns than from any kind of animated reading.

So there we were, just a few hours ago, perched on desks and tables at Curriculum Night. The principal smiled her knowing smile and urged all parents to continue reading to their children--she gave a nod and a warm smile in my direction (I have the kind of face that makes people think I'm ultra-responsible) and I smiled back knowing that she heartily assumes that I'm a shining example of a parent who reads to her children. But that knowing smile was a lie. My kids are missing out on something I've promised to offer them. And I won't get this time back, and so on and so forth. But they sure do know how to hold on to a seven in fantan, and how to play the wild cards in Skip-Bo. And maybe they'll be okay after all.


My eleven year old son is mad at me. He's the only one of his peers who isn't allowed to have a Facebook account. I can handle him being annoyed with me about this, it's simple to me. I won't let him lie about his age and claim to be thirteen. That just seems wrong.

It's very clear-cut. In fact it's just about the ONLY clear-cut thing to me these days. When he's thirteen I'll sign him up myself. I have an account. I have nothing against it, and can see how it could even be a useful, if not insanely hovering, way to keep track of him, see what he and his pals are talking about, and so on and so forth.

A few months ago I sat with him to help him sign up for Facebook and it kept refusing him. Eventually I realized it was because he was too young. We tried to sign him up again, and I just kept looking at the birth-years it was offering. Having him claim to be born in 1996 was just so wrong to me.

I'm not always this clear on things. I don't have a firm stance on teeth-brushing (once a day is fine? skip it? no problem), movie ratings (I took him to see R-rated Kick-ass a few weeks ago and we both loved it), and we have very few limits on television--even just let him watch this (particularly brutal) season of 24. And in many ways I'm more permissive than many of these other moms. He's been riding the subway independently since he was ten, and did I mention I took him to see Kick-ass?

I've always enjoyed letting him be as up on what's current as he wants to be; I'm happy to send him out into the world able to keep up with water-cooler conversation. His love of Yu-gi-oh, and his ability to hold his own in a conversation about it, is what firmed up a bunch of his friendships on the first day of kindergarten, when he went off--painfully shy--to a brand new school. In theory I'd love him to have a Facebook account so he could communicate with every other boy in his class who has one. His email box is always full of new invitations to join. He can't believe I won't let him.

And I can't believe I'm the only hold-out. I'm universally undecided about things, and easily swayed.

I have a friend who feels like tattoos are the devil (I don't) and would much rather have her daughter pierce her belly button than ever ever get a tattoo. This baffles me, and reinforces for me how wishy-washy I tend to be about certain things. In my mind the piercing is so much more drastic. But tattoos or piercings? I don't know how I feel about them. And in reality, I'd probably be fine with either one.

But lying to join Facebook? I'm clear on this. I've let him order things online where he's had to check a box saying he was 18--because it was a one-time purchase and he was just the one at the keyboard handling the transaction. But claiming to be two years older to enter into this whole Facebook thing just seems drastic. He'll probably be on Facebook for the rest of his life. It's a longtime relationship, not a one-off like a movie or a pair of sneakers. I had a shtick at one point about how he'd be aging himself by two years, and that that would just be a crazy thing to do since those extra two years would just follow you online--forever (college applications, job interviews). It does occur to me though that you can probably change your age as often as you change your profile picture or your status. Maybe that's what all his friends will do (will the people at Facebook notice that some kids stay thirteen for two or three years?) Still. It just seems wrong.

And all of his friends are doing it? What are all of these parents thinking? Some of the most hyper-worried overly protective moms I know are allowing their eleven year olds to claim to be thirteen? Seriously, I'd love to know why. And not because I'm freaky-prudish about things because I am not freaky-prudish about anything. I'd just love to know how they justify it. I'm very curious to know how I--of all people--am the single unflinching parent out here. I am never THAT parent.

In order to join Facebook you have to be at least thirteen. Sorry kid. You're not.