Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Teaching kids to be thankful



You may be shocked to discover this, but I have a pretty vast aptitude for complaining.  I  come from a long line of Lamenting All Stars, and I could go all night. Weirdly, I am also a generally, and deeply, optimistic person, which counteracts my ability to complain endlessly about petty details.

Still, the complaining gets annoying. I have learned this from listening to my daughter. She's a Master Kvetcher, a real chip off my mom's block. A few months ago,  I started working with her on being less negative - focusing attention on the positive parts of the picture, finding silver linings. The simplest and best strategy we've used to achieve this superhuman feat is a listL A Things That Make Me Happy list, or alternatively Things I like or Things I'm Grateful For. It's been an edifying process which has served as a fantastic reminder for me to linger on the positive, to savor the good stuff.

So I feel like we've been in Thanksgiving mode, and are ready for the one day a year officially devoted to such an endeavor. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I'd share Seconda's list. Every one of these are things which also make me happy. Who wouldn't smile at a guinea pig?


Seconda's Things that Make Me Happy List

Whoopie pies
Guinea pigs
Weekends
Days when Daddy's off
Smell of leaves in fall 
Stuffed cats 
Doing handstands on the couch 
Running into friends on the street 
Warm baths
Playing with my little sister
Playing with friends
Getting a new frog
Petting dogs on the street 
Finding marbles
Barber shop swirling sign 
Seeing bugs
Squashing berries
Pie!
Pizza!
Hanging out with nice teenagers
Making chocolate cream pie with Daddy
Thanksgiving

Monday, November 24, 2014

The dreaded Santa question

"Is Santa ---" my seven year-old Seconda started to ask. I knew what was coming.

She would ask me if Santa was real. When Primo was her age exactly, he asked me this, and I was unprepared. I stalled for a few months by asking him if HE thought Santa was real and then when that no longer held him off, I asked if he REALLY wanted to know the answer, which I thoughts was pretty much an answer in and of itself. And then when he insisted yes, yes, he was ready to hear it, he was strong enough, I told him the truth.

This time, though, with my second-born, I was ready. Except she didn't ask the question I thought she would.

"Is Santa dead?" she asked instead.

Buy time, my mind strategized.

"Who told you that?"

"Marion." she replied, "and Harry and Chloe and a bunch of other aids."

"So what you're saying is there's a rumor going around school that Santa Claus is dead?" I asked.

I have gotten proficient at the stalling-by-asking-questions strategy.

"Yes," she said, "Is is true?"

The problem with my ingenious stalling tactic, though, is sometimes the extra time does not buy me better ideas. I'm right where I starred.

"No it's not true," I said, and then I tossed in a really forced over-loud peal of laugher which is my specialty. "Of course not."

"But a lot of the kids said it was true," she said dubiously.

"Well let me ask you this," I pressed on, "What do they say is the cause of death?"

I was thinking she'd say he got hit by a car or developed cancer or slipped and fell off a roof one night or got trampled by an unruly reindeer or maybe he drank himself to death or took one too many painkillers or maybe he was murdered. None of those responses would have surprised me. These are city kids, after all.

"He died of old age," Seconda replied.

Then I laughed for real.

"Seconda, that's ridiculous," I replied, knowing full well that the whole Santa mythology was ridiculous, that the entire tale was a kind of insanity, an insanity which I was, now, fully committed to perpetuating.

"I mean, Santa is already thousand of years old." I went on, "so why on earth would he die of old age this year? It's like he was fine on his 1,564th birthday but the 1,565th one just put him over the edge? That is really silly."

She looked at me skeptically. I felt a bit uneasy. Primo did not take the truth about Santa well. He is STILL pissed at me for "lying" to me. Whenever I tell him something that he doesn't quite believe, and he questions the veracity of my statement, I say "Have I ever lied to you>" idiotically thinking he will agree that the answer is no.

"Yes," he invariably replies, "You lied to be about Santa. For years. So you're a liar."

"I just wanted to give you THE MAGIC of Christmas that I loved when I was a kid!!" I retort. "It's a STORY."

"It's a lie," he says. Case closed.

I don't know if Seconda will hold the Santa story against me like her big brother does. But there is no turning back now. Confirming Santa is dead won't rectify the first "lie", it'd only add another one to the pile.

So, no, I refuse to kill off Santa. Call me old-fashioned.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

If your house is a mess, read this and you'll feel better

When I saw this photo in the Huff Post, I thought, "Hey, my dresser. Why is a picture of my dresser online?" and then I had to read on, because I wanted to know more about the person who has a dresser that looks as deranged and ransacked as mine, and who feels comfortable posting that picture on the world wide web. So I read What Normal Looks Like, and now I'm sharing it. You're welcome.

Too often when I read pieces about parenting, they give me either a headache or a panic attack.  This one, however, did neither. It made me laugh and it made me feel relieved. It injected a healthy and much-needed dose of sanity into my day. Because I am the person who greets you at the door, wildly apologizing for the state of my house, except my house is not immaculate, it's actually filthy. Guests will actually brush crumbs off my bar stools. They will step on tiny Legos and cry out in pain. They will need to wait for a glass of water while I wash them a cup from the overflowing pile in the sink. They will not be able to stop themselves from taking a paper tower and just wiping down the counter because it will only take a second to dispose of the dried Rice Krispies and then they can focus on the conversation.

My apartment is so frequently such a sty that my husband and I refer to it as Das Messen Haus which is  in no way correct German, but a term we invented to add some humor and tension relief into the air because when we look at the state of our house we are, basically, always horrified.

I've written about having people over at my messy house before -- My House is A Pigsty, anyone? It's a problem I can't solve until I  A. have less kids living in my tiny apartment or B. have  enough money to pay for a housecleaner. So, what I really need is permission to let myself off the hook, and assurance that other people are in the same filthy boat. I need this:

"Normal: There is a room in your house that always stays cluttered and messy, and much like Lady Macbeth's hands, will never be clean.

Normal: Your kids' bath toys are right where they left them after the bathwater drained

Normal: Cups and cups and cups. Everywhere. All the time."

Elizabeth Broadbent, you are cordially invited over to play at my place. Just don't wear dry-clean-only clothes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

De-cluttering with a second grader, and other oxymorons




I don't know what came over me yesterday. Maybe it was the cold that kept me at home all morning. Maybe the extra 30 minutes of sleep gave me vaulting ambition. But whatever combination of well-intentioned but woefully delusional forces contributed to the lunacy, I decided to get Seconda to de-clutter. I told her we were going to go through her toys and edit. We were going to downsize. When none of these euphemisms rang any bells, I told her we were going to give away some of her toys.

"NO!" she shrieked, "I need them."

"You couldn't possibly need all of them," I said. "Let's just take a look and see."

I started with her stuffed animals. In fact, I started and ended there because it took over an hour and by the time we were done, all my ambition was used up and I was dying to flee the apartment, no matter how cold the temperature.

Seconda's a stuffed animal person. They just never did it for Primo, but they hit that sweet spot for Seconda. They are the only kind of toys she ever really wants and she wants them, passionately, desperately. She carries a stuffed animal with her wherever she goes, including in her backpack at school, and grocery shopping and swimming and playdates and airplanes and EVERYWHERE.

She currently has three good-sized Ikea boxes full of stuffed animals and lately, there's been overflow. I'm not getting any more boxes to house any more stuffed creatures. So some of them have to go, I told her.

But which?

I held up a white Beanie Boo of the feline persuasion.

"Not Bianca! She's the only Italian cat I have!"

"Can't any of them be Italian?" I ask.

She didn't even dignify that inquiry with a response.

I held up a filthy brown cat we got at a toy swap five years ago, It was old and filthy even then and being carried around constantly and left in a burger joint in New Jersey for two weeks didn't not make it any less worn.

"Mom! That's Siamesey! It's the only Siamese cat I have!"

Incorrect, actually. I held up another Siamese cat as proof, but she just replied that THAT was a long haired Siamese and the other was SHORT HAIRED. Duh.

"What about this?" I asked, holding up one of at least four white fluffy non-named cats with no particular ethnic origin or sentimental backstory.

"But you gave me that!" she protested.

"But I gave ALL of these to you!" I protested back.

We couldn't give away the ones from her grandparents, or the ones won at the festival, or the ones her friends gave her for her birthday. We couldn't even give away the one she found in a giveaway box on the street.

"I just found that one!"

"Two months ago! And you haven't even played with it once!"

In the end, she OKed the release of one Beanie Boo penguin who she had covered in duct tape before learning the lesson that duct tape never comes off plush animals, ever. Who would want such an animal, I don't know. He looks like a penguin POW. It's pretty disturbing.

So, the fall cleaning was not a success. Except that my daughter's reconnected with all her beloveds. And I've learned that next time, I'll have to de-clutter when she's not looking.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Our Mommy Problem


I read a fantastic, very insightful essay in the NY Times yesterday, called the Our Mommy Problem;  it speaks to a lot of issues, really, but mostly, it reflects on the extent to which motherhood has become an identity, one which, it's assumed, defines and consumes us to the exclusion of everything else. I love this bit:
"We are outclassed at every turn. We are outspent and out-helicoptered and outnumbered. It used to be good enough just to keep your house from being coated in a thin layer of dog hair and human feces."
Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!

But this is really the bottom line:
"Somehow, as we’ve learned to treat children as people with desires and rights of their own, we’ve stopped treating ourselves and one another as such. But that’s not hard to understand when the reigning cultural narrative tells us that we are no longer lively, inspired women with our own ideas and emotions so much as facilitators, meant to employ at all times the calm, helpful tones of diplomats."
As a mother who beats herself up about her seeming inability to employ those calm, helpful, diplomat tones, I'm grateful to Heather Havrilesky for opening up a discussion about what motherhood means, and what it doesn't necessarily.

To paraphrase one of my favorite songs from the late 80s:

"My first name ain't Mommy. It's Janet. Miss Jackson if you're nasty."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mo' potty, mo' problems

 The good news is: we've finally gotten Terza to use the potty.

The additional good news: the kid is very intent on cleaning up after herself.

The bad news: that involves her emptying out her own potty. Which is the grossest mess ever.

The word shitstorm comes to mind.

It's tough because I don't want to discourage my self-starter from following through, flexing her independence muscles and aspiring to good hygiene. Nether do I want to have a Slip 'N Slide: Piss Edition experience every time I enter my bathroom.

She's so terrifically proud of herself:

"Mommy, I used the POTTY!!" she shrieks, running pantless into the kitchen.

I freeze in place, usually in the middle of draining the pasta for mac n' cheese.

"That's great, honey," I manage positively enough: "Let me come see."

The Jaws soundtrack plays as I follow her down the hallway to the bathroom, silently repeating the mantra, "Please let it be pee. Please let it be pee."

"See Mommy?" she announces: "I put it in the big potty!"

By which she means, she deposited 10% of whatever was collected in the potty into the toilet. The rest is scattered all over the floor, running down the front of the toilet and, somehow, splashed over the side of the adjoining sink.

"Honey," I sigh: "I've told you already. Mommy needs to empty the potty. Thank you for your help but you are not allowed to empty the potty. Mommy does it. Mommy. Not Terza. Mommy. Got it?"

Then, as I mop bodily fluids off the floor, we role play what she'll do next time she uses the potty and she obligingly pretends to call out, "MOMMY! You have to empty the potty!" and I think she's got it. And then an hour later, we repeat the scene all over again.

Clearly, she needs more supervision in the bathroom. Clearly, I cannot provide it. There's homework to help with and dinner to make and emails to respond to and the other messes Terza makes to clean up.

What I should do is build her gross motor skills so as to improve her accuracy. Have her practice pouring cups of water into a bowl, until her percentage in/ percentage out ratio tips. or else just cover the bathroom in garbage bags.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sexy Chucky: or, I had a rage fit at the Halloween store



A few weeks ago, I took the kids to our local pop-up Halloween store. We already had a costume for Terza -- Max from the Wild Things, handmade by my grandmother years ago. Primo had decided to make his own costume, as he is won't to do. Seconda had decided on her costume, too -- Princess Bubblegum, the royal scientist from Adventure Time, which I OKed. We popped into the pop-up store because she'd seen the costume in their window but alas, they were sold out, and we'd need to wait a day or two for them to replenish their supply. I was ready to leave, but the kids, of course, wanted to browse. They wanted to see what was on offer.

Since this isn't my first time at the rodeo, I know what'll be on offer. For the boys, there'll be all manner of monsters and homicidal maniac costumes, lots of blood dripping and exposed brain matter and demonic grins. For the toddlers, there will be animal and princess costumes. And for my seven year-old daughter, there will be a large assortment of shit.

Because she's only seven, her store-bought costume options are not exclusively shit yet. They are mostly shit, with a slim selection of non-indecent choices, like Princess Bubblegum, or the Athena costume we got last year. She rocked that floor-length number, swinging a large silver foam sword (Athena was the goddess of battle strategy, in addition to wisdom, you know). Since she's big for her age, and likes her apparel loose and roomy, she wears size 8 or 10 and when you get to size 8, and definitely size 10, you are staunchly in sexy costume territory. Lest you think I am exaggerating, check out this piece on the Huff Post which compares the "child" version of costumes with "tween" versions.

So, walking in the store, I know what'll line the aisles. There'll be the popular cartoon character costumes, lots of My Little Ponies and a whole bunch of Monster High ladies (don't get me started on these, just refer to this piece I wrote for Babble last year about the dolls). There'll be a few select historical options, like Cleopatra. There will be a handful of animal costumes, though these won't be full-body plush suits, of the ilk available for the two year-old; instead they'll be headbands with animals ears adhered, leotards and adorable, tutu-style mini-skirts chockful of furbelows. I've never seen a mouse wearing a tutu, but that is clearly beside the point.

And then there's the rest. Seconnda pretty much aged out of the regular princess category - Cinderella ate my daughter when she was three and then, at about age six, she spit her out. Princesses are still an option for her at Halloween time, though in her size, we are faced mostly with Sexy Princesses. To make a Sexy Princess outfit, you just take a regular princess gown and hack off three feet of material so that is reaches to the child's mid-thigh. The knee-high boots don't come included of course, but the packaging suggests they'll be the perfect accessory. The packaging also shows you how to rock the sexy princess look - a hand on the hip is good, hip cocked up is even better. Don't forget the alluring smirk, the hallmark of all sexy princesses.

But wait! It's not just princesses! You can be a sexy ANYTHING. Just elevate the hemline and stick the hooker boots on and bam, Minnie Mouse is now . . . Streetwalker Mouse. 

Look, I was prepared for the shockingly over-sexualized girl costumes. But being prepared did not prevent me from being mad. I was irate. I was fucking furious. I fantasized about grabbing all the floozy kid costumes and flinging them to the floor screaming to no one in particular: "YOU ARE SELLING STRIPPER OUTFITS TO CHILDREN! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! HAVE YOU NO DECENCY?? REMOVE THIS APPALLING SHIT IMMEDIATELY."

Then Seconda interrupted my fury reverie by gasping: "Oh, Mommy, look! It's a Sexy Chucky Costume! That is SO inappropriate!"

I thought she was joking. It's the sort of thing that I'd thought you could only find on SNL or, maybe, Jon Stewart (did you catch the segment last year with the vagina costume? Hilarious). But, no, in fact, she was right. There was a package clearly featuring a very buxom woman with a I'm-going-to-devour-you-by-which-I-mean-your-dick-of-course look on her face. She was sporting a kind of apparel that I'm not sure there's a word for -- an overall dress so short it barely covered her ass. Knee-high stockings, obviously. And stitlletos. Oh, and the ax. 

It wasn't a kid costume (not yet, at least) but the sheer ridiculousness of a sexy Chucky costume just whipped my fury to a climax. The thing about parenting though is, you can never have the rage fit you want, when you want it. You annoyingly have to pull your shit together . . . until such a time, at least, as you can write a blog post about it.

So I laughed, and said,"Honey, that's inappropriate in so many ways I don't even know where to start." I didn't want to make a huge deal, didn't want her even paying too much attention, cluttering up her beautiful brain with so much fucking noise.

But as we walked out the store - me fuming, my daughter laughing - I thought: "How fucking dare you, costume company? How dare you suggest to my seven year-old daughter that the thing that makes a woman of interest, what makes her worth paying any attention to is a pair of tits and a pair of legs and a hideous leer that, frankly, is going to give me nightmares. Go to hell please -- and take your abhorrent, piece-of-junk costumes with you."

This Halloween, I think I'll dress us as something really fucking scary. I'll dress up as "Enraged Mother Costume Shopping for Her 7 Year-Old."  I won't be wearing the stitlletos or the knee-high stockings or the silicone implants. I will, however, hang on to the ax.