Monday, July 29, 2013


I’ve always considered myself a fairly lazy person. When I’m busy I yearn for the time to just sit around and do whatever I want. Turns out I’m not so good at it.

Take right now. Husband is at work. Teenager 1 is at work. Teenager 2 is on vacation with a friend’s family. I’ve had the whole day to myself and I have spent it wondering what I should do.

Most days there’s a list of things I have to do. So I put myself on an incentive program. I make myself do the things I have to do, and then I feel justified in doing the things I want to do. So it was today. I paid bills, took the dog for a walk, sent pertinent emails to pertinent people, put workout clothes on thinking it would make me more inclined to workout (it didn’t). All those things done, I prepared to take myself to a movie.

Incoming text: “Mom can you drop of my compression shorts?”

This task would be in the opposite direction of the movie. Realign plans. No movie today. Drop off shorts, return books to Barnes & Noble, go to Petsmart.

Outgoing text: “I’ll be there at 2:30.”

Incoming text: “Actually I’m fine.”

Oh. Okay. Now the window of opportunity for the movie is closed.

What to do now? I could tackle the list of things I should do. Filing. Prepping hallway walls to paint. Purging teenagers’ rooms of crap. Writing that Star Wars/Improv book. But should doesn’t have a deadline, and I’m not in a should mood. Problem is I can’t do most of what I want to.

I want to jump in the car and go to the shore for a couple of days, but I have a meeting tonight.

I want to drive up and see my best friend in Vermont, but husband would secretly resent that, though he’d be outwardly supportive.

I want to go to the outlets and buy useless things at discounted prices, but I just paid bills today and reality forbids such an excursion.

I want to sit at an outdoor café in a carefree manner with friends and laugh and eat cake, but my friends are at work or in Vermont.

So instead I do nothing as I linger in a limbo of the magnetic fields of Have-to, Should and Want.  I feel I must cede control to Have-to and Should in order to deserve Want.  And so I fill my life with Have-to and Should, because, lets face it, those are the things that make us feel relevant. If I have to do it, I must be necessary. If I want to do it, I must be self-serving. And we can’t have that, despite what the airline guidelines are for affixing oxygen masks. I know the trick is to convince myself that the Have-tos and Shoulds are actually Wants, but lets face it, mopping the kitchen floor and reorganizing the medicine chest are never going to hold the same allure as sitting in a beach chair with my feet in the water while reading the latest Maisie Dobbs mystery.

So I keep my tally sheet of Have-tos and Shoulds until I’ve checked off enough boxes for a free Want. My life has become a Starbucks frequent customer card.  Balance, balance, balance-it adds depth, meaning, and focus to life. It’s what I’ve always done. It’s what I know I should do.

So I bet you can’t guess what I want to do now…

(P.S.: Ironically, now that I've written this I feel I've earned a reward)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Reading

Just kill me now.

My kids have to read 4 books a piece this summer. Just four books. One required book, and then they are free to pick the other three. Free. Wheee.

Does the game guide to Skyrim on XBOX count? 

How about the blogs for how to improve your performance in League of Legends the online game du jour?

The description of the next Dr. Who episode?

The backs of cereal boxes?

Because these are the things my kids want to read, this is what they would like to be  “free” to read. Surprisingly these are not on the list of suggested reading. That list is composed of books 300 pages and longer which is perfect for apparently every child other than the ones living in my house. Because, according to 87% percent of the parents I talk to(statistic is arbitrary and made up) their kids can’t get enough of reading, they love reading, they live for reading. These children, will, undoubtedly, go to Princeton and Yale and, one day, employ me shaking their heads in bemused disdain as I clumsily negotiate the word processing programs that will at that time be implanted in our heads.

I have a confession to make. I hated summer reading when I was a kid and it wasn’t even as strict as it is now. I liked the thought of filling out the progress sheets the library handed out, but often lagged in momentum as the summer waned on and afternoons at the pool ogling cute boys took precedence. Reading was not my go to form of recreation or escape; I preferred reruns of the Bionic Woman and playing Charlie’s Angels in the backyard with my sister.

So now I am in a tricky spot where I have to be the hammer and get my kids to do their summer reading. There is no respite from my school-year nagging for them to do their homework. It is subtly re-named "summer reading" as if putting the word "summer" in front of it implies a sense of playfulness and whimsy. But it is, in fact, my kids’ least favorite thing to do over the summer. They would actually prefer taking out the garbage, loading the dishwasher and picking up the dog poop in the back yard to reading.

And my husband and I did all those things the articles, and books and Dr. Nancy Snyderman told us to do. We read to our kids since they were babies. We surrounded them with books in their room. We read in front of them, modeling I believe the technical-intimidate-other-parents- with-my well-informedness term is. We turn off the internet we still get a paper delivered to the house. We talk about books, at the dinner table. And yet, my kids still prefer any other activity to reading.

If they are truly free to read whatever they want outside that one required book, can’t we expand the scope of what that includes? How about comic books? Graphic novels? A really great article in Sports Illustrated? An in depth analysis and review of Assassin’s Creed? The back of healthy cereal boxes?

I’m interested in my kids being curious and reading the source material that feeds that curiosity. I do believe they need to be pushed to explore things they have hastily written off in order to fully understand and rediscover the things they truly love the most. I mean the whole reason they are drawn to Skyrim and League of Legends is because of the story aspect. It’s not just to win and blow the heads off of mythical creatures and aliens, they stick with it because they are invested in their character’s story. I know this because I have sat and listened to remarkable detail in the re-telling of their latest victory complete with names I will never remember and specific verbal renderings of weapons, armor and foes.

And why do they seek out the next new game, or the next new tweet or the latest Facebook status update? They are hooked on the stories inherent in these medium. How will that flirtation end up? Will he win the race? How can I defeat the dragon next time?

We read to see ourselves in the lives of other characters, whether to escape, or relate. We seek to know what we would do in that situation or to gain validation from a similar choice or outcome, or to see what is the next possible or inevitable. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, Facebook fact or fiction, video game fiction, we are all just seeking to understand our place in the universe and that can happen in a magnificent book, and it can also happen in the collection of stories we find in so many other sources.

Yet until that particular wardrobe door is opened to that strange new world of possibilities, I will continue to bribe, threaten and dupe my kids into completing their summer reading beating it into a joyless obligatory pulp.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Cereal Box Wisdom

Kids are expensive, but not in the way you think.

Yes, they eat a lot, want name brand shoes and clothes, want the latest IPhone, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Those are the expenses you expect and commiserate about with other parents at polite dinner parties and barbecues in an Ephron-esque way.

But the expenses they don’t tell you about in “What to Expect While You're Expecting” or whatever book is currently THE book to read when you’re pregnant are the hidden fees and charges. It’s the cost of doctors, tutors, specialists, medication, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, when it turns out that perfect child of yours is “complicated.” It’s not college that’s going to put us into debt; my kid is struggling now, and I can’t buy him out of it, but I must pay the people who can help him through it.

So, I’ll take this job and that job, and my husband will make those 45 calls to find the in network specialist who is also highly recommended, and we will use our credit card checks to pay for the tutor, and I will stop visiting Target for therapy, and I will not spend extra money on organic vegetables, and I will cancel my Netflix subscription because my kid is not perfect, but he is extraordinary in his own right, and he can’t see it. And the world doesn’t get how hard he works each day without even knowing it to survive what seems normal to the rest of us. And if I can help him, than money will be no object.

And we are lucky. There are many who have it unspeakably harder than we do. And their children are extraordinary and expensive in all the ways they never expected.

And that is why I sometimes tear up when I’m choosing a cereal to buy, and I want the Cinnamon Chex, but it is $4.79 and the Post Raisin Bran is on sale for $2.50. But I don’t want Post Raisin Bran for dinner tonight (because now that I’m a grown-up I can eat cereal for dinner if I want), I was really looking forward to Cinnamon Chex, but it would be irresponsible of me not to get the cereal on sale, because that extra $2.29 will surely keep us from bankruptcy.

So I buy the Post Raisin Bran and I feel in control of something, even if only for an instant. An unrecognizable instant that won’t guarantee all good things for my kids, but it’s got eight essential vitamins and minerals, and it was only $2.50, and, in its own small way it contributed to the possibility of all good things for my kids.

So, yes, kids are expensive in predictable and unpredictable ways, but expensive and impossible are not the same things. I’ve learned many things from the back of a cereal box, but who knew that two scoops would make the impossible feel possible.

Monday, July 8, 2013

In Defense of Swearing

So, my kid swears. I don’t encourage it, I don’t reward it, I don’t like it. But it happens. And let’s be honest, he learned it from Husband and I, at least initially.

I’d like to blame the many people who changed lanes in front of me without signaling and my stove for heating up the skillet handle too hot and the grocery store for building its parking lot on a cart-hating hill. But I can’t hide behind the “McDonald’s coffee was too hot defense.” I chose to swear in those moments, and even though I apologized for my language and explained why it was wrong, the damage was done.

Toss in a little locker-room banter at school and a few too many un-supervised movie rentals at friends’ sleepovers, and their education in profanity was complete. They’ve been handed a one-way ticket to Scorcese-ville and Tarantino-Town. Their lives are doomed and my parenting legacy forever tarnished by the anticipated judgment of every other perfect parent out there who has managed to create a Bedford-Falls-like innocence for their cherubic offspring.

Unless that’s all bullshit.

I’ve never warmed to South Park because of the whole kids swearing motif, and I cringe every time my son lets loose with a profanity-laden rant. But let’s be realistic, they know these words. They use these words. Living in denial about it won’t make it stop. Like condoms, drugs and alcohol, we just need to teach them how to use these words responsibly. So here it goes:

1.     Do not swear in front of teachers, grandparents, referees, the police, the clergy, or basically any grown-up who has the power to expel, disinherit, and arrest you or bar your entrance into heaven.

2.     Do not swear in front of children 12 or under. Adopt the PG 13 rule.

3.     Do not swear at your parents in anger if you expect them to continue to feed and clothe you.

4.     When hanging with friends, do not use swear words in a derogatory way about any of their female relatives.

5.     Do not swear on a first date; looks like you’re trying to hard.

6.     Do not swear in front of babies, they pick up everything.

7.     When adults fuck up, do not use that as permission to say whatever you want. We all know you have better judgment than that.

8.     Do not swear to hurt or intimidate. It’s wrong, and you never know who is filming a documentary.

9.     Do not swear on Facebook, it will come back to haunt you in a future Senate hearing.

10. In a pinch have Shakespearean and Scooby Doo swear words at the ready. A well placed Fie, Zounds or Jinkys is charming, creative and scores key restraint points.

11. Do not swear in the Lincoln Memorial

12. If you violate any of the above rules, apologize immediately, show genuine remorse and take out the garbage without being asked for the rest of your life.

I’d like to be the perfect parent, with a swear jar and adorable kids who blush when they accidentally say “Damn,” but reality keeps getting in my way. I’d rather my kids learn responsibility than hypocrisy. They’re in a world where they hear swear words, not just from Husband and me but from friends, relatives, music, movies, Facebook and beyond. They’re going to get drunk on the novelty of the F-bomb at first, but once they emerge from the hangover it is my job to teach them the power of words and intentions and how to think before they speak.

I am not advocating buying the little board book Baby’s First  *#%*!  Curse Words(though if it exists, let me know, because, what a great stocking stuffer). But there does seem to be a middle ground between Leave It To Beaver and South Park where reality meets surprise and challenges us to come up with new options like Teenagers Say the Darndest *#%*! Things.