Friday, June 28, 2013

Roughing It

When I was a kid, the word “vacation” meant one thing: camping. Every summer, our family spent two weeks at Pawtuckaway State Park in Raymond, NH, in a little pop-up camper. We’d get up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning, Dad would hitch up the camper to our lime green station wagon with the glittery silver side panels, throw my sister and I in the back seat, and off we’d go.

Sometimes we’d stop at Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, which my sister and I considered a special treat just for us, but which in retrospect was probably to get coffee for Mom so she could survive the trip.

Once we arrived at our campsite, my sister and I would run around exploring and gathering kindling, a task which also in retrospect was probably just something to get us out from underfoot while Mom and Dad set up the camper. This suspicion is strengthened by my lack of memory of actually collecting any significant amount of kindling.

My favorite task, however, was the final part of setting up the camper: extending the legs. Our camper had four little pop-down legs that ratcheted down to the ground using a crowbar. Since the camper was old and rusty, the legs took quite a bit of convincing to ratchet. My job was to wait until Dad inserted the crowbar, then to stand on it and jump up and down with all of my 30-pound weight to make it ratchet. (This task served me well when I learned to drive and Dad taught me to use the same trick when changing a flat tire.)

This summer, my husband and I are taking my kids camping at Pawtuckaway for the first time. We don’t have a pop-up trailer, but our kids will get to rough it in a tent. My son’s big task will be to carry water from the spigot. He actually assigned himself this task last year. I got a little choked up seeing this tough little 2-1/2 year old marching proudly off to the spigot with an empty bucket, determinedly figuring out how to turn the spigot on and get the bucket in the right place to fill it without knocking it over, and then carefully walking back to the campsite one tiny step at a time to avoid spilling any of that precious half-full bucket of water. I have no doubt that this year he will have a little blonde shadow as my almost 2 year old daughter runs after him, “helping.”

To me, as an adult, camping is “roughing it.” I’ll be sleeping in a sleeping bag, with no A/C. I’ll be cooking over a fire or on a little propane stove with food from a cooler instead of a fridge. I’ll be using communal bathrooms with cold showers and plenty of spiders to keep me company. I’ll be swimming in a chilly lake instead of my toasty warm pool. I won’t be bothering with (or bothered by) my cell phone or my Kindle Fire or my television set. I’ll be washing my hands with cold water from a jerrican and a bar of soap encrusted with sand and a few bugs. I’ll be brushing my teeth with a manual toothbrush instead of my electric one and drying my hair not with a hair dryer but with a manual method commonly referred to as a towel. I will be lacking my morning coffee entirely. (That would be the roughest part of roughing it.) I like roughing it, but I am always very aware that I am, in fact, roughing it.

To my kids, however, “roughing it” is a synonym for “adventure”! Eating dinner in front of a roaring fire is an adventure. Swimming with fishes zipping past your feet is an adventure. Getting to hold a stick in the fire to cook your own hot dog or toasted marshmallow is an adventure. Chasing fireflies and watching for shooting stars and sitting perfectly still to watch a chipmunk or a raccoon and listening for owls hooting back and forth to each other are all adventures.
Somehow, getting to share that adventure with them making roughing it a lot less rough.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Whatever Happened to Common Sense?

I just stumbled across an online article entitled, “10 things moms do at Target” with the subtitle, “Just admit it, you do too.” I should have known from the poor grammar and punctuation that it was not exactly Pulitzer-winning material. But I was somewhat appalled at the lack of common sense, and frankly, I was offended by the assumption that all mothers of small children behave this way. Here are the 10 points made by the author, along with my comments. (The original article is here:

10. Circle the lot 4 times looking for a better parking spot. Feel misplaced sense of pride when finding a spot 2 spaces closer than the one you spied when you arrived 12 minutes ago.

Whatever happened to walking? Sure, if it’s pouring out or if I’m carrying one little one while holding the hand of the other, I might do one circle of the lot looking for a closer spot, but I guarantee you that I’ve never driven around a parking lot for 12 minutes looking for a “better” space. To paraphrase ZZ Top: “I’ve got legs; I know how to use them.”

9. Upon entrance, make a beeline directly to the in-store Starbucks. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Instead, *spend* $200 buying a tall latte for yourself and a milk box and bag of Cheddar Bunnies for the kidlette.

You really can’t manage to shop at Target without buying an overpriced coffee and expensive snacks for your kid as soon as you arrive? How about having your coffee and feeding your kid at home before you leave? How about teaching your kid that s/he can survive a 20-minute shopping trip without needing a snack? How about surviving for 20 minutes yourself without a cup of coffee? I’m a big fan of coffee, but if I ever get to the point where I can’t survive for 20 minutes without my fix, someone please stage an intervention.

8. Head to clothing section. Consider a cute peplum top in slimming black, while kid complains in cart about how long it's taking to get to the toy section. Put peplum top into cart and hope it achieves its purpose in your wardrobe: to stylishly camouflage belly flab.

Here’s a simple solution: teach your child that not every trip is about playing with the toys. Here’s a great way to do it: Tell your child that stopping at the toy department will only happen if s/he is polite and well-behaved during the rest of the trip. Yeah, there will be a few tantrums while s/he catches on to the idea, but trust me, it won’t take too many trips with no visit to the toys before his or her behavior improves. Oh, and sometimes? Don’t stop at the toy department at all. Kids need to understand how to behave even when there isn’t a reward at the end.

7. Set latte down in cart while contemplating new workout gear that will be worn for sitting on the couch. Sigh when kid spills latte with leg. Search for paper towels to no avail. 'Mop' up latte with Old Navy receipt found in handbag.

Yet another reason to drink your coffee at home. Spillable liquids do not belong in stores, for this exact reason. If you simply must have coffee in the store, prepare to buy any items that it gets spilled on without complaint. You have a child; you know this will inevitably happen. A good way to teach your child about the consequences of his or her behavior is to gracefully accept the consequences of your own – and to change your behavior so it doesn’t happen again.

6. Arrive at toy section. Child wants 3 new Hot Wheels trucks. Enter into lengthy in-aisle discussion with child about how they need to appreciate the things they have and enjoy what they already own. Revel in glory from respected glances via other Hot Wheels Aisle Moms clearly struggling with same issue. Settle on one new truck for child, feel accomplished and await Good Mom Award or sash of some stripe.

            “Just say ‘No’.” Enough said.

5. Feel very frugal buying dog food on sale, even though it's only $.15 cheaper than normal. Put another bag into cart. Contemplate emailing TLC to be featured on Extreme Couponers because obviously this is talent, people.

Good for you for saving money. But don’t hurt your arm patting yourself on the back about it, okay?

4. Find food section. Add the following: fruit chews, potato chips, Cheez-its, granola bars, peanut butter, frozen waffles, giant bag of mandarin oranges. Every. Time.

Finally, ONE reasonable item on this list. I might not personally be picking up potato chips every trip to the store, but on the whole, this is a halfway decent snack list. Fruit, protein, grains. You could certainly do worse.

3. Browse housewares section for no apparent reason. Realize you really need an owl candle. And a citrus scented home fragrance diffuser. And that white lacquered tray.

If this is how your shopping works, I guess it’s a good thing you saved 30 cents on dog food. You might want to work a little harder on that. And on a little something called “impulse control.” It’s also a good way to teach your kid how to say, “I really like that, but I think I’ll wait a bit and decide how important it is to me and whether it’s worth the price.” If you grab everything you like and throw it into your cart, no wonder your kid expects to come home from every shopping trip with a new toy.

2. Look at contents of cart. Experience momentary guilt about home décor purchases. Remove peplum shirt and set next to stackable crates. Consider buying a stackable crate.

            See #3 above regarding “impulse control.”

1. Check out at the register. Feel simultaneously proud and horrified that you're spending $148. Realize your kid is still holding the Hot Wheels truck. Make that $152.

            See #3 and #6, above.

 Does my response sound a bit annoyed and cynical? Yeah, it probably does. But it really frustrates me when people complain at how difficult it is to shop with their children. Sure, it’s difficult to shop with kids. But it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you’re making it, as long as you use some common sense and work hard on teaching your kids good behavior, good manners, and patience.


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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Boys vs. Girls, Part ???

Objects my son has used as a gun in the past week:
·        Legos
·        Stuffed animals
·        A stick
·        A wooden spoon
·        A fork
·        A camera
·        Matchbox cars
·        Toy fire engines
·        Playing cards
·        Lego guys
·        Crayons

Objects my daughter has either kissed or talked to in the past week:
·        Legos
·        Stuffed animals
·        A stick
·        A wooden spoon
·        A fork
·        A camera
·        Matchbox cars
·        Toy fire engines
·        Playing cards
·        Lego guys
·        Crayons
 Maybe my children aren’t typical. But given the same exact toys, they play with them very differently. Sit them on the floor and drop a laundry basket on top of their heads and my son will either announce that he’s a bad guy in jail or roar like a lion, while my daughter will merely giggle and announce, “Peekaboo!” Give them a doll in one hand and a truck in the other and my daughter will carefully wedge the doll into the driver’s seat of the truck (after carefully kissing them both and then making them kiss each other, of course), while my son will run the doll over with the truck.

 There are times when they’ll play together with the same toys. They’ll each choose a racecar and make vroom-vroom noises together. They’ll each pick a stuffed animal and march around the room making the appropriate animal noises at each other. They’ll sit in front of the Elmo’s Potty Time video giggling together at the Dirty Diaper Blues song and clapping when Elmo rides his tricycle. They’ll take turns kicking and rolling a ball back and forth. They’ll alternate between hugging each other and chasing each other around the room at top speed while screaming at the top of their lungs.

If they can be so completely different and yet still be so devoted to each other, it gives me hope for the rest of the world.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Daddy is Special

For Father’s Day this year, I helped my son make a card for Daddy. Inside it, I tucked a piece of paper with my son’s answers to the question, “Why is Daddy great?” These were his answers, verbatim, with no coaching from me.

He helps me pick out my clothes.
He plays with me when he’s done with his work.
He helps me clean up my room.
He watches me when we’re playing at the playground.
He kinds of wants to teach me a few swimming lessons.
I like it when we go swim in the pool.
He always lets me play games on his computer.
What I love most about his answers is their simplicity. As much as my son appreciates it when Daddy buys him a toy or takes him on a special vacation to Disney World, what sticks out in his mind is when Daddy spends time with him and when Daddy teaches him things.
I worry sometimes that my kids will take the “things” we have for granted: a closet full of clothes; a big, comfortable house; the ability to take trips; a playroom full of toys; a car with a DVD player; even a Mom who stays home with them all day. But the happiest part of their day isn’t diving into the toybox, putting on a cool new shirt, or watching their favorite movie. The squeals of excitement and happiness come when they hear Daddy’s footsteps on the stairs when he comes home from work. What makes them happiest is DADDY playing with them, DADDY spending time with them, DADDY teaching them to do something new. That’s special, because DADDY is special.
Happy Father's Day to the most wonderful Daddy I know!

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Stuff You Never Thought You Would (or Could) Do

Before you have kids, there are lots of things that you don’t think you could ever do. Change a gross diaper without throwing up, for example. But when parenthood rolls around, not doing them is not an option, so you just DO them. Here are just a few of the things I never thought I would or could do that I have done for my kids.

1.      Eating food that’s been partially eaten by someone else
This happens for multiple reasons. First of all, you hate to see food going to waste. So when you make a perfectly good peanut butter sandwich and your kid eats a single bite of it before losing interest, you have to eat it. It’s the environmentally responsible thing to do. But the other reason is that if you don’t eat that sandwich, chances are you’re not going to get lunch at all because you’re too busy making sure that your kid isn’t disassembling the DVD player or sticking bobby pins into an electrical outlet or bleaching the neighbor’s cat.
2.      Cleaning another human being’s face with spit
Any mother who claims she’s never done this is either a liar or so neurotic that she carries a pack of baby wipes in her bra at all times. Kids have an amazing way of finding dirt wherever they go. And the more important the event is that they’re headed for, the dirtier they’ll get. When you take a last look at your baby girl in her lovely flower girl dress right before she marches down the aisle, you can be sure she’ll have a big glob of oatmeal or snot or magic marker on her face, and the handiest solvent around is your own spit. Trust me, it’s less unpleasant than having the bride resent you for the rest of your life for letting your kid ruin her wedding video.
3.      Perform mouth to mouth resuscitation
Yeah, this one’s pretty serious. Ten years ago, I got my CPR certification, never imagining I’d need to use it, and never thinking I’d be able to bring myself to, even in a crisis. A few weeks ago, my not-quite-two-year-old daughter slipped out of the house and fell into our swimming pool. We found her about 10 minutes later, not breathing. Those lessons I never thought I’d be able to use? Kicked in without even thinking about it. When your baby is in trouble, you’d do anything to help her. She spent a week in Children’s Hospital, but came home with a perfectly clean bill of health, thanks in large part to that early CPR. (If you’re a parent, please consider very seriously getting certified in CPR. If I can learn it - and use it - anyone can.)
4.      Turn food into entertainment
Many non-parents scoff at the idea of making food fun. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me, “My [hypothetical] children will eat what the rest of the family eats, or they’ll go hungry,” I'd be a millionaire. I thought the same thing until I gave birth to children who are nearly as picky as I was. If sticking frilly toothpicks into chunks of chicken or making faces out of pretzels and cheerios on scrambled eggs will get some protein into my kids’ diets, then bring on the food fun! If cooking “spiders” made of chunks of hotdog impaled with spaghetti gets my kid to not balk at dinner, I’m all for it. I’m pretty sure that by the time my kid is 15 or so, he’ll be willing to eat non-arachnid hot dogs. Besides, it's art. I’ve seen much weirder art at MOMA.
5.      Making friends with people with whom I have nothing in common except that my kids like their kids
This one really only applies to those parents among us unfortunate enough to be introverts. I have a hard enough time making friends when I see an obvious shared interest or background; it’s nearly impossible for me to make friends with someone without that connection. But if my kid hits it off with another kid, I’m going to suck it up and say “Hi” to that kid’s mom, even if I’d rather be having a root canal without anesthesia. I’ll even invite her and her kid over for a play date if it’ll make my kid happy. I’m very fortunate that the few times I’ve forced myself to do that, I’ve ended up discovering that we have more in common than I thought, and I’ve made a wonderful new friend – and so has my kid. But it’s something I would never do for myself, only for my kid.
Being a mom is kind of like being an explorer in the 1600s. You’re sailing off into uncharted territory, discovering new problems, and trying to solve them with whatever tools you happen to have on hand. Whether that tool is spit, hotdog-and-spaghetti spiders, or a fake bright smile, you do what you can and hope for the best. And like those explorers, you never know what the payoff might be. At worst, you just had a cool adventure. At best, your name is remembered for many generations. Not a bad outcome either way, I’d say.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

2013 Tony Awards Red Carpet Fashion

This year’s Tony Awards ceremony covered the spectrum from the sublime (Neil Patrick Harris’ stunning opening number) to the ridiculous (Mike Tyson’s cameo in said opening number). NPH as host is always a home run, and the ceremony itself ran relatively smoothly, despite a few teleprompter issues and one notable microphone glitch, so on the whole I’d say it was a very successful evening. The fashions were relatively subdued and uninspired, but there were a few notable hits and misses.

Interestingly, the most remarkable fashions of the night were not on the red carpet, but on stage as part of the performances: Cinderella and her fairy godmother both wore gowns that magically transformed from rags into full ball gowns complete with tiaras (well, in the case of the fairy godmother, silver lamé antennae). If you missed seeing that number live, it’s well worth watching:

The stars’ fashions were lackluster enough that I can’t even come up with enough candidates to put them into categories, so I’ll just take them in alphabetical order.

Laura Benanti wore a cobalt blue, Grecian-inspired dress with a plunging neckline held in place with two satin ribbons. This dress is a lovely example of how a gown can show a lot of skin yet still be tasteful. The strategically-placed ribbons assured viewers that Ms. Benanti was not likely to suffer a wardrobe malfunction, and her cascading wavy hair covered enough of her shoulders to avoid a “too bare” look. Her natural, subtle makeup was a nice balance to the strong color of the gown.
Lilla Crawford, star of the current revival of “Annie,” hit the perfect balance of elegant and age-appropriate. It’s not so frilly as to be a child’s party frock, but the full skirt and waves of sequins make it youthful and festive, while the black and silver theme and the grown-up updo with just a few wavy tendrils keep it formal and classy. Points to both her mom and her stylist for coming up with this great look.
Sally Field also hits the balance of elegant and age-appropriate in a deep green column with a softly draped bodice. A pop of another color in her clutch or shoes might have been a nice touch, but the ensemble as is is flattering and understated.
Megan Hilty’s gown followed the recent trend of having a see-through maxi skirt over a shorter skirt. I’m not a fan of the look in general, but the zig-zag hem of her underskirt and the beading at the bottom of the train made this look more successful than many similar styles. Her updo could have been a bit softer and more relaxed, but with that gorgeous smile and va-va-voom curves, she’d have looked stunning in a burlap sack.
At first glance, I loved Jane Krakowski’s gown, but it lost points under closer scrutiny. Jane has a rather straight figure that is not always flattered by traditional red carpet dresses. She generally chooses styles that work well for her, however, and the silhouette of this dress is no exception. The deep, narrow V-neck and slim silver belt create the illusion of curves, and the clingy fabric emphasizes her overall slenderness. But the random patches of missing sequins made it look like her dress had had accidentally gone through the washer instead of being dry-cleaned. (It’s only fair to add that my husband agreed with my assessment of the dress – until she turned around to reveal the large triangle-shaped cutout at the back, at which point he gave it an automatic 10.)
Cyndi Lauper’s outfit was…well, let’s call it “true to herself.” I actually liked the tailored cropped pants with the front slits, especially with the fabulous strappy silver heels, but the black lace granny shrug aged her unnecessarily – particularly since her face hasn’t aged a day since 1983.
Judith Light’s gown looked lovely when she was standing still to pose for photos. But she fell victim to the all-too-common red carpet trap of not checking how the gown looks when you move in it. Despite her slim figure, she had bulges of flesh peeping through the under-arm cutouts while giving her acceptance speech, and there was something very unflattering going on around her neck and throat that I found extremely distracting.
Pam MacKinnon (winner for Best Direction of a Play) also fell victim to the movement trap. Her dress fit her poorly, with the high square shoulders riding up like football pads whenever she moved her arms, and a too-tight bodice squishing her chest. But then, when your best accessory is a shiny new Tony Award, you can get away with a lot.
Andrea Martin is another actress who, like Sally Field, knows how to dress a slender but older figure well. Her black satin sheath with just a touch of lace at the neck was simple, elegant, and flattering. She’s not a fussy, girly-girl type, and this dress managed to be both feminine and well-suited to her personality and style.
Patina Miller’s flowing watercolor-print dress was by far my favorite of the night. I loved the gathering at the waistline that created a faux “bow” that sat snugly against her body, the subtle deepening of color from neckline to floor, and the handkerchief-style hem. The style both softened and flattered her muscular frame.
Presenter Martha Plimpton’s scarlet sheath with just a hint of train draped beautifully on her figure. The see-through panel at the top with lace embellishments was just enough to stop it from being boring, although I wish the panels hadn’t run quite so far down the sides of the dress. Side-boob is rarely a good look even in a cutting-edge couture gown, but in a simpler dress like this it merely looks like a mistake.
Condola Rashad is one of the most gorgeous women I have ever seen, so she could have worn anything and would still have looked stunning, but her deep plum princess-seamed gown with trumpet hem and sweetheart neckline made her look even more stunning. And as for having perfect accessories, the matching gemstone necklace was second only to having her proud (and equally well-dressed) Daddy on her arm.
Finally, here is proof that certain women can get away with wearing just about anything. Cicely Tyson’s gown was a gorgeous royal purple that made her perfect skin absolutely glow in such a way that you hardly noticed the pointy-ruffled monstrosity she was wearing. But when you’ve been performing on Broadway for 54 years and you finally get your first Tony nomination at age 79, you get to wear whatever you want.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Train Wreck of Thought

After five years of marriage, my husband is quite used to my blurting out a statement that seems to have no relation to the conversation we were just having. A typical train of thought for me goes something like this: My husband says to me, “Tonight’s lasagna was delicious.” I recall that my mom often made lasagna from that same recipe for church potluck dinners. Every summer, our church would host a food booth at the local Independence Day Celebration. One year, the entertainment included a troupe of belly dancers, one of whom had been my high school math teacher. Over the course of the three years I had her, she divorced and reverted to her maiden name then married again, so she had a different last name each year I was in her class. Two of those names were somewhat unusual and the third was very simple. This thought caused me to blurt out, “Sweetheart, if you die before me and I remarry, it will be to someone with a very common last name.”

If you cut out the thought process in between and simply juxtapose his comment about the lasagna and my comment about him dying, it could be a rather alarming conversation. Fortunately, he knows me well enough to extrapolate the chain of events going on in my head. (Or at least to trust that there is one that does not include the administration of poison.)

Unfortunately, my son has apparently inherited my tendency for the non sequitur. And since he is only 3-1/2, he rarely explains the chain of thought which led him from Point A to Point B. Also since he is only 3-1/2, the leaps in logic within that chain often defy adult understanding – or at least prove an interesting challenge to recreate.

Here is a prime example of his thoughts with less than obvious connections: The other day, he asked me why Daddy and I don’t get married every day. After all, we kiss all the time. I explained that you only have to get married once, usually with a special ceremony and fancy clothes, but then you stay married and you don’t have to do it over and over. I showed him our wedding album and reminded him that the family photo at the top of our stairs was from our wedding day. He was very quiet and looked thoughtfully at all the photos for a few minutes, then asked, “Okay, but Mommy, why aren’t there dinosaurs anymore?”

Comments like that make me wonder what goes on in that funny little head of his. I imagine that the chain of thought went something like this: Mommy and Daddy got married before I was born. Mommy says that she used to be a little girl a long time before I was born. When she was a little girl, she liked to play with dolls, just like Tiny from Dinosaur Train does. I would like to play with Tiny from Dinosaur Train, except that there aren’t dinosaurs any more. “Hey, Mommy, why aren’t there dinosaurs anymore?” It’s actually quite reasonable logic.  

But sometimes I just can’t get into his head deep enough to understand the connections he’s making. Connections between comments like, “The water in our pool is really warm,” and “Once my toenail turned a funny color and fell off.” Or “Daddy bought me a shovel at Home Depot,” and “Germs get into your lungs if you don’t eat enough healthy food.” Or “When I grow up, I’ll be big like Daddy,” and “How many oranges fit in your shoes?”

Although when it comes to statements like that last one, I think it’s probably better not to try to figure it out. Some of the mysteries of life are better left as mysteries.

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