All moms should be divas...this one just happens to be in Jersey!

Friday, July 30, 2010

CSI Mom: Crime fighter, wine drinker

Anyone who's ever been a kid knows mother's intuition is no myth. Mothers can figure out amazing things, all on a hunch. I am ecstatic to report this sixth sense is not physiologically tied to childbirth. Like low patience, dog-like hearing, and thirst for wine... it just happens. I know this because my sons are adopted, yet cursed by my superior maternal detection skills. My own mother is like a God when it comes to sorting through smoke and mirrors. She could spy a dust particle out of place, trap you in your own web of sidestepping, and pepper you with questions before you knew what hit you. It's no accident out of four kids she's produced me, one litigator, one decorated military intelligence offer, and one so diplomatic he can quietly redirect any conversation to buy time to think. I was so nervous I would fall short in her shadow.

As out of control as my sons can be, you'd think their stunts would be hard to miss. At times, this is true. Often though, the slippery slope of snag, cover up and sobbing confession is all tipped off with the slightest out of place toothbrush, or betrayed by a prematurely-replaced paper towel roll. At times the red flags are blaring meteors in the sky. Other times they're so mundane an untrained eye could look right past them. Nothing good ever comes from a paper towel replaced "just because." The burning phrase, "Why is that there..." pops in mind, and all the little alarms start tripping. That's when I kick in. I am: CSI Mom.

The twist in my spin off series, as all spin offs must have, is that a Children's Scene Investigator Mom figures out much more than who did the crime. Sometimes just seeing that something is awry is the payoff for the constant radar scan. Hell, you usually know all along who did what. You've got a limited pool of felons. It's not like you're hunting down Keyser Söze, just the other usual suspects. Resolving the what that the particular who did forms the riddle. And then the race to avoid permanent damage to any person, neighbor's home, or sibling. Game on.  

Look, we're all in this together. If we're going to outsmart these little urchins to minimize our losses (and homeowners' liability), we need to work as a team. We need to share knowledge with each other like the emerging village elders we are. To start, here's my proposed topic list for the introductory course CSI Mom 101:

Question the obvious
I know I'd never leave the nail clippers out on the sink for fear they'd fall into dangerous little hands. Yet, there they sat out in plain view when I got up one morning. So, obviously, severe damage must have been done to something in the bathroom with the aid of flashlight by a child trying to avoid the "bed" part of bed time. I was not jumping to conclusions, just cutting to the chase. "What in God's name were you thinking going near the bathroom curtains with my nail clippers, using a flashlight?" This isn't rocket science. With dramatic tension needed, it's more art than science.

Leverage their own behaviors (a.k.a. "give them enough rope...")
This is a little interrogation technique my mother used flawlessly on me. I couldn't wait to be a mom to see if it would work as well. This works best on children that think they are soooooo much keener than you are. So if you have a little smart alek, or a tween (even teen) dripping with condescension, this is an Ace in the Hole move.

I had no idea whether the curtains were touched. It could have been those, the shower curtain, bathmat, a hidden report card. But to get to the bottom I needed to get going, and Son1 lets his little tween attitude get in his own way every time. So when I said, "What in God's name were you thinking going near the bathroom curtain..." He could barely contain his hardwired need to talk back. He smugly tossed out "I didn't touch the curtain, I cut the RUG!" He delighted in me being wrong just long enough to snag himself. (insert Homer Simpson "DOH!") They're like criminals that feel the need to brag about their crime in movie endings, just long enough to allow the hero to show up. And, hey, Son1, thanks for that Target gift card from your Easter basket that I'll be taking now to buy a rug.  

NOTHING ever happens "just because." 
Show me a paper towel roll replaced by my kids, and I'll show you the remains of a toppled fish tank. Wastebasket emptying is not hygiene for them. It's simple evidence-waste management. Look in the Hefty bag your children suddenly got religion to take to the curb, and you'll be validated that you were right in thinking you could not possibly have consumed 4 dozen Keebler 100 calorie packs already, fudge stripes or not. I was assured I don't have dementia- I have sneaky snack-glomming kids. In the scheme of things, it was a relief.

Special side note re: laundry. If laundry is actually in the hamper because a child cleaned his room "just because," that laundry is harboring an ungodly secret. I guarantee it. Step away and call the FBI because Hoffa very well may be in there.

Go with your gut, even when you think your gut sounds crazy
To this day, Son1 wants to know how I knew he had gone into his bank without permission early one morning to swipe all the birthday cash and gift cards he had. He's convinced I saw the stash of funds bulging in his pocket. He thinks that, because I told him that. The real story? I had no bloody clue he had a thing in his pockets. He just seemed to take a minute too long to get ready for school, a second too long answering when I asked why he was still upstairs. My gut told me something was off. Even I thought it was a bit paranoid but, "brush your teeth after you empty your pockets and show me your hands," came out with conviction. He looked like a deer in head lights and tossed what I thought was a shank toward the dog bowl. Okay, so maybe we're watching Locked Up Abroad too much. It was a plastic gift card. It was also wrapped in two 20's. Whew- no shanks.

And so, on my little gut feeling that maybe he had a spare silly band in pocket, I inadvertently broke up a shadowy ring of preteen 7-11 visits.  Towards the end of the school year, Son1 was getting some increasing freedom around the neighborhood and our small town. Turns out he was using it (along with his B-day money and more than just a smidge of his little brother's) living the high life buying rounds of drinks for his Mountain Dew loving crew. Once I had him on the ropes, the confession finally tumbled out. "You had no change AT ALL each day?" I asked. "Well yeah, but I put some in the cans at the counter, and then tipped the guy." So he helped the ASPCA and tipped the convenience store clerk? If nothing else, he's a generous thief, the Robin Hood of the U-13 club. 

Using tattlers ("state's witness")
You may be sitting there thinking, "Hmmm what's with the 12 yr old? Her 10 year old must be an angel though. He was never mentioned." Well, the thing is, Son2 does pull some stunts, but by and large he flies under the radar. And when confronted, he crumbles in seconds flat. There's really not much CSI lab work with that one. Plus, he's a bit of a snitch so his angle is to work plea deals. "If I tell you what he did with the dog's leash at the park, can I go back on Club Penguin in 2 days not 7?"  In reality, I'm sure that mindset should worry me more.

That wraps up CSI 101 for now. I hope these methods will serve you well. I'm considering quarterly workshops in advance detection techniques. Perhaps we can seat a panel of experts for CSI Mom Q&A sessions. If interested, please submit your intuition's moment of victory. We live in a world riddled with flimsy cover ups and persistent attempts to skirt the rules. Be vigilent, be smart, go with your gut. And maybe for safety sake, check your homeowners' policy. Better safe than sorry. 

Now... which Who song should I make my theme?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We're So American

I recently got the chance to write two guest posts for The Travel Mommy about our Russian adoption travel. Before I was a mom, I traveled a lot for work. I became semi-pro people watcher. As much as I love being the watcher, it's really odd to get someone else's run down of you as the watched. And so... here's how easily I was pegged:

Several years ago now, we adopted from Russia. These trips often bring many frustrating last minute changes. Traveling solo on my first trip, I was greeted in Moscow with news I’d be there four days, not going to the Black Sea Coast the next day. As I now had time on my hands, I figured I would go see some sites.  My driver, Val, suggested the Kremlin Armoury. He said to hire one of the people who wait near the kiosks to translate the tour. When I asked how I’d pick one out, he answered, "They’ll be by the Kremlin walls, looking for Europeans and Americans, and they will just know." That sounded weird, but off I went. 

I passed Red Square, and in a heartbeat was politely approached. “Would you like a tour? You are from USA, yes?”  Though a little taken aback to be assessed so quickly, I bought tickets.  As time passed, I was more curious about her observations of me than the precise size of Peter the Great’s quite great foot. How did she made her mark? How did she know from 100 yards that I was an American? Dressed in clothes I bought in Moscow the day prior?

Her comments are a study in cross-culture people watching. They show that “American-ness” goes well beyond accent. It shows what the world sees when they see one of us. Her feedback contrasting Americans to others, delivered so matter-of-factly, was pretty amusing. She told me much of it just comes from watching, day in day out, and picking out all the patterns. Her word choice always seemed measured, precise. Here were some highlights:

* Straight back & shoulders set back, yet not rigid. (Thank you, yoga DVD’s)
* I looked ahead, not down. 
* I looked at people. Ok with eye contact, but not forcing it.
* I was neither ignoring people, nor being intrusive-- just a casual midpoint. 
* I smiled gently at the baby that passed by.  
* I appeared to be walking with a purpose, but not charging through.
* I was forcing past or through people, not too meek to move through. According to her, had I pushed through with kind words, but not kind expression, she’d say Englishwoman. (HER words- no hate email please)
* Every move and gesture was casual, lacking formality or airs. So not English. (HER words)
* I did not look threatened or threatening.
* I looked at ease.

All of those things, according to her, helped narrow down that I was American. I was not very jovial, so she assumed not Canadian. I don’t know if that’s an insult to me or them in any way. (?)

So, why did all this scream American? She shared with me that her recognition of me as an American was not about hair or clothes. It wasn’t about an accent she had not yet heard. Our body language speaks about the open aspect to our culture. In her words, it shows the lack of fear we have lived under. It shows a confidence that is ingrained in generation after generation unlike in her country in which for centuries, intimidation was common.  We’re polite, but never classist. We’ll look people in the eye, but not be affronted by pedestrians who do not reciprocate. Even when hurried, we’re more at ease. She said that Americans will ask, “Why not?” Why? Because we can. We basically always could. Our society over centuries has bred a casual and confident tone in all aspects of us. The very things we take for granted have influenced our very movements down a street. 

It struck me that these are really great reasons to stick out like a sore thumb. As my trip progressed, and Russians I met shared recent decades from their perspectives, I thought, “You know what? We have got it pretty damn good.” No wonder we can’t help looking so, acting so, being so… well, so American.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Table for 5 in Hell, Please?

Red sky at night, sailors delight.
Strangely fast table on a Saturday night.... diners, take flight.

One of the great joys my husband and I have is spending time with his two adult daughters. Having raised two children, he went back into the fray for two more with me. He is a saint, I tell ya. I cling to the idea of how wonderful his daughters are, because it gives me confidence our sons are being parented by a seasoned pro. Schedules are always crazy for us all and distance thwarts more time together, so we really look forward to the chance to spend time with each daughter and her husband. We were all relaxed in a laid-back Shore vibe way for just one special dinner recently. Unfortunately, the restaurant seemed ill prepared to be in business, let alone patronized by the likes of us.

The first warning shot across the bow should have been the wait for the table. It's not that the wait was long. We were more or less comfy in the side area near the bar, by the dart boards. It's just that, in hindsight, an establishment that arms my sons with metal projectiles to "kill time" displays some questionable judgement. While feverishly hoping our name would be called at the magic 15-20 minute mark, I was also beseeching the kids to wait for the other one to finish before walking up to retrieve darts. I thought that being seated in under 30 minutes on a Saturday night in a beach town was a good thing. I mean, no one was impaled for starters. Quick table too? The phrase "be careful what you wish for" comes to mind, looking back.

In what seemed like enough time to freeze ice to put in the drinks we didn't get for 20 minutes, the unravelling started. Days on the beach are great for kids, and tire them out. This may not translate to the best of moods for young diners. Or their parents. Slow bar service was a conspiracy against all of our minds.

I'm not quite sure why ordering out can be such a challenge, because in essence it's the same five choices each time for kids. Yet each time, Son2 (10), who's still on the kids menu, frets over his choice with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Like in his mind he's saying, "Hmmm... I was considering the Coquilles St Jacques, perhaps the Coq au Vin....Then again, the NY Times reviewed their Grilled Cheese." Son2 seemed particularly discerning this evening, so when we finally were approached for our order the pressure was on. Son1 (12) has made the leap to the adult menu, which is often laden with heart-clogging favs from his list. We were able to bide time by reminding the waiter we were still expecting our drinks.

To Son1: No, you can't have fried calamari, with french fries and mozzarella sticks for dinner. And you need a vegetable. "Well, that's why I was ordering the fried pickle too." We live in New Jersey. Who the heck fries a pickle? In NJ????

To Son2: (approximately 22 times) You need to decide. It's time to order. I'll pick for you. "NO! I'll just take the pizza. And only a small salad. And please don't make me eat a fried pickle." Um, no worries there, pal.

Once our waiter and our drinks arrived, (as opposed to two other tables' orders which were attempted to our table) we were ready to rock. In the midst of assisting Son2 with what had to be the largest Sprite known to man, another order delivery was attempted to our table. It was comical at first, but the servers had zero clue which table was which and were incessantly wandering with arms full of trays. Only a highly confused staff tries to deliver desserts to a table that is in the middle of ordering dinner. Only a sadistic staff swoops by with ice cream when overheated, tired 10 year olds are present. That nearly set off another order change (as if we'd order hot fudge sundae for dinner). Son1 pounced to order any fried item he could think of, with fries on the side. I could have skewered the staff with my cocktail sword.

I can't explain the frustration setting in that such a great evening was spiralling. We were all hungry, dared not drain our drinks without one hour's notice of a refill request, and trying to shush increasingly loud and cranky kids. I was sitting next to my stepdaughter, but couldn't really visit since our entire conversation revolved around how much Son1 was getting on our nerves asking to go back to the darts. He was getting silly and wound, mainly using the attention power grab because he loves his sister. Some of this was also due to his ADHD medicine waning at that point of the evening.  Everytime I toyed with relenting about the darts, drinks and food came whizzing by... but it was never ours. If kidless, I would have done some small business owner-style people watching and marvelled at how poorly trained they were. Now, I wanted to go to the hostess and ask if this was some candid camera show produced by people who never dined with children, with drinks and tips.

At the one hour mark on site, we were finally served our appetizers. They had the time to carefully craft morsels for this fine dining experience and we were all starving. Three plates of food with crisp golden coating landed in front of Son1. Three. He was speaking loud enough all night for the whole restaurant to hear. How didn't I hear any of that? A now highly crabby Son2 was having none of the salad eating lifestyle after all. In no mood for war of wills, I bribed him. Eat the salad, chomp at the pizza that will hoepfully come before the end of days and get the hot fudge sundae. My husband's boiled shrimp app looked pretty good, and a big enough portion to share. What's that whisper in the waterside wind? Be careful what you wish for.

Dockside dining gave us some sights to see while waiting. and waiting. It's probably more accurate to say it gave some of us something to see, because half of us were westward-facing into the sun. Son2 insisted he would need a retinal transplant. I was impressed he knew what the retina was at age 10. He didn't care that I was impressed. He cared more that I did not seem to care he was being blinded so a fit was pitched. In an effort to cool him down, I moved the Sprite closer. Lord knows a drink would have done me good in a mood like that. It was an awesome plan until the massive, condensation-covered drink slipped in his small hand and went flying all down his shirt, on to his lap, and slamming on to the ground where my brand new leather flip flop was poised. Really? I couldn't be wearing the $5 Old Navy plastic ones right now? 150 ounces of Sprite later, the shoes are still sticky when they get wet. Though I do bring a refreshing citrusy scent wherever I go.

Son2 in tears, we replaced his drink (or tried to) and diverted his attention to sharing some of the hub's shrimp. He smiled, I sighed in relief. The setting sun cast just enough of a vibrant glow on our table that my food looked luminescent. A turn around seemed in reach. Having for some reason ordered a salad as a starter course to my dinner salad, I too took up the hubs on his shrimp sharing offer. Our delightful dockside dinner as a family was happening.

But then it happened--the glance down and simultaneous recognition that shrimp shouldn't be luminscent and damn sure it shouldn't be translucent. To make it worse, in the Sprite/leather flip flop fiasco I completely lost track of how many I ate, the kids did, or the hubs did. Son1 seemed pretty in the clear, because he was ensconsed in a platter of fried calamari that must have cleared out the Seven Seas. I hoped the grease would have formed a protective barrier in his system. My stepdaughter hadn't tried any, so she was safe to witness our panic as spectator only. I had helped myself to two or three, or was it six? The hubs was in more dangerous territory. Sitting between the two kids he had been absentmindedly eating while trying to adjust everything but the sun itself to assist Son2's eyesight. He never noticed that only the sauce was pink, not the shrimp itself. This was so not going to end well. I longed for the projectile-dodging dart room to start this all over again.

After yet another table's order errantly came our way (do we look like a table for two?), we flagged down our waiter to return the remains of the undercooked appetizer and did the mental math on what 2 or 3 ER copays may run for worst case scenario. Son1 insisted he felt sick despite having not eaten any. I really just wanted to leave at that point, but thoughts of how long another restaurant wait may be glued me to my chair. The waiter returned 10 minutes later to tell us the chef confirmed our assessment that the shrimp was undercooked. Well, let's see, the entire lower layer was gray, but other than that what gave it away?

At the hour and thirty minute mark, we finally got the dinners. Not that half of us had appetites left. Son1 was now hitting Broadway-stage volume and theatrics with his antics drawing the attention and ire of the table for 20 next to us. Son2 began microexamining every part of his pizza, dismayed it was not cooked enough for his liking. He then tried to do it to my food, which was cooked beyond recognition. We had enough. Well I had anyway. Anyone who had anything edible was done. We asked/begged for the check. It came, along with a second waiter coming up and asking us for our drinks and dinner order, while his coworker was still standing there with the credit card folio.

All I wanted was a relaxing summer night out. (Sigh) Why? What did the hubs and I do to deserve this night? And why subject my stepdaughter to this? Before I knew what was happening, Son2 unleashed on both waiters (ours and the lost one) in his squeaky overtired 10 year voice. I gave up caring. He was only saying what we all felt, but couldn't get away with saying. Half way through his, "...and you made my dad sick probably" tirade, the hubs looked at me and said, "This is going in your blog isn't it?"

"Yes," I replied. "It certainly is." 

I only wish I could have written sooner. Suffice it to say, it was a pretty unpleasant post-shrimp night then morning for the hubs & I. The kids never got sick, they just stayed out of control taking advantage of our diminshed capacity to discipline. I'm pretty sure I heard my stepdaughter calling Costco for value packs of birth control. Funny~ she hasn't returned the hubs' text message about setting another date.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Everything they SHOULD be learning in health class, but aren't

For all the debate about sex ed in schools, you can easily make the case that we're failing miserably. I'm not talking about awareness of what is happening to their bodies, awareness of birth control or abstinence programs. STD's can no doubt have lethal consequences. You know what else can have lethal consequences? A hormonal woman with a meat tenderizer is a menace to society. Does anyone ever sit with our sons and explain warning signals, how to plan, and how to avoid stepping in to the shark-infested waters of PMS altercations? NO. Our schools are failing our sons.

Sex ed gives the nitty gritty of what part goes where, and the Cliff's Notes version of what's happening to them. Male readers, don't get that "OMG this is another PMS post" look. It's so much more. Don't you wish your own parents had given you a better grip at the insanity that may grip the women in your life every four weeks? This is why I, mother of the year, have launched the "Scared Straight" school of boy-parenting. My sons will be the most sensitive, empathetic men when I am done. Do you know how many girls they can score if they leverage that? 

I seize teaching moments as they come. Some of life's best lessons come from adversity. Stress, tension, and pressure separate the men from the boys. Bloating- well that separates the women from the girls. Add them all together, and you have the perfect cocktail for mother-son chats that will leave their impression, and emotional scars albeit, for life. Just as they show kids wrecked cars to show what speeding does, I, occasionally, display for my sons a glimpse of what a woman they've enraged looks like. They need to know, so they desire avoiding it at all costs. They need to learn to catch the warning signs before it's too late.

Take our ill-timed dinner one night, when Son1 decided a full on bitchfest about salmon was in order. He didn't know that I was wiped from crashing hormones and 'round the clock pain meds. He didn't catch the contorting face as I tried and tried to not lose it.  I had not yet passed on the knowledge to my little Grasshopper at that point. It was nearly too late for his safety.

Son1 learned a valuable interpersonal lesson that night: Be on the look out for an Advil logo or ThermaCare wrapper prior to expressing displeasure. Kids recognize logos at a young age, so I recommend referencing those visual aids for boys. What started as, "Honey, eat the fish," moved at rapid pace to, "just eat your fish," and then, "I said just eat it!" More or less. Because what really flamed out of my mouth after twenty nerve wracking minutes was, "You better shut your mouth and LEARN that there are be three-four days of MY month, your girlfriend's month, your wife's month where you just keep your F'ing mouth shut and eat the goddamn salmon!!!" I should probably confess here that the boy was just 7. But, he was a 7 year old choking down salmon after that. He learned that speaking when you should not has consequences. Experiential learning had taken hold. He still gets a little jumpy any night I make salmon. So does the hubs, truth be told.

Son2's early intro into the world of estrogen mayhem came when he was about 6 and not feeling well. I was awake in his bed while trying to get him to sleep after an upset stomach. It wasn't hard to keep awake though due to my hormonal insomnia. At one point, when the poor boy whimpered his belly hurt, riddled with exhaustion and a cramp myself I half sobbed, "I know... it's just no good to have such an achy tummy is it? Mommy too. I wish we could sleep." cry, cry. Is there anything worse than turning your child's moment of need into something all about you? By some fluke, though, this worked well on two fronts: his comfort and his learning. It seemed to divert his attention from his own bellyache, so he was able to drift off to sleep. Just prior, he suggested I cuddle up on his polar bear, which actually was quite comforting. No wonder he loves Cubby. A few months later when I was in a similar cramp and mood turn, he noticed, and went and brought me the Cubster. He saw the signs, tried to comfort, and brought me cozy things. I am raising primo boyfriend material.

A more stable mom would be concerned to see Son2 (now 10) back pedal out of the room on tip toes when he sees my microwavable heating pad. BUT he does so after sweetly asking if I'd like it heated up. Ladies, would you not love for your guy to thoughtfully offer that, and then more thoughtfully leave you in unabated silence? They'll be good husbands one day, maybe even great hostage negotiators.

Having covered the first lessons on hormonal-emotional awareness at tender ages, I have gone on to increase their knowledge and weave it into the emerging knowledge of body parts they are gaining. Every parent frets "the talk," even though we're told it should be a long conversation, over a span of time. Sometimes, difficult things get blurted out in a split second. Like ripping off a band aid, the pain is condensed into a split second. While not planned (and most assuredly ill-advised), that's kind of what happened with Son1's instruction of the female reproductive cycle.

In my defense, I was suffering what I would call extenuating circumstances. If you read my post about bedtime shenanigans, you know that the boys found a new box of my "feminine products" and decided to do make some craft project/ bunk bed repelling device. Fast forward 10 days after that artistic endeavor, when the time had come for those products. Only I forgot to replace them after my little McGyvers' creative burst. So it was 9:30 at night and as I was greeted by a "surprise," I recalled the empty inventory, and did what any well-educated, 40 year woman in hormonal throws would do. I cried. I yelled. I remembered the whole sordid "Always-with-wings-bunk-rope-affair," and I went over the edge.

I was just a teensie-weensie unhinged. That was the night that Son1 (now a steely 12) learned via a combination of scientific and long-shoreman terms what kind of a bind he had left me in. What started with, "Well you know women have babies, and where the babies come from, right?" moved headlong in to, "well, a woman's body is ready each and every month to make a baby, but it usually doesn't happen, and the body can't just sit there piling up all these things, so..." And away I went. I sailed headlong into, "can you imagine what it feels like when every muscle in your gut is working to get ready to clean up the party that never happened? Then picture having a brain freeze headache and crappy sleep for three nights?!?!"  The hubs was horrified. Oddly, Son1's counselor let out a hearty laugh when I relayed it. He either thought it was really funny, or was picturing the 6,500 sq foot shore house he'd get with the future billings.

When the tempest had passed, Son1 would have crawled under a rock or biked to Walgreen's if he could. But he would have done so with a clear understanding of the female reproductive cycle. And my frustration that as a mother via adoption the whole fiasco which will span 30+ years of my life is all for naught. See the way I combined the biology lesson with the emotional tack on? Effortless. They should pay me to write text books.  As they have grown, and their minds begun to mature, the lessons have become increasingly age appropriate. By that I mean I've managed to exceed the appropriate level by about two decades at a clip. I should use fewer F-bombs I know, but these teaching moments boast a realism few sex ed classes can ever hold. So one day, when Sons1  and 2 have schmoozed their way into the hearts of lucky young ladies, I am confident they will have taken the lessons of their youth to heart. They'll stock chocolate, be ready with a hug, not judge emotional tsunamis, and most importantly never, ever, ever say the death-spiral phrase "What's the problem, is it that time or something?" Like I said, primo boyfriend material.

Some things just need to be said

Christina at has the ultimate writing stress release, Flip Off Fridays. It's one post every week to blow off steam about what's driving you nuts that day. She was looking for some guest posters. I have a disproportionate need to vent to masses of people. It was kismet.

Thanks to Christina for passing me the Flip Off baton this week!  I’m so honored. In New Jersey, flipping off is nearly a sport so you’ve been left in the hands of a seasoned professional. I humbly bring you Friday Flip Offs: Jersey Style.

Jersey based reality shows
The Jersey Shore is not like the show Jersey Shore. We have beautiful beaches, that aren’t filled by drunken skanks. We do not all look, sound, and/or act like that. Between shows Real Housewives and Jerseylicious, most Garden Staters want to scream. We make fun of people like that, who are usually from NY. None of my Italian friends are that mean and tacky. And as a heads up, most of us aren’t Italian. It’s true, we all loved us some hairspray in the 80’s (maybe a little too long into the 90’s), but we’ve moved on to pliable hair. If you saw our property tax bills, you’d understand most of us can’t afford to tan all day. We get enough bad press with all the chemical plants and refineries flanking the airport and I95. (My people call it “The Turnpike.”). We need these jackasses like a hole in the head.

Obnoxious sand kicking kids
Right now, I’m down the Shore. (We don’t say “up/down/over to the beach.” It’s the “Shore” and the North or South thing is irrelevant. But I digress.) I want to relax. Would you PLEASE stop dashing by kicking up truckloads of sand on my InStyle Magazine? Will someone control those urchins? Oh, wait. Sorry everyone. Those are my urchins.

Loudmouths who suck the oxygen from the ocean breeze
We’ve all been in a beach chair (or on an airplane) with the vacationing town crier close by. She’s that total stranger whose voice, by sheer volume and total oblivion, rises above all. She is all you can hear. Why does she always settle next to my beach towel? I really don’t care about your cheating brother in law, lousy service at the restaurant last night, or OB/GYN visit. You talk so loudly you’re consuming all of the oxygen in the air. You don’t care, because it’s always all about you. I want to rent one of those banner planes pulling a sign reading “B-E Q-U-I-E-T!!!” You’re drowning out my iPod, the laughter of my sand kicking kids, the sea gulls, the crashing waves. The entire Eastern Sea Board hears you. ENOUGH!!!!

Lastly, Summer traffic
Traffic is always bad here. In Summer, we all hop on the preferred Shore conduit, the Garden State Parkway. NJ’s the most densely populated state in the US, with a crazy percentage of us heading down the Shore each Friday, all on the Parkway. Huddled masses, jammed into the same roughly 60 miles, during rush hour, and… well, you do the math. Then reverse it Sunday night. NJ has the highest percentage of college grads among the population. For such an educated bunch, you’d think we’d have built an alternate route.

Wow. That really was cathartic! Thanks to Closet Writer for this chance to vent. I feel better already. Bring it, Saturday. Show me what you’ve got!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Extending the reach of Jersey (insert sinister laugh)

Great big thanks today to two ladies who've opened up their blogs to guest posts.

Amy's Afternoon Reading is a "digital coffee break." Amy threw down the gauntlet with a guest post challenge seeking insight into keeping focus for your blog. I, ever the contrarian (nightmare), retorted that my blog IS what helps increase focus for me. So there.
The Travel Mommy is a great site (simply because she picked me) sharing views of a life half way around the globe. My travel related post today is all about my trip to meet the most amazing gifts I've ever received, my sons.

Please check out these posts and their sites... then spread the love ; )

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mick Jagger: Poet Laureate

Truly classic prose stands the test of time. There are phrases that will always ring in our minds:
Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled.

Words by writers like Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Frost have a way of transcending generations. They are among literary giants that will be known throughout history. Into the esteemed halls of greatness, I think it's high time we place the composition team of Jagger and Richards. Yes, that Jagger and Richards.

When I was little I heard all the classic rock stations play Rolling Stones songs and they were catchy. Understanding the lyrics to Sympathy for the Devil made us history geeks feel a tad superior. Paint it Black was a thumping precursor to The Cure. But like much classic literature, true appreciation can only come with maturity and life experience. At this juncture in my life, Mick, your words speak to me. Mother's Little Helper (disturbingly) speaks to me.

As has been done with many time-honored classics like Beowulf and Hamlet, let's dissect this genius by line and measure, shall we?

Kids are different today, I hear every mother say.
Mother needs something today to calm her down.

Mick- you had me at hello.

So she buys an instant cake.
F'ing school bake sales. I hear ya, Mick. Don't forget to make sure it's peanut free
And she burns her frozen steak.
There are times things like that can reduce me to tears. Not tears for feeding burned food to my family. Suck it up, people. It's "seared." The tears come up the realization that an empty freezer means I need to waste two hours of my life at Costco tomorrow.

They just don't appreciate that you get tired.
They're so hard to satisfy, you can tranquilize your mind.

First let me say I give Mike and Keith credit for editting down to a refrain and four verses. My list of  would have been a War and Peace-length bitchfest with a back beat. Beyond that, no, they will never be satisfied.

"Life's just much to hard today," I hear every mother say.
The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore.

This fascinates me, because I would not have pegged Mick as one to attend swim meets, gymnastics meets or any other competition that involves sitting for 3 hour intervals to watch your child's 30 seconds of activity.  We may feel guilty admitting it, but there are indeed times when pursuing happiness and supporting our kids in their pursuit is a god-awful bore. I wonder what Mick did to whittle the hours with no Iphone or Blackberry back in the day. Did he cheer on all the kids like the good parents, since he couldn't blog with thumbs like, well, you know?

And though she's not really ill, there's a little yellow pill.
Sure there is. One-a-Day, right? Uh huh. I love that Keith Richards cameo'ed as Jack Sparrow's dad, because my little pill is skipped for a hot date with another pirate. I <3 Captain Morgan.

What a drag it is getting old.
Et tu, Mick? Mya Angelou's got nothing on these prescient words.

I hope that this proves genius is in our midst, right at our fingertips. So the next time you find yourself behind the wheel with the radio playing, be on the look out for the next flashes of timeless magic. For every inane Justin Bieber song out there, there is also pure prose that will touch your heart as it does mine. Next week, my Summer literature series continues. Join me for an analysis of the inspirational musings of a timeless American master poet: Jimmy Buffet. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall fly

The perils and joys of travelling with children are only truly experienced with airline travel. Cruise ships make even the boarding aspect fun since you are usually standing close enough to see the ship and gawk. Car travel is like any other nightmare ride to a soccer tournament 45 minutes away, just longer and more nerve-grating. But airline travel, with it’s own thrills of TSA checkpoints, what exactly fits into a 3.5 ounce bottle, interminable terminal waits, and the ever-dreaded runway respite… ahhhhh… now that spells migraine like no other travel mode.

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, we are heading to the airport so I can fly with the boys to go see PopPop. I’ll drop them off in MS, and fly home. This journey is in exchange for our freedom for a one week. Next weekend, I will fly down to retrieve them. Probably. I feel like one of the Air Marshalls escorting the Russian spies leaving today out of JFK.

Now, through the beauty of online check in, I have boarding passes in hand to avoid at least one airport delay. I will do everything short of packing one child within another to avoid checked bags and the delays they can bring. Most of my time in airports and on planes with sons in tow is spent apologizing profusely for something they did while wrapped up in their own little bubbles. Now, with advance seat numbers in hand, I can actually speed up the trip and get the most uncomfortable parts out of the way.

Before I go any further and morph into my “Do you not see I am at the end of my rope?” mode tomorrow morning… Fine professionals and fellow travelers in Newark Liberty Airport, I would like to apologize in advance to:

• The patient staff and patrons of AuBon Pain/ McDonald’s/ Starbucks who will listen to me tell Son1 at least twenty times he is not getting a sausage biscuit, with extra sausage, and a bacon side. I also may need a minute to get an order out of Son2, the least decisive person on the planet.

• The gate agent who will be approached (three times) by 12yr old Son1 for a First Class upgrade since he seems to think he’s entitled to the lap of luxury my airline miles occasionally afford. He’ll be the boy saying, “no, just one seat, not for my brother.”

• The man who approaches me when he spots me lingering outside the men’s room exit. (Really, were I a man doing so outside the ladies’ room I’d be arrested.) I appreciate your return to the bathroom to make sure there are two dapper boys somewhere in sight not crawling through the duct work to escape.

• The kind sirs who will emerge from said mens’ room with water splashes all over them from an impromptu yet epic soak-fest-fight at the sink. Even if I weren’t frazzled, I couldn’t acknowledge you because you would then know I was the parent, and expect some restitution. Oh who says water stains don’t come out of pure silk ties? Please.

• The flight attendant welcoming all aboard, and body blocking the cockpit. Sorry, they’re just very curious. And flexible. Really, no harm, no foul.

• The fine gentlemen/ladies in seats 13A and B for the seat whaling that will take place.

• 13C for the lethal force to be used grabbing your seatback (and maybe some hair- may want to consider a hat) when Son1 storms through to the bathroom. Five times in a three hour flight.

• The flight attendant with the beverage cart who will want to throw a soda at Son2 when he pitches a fit that you have Sprite, but not Sprite Zero. They're both sweet, both clear. Lie to him, he'll never know. It's just easier, trust me.

• 26C, seated near the lavatories. Sorry about the Bloody Mary incident. You’re right, children should not be unattended on planes in the galley area. It was totally accidental. Ditto, 26D.

• The helpful gentlemen who always seem to be seated across and one row back. Yes, you sir in 15D. Thank you for trying to help Son1 take his stuff from the overhead. Really, once the bleeding stops I really think that broken nose will give character to your face.

• Rows 15 through 26 (except for 15D and his wife E who are being tended to by the paramedic). You all will ever so patiently wait while Son1 AND Son2 take turns stepping into the aisle to pick up and close their backpacks. Lord forbid this were done upon approach, descent, landing, or the 20 minutes we inexplicably sat mere inches from the gate.

• The elderly woman in the jet way behind me, who upon de-boarding will have to listen to my, “just shut it shut it shut it shut I said shut it what is the problem did you not hear me say shut it” to each son regarding Nintendo game cases, backpacks, and mouths.

• The guy driving the vehicle-thingy they use to transport disabled people or large items to the gate. Really, I have no idea how he got a skateboard into his backpack. Nice slalom manuever! Have you thought of Formula One? Were you as scared as I was when that oxygen tank flew right off the back? Whew.

Alrighty then, I feel more prepared for the morning. Getting those awkward looks, confessions, and remorseful pleas off my chest now makes me feel a lot more optimistic for tomorrow’s surprises! Looks like it’ll be a nice dinner tonight, a fortifying yet calming glass of wine, and the kids let lose to “make merry” (read as run around out side to burn energy)… for tomorrow we fly!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Wussification of America's Youth

As a former tomboy, I really looked forward to parenting boys. While I would not have fostered screeching and screaming in a girl, I knew the likelihood was greater with girls than boys. Flash forward to present day. I am mothering in the era of the uninjured child. These are the days of sports leagues in which every kid gets a trophy, and panicked hyper-Purelling after a child goes out on a germ-filled limb by turning a magazine page. No wound, no disappointment... no experiential learning?  The cold water reality splash hitting me in the face is as clear as day. Boys or girls, it doesn't matter these days. Our kids are being wussified.

Our family went to celebrate 4th of July the way families have for generations. We went to a local fireworks show. The light was dwindling, the band playing, the excitement building. And then, in the twilight it came. "Can you check me for tics?" We were sitting watching fireworks, and the children near us wanted a tic check. I've known people with Lyme Disease, so I know it's no joke BUT we're watching fireworks, on a big blanket, on the grass. All we needed was that "I'd  like to buy the world a Coke" song and it would have been full frontal Americana. And the kids are worried about tics instead. Really? (Sigh)

One of my favorite things as a kid was pulling apart the stem in a honeysuckle bloom for the sweet tiny dot inside. My 12yr old (Son 1) mentioned how much he enjoyed it. My 10yr old (Son2) was  horrified. "What if there are bugs? Or germs? Or weed sprays?" It's honeysuckle. I wasn't suggesting that we wander through the forest playing mushroom-roulette. Little tiny dab of honeysuckle, and he's preoccupied with pesticide exposure. Yes, there are dangers to pesticides, but what next, we don't let our kids smell flowers due to an increased risk of  seasonal allergies? Zip it and suck the damn honeysuckle! You may shock yourself and enjoy it. Don't tell me I too am raising a wuss.

As one more example of the extent to which our country is moving toward total wuss kids, I bring you "monkey bar instructions." I volunteer for a group that runs a day care that was being threatened with a lawsuit. Kids were playing on the jungle gym, well supervised. A girl fell off the monkey bars and broke her arm. Son2 has been victim of his own own inner-Tarzan, so I can understand the parents' monitoring concerns. But in this case, their attorney charged negligence because there were no instructions posted  for use. For monkey bars? "Grab one bar and swing to next LIKE A MONKEY." Isn't that kind of intuitive to our primate brains? Have you ever seen a child looking clueless standing below them? "Mommy, do I hang like an opossum on these bars?" So we expect our children to use care well beyond the cognitive reasoning of their minds, and then teach them to sue when they make a mistake. I'm not heartless, but monkey bar accidents happen. Oh, what does it matter. Opossums don't raise wusses, neither do monkeys. We, however, are wussifying our young.

There are two phases to systemic and non-recoverable wussification. The first is covered in the above examples. We have germaphobes afraid to leap without a complete notarized survey let alone a look.  Our kids are so used to our bubble wrapping that now they are totally paranoid when it's missing. The first phase is the fear.

As if robbing childhood pleasures via fear wasn't enough, in the next phase we're screwing with their psyches long term. No daring feats means less chance of failure. We can be smart and we can work to raise educated children, but we shouldn't try to outsmart the learning that needs to come from the school of hard knocks. Who can learn valuable skills like getting back up when knocked down if the inflatable punching clown is perclowna-non-grata as a safety hazard? That raises a generation with no coping skills terrified at the mere threat of failure, unable to handle any fall from grace. Wusses.We can't protect our kids from every bruise- physical or emotional.

Son1 has swim team tryouts in 5 weeks. His tryout will be based upon 8 weeks competitive swimming experience. Not 8 by now, by THEN. I hope he makes it. I'm most  proud now, before he strips to skimpy racing suit. I'm proud he is doing something at which he may not succeed. Yes, he has delusions of the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer in our family pulling a Burgess Meredith training session with him. But people seem shocked  there are tryouts. He's going in to 7th grade. I'm fine with the risk-reward proposition at this age, in this lesson setting. At some point, there will always be people who can  not "make the cut." It's not that they suck (usually). It's a  reflection that other kids may be more skilled, may have more experience or more dedication. Denying that shields kids from recognizing they may not be on par with Johnnie or Jane. Why is that not okay? What about Johnnie's mental health after he works his little tush off and gets no credit for excelling? How fair is that? Please don't make hard-working Johnnie bitter. This country needs more Johnnies. We've got plenty of wusses.

Just when I thought the wussify tactics couldn't sink lower, they sank  like a bumped off Soprano's character. Now, kid-friendly video gaming options can be conquered by "cheat codes." Cheat codes are like secret keys marketed to kids. Son2 loves Club Penguin. For that game and an increasing number of others, there are now cheat code books. They're not just secrets on the Internet.  Cheat code books are also in school book fair catalogs. My kids came home with the flyer and I nearly passed out. Imagine the damage he'd suffer not being able to locate the covert super-spy penguin. Quick, call a counselor! We are marketing to young kids that success is in reach by cheating. That's healthier than letting them fail? We're raising wusses who cheat to win to avoid ever losing. Wussification just dragged our kids into the abyss.

Encouraging kids to try and consoling them when they fail is all part of the parenting gig. The lessons that teach coping skills are best covered when stakes are "small." They won't leave every job interview with a consolation prize. No lifetime supply of Lipton Cup of Soup is waiting after a failed client pitch meeting like it is for the Showcase Showdown losers on the Price is Right. Yes, I used the "L"word. They lost. Get over it. Don't you go getting all wussy on me too.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The bedtime so long it's almost morning

Kids have long been known for dragging out the act of falling asleep. There's the classic, "I have to go to the bathroom," the tried and true, "Can I have a glass of water." Those are but slim excuses for, well, excuses. Tsk Tsk. So amateur. I've written about the madness that is morning in our home. Lest you think the day smooths out until a blissful end, I will give you a glimpse into the nonstop nocturnal shenanigans.

Bedtime starts with my husband and I blatantly shifting responsibility. No matter what bedtime we set, one of us will "fall asleep" in a chair, walk the dogs, or hop up to empty the dishwasher. He sees my folding laundry and raises it with watering the flowers (In the dark. And we have a sprinkler system). I started training for a half marathon. Nighttime just happened to be the best time to run seven miles.

After resignation that one of us has to do it, it's off to the stairs to the rec room. Each night, there is shock."WHAT? What do you mean it's bedtime?!?! NO it's NOT!" I assure them it is. They insist it isn't. This used to drag on. One night I started cutting the lights. The first night, they freaked out suddenly terrified of the dark, and sprinted up the stairs like bats out of Hell. They tripped over each other, nearly knocked each other down the stairs and terrorized our lab with their screams to the point he ran into the garbage can and nearly knocked over a floor lamp. Alrighty then. That went well.

Even in twilight, they are still raring to go while I trudge through like an insomniac with low iron. This phase is when their sleep avoidance skills begin to shine. Seventy-two passes of Get  YOUR  PA-JAM-AS ON. If you speak another language, please comment with translations. (Pronunciation guide would be most helpful.) They sleep in boxers now, which they're wearing 1/2 the time so easy peazy, eh? No. Clothes go flying everywhere. Clothes they never even thought about let alone wore that day. Nine socks, yet only two children. What's with the football jersey on the chair? Neither of you plays football.

Our sons share a room. We've always been strict with toys in the bedroom. They are just not allowed in there. They get smuggled somehow. Bunk beds are jungle gyms with sheets. No bourgeois sore throat complaints here. On rotating nights, stuffed animals were projectiles to bombard each other. Sheets were ways to lower themselves. The fish in their room were fed four times. Socks are for skating on wood floors, perfect for hockey. They'd get up, go into the bathroom to get a glass of water and dump it on the other. A whole tissue box would be emptied one trip at a time. We never found the tissues, though once I did find a chain made of a new box of feminine products. Bloody noses were not uncommon. Similar to actors crying on cue, Son1 can start a nosebleed spontaneously. I think he purposely does it on nights when I've changed the sheets. Believe it or not, truly unrelated, it occurred to us autographed baseballs were a safety hazard.

One night Son1 decided to surprise Son2 by jumping from his bunk onto the lower "L set" bunk.  Pier1 hadn't planned for this and new mattress supports were rigged at 10:30. That was when Son1 was exiled to the guest room. Twelve months later, his clothes are still in the other room; the guest room is still called the guest room. We tell him he's lucky he's got a place to sleep after the behavior we've put up with. It's really because we've been too busy to bother hauling everything out, repainting, and reloading the room-- but that doesn't sound as parental.

The hall became a rendezvous site. The linen closet was both treasure trove of sleep distractions and a hiding place. Stuffed animal soccer ensued. Tired of going up and down the stairs to chase them, we brought out new artillery: a Fischer Price baby monitor. You'd think a child of 10 would be embarrassed at having a baby monitor. Instead, Son2 goes up to it and sings operatically. By nature, he is as nimble and quiet as Cary Grant in "To Catch a Thief," so some nights he slithers around the walls, swings up to the shelf it's on and turns it off. DAMN those gymnastics lessons.

Vacation is here, which means they are getting a lot more time outside, plus they're in sports programs. Their boisterous bodies are tired, and in the (well-advised) absence of children's NyQuil, that constant fresh air activity is the best we can do to counter their hyperactivity. Like most parents of boys, and ADHD children in particular, we've learned kids and parents need coping skills. I've found that exercise is a good stress release, especially when followed by Shiraz. It's a winning bedtime combination.