Thursday, January 28, 2010

Planet of the Helicopter Parents

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? If you were crazy for them, as I was, you will be excited to know that they're being re-issued. I don't know how they'll fare with today's cyber-saavy kids who are used to customizing everything on their computer screen but I'm hopeful they'll be a hit again. In a time and place where children are so over-scheduled and closely-directed, kids crave control -- who doesn't really? --and here is another way to give it to them AND encourage literacy.

But this particular Choose Your Own Adventure book is not for kids, but for you.

Planet of the Helicopter Planets

Warning: the sipping of beverages while reading this may result in leaking out your nose - that's how funny Marjorie Ingall's parody is. And I'm a self-avowed helicopter parent. What slays me is the names of the kids in the playground. Atticus! Spot on.

If I had a windfall of wishes

Do you ever catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and realize you are having a day where you look effortlessly good? I am not talking about a day where you spend an hour trying to look effortlessly good but one where it just, magically, happens, where the way that you hastily stick a bobby pin in your hair while madly scrubbing piss out of the carpet is the very best way you could possibly have inserted that bobby pin? It happens every once in a blue moon and yesterday was one of those times.

And after I realized I was having an effortlessly-good-looking episode, I then thought, how great would it be to ALWAYS look effortlessly good? (Yes, I am never content with anything I have).It occurred to me that if I had a bunch of wishes – not just three but a whole windfall of them, over five for sure, that I would probably wish to look amazing without the aid of lipstick or Great Lash. First, world peace. Second, long health and happiness for my family. Third, health reform. And then the effortlessly hot wish. At least I have my priorities straight.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bedtime noises

Thanks to the incredibly small size of our home, I can hear everything that goes on in my kids’ room at bedtime. It doesn’t matter where I am – the living room, the kitchen or my bedroom -- it all comes through crystal-clear. And here is what I’ve learned:

You don’t want to hear the kids laughing at bedtime. Because laughing always leads to crying.

Crying, however, never leads to laughing

And the absolute worst thing to hear coming out of the bedroom is silence. Silence equals a big damn mess.

Lately when Seconda is silent, it means she is torturing the pets – two amiable goldfish names Goldy and Whitey (look, I didn’t name them that – it was Primo’s bright idea and how could I explain that calling creatures “Whitey" isn’t really done?). Goldy and Whitey reside in a tank with no lid, on a very high dresser next to the kids’ bed and lately Sec has made it a habit of climbing right on up and dropping crap like dirty socks, stray Legos and discarded foot items into the tank. Those poor creatures must shudder when they see Seconda’s big blue eyes approach.

So, the only thing I like to hear coming out of that bedroom is low-level bickering, the kind unlikely to spur the children to action, and babydolls being disciplined.

“Snow White, I told you a million times, you CAN’T put your face in the fishtank! You leave those fishes alone! You are driving me CRAZY!”

May not lead to sleep but it won’t lead to crying either. Perfect.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

After the first Pilates class

I don’t think I can move. Pain. So much pain, David. This level of pain does not seem normal. It seems deep, deep down in my organs. Is it possible to pull your small intestines?

No, I did not stretch first as a matter of fact. Does it look like I’ve just swimming in free time here?

David, I am positively parched. Damn workout dried up my esophageal lining. I need a glass of water. Of course I can’t get up and get it. I’m injured. I am injured from exercise. I am telling you, I’ve done something awful to my abdomen. No, I don’t think it’s SUPPOSED to ache like this. This seems extreme. Do women have groins? I think I pulled my groin. I probably can’t have sex for WEEKS. Just wouldn’t want to risk it. Next thing you know, I’ll pull my vajajay and then we’d really be in trouble.

Is it not a little ironic that in the pursuit of health I undertake an exercise which ends up injuring me so that I can’t get my fat ass off the couch to get a glass of water? I am NOT being histrionic. You pull YOUR groin and see how you feel.

I’m feeling so lousy I think I need a drink. To dull the pain. No pain, no gain they say. Get me a beer, won’t you?

Don’t know if I can muster the courage to face the mat next week. We’ll just have to see if my groin pulls through.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Be careful how you shake it

I am not a terribly savvy Iphone owner. I have never, for instance, gone so far as to plug my phone into my computer and synch all that shit up. I have only a single page of app icons, most of which were the default ones that came with the phone. But during our trip to TN my in-laws took it upon themselves to introduce me to the app store.

I found the array of choices somewhat mind-blowing. But my sister-in-law helped me get started by suggesting this photo app she had called "Shake It" which basically imitates the effects of a Poloroid on your Iphone camera, over-saturating the photo and making it square so it looks like the real deal. And the gimmick is, you shake your Iphone to develop the picture and it makes that delicious sound of the picture being ejected from the Polaroid camera.

So I went to the app store and did a little search for "ShakeIt," and without looking closely at what popped up, I selected "Buy Now." I ended up with an app on my phone which loads th following message when youclick on it:

"Warning: Using this application can cause pain in your arm and hand and can permanently damage your body, If you feel ANY kind of pain, stop using this app."

Hmmmn . . . that didn't seem quite right. I mean, I've never heard of anyone getting rushed to the ER for too vigrously shaking a Polaroid picture. Turns out what I had bought was a game where you literally try to shake your Iphone as hard as you possible can and the phone calculates how many times you have shaken it and shares that information with you.

What I would like to know is this:

Who the hell thinks this is a good time? Shaking an exceedingly expensive piece of electronics as hard as is humanly possible -- so hard in fact it will likely cause you physical harm -- for the sheer joy of it?

I may have low expectations when it comes to fun but even I have higher criteria than that.

I did manage to find the correct Shake it, an app aptly called "ShakeItPhoto" and Primo went to town taking pictures of me, most of which he intentionally framed so that my head would be out of the pictures. His headless collection. Some of them aren't half bad. Check it out:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hey you guuuuuuys

My job is not glamorous or impressive or lucrative but occasionally it does allow me to wow my kid. This happened yesterday when I took Primo to a sneak peek screening of The Electric Company’s new season which starts Jan 25th on PBS. We booked it over to Lincoln Plaza after school, and slipped in just as they were starting the screening of the episode.

Here’s what I have to say about the Electric Company. It will rock your socks off. I don’t remember watching the show when I was a kid but David was a devoted follower back in the day and he thinks the new one fully measures up, which is high praise, indeed. It is great for two reasons:

  1. Its hilarious, clever, fast-paced and its format – one narrative with many different kids of skits threaded in – holds your interest the whole time

Thanks to this, the show is able to

  1. Teach kids to read and love reading

Oh, and there’s a third reason too:

C. Celebrities! Jimmy Fallon, LL Cool J, John Leguizamo, Yclef and lot sof basketball stars whose names I don’t know but who’d be sure to impress the sports-minded among you.

The Electric Company is like Flintstones vitamins: good for kids’ health but they taste like candy. When you’re talking about educational children’s programming, that’s what you need to get the job done.

I was sort of surprised when Primo got into the Electric Company last month because he notoriously HATES programs featuring what he calls “real people” rather than cartoons, and also because the phonics and vocab lessons seemed slightly above his head. But just goes to show you about having modest expectations for your little one.

In the episode we saw last night, one of the things it focused on was punctuation –teaching kids about how you use periods, exclamation points, question marks and commas. Primo now knows ALL ABOUT COMMAS – how you put them in a sentence to help break it up and introduce pauses in the right places so the words make sense. That seems like a big lesson for a kindergartener, but the show brought the lesson to life in such a clear and dynamic way, you couldn’t help but get it.

His favorite part was an animated skit that featured two sets of mothers and daughters. The first mother said, “My daughter studies rocks and flies” (the sentence pops up on the screen so kids can see the words). And her daughter took out a magnifying glass and securitized some pebbles and buzzing insects. Then the second mom said, “My daughter studies, rocks, and flies.” And her little girl read a book, then played electric guitar and then put on a propeller hat and flew off. Then the first girls said, “Mommy, can I have a comma for my birthday?”

Ever read Eats Shoots and Leaves? It’s like THAT, for kids. Genius.

Primo thought this was so damn funny he has not stopped telling the joke to everyone he meets. He also liked LL Cool J’s rap which rhymed “comma” with “my mama.” About halfway through the show, he whipped out his pad and started drawing and writing letters furiously. When the screening was over, he told me he’d made a book to give to the actors who played the characters Shock and Jessica, who’d come to the event. So we went over and he nervously handed them his creation which was filled with Electric Company games and scenes from the episode. They were incredibly cool about it, really taking his work seriously and listening to him explain the contents for an impressively long time. One of Shock’s specialties, by the way, is that he uses the beatbox to help kids learn phonics. How flipping cool is that??

The Electric Company is produced by the same people who do Sesame Street which means that they have to conduct testing on everything they do and consult educational experts in order to create curricular goals to incorporate into the show. Which means the teaching moments are not incidental or casually stumbled upon but carefully put together to target the areas kids need the most help with and to do it in a way that delights children.

And one more thing – the Electric Company’s website is really fantastic – full of games and video clips and pages your child can personalize. I am really discerning when it comes to the computer games I’ll let Primo play but I love the Jack Bowser Great Escapes game, where kids have to fill in the blanks in sentences, selecting from a list of possible words on the screen. Last night while playing the game Primo differentiated “hug” from “huge.” Who could ask from anything more??

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kids deserve great literature, too

If the thought of reading another Dora the Explorer book makes you want to yak, you need a literary antidote. Thank the Lord I wrote about just that, in the current issue of TONY Kids.

Big Lit for Little Kids

Its a review of some fantastic picture books for children, written by literary heavy-weights, like Woolf, Wilde, Thurber. Honestly, I adore these books. I brake for Barthelme. Kushner keeps me keeping on. Let me know what you think, or if you've stumbled upon other kids' books penned by writers who write mostly for adults.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Meditations on Monogamy

Major cyber-action going down on the old parkslopeparents listserv lately. You know things are heating up when you see a long string of anonymous posts. Nothing brings the crazy out in people like anonymity. There’s been a whole bunch of anonymous debates recently but the most fascinating by far had the subject heading, “Desire to Cheat.“

It started with this woman writing in about how she caught her husband browsing the craigslist personal ads and she’s worried that he wants to cheat and that if things continue the way they are, he’ll end up doing just that. And she wants to know what can she do to stop it?

As usual, the responses ran the gamut from really insightful to flat-out nutso. The most wackadoo advice was that the wife should encourage her husband to go to a few strip clubs in order to deflate his overblown fantasies about other women. Of course, the poster warns, she should not, under any circumstances, allow him to go to a “nice” club like Penthouse or Scores, where the other women would meet his expectations, if not exceed them. Instead, send that man to a “local” club, a seedy place with saggy, baggy women who will make his wife look like a centerfold. And, the poster cautions, don’t give him a credit card or he might get into more trouble than you bargained for. OK, so STD-ridden Brooklyn joint. Washed-up strippers. Cash only. And that’ll solve your problems.

Now I’m no Dear Abby but I do say that the above advice, besides managing somehow to insult everyone involved, is the the worst piece of cockamamie crazy talk I ever heard.

There were, however, some useful points made.

A husband wrote in, saying he’d been married for 7 years, never cheated, never thought about cheating but searched browed the craigslist personals all the time. Fodder for fantasy, he said. Someone else echoed this, offering these words of guidance: “It doesn’t matter where you get your appetite, as long as you eat at home.” Some posters suggested hooking the husband up with plentiful porn, stocking up on sexy lingerie, scheduling plenty of date nights. And some people said infidelity had nothing to with sex but with feeling trapped, insecure, unhappy in other areas of life.

But there were also some posters who pointed out that maybe there was no need to stop the infidelity from happening. Maybe monogamy isn’t the best option, they suggested. It’s only cheating if it’s done deceptively: if both members of the marriage are on the same page, then having intimate relations with other people might be OK. One woman wrote about how she had two monogamous marriages but was now on her third marriage, and finding that being polyamorous was working out for her and her husband. Before she slept with anyone else, she talked it over with him, and made sure he was OK with it. The first time she did it, the fallout with her husband was tough, she said, lot of arguments. But when the opportunity arose a year or two later, he gave her his blessing again and afterwards, it was fine. In fact, the wife says, she feels more in love with her husband than ever, grateful to him for his generosity, and energized sexually by the excitement of being with someone else.

Yes, my local listserv has been better than a romance novel lately. Pretty titillating stuff.

All I really know is that every marriage is different and each couple needs to find their own way forward. If polyamorousness works for you, go for it. If having sex through ha hole in the sheet is what you’re into, who am I to stop you? Judge not lest ye be judged.

I don’t know if monogamy is the best way or the most successful strategy certainly but it’s the only way that could work for me and David, for better or worse. I don’t think I’m self-assured enough, magnanimous enough, or maybe even open-minded enough to let David be with anyone else. Plus, if I did ever give him my blessing, I’m so competitive that I would not rest until I got an equal amount of action, whether I wanted to or not. And then how would I know that person I’d entered into a dalliance with wouldn’t fall head over hells, madly in love with me? Initially, I’m shockingly lovable. And David, though he drives me batty sometimes, is a pretty great catch himself. Chances are his mistress would never nag him about how many beers he drinks or ride him about loading the dishwasher, and this lack of harassment might make him fall in love with her or at least think that his current situation was more of a nightmare than he’d suspected. The last thing I want my husband to have is a wake-up call.

But that’s me and I’m fettered by neuroses. What do you think? Is monogamy impractical? Or just hard? What advice would you give the PSP poster?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

From Port-au-Prince

Its Martin Luther King Day and rather than regale you with yet another diverting anecdote of little consequence, I thought I would share with you an email I just received from my dear friend Amelia in Port-au-Prince, in which she describes what's been going on down there since the earthquake. Makes me feel really, really grateful.

"The entire world here changed in a matter of about 45 seconds. I went to work on Tuesday morning with a strapless maternity dress on that my sister gave me, and little pumps and a red bead necklace. At 4:48 I was calmly sitting at my computer, thinking about going home soon. I had just been talking through the door that splits my office with my cameraman's office, Blago, about leaving in the next 20 minutes. And I hear this noise that I thought was a really huge bumbly truck coming down the driveway by my office. So I stood up to see the truck - I mean, what kind of vehicle makes a noise like that really? And as I walked to the window, my brain computed that the building was vibrating, then swinging wildly from side to side. I wasn't scared, I was just perplexed, and trying to remember what to do in a situation like that - is it "hide under the desk" or "run outside". For some reason, I thought it was "stand in a door jam" so I was trying to get to the door of the building, which is 7 feet from my office. And I kept falling, and Blago was behind me, and I fell, and he laid on top of me to cover me - I guess he thought the answer was "lay on your colleague in an earthquake". And our other colleagues were behind us, one of them, crazy Logan the camera man who runs boot camp classes in his free time, was bounding down the hall, bouncing off walls and screaming "GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!" He grabbed Blago by the neck and somehow I found myself falling down our front steps, landing on our car which had crashed into our building. and then we were all kneeling on the pavement, rubbing our eyes. The shaking stopped. Then started again. And someone said "where is our headquarters?" Because all we could see was dust. No sunlight, no buildings, no thing more than 4 feet in front.

It took us more than 20 minutes to verify that our 6 story headquarters were no longer there. It's the type of thing that just does not compute. New Yorkers will understand this after Sept 11 - the building is supposed to be there, and you look to see it, but your brain can't figure out why it's not there.

In the shantytown outside our offices, the fates were the same. We sat huddled in the parking lot of our HQ, in the dark, listening to tens of thousands of people scream and cry and wail. Wail. I mean really, like a tide. And every time there were tremors and aftershocks, the hills moaned in panic and fear.

I sat there for five hours, and wondered if my family knew what was happening. I know they listen to NPR while making dinner, and was picturing what they were doing when the news broke. And I was wondering how the news would break, because we had no power, no cell phones, no nothing. And people were wondering about the other islands. Was there a tsunami? What? At around 11pm, I found a person in the lot with a small transistor radio. He was listening to Radio France International, which was reporting a massive earthquake in Haiti, epicenter in Port-au-Prince. Good god, I thought, is God really trying to finish this little island - I mean, how much more can it take? It seemed to unfair that Haiti had to take this on. And it was surreal that we were sitting in the center of the mess, and couldn't know what was going on - we had to listen to news reporting from Paris, that was getting their information from CBS in America. very bizarre. Me sitting there in my strapless maternity dress and heels, smudged with dirt and mud, sitting with my knees up and thinking of my family. And I really was regretting my choice of wardrobe in that moment.

I spent the night watching the rescue operations. Which were very sparse. It's hard to pull people out of hundreds of tons of concrete. Maybe they pulled 10 people out, and we struggled to see the faces. Is it anyone I know? Please be one of ours. I sat with a colleague whose husband was missing, and whose 1 year old boy was in her 4th story apartment in the hills above the city. She was stone-faced and silent, eyes wide watching the rubble. She was able to get home and rescue her child at 2am, her husband's whereabouts are still unknown.

We are just now beginning to understand who is not showing up, whose faces have been absent in the little recovery area we've set up in the logistics base by the airport. This is where I am now. It's an awful experience. To know that the people that you meet for coffee, the ones you say hi to at parties and bars, the ones you have stupid arguments with over email about catty, dumb shit - that suddenly those very people could be dead. Or worse, trapped in a small space, without air, in pain.

I think many of us get by right now on these things. First, the notion that "I survived". I survived. I am still alive. That building came down, and by some miracle, I'm still here. So I better be happy about it and not waste it because many people are not so lucky. And second, "there is very important work to do". There is - tons of it. Tons of rock to be moved, tons of people to be saved, tons of bodies to be picked up, tons of food to be handed out - and water. And for me, tons of TV to be sent out to the world. So we throw ourselves into these things, with gusto. It's better than sitting around waiting, and feeling helpless. And last, "miracles do happen". One of the security officers - a guy who would have been on the team that Eduardo was to join next week - was stuck under the rubble somewhere on what used to be the 4th floor. He could talk on his radio. He was awake, stuck in a hole. And the workers couldn't get to him - there was 2 meters of concrete between him and them, constant tremors, and too many fears of dislodging the whole mountain of stuff to get to him. But finally, today, after nearly 48 hours without food and water, he walked free from the debris, unscathed. And promptly resigned from the UN - who can blame him? When we heard this, many of us cried. "Thank you god - and please let this happen again".

So a few more details, and then I go. I am sleeping on the floor in the logisitics base - outside actually, because nobody really feels that comfortable being indoors and asleep. We all have a reflex to stay near exits now. I have my yoga mat and a sheet. I'm ok. I work all day, feeding TV material to braodcasters. Our camera people go out in the field, I am the one who gets the tape, edits it, and sends it off via internet. We have rationed water, and one MRE (meal ready to eat) per day, and we scrounge around for other snacks. So far I am fine. And with the international crews coming in, I am sure we will get more food and help very soon.

The city is... well. I don't really know how to describe it. It's sort of like everyone you know - EVERYONE - getting into a serious car accident on the same day, at the same time. Some come out without a scratch, and others - don't. Many of my colleagues lost everything. Some lost children, others a husband or wife. Logan lost his entire apartment and everything inside it. Me - in the face of all that - I am doing pretty darn well! And very thankful that Eduardo was not here when this happened. I don't know what I would do if I couldn't find him.

I thank you all again for your love and messages, I read them all, every one, and they give me a happy sort of feeling in this sad dark place. So keep us in your prayers. Donate money or - something - to a valid humanitarian organization. And keep in touch with me, I love hearing from you. I send all my love."

Friday, January 15, 2010

How you can save me from this cursed metabolic slump

I have a great many positive qualities, if I do say so myself, but self-discipline is not among them. To my credit, if you met my parents you’d think I was a self-control success story. These people have virtually no filter between their brain and their mouth. But regardless, it is true that I do lack discipline.

And so my New Year’s resolutions tend not to be terribly fruitful. But this year, I am following-through on my follow-through I am kicking ass and taking names. Because . . .

I need to lose this baby belly.

The baby’s no longer a baby but the belly is still a belly – aye, there’s the rub. And I am relying on you, dear, wise readers to help.

My obstacle is this:

I’ve never had to exercise to stay skinny. I say this knowing you won’t hate me because it is, sadly, in the past. Before the age of about 30, I was untouchable. Ate anything. Never worked out. Stayed at my college weight. It was the honeymoon phase between me and my woman’s body. Even after two kids, I was back in my old XS clothes within a month or so. Oh, how the pride goes before a fall! That cursed metabolic slump of my 30s! Oh the ruined abdominal wall of two pregnancies! But lamenting doesn’t give you a six-pack. I’ve tried. It turns out you have to WORK for it. The indignity.

What I’m trying to sugarcoat is this:

I’m lazy. Shockingly, incredibly, balls-out lazy. I despise sweating. I loathe panting for breath. It just seems so uncivilized. But the time has come for change. I made a New Year’s Resolution for Chrissake. So the question, dear readers is this:

How do I get rid of the baby belly? Oh, one caveat. No diets, please. I don’t smoke or drink or have casual sex, I watch my TV with the volume low and shop at Target, so eating pasta and the occasional burger is what I do for kicks. Take that away and where do I get my jollies?

I’m taking about exercise. I’m willing to sweat and I’m willing to do it every day, provided it takes 30 minutes or less. I’m about the realistic plan, to maximize chances for success. You know, starting small and building momentum.

I didn’t say it would be easy. But I KNOW you can help me, fitness gurus out there. My abdomen depends on you!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Help Haiti

I have a very dear friend, Amelia, who is pregnant and has been living in Port au Prince, working for the UN for the past seven years. Thankfully, I've heard from her and she's all right but the devastation there is unthinkable. So help out Haiti out however you can. One easy way is to donate to Doctors without Borders or the Red Cross. Takes two minutes.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti, including Amelia, the one who goaded my grandmother's dirty jokes about double vaginas.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And now for the exciting conclusion of . .

How We Got Kicked out of Karate Class

After a terrifically stressful initial experience at the old dojo, I opted to bring Seconda back, despite my specifically telling her I would never do such a thing. The reason for this is simple: it was free. When something is offered to me free it is almost impossible for me to say no. Free lollipops at the barber shop? Sure. Free balloons at the haircutting place? Bring it on. If it is free I will take it. I just hope no one ever offers me free crack cocaine. I’m pretty sure I’d do the right thing but I would be thinking of what a value it was rather wistfully.

So when I signed Primo up for the “holiday special” at the Karate school, they told me that Seconda could train for free with her brother. Not only that, but she would get a free uniform!!!!! Can you blame me for offering the child another chance at martial arts greatness?
Before our first official class, Primo and I explained over and over again to Sec that she would have to participate in the class for kids her age this time and that she could not join in with Primo in the big kid class. She seemed to understand.

But when it was time to put her money where her mouth was, so to speak, she couldn’t muster the courage to go it alone. So the sensei told me (ordered me, more like) to get up there with her.
This is why I left the comfortable viewing area, the rows and rows of seats filled with parents and siblings watching the kids doing karate, and ascended the stairs to join the 3 and 4 year-olds and be the object of public humiliation. I tried to just sit on the side of the mat and send encouraging thoughts but the sensei told me I had to join in, ”Just stay right next to her and do what they do!” he instructed.

So I did jumping jacks.
I ran laps.

Please keep in mind that this was performed sans sports bra. I nearly knocked my own eye out while running laps. I don’t know if the sensei understands this but having your tetas flop around violently is some painful shit. And I can’t begin to discuss the level of humiliation I sustained when I was the last student to make it back to my team on the relay race. The sensei actually jeered, “Whatsamatter? You can’t keep up?”

The worst part is this very public indignity did not even help my daughter. Having me right there with her did not give her the confidence to participate. It gave her the confidence to make mischief.

While everyone was doing bear walks in the relay race, she was running figure eights around the room.

When everyone was running laps, she was seated in the middle of the room, directly in the way.

And when everyone was listening to the sensei tell a story, she really let herself go.

The sensei was recounting a parable to the class, and me, while we sat obediently criss-cross applesauce around him. Seconda meanwhile ran around from one end of the room to the other shrieking in delight. It was very disruptive. I was having an actual ulcer. I didn’t want to seem like I was condoning her behavior but at the same time I knew it would make more of a scene if I started to chase after her. So I sat there with the kids, praying that she’d run out of steam and wondering why I had invited this misery upon myself. The sensei was just ignoring her, though with obvious effort. Unlike Montessori class, where you can join if you want or continue with your self-directed play if you’d prefer, in karate class, you toe the line. There is no alternative activity. You do what sensei says.

Then, in the middle of the parable, Seconda ran over to a little white cone the sensei uses as a goal in the relay race. She picked it up and ambled over to the group. And then, with an irrepressible glee, she placed the cone one of the other children’s heads.

That did it.

“Mommy, Seconda needs to leave the class,” the sensei said, looking like he’d like a few blocks of plaster to chop in half.

I have never in my life been so delighted to be kicked out of something. It was like finding a trap door in a No Exit nightmare. Halleluiah!

I grabbed that wild child and ushered her quickly off the mat, while Sensei said to the other children: “See what happens when you fool around in karate class?”

Yes, he made an example out of us.

I kept Sec close to me after that, and plied her with bribes (in reward for her exemplary behavior!) to keep her quiet while we watched Primo do karate, pretty impeccably.

I don’t blame Sec, really. She’s a toddler, for crying out loud, and I don’t feel like its any failing in her (or her upbringing, thank you very much) that she still wants to do her own thing. But I will tell you one thing for sure – that kid’s karate uniform has already been retired, after a single inglorious debut. I’m bringing Primo-san twice a week to class, but Seconda-san is staying at home from now on. No martial arts for the one. Now, circus arts on the other hand, might be just the thing . . .

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sensei Says

When I took Primo to his five year check-up (see: Pee in a Cup) the doc asked him what he likes to do.

“Draw,” he said.

“OK, but what about something active?” the doc asked.

Primo looked at me. I looked at the doc.

“He runs around,” I replied, “you know -- plays.”

“He’s got to do something,” he advised, “swimming, soccer, something physical. To get oxygen to his brain.”

This seemed slightly over-dramatic, somewhat of a scare tactic. Your kid’s brain is gasping for breath. Sign him up for Little League! But I love my doc, I trust my doc, and, in truth, I had been feeling guilty about the child’s lack of extra curricular interests.

“Oh,” I remembered, “karate! I’m going to sign him up!”

“Karate,” said the doc, “Great.”

In fact, I’ve been planning for a long time to get Primo enrolled in a martial art. First off, it’s winter and there was absolutely nothing to do after school every day except go home and watch TV, which certainly doesn’t oxygenate the brain. Second, I thought it might build his confidence and help him feel more empowered in the face of a world which the kid reasonably enough finds pretty frightening. Third, there’s a bully at his school and I figured karate would be good bully-proofing insurance. Because if there’s a bully in Kindergarten, well then, I can’t imagine what’s waiting in the fifth grade.

So I found a karate school not far from our place which is running a holiday special where you pay one price and the whole family can take classes as much as they want for a month. They offer a class right after school for 3 and 4 year-olds and one directly after that for 5 and 6 year-olds, so I figured I could take BOTH Sec and Primo, back to back. Perfect!

Primo was not happy to hear of these plans because he has an innate resistance to new activities, but when I told him it would make him like a ninja and empower him against the bully, he got interested. I explained to the kids that Seconda would do her class first while Primo and I watched from a viewing/ waiting area on the side of the room. Then they’d switch.

So Sec took off her shoes and got ready to rumble. Unfortunately, her enthusiasm waned when the class actually started and she found out she had to go it alone, without me or Primo next to her. I coaxed her and bribed her and negotiated with her but she was just too freaked out, and so I conceded to let her hang out with me and Primo until it was his turn to take class with the 5 and 6 year-olds. The which, incidentally, was being taught by a visiting Sensei. Now, I’m no karate expert but it did appear that having the Sansei visit from New Jersey was something like an honor. I got that because the other Sensei said, “Let’s all be at our best and show Sensei Mark what we are capable of!”

At that point, Seconda was ready. More than ready, in fact. Literally unstoppable. I tried to restrain her from running onto the mat area after her brother but she slipped through my grasp and bolted onto the floor and stood next to Primo, who was absolutely delighted to have her by his side. Seriously. His eyes lit up when he saw her and his whole body instantly relaxed as he took her hand. Sibling solidarity!

I, meanwhile, was having visible palpitations about how my toddler had broken the rules of the dojo, under the watch of a New Jersey Sensei of all things! I stood to go retrieve her but a mom next to me put her hand on my arm and said, “Its OK. Just leave her.”

So I watched as that pint-sized pipsqueak yelled “YES SENSEI!” and did jumping jacks, and push-ups right along side her brother. She was pretty impressive – a regular Seconda-san, for the first five minutes.

Now I don’t know about other karate classes but this one is like a Sesame Street version of boot camp. By which I mean, the Senseis are super nice, very approachable, and they even try to be funny sometimes, but they are definitely putting the kids through their paces. They are definitely in charge. There is no back and forth, or asking the student for input of suggestions. Also, it is very loud. And it sounds like this







So in the middle of the “Kay-Yah”s and feet thumping, I heard a squeaky little voice say something undecipherable. The New Jersey Visiting Sensei stopped shouting. Instead he replied:

“What? Can we play a game?”

The squeaky voice said something else.

“Can we play Snow White?”

The kids were just standing there, in dragon pose, waiting for further instruction while the Sensei leaned over to hear Seconda-san invite him on a trip to Fairytale Village.

“I don’t know. Maybe at the end of class,” he replied. And then, “TEN PUSH-UPS! LET’S GO!”

I was, in a word, mortified.

I wondered when exactly might be the right moment to extract my wunderkind from this class. And then I heard a yell:


Now, asking the Sensei to play Snow White was bad but urinating on his feet was positively unforgivable. So I jumped up and beckoned Seconda over, ushering her speedily to the restroom. When she was done, she was raring to get back into the class. This time, though, I held firm. Which led to 15 full minutes of artery-popping screams, and since the place is a storefront, there was no place to go but outside which I knew I’d be tortured for later by Primo who I’d promised to watch.

It was the kind of crying where other parents stare at you and you know it’s bad because these are people who have kids but they still haven’t ever heard anything like what is coming out of your hellion’s mouth. And people actually started feeling SORRY for her.

Don’t you just love that? When your child is torturing you and you’re trying to be responsible and stop them from being naughty and then you get the dirty looks like, “what are you doing to that poor angel to make her cry like that?”

One mom said, “Oh, she’s crying so hard, her toes are red!”

Like I didn’t notice. I sustained HEARING LOSS after that meltdown. Not to mention took at least a year off my life. But finally, Primo’s class ended and he even earned a white belt signed by the visiting Sensei for exemplary performance.

When Sec saw that belt she went even crazier with covetousness, until the Sensei actually came over and handed her one of her own.

“I am NEVER bringing you back here,” I hissed as I wrapped the belt around her waist.

If you want to judge how firmly I stand by my word, consider the fact that the story I just told you is not even the worst of what transpired at Karate class. That story comes later, when I brought Seconda-san BACK to Karate school this past week.

And for that, dear readers, you will have to wait.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mining for Crystals

You know when your kid gets a toy and you become kind of deranged trying to figure out how to make it work? This is what happened at Christmas when Primo opened up his super-cool Crystal Mining Excavation Science Kit. Like many children, Primo loves beauty (crystals) and he loves destruction (hunk of plaster in which crystals are embedded). So we were all pretty jazzed up to get started on the excavation immediately, using the handy little tool included. A half hour later, he hadn't made a dent. By the next morning' he'd gotten this far:

You could dig a tunnel out of Sing Sing faster than you could get one of these precious crystals out. Primo was pretty OK with the lengthy process but I, an impatient woman, was getting antsy and was dying to get a chance to shatter the plaster myself with a heavy-duty piece of equipment. I grabbed said equipment from the BBQ grill nearby and began violently hacking away. Then I trained Primo in my guerilla tactics. Success!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pee in a Cup

Last week was Primo’s 5 year checkup. Pretty un-eventful – some crying, panicking about potential shots, relief at only getting a TB test, doc says he’s a giant like his Daddy and everything looks good.

Then, at the very end of the visit he told Primo to go pee in a cup.

Primo was totally floored by this.

“Why do I have to do peepee in a cup?”

The doctor explained it was to test his kidneys. Then we proceeded into the bathroom.

Now, like anyone who’s been preggo, I’m familiar with the process of peeing into a cup. Hell, I’m a damn pro.

But peeing into a cup at the OB’s office and helping your 5 year-old pee into a cup at the ped's office are two entirely different things.

To begin with, the OB’s bathroom was clean, fresh-smelling even, with a neat stack of pee cups and a sheet of white stickers on which to write your name.

The ped’s bathroom is an actual pigsty. I don’t think it’s their fault. I mean, if they test the kidneys of every kid 5 and older, just IMAGINE how much pee that equals, being collected and handled by children. In fact, the doctor warned us to put on Primo’s shoes before entering the bathroom because there was no telling how much pee might have landed on the floor from previous patients.

We walk in and spot the stack of cups over the toilet.

“Don’t use those cups Mommy,” Primo warns, pointing to a few standing rightside up on the counter, “Those already have peepee in them.”

In fact, they did. This was a little arresting to me. My OB’s office was civilized enough to collect the urine samples immediately and stash them in some special, out-of-sight sequestered urine collection spot.

There were no label stickers which meant I had to basically carve my son’s name onto the cup, using the pen as a knife.

Then the kid peed in a cup. Real rite of passage I thought. We left the pee with all the other pee and got the hell out of there.

When we arrived at home, my cousin was waiting to baby-sit so I could work.

“Alanna!” announced Primo, “If I have to do peepee, you need to get me a cup.”

“What?” she asked.

“I need a cup to do peepee in,” he explained, “The doctor said so.”

I stifled my guffaw and informed him that he should continue to deposit his pee into the toilet as per usual.

“It was just a one-time thing,” I explained.

He didn’t look too convinced though. Since he turned five, he’s been very skeptical of my expertise on matters like these. Which means one day I am going to enter my bathroom to find a sippy cup full of urine. I just know I will. .

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Study finds no link between MMR vaccine and autism

I thought this was an interesting link from the San Francisco Gate about a new study which found (again) that there is no link between MMR vaccine and autism. I know when Sec turned one, I had a spasm of panic about the shot but my ped talked me down and assured me there was no credible evidence to support the link.

Did you freak out about the MMR? Try to separate out the shots? And, while we're on the subject, where do you go for information about kids' health issues? Any great websites you turn to?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Lucky Ice

You know when your kid asks you if they can do something and you know, from the get go that its not going to turn out well but you say OK anyway?

That is what happened with the lucky ice.

We were walking home from Kindergarten on Monday and though three’s not really any snow left on the ground, there are plentiful patches of ice here and there – filthy, gray ice piled up near the gutters. As my children are wont to search the asphalt for treasures, Primo was looking down at the ground when he exclaimed, “Oh! Look what I found!”

“What is it?” I asked, controlling my response so as not to belie the disgust I could not help but feel at my son picking up thinking from the street.

“It’s a piece of ice!” he exclaimed.

“That’s cool,” I said.

“Its LUCKY!” he went on, breathless, “It’s my lucky ice!”

He was holding in his hand a tiny sliver of ice, maybe ½ an inch long – that looked in every single way exactly like any other sliver of ice you’ve ever seen in your life.

Why couldn’t the kid have fond a pebble? Or a stick? Or a coke can? Something that doesn’t vanish before your very eyes? The answer is clear. He’s just not that kind of kid. He’s a dreamer, my son, and dreamers invite despair.

“When I throw it down, it doesn’t break! See? It’s lucky!”

We were close to home now and I declined to comment. I was just concentrating on making it inside without any of us getting frostbite, It is flipping FREEZING out there.

And then Primo asked: “Can I keep it Mommy?”

I knew there was no possible way this scenario would not end in tears. Yet, he wasn’t asking for much. My kid just wanted to bring a little sliver of ice inside. It wasn’t a dog. It wasn’t a rat. It wasn’t a Ferrari. Just a little sliver of ice to which he had assigned magical properties. How could I deny him?

“Just be sure to put in right into the freezer or it will melt,” I cautioned.

As we walked into the lobby, I hear him whisper into his hand:

“Make the door open, Lucky!”

And the automatic doors to our building opened.

“Lucky, make the elevator come.” he whispered.

And the elevator came.

“Lucky, make us go up!”

We ascended.

I opened the door and told him to stick the ice, which was by now a near-invisible sliver – right into a piece of aluminum foil and put it post haste in the freezer.

He did so.

“I know that my ice will never melt!” he assured me.

Our only hope now, I thought, is for him to get totally engrossed in something else and forget about this lucky ice.

But no dice. Half a minute later, he wanted to check on his talisman, and when he unwrapped the foil he found – nothing.

“My ice!” he cried, “Where’s my ice?? Lucky!!! LUCKY!!!’

Since I am his mother, I get blamed for every unfortunate occurrence which befalls Primo. So he turned on me.

“It’s your fault!!! You killed Lucky!”

He launched into a fit of hysterics, throwing himself on the floor and screaming and crying.

Seconda walked over, put her hand don his shoulder like a little Mommy herself and said,

“Ok, honey, you have to just CALM down. You have to take a deeeeep breath. Take a deep breath!”

As you can imagine, this did not improve his mood.

It was the first day back to the grind after a long vacation and I just couldn’t work up the energy to deal with the disaster. So I took the easy way out. I used magic.

While he was having his grief-stricken attack, I walked into the kitchen, got a new piece of almsmen foil, took a shard of ice from the ice cube tray and stick it in the place where Lucky had been.

Then I advised Primo to check the freezer.

Was it the ideal way to handle the situation? No. Will it teach my son anything at all about handling disappointment and making better choice and cause and effect? No. Did it work? Oh yeah.

I told my friend about the lucky ice and she said, “You’ve got to stop enabling his fantasies.” And I said, “Well, Santa with his reindeers is a fantasy enabled and everybody thinks that OK.”

Come on, guys, Tell the truth. You do it too, don’t you? You tell little white lies to keep the magic of childhood alive (and make your life easier in the process), right? Or if not, tell me where you find the strength NOT to.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Psychedelic Mind Trip, courtesy of Google

I was doing a little googling, just doing me some riveting research for a health article about germs I'm working on. And I discovered something.

When you type the word "are" in the google search bar, google graciously offers to finish your sentence by prepopulating the search bar with, I guess, the most commonly-searched phrases. This is what popped up:

are vampires real

Not precisely what I was looking for. Yet, I guess, a burning question for many.

Under that were the following options:

are you afriad of the dark
are ghosts real

Those are some thrilling inquiries. But then there is a shift, away from speculations about the supernatural, into the arena of the exceedingly mundane.

are banks open on Columbus Day
are sinus infections contagious
are you being served
are shingles contagious

Wow. Shingles? Really? I'm shocked that many people worry about the Shingle menace.

Then, the supernatural returns:

are aliens real

And lastly, one more question about holiday closings:

are banks open on veterans day

It is as though the google pre-populating consciousnesses has split personality disorder, and one personality is a four-year old boy at bedtime and the other is a 60 year-old hypochondriac who's tight on funds. And they keep battling each other.

Show of hands: how many of you are, right now, wondering about the aliens? About the sinus infections? About being served?

You know where to go for the answers.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In my whole life, I never heard of something like that

I’ve always had conflicted feelings about New Year celebrations. On the one hand, I like to party. Champagne is my all-time favorite beverage. I love fireworks. And being the meditative woman I am, I enjoy reflecting back on the year and committing to promises for the year to come which I have no real intention of fulfilling.

Yet I never want to go out on New Years. Even before the kids and the challenge of finding a New Year’s sitter, Dec 31st was the one day of the year I didn’t want to be at a party. So it has actually come as a relief to have so many good excuses not to pay $150 a head at some restaurant or attend a dinner party with a bunch of people I don’t really know or (worst of the worst) brave the frost and the freaks at Times Square.

Now we stay in on New Years, have a few friends over, watch the ball drop and get in bed by 12:15.

Either that or we go to my parents.

Going to my parents is considerably less enjoyable than staying home, usually, but much more exciting. You never know what kind of throw-down’s going to unfold, although it’s a good bet it will feature my mother. Also, their apartment has a stunning view of the fireworks from Tavern on the Green. Also, they import my grandmother in to cook the whole thing – riceballs, homemade pizza, manicotti, roast pork, vegetables doused in garlic, the whole kit and caboodle. So there’s that incentive.

This New Years at my parents was pretty tame, actually. Red wine had a sedative effect, and all was peaceful around the table. You know it’s a good meal when my grandmother starts making dirty jokes.

Yes, the highlight of New Years was listening to my grandmother talk about women with two vaginas.

Don’t ask how we got started on it. I think it began with general pregnancy issues, then we got onto women with half a reproductive system, and then it was only a hop skip and a jump to women with two uteri and of course, two vaginas.

“Dio mio!” my grandmother said, “Never in my whole life I ever hear about something like that!”

She pondered a moment, and the offered this: “A woman like this could have two men – one for the weekends and one for the week! And she wouldn’t be cheating!”

It was a real Hallmark moment. Almost as memorable as what Jennifer Lopez wore for her Times Square performance. David thinks it was a costume from Cats: the musical. All I have to say is I think J Lo’s New Year’s resolution should be to fire her wardrobe manager.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!!!!

Here's to a year filled with joy and wonder.

Happy New Year, everyone.