Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Comment: Home Again Home Again

I’m so used to being in constant motion that a vacation this past week threw me for (wonderful) loop. Suddenly, for the first time in a couple of years, I went somewhere with my family where we were NOT staying directly with family and we were away for over five days. This meant that I was thrown totally out of my routine, and oh what a relief it was.

I loved not having to meal plan, cook or clean. That is my definition of a vacation. I didn’t even have to do the laundry—my sister in law did it, and she did a far sight better of a job than I do at home. She has all these different concoctions and potions that she collects from far and wide and uses for her laundry. She bleached out my husband’s (inadvertently/accidentally) pink underwear. She PRESSED our clothes. Our iron hasn’t seen the light of day in quite some time. Wow.

So it was nice to be taken care of, for sure. But I also noticed that after being away for five days, coming home and getting back into the cleaning routine wasn’t so bad. There really is something meditative about cleaning, and boy did I have my work cut out for me after this trip.

We have Christmas goodies to sort and find places for, piles of dirty laundry to sort, wash, fold and put away, and a refrigerator to replenish. So today I spent a good part of the day on the domestic front, and honey, my house looks fabulous as I sit here and gaze on the Christmas tree for one of the last times this year.

Another thing about vacations is the break from your habitual surroundings; you can go somewhere else for awhile and when you come back, you see things with fresh eyes. Many epiphanies were had. More info to follow, though I probably won’t post tomorrow since it’s New Year’s Eve. Look for some new year’s thoughts soon thereafter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Comment: It can’t be all bad.

So I’m reading about “learned optimism” in Martin Seligman’s book “Authentic Happiness” and I have to say that I have a lot to learn on this topic. I tend to skew on what I guess is ‘learned pessimism’. (And yet in other ways I have quite a sunny disposition. “But then again, I’m an enigma.” Name the source of that quote and I owe you a Coke Zero.)

Well it turns out that when we play these old negative tapes in our head over and over, instead of losing power, they gain it. (Kind of a duh, but bear with me.) So the more you do or think something negative, the more it embeds itself into your psyche, the way a car’s wheels dig deeper into the mud the more they spin, to use a familiar analogy.

So if negative think begets more negative think, perhaps we should focus on the positive. It’s easy not to see what’s right in front of you if it’s clouded by the vapors of negative thinking. Glass half full or half empty? It’s an age old way of defining how you think, and it’s not far off the mark for most of us. We either focus on what we’ve got, or what we haven’t got. I certainly have a way to go on learning how to see the positives in even the most challenging circumstances.

Example: as I’ve mentioned before, where we live now is not ideal; nor are the working conditions for my husband. The whole thing is sub-optimal, made all the more so in comparison to the fairly optimal conditions in which we lived previously. But it isn’t terrible, either.

So even though I complain about the tagging and the shopping cart lawn ornaments, how bad can it be when your next door neighbors are kind enough not only to check your mail for you when you’re out of town, but bring you Christmas cookies? And good ones, at that?

Life is sweeter than we think. Apparently some of us just have to learn to think.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Comment: The Muppet Show Failed Me

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but after twenty some years, "The Muppet Show" is not holding up as well as I had hoped. We got the season one DVD and my kids have been watching it avidly, though without a whole lot of laughing out loud.

It's not that they don't enjoy it. But the jokes are either (a) wickedly dated or (b)inappropriate in today's world. There are endless physical gags, which, though at times funny, aren't so funny when the monster is beating on the girl over and over. It's a little disturbing.

I know, I know, we watched Wile. E. Coyote and look how we turned out. Seriously, look how we turned out. Dubya and co. grew up on Wile E. Coyote. Do you see what I'm saying?

Anyway, it's very old-school vaudeville. It's not the kind of humor we are used to these days in the postmodern, postironic adult world, nor is it the kind the kids seem to really like. They enjoy slapstick, sure, but goofiness is more laugh-inducing than subtly and endless ham/pork puns about Miss Piggy. I think maybe my kids are a little young for the puns. In another year or two they'll probably be hysterical.

I had a really interesting experience with one of the episodes, which I was watching with the kids today. Charles Aznavour, famed French chanteur, was on signing "Inchworm" and I remembered seeing that very episode lo these many years. I didn't remember him, I remembered the counter point choral melody that the Muppets were singing. It was wild. I got the shivers.

But then, I don't get out much.

And it still beats the hell out of those damn Doodlebops.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Comment: "Oh my God I can't believe it, I've never been this far away from home."

It was amazing to me to feel as I imagine my son felt today at a small and generally friendly birthday party where we both felt like fish out of water. I say amazing, because I usually don’t feel like that in social situations. Years of hiding my problems successfully from even the closest members of my family along with a two degrees in Theatre mean I can usually get by successfully in a crowd.

But we live in a new area, and it’s not familiar. I don’t know my audience. And I was humbled today as I stood around listening to perfectly nice moms talk about skiing vacations and owning multiple houses and being in the community for their whole lives. I was totally out of my depth.

We live in on the edge of ghetto where shopping carts and broken down file boxes dot the lawns. Even though my husband has a great job, it costs a boatload to live where we’ve chosen to live. And I’m not sure it’s right for any of us. Today really hit that home.

Let me just say that it’s nothing against these well-off, homegrown folks; it’s me. I just didn’t feel comfortable there, and neither did my son. It wasn’t pretensions, it was tension of a different kind. We were not in our world, whatever that is, and wherever that is.

My son is an introvert who prefers grown-ups to kids. I am an extrovert who prefers kids to grown ups. I find most grown ups exhausting with their high status bullshit and neurotic over-parenting. (I probably shouldn’t be casting any stones in the latter neighborhood, but I’m all over the former.)

Anyway, my son stuck close to me the whole time, which was fine in a way, because I didn’t have a whole lot to say to these well-meaning people. Several of them were also members of the swim club where the party was.

A swim club? I need to join a club to go swimming?


Sorry, I’m a little unfamiliar. I mean, I lived in Southern California for ten years and I’ve never heard of a freaking swim club. And I’m damn well leery of anything with the word club attached to it. I’m just not a club-joining gal. I like people, but I don’t like being involved in something where other people are excluded.

And that was what was getting to me today; I was eavesdropping on a world I don’t feel I or my son belonged in, but there we were. With a straight face, these nice moms were telling me we should check out Tahoe and get the kids skiing lessons and I was just knocked out that they were telling me this with a straight face—did they think we belonged? My shy son and I, who are more comfortable playing in the crappy park near our house with people we’ve just met?

And as I watched some of these pampered kids at the party getting their fourth juice box and stuffing their fingers in the onion dip, I just thought, what are we doing here? These kids are already so much more socially sophisticated than my son. Even though he read at three, he is still so young in the social game; he is incapable of being cruel, and I see that there are already kids out there ready to pounce on him or anyone else sitting where they want to be sitting. And their parents have given them so much positive self-esteem that they think they can push other people around. They feel they have carte blanche. They have their own customized skis. Of course they can sit here. And win all the prizes. And ask for seconds and thirds.

OMG indeed.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Comment Starlight, starbright, make everything all right.

So you know you aren’t feeling really depressed if early Madonna songs make you happy. I’d been cleaning my kitchen in my evening ritual and tonight I put on her first (and arguably, best) album. Of course it’s not an album. It’s from iTunes, and I’m old, but shut up a minute and listen.

There’s something delightful and wistful about playing music you loved when you were younger. I know, I know, I’ve already talked about this on here, what with my Pandora/The Cure fixation and all. Again, hush a second and wait.

I’d just like to walk you through this first album of hers. Long before she was ropy, twice -divorced, a kick-ass performer but also a little bit scary, she was Early Madonna.

She didn’t have vocal chops that were quite as polished, but they were more distinctive. Her songs were about longing and sex, (hey, kind of like ALL music) and were all dressed up in 80s electronica. She wasn’t terrifyingly fit, she even had a teeny little belly, bless her, back then. And her videos consisted of her gyrating and dancing in front of the camera. The camera adored her, and so did we.

How else can you explain thousands, nay, millions of young women cutting up their shirts, donning fluorescent lace hairbands, black rubber bracelets and rhinestone earrings, and actually going out in public this way?

Here’s the layout on the album: First up is “Lucky Star”—I think this was actually her first release from the album, and it was awesome. Not lyrically brilliant, but we liked it. In the video, she danced with two backup singers and a blank background. It was compelling in its stark simplicity. Every 17 year old could relate this song to that hot-guy-you-only-ever-see-in-the-cafeteria-who-is-he-ohmigod-I’m-in-love.

Then comes “Borderline”; I don’t remember this video as well but my instincts tell me that it probably showed in dramatic detail the story of her and some awful boyfriend messing with her head. It was a great song that every 17 year old could relate to, right down to the cutesey little organ intro that was so girly and wistful. Cue electonic drums, start singing about how insane this guy is making you feel, and, voila, a break up anthem is born.

“Burning Up”, my personal favorite, (even after all these years), is just a horndog song about a guy who rejects you but you’re so hot for him you can’t see straight. It just sucks but you’re kind of psycho about it and possibly leave him notes on his dry erase board in his dorm room, and possibly brought him a flower (in your teeth). The video is more classic Early Madonna writhing, which is as compelling as ever. Seriously.

“I Know It” is the ultimate post-break up song. It follows that this song should come next after the lusty irrationality of “Burning Up”. It’s your best girlfriend telling you that all guys are assholes and you didn’t need him and fuck that noise, etc. I had a wonderful roommate who made me play this song over and over after a devastating (at the time) whirlwind romance with an upperclassman who kissed really well but was a complete shit.

“Holiday” was another big hit for Madonna, and why wouldn’t it be? It may have been the first release, come to think of it. It was happy, it was party, what was not to love about it? I remember seeing her perform this at LiveAid with some back-up dancers and I just thought she was the coolest.

“Think of Me” is the classic, “Honey, this is a relationship, it takes two, hello!” song that reminds a 17 year old that she is worth more than just a late night drunk dial from her so-called boyfriend when they were supposed to have a date that night.

“Physical Attraction” is another lust-filled extravaganza, complete with the classic 80s-talk-huskily-through-the-bridge segments. She knows she wants him, but doesn’t know if he wants her. What is he gonna do?

“Everybody”, like “Holiday”, was just another great dance song. Kind of annoying with all the “I know you wanna get up, yeah, I been watching you, yeahs” but it worked at the time.

My Itunes version contains two extended play versions: one of “Burning Up” and “Lucky Star”. They’re just so much fluff, as that woman on Seinfeld says, but they last longer, so when I’m jogging around the track, I can do at least half a mile in the time it takes to play "Burning Up". And on a good day I can run more than three quarters of a mile with that epic version of “Lucky Star”.

I hope this little retrospective has made your day/evening/week.

Ooh yeah. Ooh yeah.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Comment: I love my mom.

My mother has been visiting for ten days and it’s just been downright dreamy. She is leaving early tomorrow morning and I hate goodbyes, especially when they’re for months at a time. Living far from family takes on a whole new dimension when you have a little family of your own. Suddenly being across the continent from Nana and Grandpa is sub-optimal.

Because when your parent(s) visit you, they’re not just visiting with you anymore; they are visiting your kids. And that is truly joyous. Watching a grandparent adore a child is something nobody warns you about before you have kids. There’s nothing as pure as the love a grandparent pours all over their grandchildren. It’s beauteous to see.

So I’m feeling ultra sad right now, because I already miss my mom and she hasn’t even left yet. We had so much fun, and now it’s time for her to go. I’ll be sad, the kids will be sad. Tomorrow will be a day that we really really miss Nana, and there will be tears.

But I do know this: I will consider my life a success if my grown kids feel about me the way I now feel about my mother.

That’s my dream.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Comment: I'll never quit you, NPR

Confession time: I have crushes on many of the voices at NPR . And apparently, I’m not alone. Recently at a party, a new friend of mine mentioned that she loves the soothing voice of none other than Kai Risdal. She says it calms her down and makes her day. I too enjoy his dulcet tones and mellow yet confident voice as he explains the world’s shattered economy to me in terms I can understand. It’s like he’s just sitting at the kitchen table talking to me while I make yet another version of noodles with cheese.

I should go on the record as saying that I am NPR geek. I get most of my news and mental stimulation during my days raising two small children from the good folks at NPR. They are my friends, or at the very least, my companions throughout the daily ups and downs of caregiving and sweeping the floor three thousand times a day to rid it of Cheerios detritus. I love the faithful voices I listen to. No matter where we have moved over the years (and moved we have) I can always count on my voice-mates at NPR to talk me through whatever is going on in the world in terms that are left of center enough for me, a Canadian living in California.

Even when I don’t know a soul, as long as I know where my NPR station and the nearest Target are, I’m good.

Earlier in my career as an NPR voice crush groupie, I was all over Ray Suarez. His voice is just right. I could have listened to him reading the telephone book and I would have been riveted. But he left for TV ventures, and we don’t have TV, so Ray is an ex now. (We’re on good terms.)

I’m a big fan of Shea Stevens. She has that smoky, autumnal, maybe-I-smoke-or-just- have-vocal nodules-kind of voice that's just gorgeous. She makes me feel safe and informed simultaneously. I keep thinking she’ll get laryngitis but somehow she just keeps rocking the hoarseness at just the right level. Shiver me timbres, seriously.

And now that I think about it, I have a friend who says that Ira Glass always sounds like he’s filing his nails; his manner is so casual, you are sure that he’s doing something else while he talks. He’s relaxing and entertaining, too.

And Karl Castle. Well, he feels more like a grandfatherly or great uncle-ish personality to me; what I really love is when he’s on the humor show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” and is taking the piss out of anyone and everyone. You just know this guy is fun at parties and family dinners. I would do a LOT to get his voice on my answering machine.

Which brings me to Peter Segal. Oh how I love his voice, his wit, his phrasing, his tempo. I actually went to a taping of his show and you know what? I don’t even remember what he looked like. It was unimportant to me. All that matters is his voice.

Please do not misunderstand. These are not tawdry crushes of the erotic variety. No, no, no! Do not sully my wonderful pals at NPR in this way! I just love to listen to them. They are the one consistent thing in my life. When Leanne Hansen goes away for a week I feel a little untethered. I totally want to be her best friend. Have you ever heard such a friendly, lovable and intelligent voice in your life?

But I am going on now, aren’t I? I’m just sort of relieved to realize that other people in the world derive the same unsullied, simple pleasure of turning on the dial around 89.3 or so anywhere in the country and breathing a sigh of familiarity and relief.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Question: Are all mothers destined to traumatize their children with food?

It seems that no matter what I feed my children, they don’t like it. And I recently realized that this was not unique to my kids. My mom was visiting, and my sister was there, too, which brought to mind some family dinners in which many’s the time I ate pb and j because I could not handle what my mom had made.

My sister, on the other hand, was not nearly as fussy as me, and so was able to ingest my mom’s culinarily interesting creations. She went on a health food kick in the 70s (who didn’t?) and suddenly wheat germ made an appearance, sprinkled lavishly on every possible edible surface. She always used a lot of cheese on things, allegedly to make them taste better. But her favorite food was cabbage.

Lots and lots of cabbage.

Sure, it’s good for you, but in most forms it’s downright nasty. To this day I can’t eat anything with cooked cabbage. Not a thing. Sauerkraut freaks me out (hey, that rhymes!) and brussel sprouts (another fave at our house—not) turn my stomach to this day.

And the little frozen “spinach souffl├ęs”from Stouffers were just the gnarliest thing ever. I still have issues with finely chopped spinach. And frozen broccoli bits? You know, when they’re all chopped up and the stems are prominent? Gah. In French it was called "brocolli haches", with an accent on the e that I don’t know how to do on this computer, but trust me, it was nasty.

I have grown, as an adult, to enjoy salad, but many veggies still give me the willies. This can’t be all my mom’s fault. I mean, my sister ate them all with gusto and still enjoys them. Even today she’d eat a cabbage and wheat germ casserole with nary a blink. She’d like it.

Me? Not so much. I’m a fussy eater. I never really realized it, but my husband AND mother can confirm it. I’m fussy. If I like something, it doesn’t like me. And if I don’t like it, I’m often the only one in the room who doesn’t.

But the rule in our house was: if you don’t like it, make yourself a peanut butter sandwich. And no complaining. (which I now realize was key, because I can tell you right now that I get kind of pissed off if my kids don’t like what I made. It’s like, hey, I clean you, comfort you, feed you, so you get what you get on your plate and if you don’t like it, suck it up or make your own damn sandwich.) There was a healthy respect for the fact that my mom was doing pretty much every household/homemaking duty PLUS working full time, so there was no room for guff.

And you still had to eat your veggies. Tough crowd.

Anyway, I don’t eat cabbage anymore, and my mom and I laugh about the food dramas of days gone by.

So am I going to be having this conversation with my adult kids like I just did with my mother and sister? Going over all the gnarly things we didn’t like and avoided like the plague? What am I putting on their plates now that will torment them for years to come? And most important of all, will I laugh as graciously as my mom does today?

I plan on it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Question: Why were we not made aware?

Warning: This post is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.

There are so many books out there that tell you what to expect when you’re, er, expecting, giving birth, nursing, and raising infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school age kids and teens.

But there’s no mention of duck scum.

This is somehow an unfortunate oversight on the part of the thousands of so-called parenting experts/river guides who attempt to guide us through the unpredictable and wild rapids of raising children.

Sleep training? Check. Potty training? Check. “Positive Discipline”? Check. Disgusting things you’ll encounter on your journey through parenthood? Not so much. There’s no mention of those in those books with the serene, Holly Hobbie/Laura Ashley Stepford mother on the cover holding her (quiet and satisfied) baby. No stains on those clothes either.

When you’re pregnant, if you’re unfortunate, you throw up. A lot. They say you get sicker if you’re carrying a girl, and that, ladies and gents, appears to be a wise old wive’s tale. I was sick as a dog with my daughter. I even puked in a nearby garbage can in the lobby of my OB’s building, then went back upstairs and got hooked up on an IV for dehydration. (I drank more water than the Colorado River during that pregnancy, but I couldn’t stay hydrated.) Vomiting in public places. There was no mention of that in the pregnancy books.

There’s an occasional mention of things like baby poop, and how it changes in color and texture as the baby takes solid food. But nowhere did it explain how rank the odor was, and how HUGE these dumps the baby takes are. The volume output is impressive. And the spreadability factor is unbelievable and can even end up on thighs and toes. The dreaded thigh poop? No mention. The frightening poop slick up the back of the onesie? Nada.

As a child moves on through early infancy to toddlerhood, there are plenty of messes: crushed cheerios, congealed spaghetti flung far from the high chair, mucous, mucous, and more mucous. I was only prepared for the latter because I had taught preschool for a couple of years in the 1990s. We had one little boy who had so much snot that every time he sneezed it was like Niagara Falls. Gnarly.

As the children learn to use the toilet, they don’t necessarily tend to be neater/cleaner. That’s a myth. Have you ever seen (and smelled) a pee puddle from behind the toilet, where some lad’s aim was a bit off? Have you ever had to clean poop scoot marks off your toilet seat, floor, and various towels that were the result of an ill-fated attempt to wipe one’s own self?

Not in the books.

I always thought that some of the nasty secretions we dealt with in our young children would slowly taper off with the advent of correct toilet paper use, self-administered nose blowing and hand washing. And they have, a little.

Enter the duck scum.

Duck scum, as you may already know, is the gunky, black, and rank gunk that comes out of bath time squeeze toys if they are not regularly drained and rinsed out. The usual suspect is the rubber ducky. Ernie did not mention this foul substance in his Sesame Street ode. But he should have.

I can only imagine what we have in store for us as our kids rocket into tween and teenhood.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Comment: A Ticklish Situation

The other night, while I was out at a social event related to my daughter’s preschool, my husband was home doing something altogether different with the kids at home.

While I was drinking homemade sake, eating 18 different kinds of cookies and wolfing down potstickers, my husband was attempting to calm our three year old daughter (while her big brother watched on with questions, no doubt) who needed to be held still while he removed, wait for it, a tick from the nape of her neck.

A tick.

From the nape.

Of her neck.

We thought she had a little pimple or mini-dreadlock back there, but when my husband looked at her head closely during bathtime while her curly hairdo was wet and not blocking his view, he saw that the pimple? Had legs. Legs.

What did my superhero husband do? He went to the Internet, of course. "Tick bites" entered into a Yahoo! Search portal yields an overwhelming amount of information. But he’s a great researcher, so he figured out what needed to be done. And he did it. He removed the tick with his tweezers and cleaned the area. He then studied what signs to look out for regarding Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease.

He delivered the news of his evening to me right after I scampered home, late, and wired, from my cookie fest. To add insult to injury, he had also found a discarded dress of my daughter’s that had been profoundly and disturbingly soiled and abandoned on her floor. A tick and a shit-dress. That’s an evening for you.

To follow up on the tick situation, I called the doctor's office the next day and they warned me what to look out for and then suggested that I “look it up on the Internet.” This is the first time a doctor has been as transparent about it, but it cracked me up. I called the doctor and he said, “go look it up.” Is there a co-pay for that thoughtful, insightful advice?

Do we need doctors anymore, now that we have ample resources to cull from the web? Of course we do. There is a lot of misinformation online, and that can mess you up. But if you stick with the CDC and NIH, you can’t go very far wrong. Plus there are gruesome pictures to help you identify the rash you currently see on your child’s heinie or whatever.

So we’re keeping an eye on our daughter for symptoms that might need a real live doctor’s care. So far so good.

My husband asked me what I would have done if I had discovered the tick while he was at work. It was easy to answer that question: I’d call him and beg him to come home, tweezers in hand. There is no freakin’ way I would have attempted to take a tick out of my child if I could wait twenty minutes for the hands of calm to come home and take over. I have a tremor and I tend towards panic.

The man is a rock; that's the guy with the good brain, level head, and fine motor skills to whom I’m lucky enough to be married.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Question: What. Have. I. Done.

Recently we were the recipients of a coven full of Barbies, the likes of which I have never seen. Even in my heydey of Barbie usage, there weren’t nearly so many blonde, curvaceous, scantily-clad fairies in the playtimes of my sister and I.

We had Dollikins, which were uglier, but far more bendable, pseudo-Barbies. We knew they were lesser, and made their characters irritable and spiteful. We had a few Barbies. Being the younger sister, of course, I had Skipper, whose flat chest I apparently inherited. But not her wicked tan.

We had one Barbie, my sister and I, who was a skater or something, and she had a tilting torso you could wobble around via a tab on her back. Her torso was actually detachable. I would periodically make her lose her torso, my charming equivalent for “losing her head”. She would then flail around looking for her other half, saying things like “Oops! I lost my body! Oh my!” Even at a tender age, I was well aware of the dumb blonde stereotype.

Which brings me to now. I have a three and half year old daughter. My son is two years older. His interest in these Barbies is limited to the bitchin Mustang that came with these hand-me-overs from a friend, whose daughter is out of the phase.

These toys also came complete with a small wardrobe including those blasted eeny weeny Barbie shoes which, though beloved as a child, are beloathed as the parent in charge of trying to locate them every time one of them falls off, or gets sucked up in the vacuum cleaner.

The army of Barbies we now have are almost exclusively blonde and buxom and blue-eyed. I’m feeling conflicted about my daughter having them, but it’s mitigated somewhat due to the fact that she is a blonde with blue eyes. At least she can see some of herself in these ubiquitous dolls most girls adore. I had a hard time finding a Barbie that looked like me as a child; there was no "Gangly Barbie": dorkily-skinny, tall, flat-chested but also pale, brunette and brown-eyed, with distinctive but not altogether glamorous moles. (“Beauty marks”, my ass.)

I know my daughter loves to play with dolls, leaves, straws, Christmas ornaments; anything can turn into a character in her little hands. I was exactly the same way when I was her age. So does she really need those Barbies? Is she too young? Are they too stereotypical, casting unattainable perfection onto all who touch them?


And no.

She absolutely LOVES them, as many girls do. And she’s using her imagination. Is that enough for me to say, okay, they’re acceptable? I mean, I had them myself. And I don’t really think all good-looking blondes are dumb. I have fond memories of playing with my Barbies. So maybe it’s okay.

But damn those little shoes.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Comment: New TV, Screw TV

I’ve certainly mentioned at some point in these posts that we don’t have network TV, so we don’t strictly speaking have broadcast television. But we do have a TV set, which we use to watch DVDs from Netflix. If we had actual channels on our TV, we would all be drooling zombies whose butts would grow roots in the sofa. It’s too much visual candy for us. We don’t do moderation well.

And said TV, if I am to understand things, is about to become obsolete, even if we WANTED broadcast TV. There’s some new technology for new TVs starting on some date when you’ll have to have a certain kind or you won’t have any. (See how informed I am? I get all my news from NPR.)

Given the state of TV, I just don’t really care. To quote the sexy southern woman both George and Jerry dated, (but whose name eludes me) on Seinfeld, “It’s jist so much flu-uhff.”

However, I do get to see TV when I go to the gym, and like any reformed TV junkie, of course I watch as I run, walk and sweat. What I see these days is mostly nasty. News that is pretty much all bad, positioned in various ideologies depending on the network, of course.

But the thing that I saw the other day that just knocked me out was some reality show about two good-looking-in-a-thuggish-way men who were looking for love, on television, natch, and there were many tattooed and hoochily-dressed young women vying for their attention.

One of the women was, apparently, nicknamed MILF, and if you don’t know what that means by all means DON’T ask a high school student. She apparently, from what little narrative I could discern, had leaked out some secrets that one of the men had told her. He was ticked off, she was contrite. And then there was Nikki, another woman who was up for elimination with MILF, and she was pissed and wanted to state her case, whatever it was. (This all in under ten minutes. We don’t need the soaps anymore, reality TV shows are way more dramatic than they are, and sometimes the acting is better.)

MILF was going to voluntarily remove herself from the show. In a tearful moment, she began to confess that she would take herself out of contention for the guy’s affections because she had made a mistake by telling tales out of school. Nikki was jazzed because she thought that meant she was still in the game.

But here’s the reversal of fortune, drama buffs: although the guy was pissed at MILF and all signs pointed to her being booted off the show, she wasn’t. He decided that he had a “crazy connection” with her that he wanted to pursue, so Nikki was off the show. And she was robo-pissed.

Watching these ten minutes or so in total of this show made me feel like a total gawker at an accident. What you see is hideous, desperate and tragic, but you can’t look away.

TV is scary.

Besides, if my jones for TV comes up, and sometimes it does, I can always watch it online. The major networks broadcast full episodes of many of their shows. And you can always watch something on hulu.com, though I don’t understand how it’s not illegal. Whatevah.

Who needs HDTV or whatever the hell it is? There’s more than enough crap online, and it’s crap I can watch whenever I want, with limited commercial interruptions, on my very own computer, anywhere in the house. What’s better than that?

Maybe, reading a book?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Question: Are those curls natural?

So we were at a birthday party today, my kids and I, and the grandmother of the birthday boy asked me, “Are your daughter’s curls natural?” And I answered, of course, “Yes they are.” Admittedly I have dark and staright hair, while hers is blonde and curly, so I understand why grandma didn’t see the resemblance.

But what I don’t understand is what the question implies. Do some people curl their children’s hair? Sure, maybe for a super special occasion, but I thought only older kids did that. Curling a three year-old’s hair strikes me as a little on the verge of little girl beauty pageants, which are, in my view, utterly creepy and somewhat disturbing.

Our children are not our dolls. Sure, it’s fun to dress them up, and if they like it, fine. But if your little girl or boy would rather wear a white t-shirt and jeans, why force them to dress like someone they’re not? Little children don’t need hair care products. They don’t need makeup. Even if they ask, four is too young for lipstick. It’s scarily precocious and inappropriate.

Our society is already trying to sexualize kids, especially very young girls, and it’s nasty. A small child should look and act like what (s)he is: small, young, innocent.

I probably sound about 100 years old, but if I’m curmudgeonly, so be it. Children need to be allowed to be children. And these days, pop culture is rushing them along; but we’re complicit too. We take them to dance classes before they’ve learned to run, to language classes before they know how to speak, and competitive sports before they can tie their shoes. Why are we doing this?

Is this another case of doing something for ourselves under the guise of doing it for the kids? Who's really competing here, the kids or the grown-ups? What are we teaching them?

And the hype feeds on itself. I live in a hyper-competitive part of the world, and it seems to me that this is not good for our kids. Life is stressful enough without everybody’s expectations of perfection, good grooming, intellectual skills and athletic prowess before age five.

So no, I don’t curl my daughter’s hair. When she’s old enough, I hope she doesn’t want to straighten it either. She’s beautiful the way she is now.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Comment: The Things We Do for Love (Of Ourselves)

So I realized today that I put vegetables in my son’s lunch pack, not, as you would expect, for him, but for myself. He never eats them, and yet every day, without fail, there is a fruit or vegetable in his lunch pack that he returns home to me in his lunch pack, slightly the worse for wear and smelling like a school cafeteria even though he ate it outside because this is California.

So I end up either eating it or throwing it out.

He doesn’t eat it. He never eats it. At school anyway.

Why do I persist? Sure, the childcare books all told me that I should offer a food to a child at least fourteen times before you know if they’re really never going to try it, because you never know, on the thirteenth attempt at spinach, they just might eat it, by golly! But it’s been more than fourteen times. And still I persist in offering.


So I present food to my son in the faint hopes that he’ll eat it because it makes me feel like a better mother.

Veggies for Mommy? Apparently so.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. I mean, he eats veggies and fruits at other times at home, but never at school. Do you think there’s some sort of Kindergarten taboo on eating things that grow? Am I lowering my son’s K-cred by sending him to school with geeky healthy foods? Probably. But I’d also like him not to develop rickets by first grade, thank you very much.

And yet, as I said, he never consumes them at school. Ever. So why I am wasting the food? To assuage my tender parenting ego, which feels that good mothers pack veggies and fruits for their kids, not Fruit by the freaking Foot which is VILE. (I bought some once. I admit it, I erred. Needless to say, I'm now out of contention for Mother of the Year. Honestly? I don’t want to talk about it.) Those green peppers are for ME.

Which I guess I never saw coming, to be honest.

Anyway, I’m realizing that a lot of times when we do things for someone else, we are really doing them for ourselves. Tricky that. I know I tell my daughter to put on a sweater when I’m cold. And those school pictures? Those aren’t for the kids. They’re for Mom, Dad, Grandpa and Grandpa. And those school ART projects? Those are totally for the parents. In early childhood education, a lot of times the kid doesn’t even DO the art. It’s 98% done by the teacher and the kid touches it and then it’s their masterpiece! This is not done for the kids. It’s for us addled grown-ups who need validation that we are doing right by our children.

I’m sure there’s more. I’ll let you know when I come up with more things-we-do-in-the-name-of-our-kids-but-are-really-for-our-fragile-egos. Right now I have some green pepper to eat.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Comment: Bloom, damn you.

I think it’s our job in life to just go around helping people. It doesn’t have to be overtly obvious, but I think the main goal for people, at least for living a satisfying life, is in learning to satisfy others. Counterintuitive? Possibly.

This isn’t exactly a newsflash. Many religions in theory claim this, though few are able to live up to the truly giving spirit espoused. Frankly I know I try to do good and often don’t get it right. Intention isn’t everything, but it should count for something.

The reference above is to an old episode of Reno 911 that I saw years ago. For those of you unacquainted with the show, it’s a raunchy and hilarious COPS-style fake reality show about Reno’s finest, who turn out to be anything but. There’s one character, Trudy, I think, who is repressed and uptight and all tucked in and in the episode I’m thinking of she meets a scam artist who lights her fire.

And as they’re sitting in the car, he is telling her how lovely she is and he says, “Bloom, damn you.” And bloom she does. Her entire demeanor changes for the rest of the episode, until he is pretty much run out of town to the sounds of banjo music.

The point is, there are only so many chances we have in this life to encourage people and help make them happy; in so doing we inevitably make ourselves happy.

Case in point; I found myself leading an improv workshop the other night to a bunch of super cool women, as I mentioned in a recent post. What was most satisfying about it was not the enormous amounts of laughter and fun, which were great; it was the comments afterward. One woman told me they didn’t think they would like it as much as she did, and that she loved it; another who had limited English did really well and probably didn’t think she would feel as successful as she did. And yet another, a particularly shy person, called it an inspirational workshop. Wow.

Anyway I’m not trying to get all self-congratulatory. I was just reminded that it feels really good to help people realize their own potential. This is why overall I really enjoy teaching, as well as being a parent, although it is harder to teach your own flesh and blood, or so I’ve learned.

When I think of the people I know who are the most content with their lot in life, they are primarily helping others grow in some way; they are teachers, nurses, social activists. They’re all encouragers, which is a positive thing, as opposed to enablers, which are generally a bad thing if I’m to believe every Louise Hay and Melody Beattie book out there. (And maybe I do.)

Think about your own life and where you help others bloom.

It might just make your day.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Question: Hello?

Why did it take almost a year for the experts to figure out we are in a recession?

I'm just asking.

Because I think we were oozing down this decadent, credit-strewn road for quite some time before the gunk hit the fan, no?

I'm just saying.

What is an expert, anyway? I mean, other than someone who knows a lot about something and likes to show off. I 'm an expert at complaining and where did that get me?

I don't know what my point is, maybe there is no point.

But why did it take that long to figure out that many of us were getting (a) greedy and/or (b) stupid and/or (c) both of (a) and (b)?

I thought this damn recession just started. Does it mean it's going to get much worse a year in, or does it mean that the worst already happened and we're on the way back up? Somehow I doubt the latter, given the crumbling major corporations all over the country begging Bush for pocket money they'll blow on CEO salaries and bonuses. Puh-lease.

My friend just got downsized. His recession is just starting.

Hunker down, people.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Comment: Just say yes.

Just got home from leading an improv class with a bunch of fabulous women who are all moms at my daughter's preschool. It was inspiring for many reasons, primarily of which is that we didn't know each other when we started, but by the time the evening was through, every single one of us had guffawed, giggled and laughed hysterically together several times over.

It reminded me that the key to life is much like the key to good improvisation: say yes, push your comfort zone, work with your partner, not against them. But especially the yes part.

Although we all felt self-conscious at first, before long the creative juices were flowing. And this is s necessary for happiness, I am convinced.

Say yes.