Monday, December 22, 2014

The kids have my number all right

After many years living under my care. my kids can pretty well anticipate my answer to a request. They know me, they know my criteria for things like video game usage and move selection. And they've gotten really skilled at pitching their requests to me.

This morning, Seconda asked if she could watch a movie called How To Build a Better Boy on Netflix. I've really cracked down on the content she watches because she's recently become obsessed with teen TV shows, much of which is filled with hideous sarcasm, toxic amounts of boy-craziness, nasty 'tudes and  reprehensible stereotypes. Did you get how strongly I feel about these tweeny shows? 

So when I heard the word "Boy" in the title, already I was skeptical. 

Sounds boy-crazy, is what I was thinking, like a mom circa 1952. Sometimes i think that the older my kids get, the more old-fashioned I get in my thinking. 

Seconda could tell she was losing ground so she moved right into the hard sell.

 "Oh, it doesn't look like it has anything inappropriate in it!" she explained,"The girls in the picture look really nice. They're wearing glasses!"

I had to laugh and hug the shit out of her immediately. 

From looking at the Netflix movie poster, she'd synthesized the following info, without even being aware of it:

The glasses made the girls nerds
Being nerds made the girls nice and wholesome
The girls being nice and wholesome made them likable to Mom

I figured we'd address the flaws in these deductions later. 

"I'll look it up on Common Sense Media," I said. It's my go-to screening resource despite the fact that it is (can't believe I'm saying this) a bit liberal in its judgements. Don't even get me started on our difference in opinion about the show Jessie. Seriously, you don't want to hear it. 

An hour later, Primo came to me to ask if he could play Civilization on the iPod. 

"What's that?" I asked. I don't bother to mask my doubt anymore - it's a timesaver I adopted when I had the third child. 

"Oh, it's very historic! It has Ghandi in it and Napoleon and Cleopatra!" he gushed.

It cracks me up that they are already such good marketers, pitching their little hearts out, thinking about the needs of their audience. Mommy needs educational value and wholesomeness. Give Mom what she wants.  

I said yes to both. I'm a sucker that way. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Because I am not.

I don't usually help Primo with his homework. This isn't a philosophy of mine or anything. I don't have much philosophy as a parent anymore; the longer I parent three kids, the more I see my carefully-constructed philosophies, the ones I'm really very fond of, go by the wayside. Life sends Philosophy to the chopping block.

The reason I don't usually help Primo with his homework is he usually doesn't need it. He's a self-starter, and he's really good about tackling his homework right away and finishing it all. This is one of several reasons I don't sell him to roving gypsies.

But occasionally, he encounters a problem that stumps him, and then he comes to me for assistance. Unfortunately, now that he's in fifth grade, I am finding that I can't always help because, while I am well-educated and of reasonable intelligence, I do not belong to MENSA and thus, am not qualified to do fifth grade math.

Do you have a fifth grader? Have you looked at their homework lately?

Holy mother of Euclidean geometry. It's HARD.

Last week, he came over to where i was working on my laptop and told me he needed help with math.

"Let me see it," I said, full of brio. It feels good to show off your many years of education and experience to your children, to wow them with your shocking intellect.

Within two seconds, I was having heart palpitations.

"Wow," I said, "This seems hard. But I'm sure it's easier than it looks. Let's just read it over again, nice and slow."

There are 120 students in Granville Elementary School. 66 2/3% of them volunteered to help with the collection of cans for a food drive. How many students volunteered to help?  
Step 1: Change percentage to equivalent fraction.  
You know what to do. 
"Is this last part supposed to be a joke?" I asked my son. "Or are you actually supposed to know what to do here?"

"It's not a joke, Mom," he said. I could tell I was compromising my standing as Head Homework Helper and Math Mastermind.

What got me was the fraction INSIDE the percentage. Is that even allowed? Can you even have a fraction of a percentage? I feel like such a thing will create a hole in the space time continuum. So my first piece of advice was to ignore the percentage sign. To aid in this endeavor, I crossed it out.

"What are you doing?" Primo asked.

"It's just making things too complicated so let's just get rid of it," I advised. "For now."

"You can't do that," he protested.

"Are you sure?" I asked, genuinely: "Because it would make the problem a lot easier. Let's just TRY it like that."

We tried to solve it my way, which is to say, the wrong way which totally alters the question being asked and makes it utterly impossible to arrive at the right answer, in the process robbing the student of the chance to practice the skills they have allegedly learned in school.

The problem was, we couldn't solve it my way either.

Who the hell remembers how to find a FRACTION of something?  Or a PERCENTAGE? Much less both at once!

So I did what people do nowadays to learn stuff. I googled it.

"How to find percentages"


"How to find a fraction"

But we still couldn't get an answer that made sense.

We moved over to scrap paper, and we started to employ wild renegade math strategies. I sporadically got VERY excited, sure that I'd cracked the whole question wide open. I felt like I was Albert freaking Einstein. In truth, I was a more like Russell Crowe at the end of A Beautiful Mind - the part where he's gone loco. My scrap paper was filled with wild mathematical equations, numbers crossed out, division symbols and parentheses and fractions being cross multiplied.

"THIS IS IT!" I yelled: "We've got it now!"

We played out my genius ideas and we got answers like 3.876.

"I think that's right," I told Primo.

"Mom," he said, "How could 3.876 be 66 2/3 % of 120? How could 3876 kids help with the food drive?"

"You're very smart," I told him. Not that my opinion counted anymore.

That was about when David came home.

"DADDY!" I yelled: "Thank God. We need you!"

He looked at the problem and the first thing he asked was why the percentage symbol was crossed out.

"I didn't like it," I said.

"Move over," he told Primo.

A half hour later, David had gotten us nowhere.

"I will write a note and tell your teacher that we don't get it," I said, "Just leave it unfinished."

"No!" my son protested, a chip off the old stubborn block. "We have to figure it out."

That was all I needed to take things to the next level.

I called my father. He was my go-to math help when I was in school and he LOVES this shit. It's been years since he was a deus ex machine for someone's pre-cal problem set and frankly, he's missed it.

And, just as I expected, Babbo saved the day. He knew just what to do and he explained it clearly. We solved the problem and the answer made sense.

Sweet victory.

Until Primo's teacher corrected his homework and we found out the answer wrong.

I still don't know how to find out 66 2/3% of 120. And honestly, I can't say I give a shit.

As for my son, well, that's what his teacher is for.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bound to Tradition

I'm an ambitious gal and as such, I tend to over-do things. The upside is: I get a lot of shit done. The downside is I'm exhausted and occasionally resentful of my own over-exterion and also, I drive my family crazy because I never let them just veg out. But taking the baby apple picking with a double ear infection, well, that was just stupid. Read all about it in my new essay for the Park Slope reader:  Bound to Tradition

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Who's in the mood for a HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY??

Do you like books?

Laugh-out-loud funny books?

Make-you-appreciate-life, laugh-out-loud funny books?

Books that may perhaps over-use hyphens?

Then you will probably like THIS BOOK. The one these adorable readers in Santa hats are checking out.

I like it a lot. It'a one of my favorites. But I'm totally biased. I wrote it.

For the holidays, St. Martin's Press is giving away TWO autographed copies of my memoir NOW I SEE YOU! To enter, go to my Facebook author page, and either  share the giveaway post, leave a comment or like the page, if you haven't already.  I'll be choosing two winners tonight!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The four letter C word

You know which one I'm talking about. Don't make me spell it out for you. The way my kids did.

I'll never forget when my son, who was about five years old, ratted out my mother for saying it.

"Mommy. Nana used the C word," he tattled.

"No!" I gasped. "I don't believe it."

I was thinking, I know Nana curses like a truck driver but come on, the C WORD? Even Nana doesn't get that foul.

He nodded his head sadly, as if he was gravely disappointed.

"Yes," he confirmed. "She said --" he hesitated before giving himself permission to whisper it -- "crap."

I couldn't help it. I busted out laughing.

"Mom!" Primo was scandalized. "It's not funny!"

"You're right," I said, "it's not. Bad Nana."

Seconda, too, is fond of telling me that so-and-so used the "c word" and we shake our heads, judgier than Judge Judy herself, even though I've been known to go blue myself, from time to time.

And then last week, when I was rushing about trying to get the kids out the door for school, I was looking for Terza and I bellowed, "Terza??!!!" and she, little dear, was right at my side the whole time, so my sudden bellowing startled her and she said:

"Mommy! You scared the crap out of me!"

Crystal clear. Like she'd learned to enunciate from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

I was just thankful it was THAT four-letter C word. That's how low my parental expectations are right now.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Does this ever happen to you?

I'm so used to there being a mirror above the sink in a bathroom that when there is not a mirror, and I look up from the sink and see a white wall in front of me, I momentarily think I have disappeared.

Does that ever happen to you?

Monday, December 1, 2014

My two-year-old sounds like an extraterrestrial

Two-year-olds can be a real pain in the ass. Which is why I think it is very important to occasionally stop and appreciate how damn cute they are; the rationale being, the moments where you are hyper focused on their adorableness really helps to keep you from selling them to a roving pack of gypsies.  Seeing as Terza has been incredibly difficult lately, a solid 8 to 9 on the My Kid is Impossible, Calgon Take Me Away  spectrum, I have been trying extra hard to linger on her adorableness, which is thankfully, also very plentiful. She is abundantly adorable.

A critical support beam in her scaffolding of adorableness is the fact that she sounds like a robot. I don't remember my other kids sounding like this when they were two but, if I'm being honest, I don't remember much of the details of their toddlerhood -- those got wiped away by the flood of exhaustion, and that was as it should be, because you've got to have that euphoric recall to have the next baby and much of the terrible twos are, well, not euphoric. But as far as I can recall. they didn't have the robot thing.

What makes Terza sound like animatronic is not the fact that she Speaks. In. A. Monotone. She does not. In fact, she's unusually expressive. But she has this hilarious way of breaking her long sentences into shorter little phrases with strangely placed pauses which makes her seem either like a robot or an extra terrestrial. I think part of it is that she talks so damn much, and in such long sentences, that physically, her lungs just can't keep up with her mouth. Unlike her older siblings, she has not yet perfected the art of blabbering on and on without ever stopping for air. She still needs to breathe occasionally. So her speeches tend to go like this:

"Oh Mommy, remember when we when pumpkin picking and we saw that" pause "donkey who was so cute and his name was Dominic" pause "the donkey. I liked that Dominic the donkey because I got to ride on" pause "his back and it was SO bumpy and I laughed and I said Oh no, Dominic! You naughty donkey you!"

She reminds me of a print-to-speech translator. It's like when I ask Siri on my iPhone to read my text messages aloud and she gets most of the words right and occasionally the inflection, too, but what she doesn't get right is the pauses and the tempo. Because Siri is a robot.

Soon, Terza will have nailed down the skill of talking-without-breathing which is oh so important in our home because if you take a breath, that might serve as an indication that you are done talking, which might another family member might misinterpret as an invitation to begin talking themselves, and the one thing my children all agree on is that nobody else in the family has anything near as important to say as they do, and so they never stop talking.

I don't know where the hell they get it from.