Monday, December 24, 2012

Review of "What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend" by Laura Vanderkam

I've decided Laura Vanderkam's advice is just plain right. Full stop.

I'm a huge fan of her blog, and when I found out she has another time-management book coming out on December 31 called What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend - I immediately knew I had to read it. She was kind enough to share it with me early, and I absolutely loved it. It was the perfect length, it took me under 30 minutes to devour, and I felt I didn't waste even a single moment of any of my own precious 36 waking weekend hours enjoying it.

So, what do "The Most Successful People" do on the weekend, you ask? Well, in general, they do two key things with their time:

1) They have a structure - choosing weekend labor of a different sort than the weekday labor they typically engage in, or to borrow from fitness parlance they "cross train," and --

2) They plan - by making written plans, particularly about how they'll use their weekend downtime, they take full advantage of the happiness-boosting benefits of anticipation.

There is so much great food for thought in Vanderkam's book, and I say this as someone who already makes extremely good use of her time and who totally lacks the procrastination gene. A few tidbits:

On how to plan a weekend: Plan a few "anchor events," such as 3 to 5 things you want to do, sketched in ahead of time. What's something new you've always wanted to do? Dream a little. Write your ideas down so you can finally make those happen.

On household chores: Do them on the weekdays. "You may just spend less time on chores because you have less time." Designate only a small chore time on the weekend if you must. Better yet, hire help.

On kids' activities: "Pare down to the activities they and you enjoy most" with the knowledge that "depth and focus tend to bring more happiness than a scattershot approach where you never get a chance to go all in towards mastery." (Yes, indeed, that sounds refreshingly familiar.) Also, write down ahead of time how you plan to make use of any time you're going to spend waiting at kids' sports events. Mom writes down: "I'll read the whole Sunday times" while she waits four hours for her daughter's swim meet to end. Brilliant.

On Sundays: "Sunday? Miraculously everyone is free." Indeed. That makes it a great window of time to spend with friends you hardly ever see. Why not have people over for an early Sunday dinner?

On why "the simplify Christmas narrative" is wrong:
"But if you’ve got young kids, it doesn’t take long to realize that there won’t be many Christmas seasons when the little ones will race downstairs in the morning to see what Santa brought. They won’t always be eager to bake with you, spilling flour on the counter in their excitement. Eventually they won’t care if you put up a giant tree, or go caroling, or make hot chocolate. You can beg off making a snowman because you’re tired. But there are only a few winters—and only a few days each winter when it’s snowy and you all are home together— that your children will ask to make snowmen with you. Someday, perhaps, you will be staring at the snow from the too simple room of a hospital or nursing home, dreaming of the days when making snowmen with your children was an option. This realization leads to a different question than that suggested by all these tips on simplifying the holidays. Namely, what are you saving your energy for? This is all there is. Anything could happen and you are not guaranteed another snowman. So make a fuss. Make a show. Spend your energy now."
Quite the spot-on argument to carpe diem this Christmas. "Life cannot happen only in the future." So very true. "What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend" by Laura Vanderkam will be released on December 31 (you can pre-order it now). Happy Holidays, all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Death of My BFF's Father

I'm at that age now where the parents of my childhood friends are reaching the ends of their lives. My BFF's dear father's wake was on Friday; as if that day wasn't already the worst day ever. He had been ill for a long time, the kidney transplants ultimately didn't work. There were at least three occasions this fall where his hospice nurses told his wife, "This is probably his last day of life." He was sent home twice, but he kept bouncing back. He truly wanted to live. The medical bills piled up. The insurance companies were assholes. His wife quit her job to care for him full time. They were best friends, and had such a strong, fun 34-year-long marriage.

Now that he's gone, we're extremely concerned for her, both emotionally and financially. She's showing signs of going through the grief process: Denial, Anger... it's healthy. The anger piece has been oddly healing for my friend and her siblings. Her mom did not refrain from calling a few relatives out on their bullshit. Perhaps "bullshit" is too mild a word for the dynamic in her mom's family-of-origin. For example, mom's sister and her 5 kids spent the week before the wedding funeral (edit: wow-Freudian slip there big time...) eating and drinking her out of house and home - as if a new widow's home is some all-you-can-eat buffet. How galling. You're supposed to show up with food, and you certainly don't help yourself to it. You eat before you go. They're all pretty sure mom's sister's 15-year-old son who was recently expelled from school probably stole a bunch of cash from my BFF's mom's purse. At least he didn't steal the checks that were in there with the cash. Good times.

I was devastated that I could not fly out for the funeral, so I asked my parents to attend the wake on my behalf. They said it was lovely. My BFF's mom was really happy they came. Well-attended wakes and funerals seem to be a real source of comfort to the surviving family.

I also broke out my old school (circa 1982) Miss Manners Etiquette book because it's been ages since I've written a note of sympathy. I didn't know that "sympathy cards" with the condolence sentiment pre-printed on them are a faux pas. Glad I checked before I went to the store. The correct way is to write a personal, heartfelt note on your own stationery. It makes sense - that's what I suppose I'd rather receive on one of the worst days of my life.

My own parents' eventual deaths are amongst my greatest fears. I try to be Zen about it. I try to channel my recollections of how a Buddhist master might consider it, something like this.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mother-Blaming Nonsense: National Tragedy Edition

How quick we are to judge. Young man commits an unspeakable crime, and what's the media's knee-jerk reaction on the very day of the atrocity, before the facts are in? Blame the mother!

Note the mother-blaming tone of this reporting, from two male journalists for Good Morning America via Yahoo:

"Adam Lanza of Newtown, Connecticut was a child of the suburbs and a child of divorce who at age 20 still lived with his mother...
A relative told ABC News that Adam was "obviously not well."
Family friends in Newtown also described the young man as troubled and described [his mother] Nancy as very rigid. "[Adam] was not connected with the other kids," said one friend.
State and federal authorities believe his mother may have once worked at the elementary school where Adam went on his deadly rampage, although she was not a teacher, according to relatives, perhaps a volunteer.
Nancy and her husband Peter, Adam's father, divorced in 2009. When they first filed for divorce in 2008, a judge ordered that they participate in a "parenting education program."
Peter Lanza, who drove to northern New Jersey to talk to police and the FBI, is a vice president at GE Capital and had been a partner at global accounting giant Ernst & Young..."

Let me get this straight. These male reporters have sprinkled some appallingly inflammatory allegations about their story, so let's check their unspoken pseudo-math here:

"Child of the suburbs" + "child of divorce" + "still lived with his mother" + "'family friends' described mother as 'very rigid'" + "divorce-court-ordered parenting education program in 2008" supposedly = This Whole Tragedy is The Mother's Fault??

Ugh, I get that at horrible times like these, which defy all explanation, people want to desperately cling to their narratives about what they think caused the problem. Perhaps it helps us psychologically deal with the harsh reality that bad things happen.

Broken families and "rigid" mothers seem to be the easy target du jour. ("Rigid?" How dare they? With so-called "family friends" like that, who needs enemies?) How about: WE JUST DON'T KNOW. It's too soon to tell. We may never know.

I don't know, and I suppose I don't have the words either.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Card PSA

I thoroughly enjoy sending and receiving holiday cards (and it helps my business). But... oy!

Based on the cards I've received so far this month, I feel the need to post another Holiday Card PSA.

1. People -  please, dear God, please have someone proofread what you've written. (Says the blogger who regularly craps all over the rules of grammar.)

2. No, "The Smith's" don't fucking live here. However, "The Smiths" certainly do, and we're so delighted to get your lovely card.

3. It bugs me when the wife who clearly does all the cards her-damn-self puts her husband's name first. I say it again this year: PUT THE WIFE'S NAME FIRST! -- like so:

Happy Holidays!
The Drapers
Betty, Don, Sally, Bobby & Gene

4. I don't care who is in the picture. The recent talk amongst media darlings about whether or not "The Mom Stays in the Picture" is entirely up to every woman to decide for herself. While I make no judgments about such matters, I will share that where my people come from, it's perfectly normal to send cards with pictures of just the kids. 

5. Finally, kudos to those marketing wizards are over at Minted. From the look of things in our mailbox, your sales are through the roof! Hats off to you, because we've already received three of your same card. (It's this card, if anyone is curious.)

Your thoughts? Kvetch to me about holiday cards.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why Our Children Have Never Met Their Grandparents

Our children have never met my husband's parents, and this is by choice. Five years ago, when I was pregnant with our first child, my husband wisely decided to end our relationships with both of his parents. We're so grateful they will not be able to hurt our children, but at the same time, it's a loss. As much as we hate to admit it, yes, it's a loss.

When some people find this out about our family, it's like their heads explode. Clearly, many folks have never had the experience of being related to a person with a truly toxic personality, and I think until they encounter one firsthand (perhaps when their own children marry into a family that has one) they'll never quite grasp the horror of it.

There's the dominant social narrative reflected in the adage "blood is thicker than water" - we should all spend time with our families no matter what; we should just grin and bear it if they hurt or annoy us because they're family, etc. I find this view to be terribly naive. Once a dynamic gets bad enough, I think it actually makes the choice to cut people out reactively easy to make, but not painless.

The first question people have for us - what on earth did DH's parents do to make you want to get them out of your lives?

Let's just say his parents' behavior could fill all of the DSM-IV and then some. The answer is a rather long story. I'll try to be brief. His parents divorced years ago, and are both remarried and each live both far away from us and each other. To me, that makes the fact that they are both now out of our lives even more telling, because we made two independent choices to no longer speak to them.

His father has PTSD from serving in the army in Vietnam, and from all of the many horrible things I'd imagine that entails. He's grappled with alcoholism, and was fired from his final job for berating and assaulting a female coworker when he got angry with her and lost control. Now he lives on disability. None of his three living siblings want anything to do with him. He tells the most obvious, outrageous lies about his ex-wife - to the point it is downright offensive. He's the more obviously toxic one.

We strongly believe his mother suffers from Munchausen Syndrome - she always speaks in a whisper (until she gets angry, then she yells in a normal voice) and despite going to several doctors, none could find anything medically wrong with her. After her sister was legitimately diagnosed with MS, she began claiming to have lupus. Whenever she would visit us (before we had kids), she would claim to be sick and would spend most of the visit in bed, or in the bathroom for hours. But she never wanted us to take her to the ER, nor were there any measurable signs her health was in jeopardy. There was also the time when her 2nd husband called to ask us what her real date of birth was - when they started dating she had claimed to be 35, but she was actually 50. (That's kind of awesomely bad, actually.) Finally, we figured it out.

Years ago, and before his parents' divorce, his mother opened credit cards in both DH and his brother's SS#s and names without their knowledge, then racked up a bunch of charges for what she later claimed were for Christmas presents for them when they were kids. DH did not learn of all the debt she had racked up until college. It was a nightmare trying to restore his credit.

When we told her we were expecting, she asked for our baby's SS# so she could allegedly open a college savings account for him. When we explained that that information was not available until after a baby was born, and would not at all be necessary, she demanded mine. Obviously, I refused to give it to her. Then she threw a fit about us not finding out the baby's sex until birth, and not sharing the names we picked out - a cascade of classic boundary issues. DH tried to reason with her, she was abusive. Eventually it came to this.

The reactions of his parents' families of origin have been very validating to us. His mother's sister made a point to tell us that no one in the family was in any way judging us for cutting his mother out of our lives - they have known her since she was a child, and they understand what a difficult person she is, perhaps due to some unknown psychological illness. His father's SIL said similar things about his dad's condition - they all get it - and we appreciate that they make an effort to stay in touch.

We're also grateful to my parents, who are much better grandparents than they ever were as parents (and BTW, they weren't bad parents by any stretch of the imagination). They want to see our kids and babysit them so we can take trips together. They ask permission before giving them things we might not approve of - they respect our authority as parents. So wonderful. Our kids have never felt that they're missing out on grandparental love.

I'm sure our choices strike some people as cruel-hearted. In fact, some we've told have felt the need to project their own wishes - "Maybe you'll just decide one day to call them up and forgive them, before it's too late." Well, it's a two-way street, isn't it? This experience has definitely given me a lot more empathy for people who don't have happy, intact families - trust me, they have their reasons.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Happier At Home, for the Holidays

Just finished Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. I can't seem to get enough of her. While I understand her tone is not everyone's favorite, I promise if you give her ideas a chance, her very approachable suggestions will inspire you to do some little things to make yourself happier. The bibliography at the back of her book is also a real treasure trove of wisdom and emotional intelligence - I literally photocopied the pages of it from my library copy, and plan to read many of the books she references.

One of Rubin's suggestions I have actually practiced is to mini-decorate my home for the holidays. Honestly, this one was a stretch for me. Rubin's a fan of doing a little holiday breakfast for the family on various holiday mornings - simply putting up something festive as a centerpiece on the breakfast table and then sitting down together as a family before everyone leaves for work and school on the holiday morning. Yeah, no.

Since I don't cook, and mornings are a bit too harried around here already, I decided to amend her suggestion and decorate the mantle for the holidays. So far we've done Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas - all using items we already have. Each time, the kids have jumped in and taken over decorating. So yeah, decorating the mantle has turned into some unexpected family holiday fun for all of us - DH and I like not having to be the one to do it alone, and the kids love calling the shots. Who knew? Gretchen Rubin's right again.

Have I mentioned I'm not a super happy-go-lucky holiday person?

Nevertheless, having two preschoolers has definitely changed my outlook on the December holiday season. They get so excited about decorating, about reading anything Santa-related, about pointing out the "beautiful" lights on people's homes (but lights on the exterior of our house? over my cold dead body.) I never could have predicted the sweetness of the holiday magic these two little kids have brought into my life. Now I get it.

One of our holiday traditions is watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation each year. How did I never before notice the hotness that is Beverly D'Angelo? Also, many of the late 80s fashions depicted in the movie are back again - crazy! Is little cousin Ruby Sue wearing a wig? The kids love the Julia Louis-Dreyfus character, Margot the mean neighbor. All day yesterday DS asked DD to ask him: "Why is the floor wet?" so he can respond "I don't KNOW, MARGOT!" Ds also pointed out a house that resembled The Griswold home a little too closely. Cracks me up.

What's happening in your home for the holidays?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Post-Thanksgiving Notes

We hosted Thanksgiving at our house this year. In attendance were 15 adults, 6 children, and 1 newborn baby.

After the fact, a few of our guests were kind enough to send us some thank you text messages. One even sent us a handwritten, mailed thank you note. I'd say his parents raised him right.

Unless the person is a professional baker, their homemade rolls will never, ever beat the awesome ease of the Pillsbury Crescent rolls. It kills me to admit that though.

Next time we do Thanksgiving dinner, we need to make sure there are enough mashed potatoes to have some leftover.

I ran a Turkey Trot 5k race on the morning of Thanksgiving (26:12 yo!). Five of my friends had originally said they'd run it with me. But come race day, only one of my friends actually showed up - she went most of the distance with me, despite just getting over the friggin' stomach flu. Folks like her are the ones that make the world go 'round. People who do what they say they're going to do are terribly underrated.

Saw the excellent movie "Lincoln." My favorite film reviewer is A.O. Scott from the NYT, and he gave it 4 stars, which he rarely does. He says "See it. Take your kids to see it." (School-aged kids is what I think he really means.)

Tomorrow I leave for a trip to Boston to see one of my BFF's (and I'll be doing a bit of work, but mostly a lot of play). See you next week!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Petraeus Scandal

Never ceases to amaze me how stupid powerful men can be. I just can't ignore the coverage of the truly bizarre, oddly compelling Petraeus Affair. Such a perfect case of the truth being stranger than fiction.

Even though this is all arguably about lawful sex between two consenting adults, I'm convinced Petraeus still should have been automatically disqualified as head of the CIA - not for his failure to keep it in his pants though - but for lacking the basic common sense to avoid conducting his affair over Gmail. Holy hell. I get that old guys might not be particularly tech savvy, but come on! Blackmail could have happened. State secrets could have fallen into the wrong hands (insert plot of most recent Bond film here. And since we're on the topic of Bond, I'd like to award Tweet of the Year to @feMOMhist for this one: "Daniel Craig's face looks like a hide.  If a female star had that skin she'd be peeled & lasered until her face looked like a newborn's ass").

As for the "real" Petraeus scandal? I absolutely loved Glenn Greenwald's piece in The Guardian: "FBI's abuse of the surveillance state is the real scandal needing investigation":
So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of [Petraeus paramour Paula] Broadwell's physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime - at most, they had a case of "cyber-harassment" more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people - and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court... 
But, as unwarranted and invasive as this all is, there is some sweet justice in having the stars of America's national security state destroyed by the very surveillance system which they implemented and over which they preside. As Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation put it this morning: "Who knew the key to stopping the Surveillance State was to just wait until it got so big that it ate itself?"
Exactly. Though the most recent brouhaha this week suggests that Broadwell's emails were overtly threatening of Kelley's life... who (besides that jokey, shirtless FBI agent) really knows anyway?

Two other aspects of this scandal are pushing some buttons for me.

First, seeing pictures of Mrs. Holly Petraeus just breaks my heart a little bit. Maybe it's her vulnerability as an older, cheated upon, career-less wife that I'm feeling. I just hate how folks are taking this opportunity to critique her appearance, which, to my eyes, frankly, she appears dignified, refreshingly surgically un-altered, and perfectly age-appropriate. I find the obvious victim-blaming and ageism damn depressing. Nice reminder that women are too often valued only for their sexual attractiveness to men.

Secondly, it disturbed me to see this creepy picture of Ms. Broadwell, presumably taken by the paparazzi from outside, clearly showing her inside the private home of her brother. The obvious invasion of privacy is totally jarring.

Your thoughts?

Friday, November 16, 2012

In Which I'm Asked for Financial Advice

Sometimes we never really know the honest shape of someone's financial situation.

One of my BFF's called me up the other day in tears because she felt frustrated over not having enough money in her bank account to buy herself a $3 pumpkin spiced latte (or something or other - I don't drink coffee). I was shocked.

From all outside appearances, you would never know she and her husband are having financial problems: they drive a BMW, live in a $800k-ish house in a very nice section of a major city, and take an annual family Caribbean vacation. (But see The Millionaire Next Door for a description of the consumer preferences of truly rich folks: tastes running pretty much the exact opposite of my friend's.)

She perceives me as someone to go to for financial advice. Why ask me? Because she knows I'm financially independent now despite my parents never having made more than 6 figures, plus she knows I had some student loans, and I hardly ever buy new, etc. Admittedly, it comes somewhat naturally to me.

I should add that she's blessed with two very caring, very wealthy parents who have given her a lot of cash over the years - they technically own her house and instead of a mortgage, she's paying them back... they also paid for her college, grad school, her lavish 500-person wedding, two new cars for her, and are also funding her two kids' college educations. Now if only I had chosen my parents that well - actually that's my best financial advice right there: choose rich parents!

What can she do to have more money now?

My first piece of advice for my friend: Stop accepting money from your parents. Start managing your own income more effectively.

Yes, the parents are happy to give it, but when you boil it down, it is actually having the effect of making her unhappy. See, I have this little theory about certain ex-rich kids, and I channel a bit of the Warren Buffet in my thinking on this topic. Rich people, please stop giving large sums of money to your kids. It may gratify them in the near term, but their inability to manage that money effectively seems to hurt them in the long term. Pay for their college, then go see your estate lawyer about how to stop being their ATM.

I went to college with a handful of rich kids whose parents constantly gave, gave, gave material things to them. In one case, the guy got $150k cash from his folks at age 22. It was gone in less than a year, thanks in part to his poor marital choices, namely, his ex-wife who spent $18k of it on wedding photos (it literally pains me to type that). Since he's been living in the same city all this time, he could have used that $150k to purchase a 2 bed/2 bath condo in the 1990s, then maybe traded up once or twice pre-2007, and he could be living mortgage-free today in a very nice home. But no.

My second piece of advice for my friend: Fill out new W4's to adjust your tax withholding, so you can stop giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan.

She and her husband are both employed by corporations. They receive W2's and a large tax refund every year. You never want to get a refund (the concept of the time value of money, anyone?). I told her to gather her most recent tax returns and check out the withholding calculator at Kiplinger's. Then they should each fill out a new IRS Form W4, and submit the forms to their employers. Voila! More money in each paycheck. (But will they have enough to pay their taxes next Spring? hmmm...)

My third piece of advice: Do a quarterly balance sheet. Get to know your own net worth. Understand your cash flow. Then you can set some specific goals.

One goal might be to have at least $1000 in the bank 6 months from now - or whatever amount would make her feel comfortable enough to be able to indulge in her favorite latte once a month.

My fourth piece of advice: Read up on money and investing.

There are a lot of great personal finance books out there, and your local library is the place to get them. Many years ago, I had the good fortune to read The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias, and I learned all the basics from it - it made me open a Roth IRA as a teenager (awesome). Other people I respect have loved Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. Oh yes, and I understand there are some fantastic and free blogs out there, too.

Got anything else for my friend?

Friday, November 9, 2012

How Do You Handle Gossip?

I'm a big fan of Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. Someday soon I hope to read her follow-up book Happier At Home (which @Cloud recently reviewed here.)

One of the best takeaways from THP is the suggestion that we all stop gossiping. "Gossip" is defined as saying mean-spirited information about someone behind their back. There's also a difference between innocuous gossip and malicious gossip. Rubin has blogged about her thoughts on gossip, and also has a short video that I like.

My question for today is how do you handle gossip?

In general, I do not gossip about people IRL (I try to reserve my gossip for the anonymous internets, heh, heh). But I often struggle with how to handle myself when I suddenly find myself in the awkward position of being the unwitting audience for someone else's gossiping. This is complicated by living in a small town, where lots of people gossip and have fun doing it - and also often learn something useful.

Here's an example from last weekend at the local bar. A friend, I'll call her Gossip Girl, out of nowhere starts gossiping about another friend of ours who just had a baby and could not come out with us that evening. The things she was saying weren't very mean, but they definitely would not have been appreciated by the person who was not there.

I wish I had said something to clue Gossip Girl into the fact that she was being inappropriate, something like - "It would really hurt her feelings if she were here right now to hear you saying this." Someone else tried to give her a hint that night - "this is a very, very small town you know..." but G.G. did not pick up the cue.

The whole interaction just left a bad taste in my mouth about G.G. While I had her correctly pegged from the get-go as someone to whom I shouldn't feel safe revealing anything important, it was still a disappointing interaction. I wonder what she's saying about me!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Waiting for Election Results

I just want to say that I cannot wait until we're older and someday the election results are instantaneous.

That, and it is so strange how FoxNews of all places has reported Obama ahead for over the last hour, while CNN of all places has had Romney ahead.

At this point, I don't see how Romney can win Florida, and so goes the election.

That is all.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser

Finally, I recommended a book club book that everyone else hated! I think this has got to be some sort of odd rite of passage.

"Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow" by Elizabeth Lesser was my pick. Well, it was sort of my pick in a way but not really.... See, I bought a copy as a birthday present for my friend, C, who loved it. C then recommended it to our book club as her pick, before she had actually read it. Turns out, C and I were the only ones who liked it. But C did not show up to book club, so I was the only one present to defend the book that everyone else hated. Hence it suddenly became "my pick" to defend.

It felt damn strange.

Defending it made me feel vulnerable, due to the subject matter.  The basic thesis is more complex than what I'm about to describe, but here goes: we're all just a bunch of bozos on the bus, and nobody is perfect. Yet almost everyone puts on a capable face and tries desperately to act like they've got it together all the time. Then, usually when something pretty bad happens in their life, they find their old capable face has to go, and they choose to start behaving more authentically.

Ok, not the best sales pitch anyone ever did for a book, I admit.

What can I say. This is not a book for everyone. INFJ-types like me will probably like it or at the very least appreciate it. Anti-therapy types who belittle the idea that people can go through a Phoenix Process after something bad happens to them will not care for this book. And people who cannot abide the story of a mother who cheats on her husband and ends a marriage for what our larger culture construes as frivolous reasons also will not like this book. Folks who don't want to think about aging, death, and dying will hate this book.

So to the 1% of the population I have not already described here: go ahead and read it!

I loved it, and am finding it hard to articulate why. Perhaps it is because I found one message of the book so appealing - and that's the encouragement to stop playing it so safe. Stop clinging to your most closely held judgments about the way you think others are living their lives so incorrectly. Instead, be flexible, be vulnerable, trust the universe, look for the signs that are there.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Reading

I had no idea there was once a Great New England Vampire Panic, during which people allowed the exhumation of the bodies of their relatives who had died of tuberculosis, and treated said bodies as if they were the living dead. Creep out! Love it.

Thoroughly enjoyed this online test to determine whether I would have been accused of witchcraft. Answer: Yes, the village menfolk totally would have roasted me in the flamety-flames. Definitely. (Thanks @feMOMhist via Twitter.)

Off to get the kiddos to their trick-or-treating, but first we must drive to one of those actual neighborhoods where everyone keeps the porch lights on. I have dibs on all of the Snickers, DH the Butterfingers. My kids, who are going as Spiderman and Spiderwoman, have been "practicing" the candy ask for several weeks now.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mother-Blaming Nonsense: Nanny Edition

What is it about mothers (always mothers, but never those golf-playing, traditional corporate dads though) who outsource their childcare to nannies, babysitters, or even just to other relatives that apparently drives such a disturbingly large number of people crazy with unacknowledged jealousy and misplaced rage?

When a mother uses daycare: "How dare those mothers leave their kids to be raised by total strangers!"

When a SAHM makes time to prioritize her physical health: "She puts her kids in daycare so she can spend 2 hours a day at the gym - how self-indulgent!"

When a WOHM gets help from a postpartum doula, or nanny, or even her own mother: "People who hire night nannies or have a grandparent who is willing to take care of their 'trophy kids' so they can work long hours should have never had kids in the first place!" 

When a WAHM pays somebody to watch her kids in her house for any amount of time: "Why does a mom who is home even need a nanny in the first place? She must not really love her kids." (But why is "preschool" ok? I guess I don't fully comprehend the rules.)

By the way, all of the above describe parenting choices I have made at one point or another, and for which I'm sure I have been judged. To our knowledge, my husband has never once been judged. We save up our harshest judgments for mothers.

I, for one, am sick and tired of all the sad sack crabs in a bucket sticking their judgmental noses into other women's business. (Amen @nicoleandmaggie!)

Obviously, nobody like me, who has used pretty much every form of childcare known to humankind, should read any of the internet comments out there about the recent Krim Tragedy. And definitely don't read the NYT's coverage. However, I appreciated what Moxie had to say, as well as Laura McKenna's post.

I'm devastated for the Krim Family and for their community. 

I'm sick about how this reads for our society: Latina nannies might be potential child murderers! Moms, you're taking a big risk trusting someone else with your kids (until they're school-aged anyway... oh, wait...)

Part of me wants to sing the praises of our awesome Latina babysitter, (who like the nanny in the news is actually a U.S. Citizen which is a fact that, sadly, comes as a shock to everyone), but somehow that does not feel right. It feels defensive, and we don't have any reason to feel defensive.

The story was big enough to make the radio news in my tiny town, which is located just about as far from NYC as you can get in the lower 48 states. Why? What's the relevance? None. It's that there's just something about the story of a rich, white SAHM who hires a Latina nanny that triggers this deep-seated sense of jealousy in people. I suspect the truth is that some people are feeling a little bit happy and relieved about what happened: as if this was a kind of rough karmic justice and Krim deserved it because she wasn't doing her job as a mother, she wasn't willing to sacrifice enough of herself. 

As if somehow it means their own kids are safe because there's got to be a limited supply of badness out there, and it has struck somewhere else, so we're protected for awhile. Ugh.

What's the solution? Obviously, avoid the news. Stop wasting your time on people who stay stupid, patriarchal things and who, when called out on their statements, lack even the basic self-awareness and decency to be able to apologize. Stop caring what other people think (to whatever extent you may have cared in the first place.) What else have you got?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Ghost Story

I love a good ghost story. I'm not sure I per se believe in ghosts. Rather, I tend to think there is not yet a good explanation in our current science as to whatever it is that happens to the life energy (or soul or spirit) of a human as it transfers out of a person's body when they die. Our understandings of thermodynamics may begin to explain some of it. (Ok, so I'm not expressing these thoughts as clearly as I should. Having just typed that and read it back to myself, I think it even sounds a little ridiculous. But it's what I happen to feel, so I'm just going to go with it.)

Do I believe in ghosts? No, but there is certainly a part of me that really wants to, because I think the idea that ghosts are real makes for a much better story. And certainly, people all over the world have been seeing ghosts since antiquity. Maybe it is how we as humans have developed a strategy to cope with our fear of death: if we think death is not really the end, it is a little easier to accept.

While I have never actually seen a ghost, I'm pretty sure I witnessed a very specific communication between grandparent and grandchild from beyond the grave.

Here's my ghost story.

In the winter of 2004, I was at my dear friend S's house one night, a few weeks after her grandmother had died. She had had a 3-month-long battle with cancer. As a child, S had lived for a time with her grandmother, and they were quite close. Her grandmother knew her cancer was terminal, so she often talked frankly with S about her inevitable death and about her thoughts on the afterlife.

They were both fans of Sylvia Browne, a psychic who used to appear every Wednesday on The Montel Williams Show. Sylvia Browne offers a positive view of ghosts (they're nothing to be afraid of, they don't always know they're dead - so if you see one, tell them the current date, that they're dead, and that they should go to the light...). Browne insists that sometimes people who have died will send their living loved ones various signs in order to say goodbye, or perhaps to let them know they're ok on the other side. The "signs" might be things like birds that will appear at the surviving loved one's window; unusual birds, or a large number of different kinds of birds. Or a special song that has not been popular in ages that will randomly play on the radio. Or the sign could take the form of flickering lights, or brief lapses in the electricity in the home.

Or in S's case - it was all of the above.

Before her death, S's grandmother had promised her that she would send S the kinds of signs Sylvia Browne talked about to let S know she's ok, and that there is an afterlife. And boy, did she. At the funeral, all kinds of rare birds showed up and apparently put on quite a flying display. For weeks, anytime S did the dishes at the sink under her kitchen window, a little bird would show up and tap lightly on the glass.

There was this old Dolly Parton song S used to listen to with her grandmother in the early 80s, and that she hadn't heard in years. Suddenly it was playing on every radio station, and for no discernible reason.

And there was the night I went over to S's house to visit. S was telling me how much she missed her grandmother, but how she felt very comforted because she perceived her grandmother's presence all around her. She knew her grandmother was watching over her.

Eventually the conversation turned to S's uncle's wife, who apparently went into grandmother's house and helped herself to some of grandmother's jewelry without asking anyone in the family. S was visibly incensed.

"If my grandmother knew about it, she'd be rolling in her grave."

Then the lights in our room suddenly flickered. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On.

S turned to me and laughed, "Well, I guess my Grandma knows and she's not having any of it!"

And the lights flickered again. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On.

Again, at the exact moment. How on earth could this be?

Nothing happened with the lights in the other rooms, as we could clearly see, just the lights in the room we were sitting in.

I had goosebumps. To this day, I can't explain any of it. People I've told this story to have suggested it was an older home and there were some issues with the wiring. Nope. Their house was only 2 years old and here's the real kicker - S's husband is actually a journeyman electrician. There was nobody else home except me, S, and S's infant baby sound asleep upstairs.

Eventually, after about 2 months of getting sign after sign after sign, S told her grandmother out loud - "Grandma, I hear you. I've seen all the signs, and they were just like what you told me you were going to send, and so I know you're ok. Thank you. It's ok for you to move on now. I love you and you'll always be in my heart."

Then the signs stopped.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mitt Romney's "Binders Full of Women"

Last night's Town Hall Debate was Romney's to lose. And he totally blew it. (Happy dance). One key difference between this debate post mortem and the prior two - liberals can admit it when their guy loses. Conservatives still won't admit that Ryan lost the VP debate, and that Romney lost this one.

I loved that Obama finally brought his A-game. One of the most privotal moments, probably of Obama's whole presidency actually, was when he called Romney's accusations that Obama has been politicizing Libya "offensive." It must have been horribly galling to our President to be chastised by the right for an absurd, imagined non-offense in the context of such an amazing foreign policy victory. It was a powerful moment, one that took me by surprise, reinforcing for me something about Obama that I suspect many of us feel, even despite all of our complaints. That is, that Obama is a decent man, and a thoughtful, patient, intellectual, practical, principled, careful decision-maker who, when all is said and done, trusts the people on their own to understand and to unpack what he's accomplished, without feeling the need to fly a crass "mission accomplished" banner. He quietly gets results, and he reminds me every time I see him speak that real character does count.

The best question of the night was - what will you do to bring about pay equity in the American workplace?

Romney's answer that he hired women for his Massachusetts cabinet was just plain idiotic. Nice reminder that smart, qualified women aren't a substantial part of the GOP power structure.  (Good fact-checking on Romney's hiring claims today over at FEMINISTE.) What a sad, sad demonstration of the fact that he doesn't understand what tokenism is. What he utterly fails to comprehend is that sexism will not be dismantled by the one-off addition of 14 temporary female State Secretaries of Bunny Rabbits with no real authority and tenure. What we really need is what we've been saying since the 70s: equal pay for equal work for all women, and real anti-employment discrimination laws without statutes of limitations (yes, the Lily Ledbetter Act is a start) - because it can literally take years to discover what we all suspect deep down, we're still not making as much as our male coworkers.

Romney's answer was both offensive and inaccurate. He's been running on his business record at Bain Capital - but he says didn't become aware of "women's issues" until he became Governor. Nobody on his campaign, nobody from his HBS alumni network, nobody from the LDS Church, none of his private equity networking contacts knew any qualified women! But not because none existed, he admits there is a "binder full of women" - but because neither he nor his friends nor his advisors knew any.

Think about that for a minute. To find some women, Romney's men had to go outside their circles because they simply did not know any. They had to turn to "women's groups" where they surmised those types of women must congregate.

Now try substituting "African American" into Romney's statements instead of women, and the insult suddenly becomes crystal clear. Imagine saying "I couldn't find any qualified blacks, so I called up the NAACP."

I could say a lot more about what is So Very Wrong about the way Romney automatically equated mothers women (but not men) in the workplace with a need for "flexibility," so that mothers women (but not men) can get home to their kids and cook some dinner. He's basically saying all women have kids, no real mother can ever put in a 70-80 work week, and therefore being a mother disqualifies any woman from a Romney appointment.

It came off as coming from a place of extreme male privilege - here's a rich man who honestly has never given a thought to any of these real world family issues. Despite having fathered five sons, Romney has clearly never had to concern his pretty little head with any of the actual work and logistics involved. Here he hoped to sell himself as someone who cares about women by imagining the bullet-points of what middle class women must discuss at those corporate work/life balance presentations he's never attended. Yes, this is the drivel that one spews when one honestly don't know or care to know any members of a group.

Obama's answer schooled Romney and his ivory tower ilk as to the realities that women are increasingly the family breadwinners in this country, that female-headed single-parent families remain a significant presence, and that there's still a glass ceiling. I actually teared up when Obama talked about the sexism his grandmother faced at work.

I'm kind of in love with the meme that's going around the internets. The one with the Dos Equis beer ad guy is my current fave. Ah, gotta love those precious gems of political theatre we were treated to last night --

ROMNEY: "Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension? Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?"

OBAMA: "You know I don't look at my pension, it's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long."

LOL!!! I can't be the only one who was thinking of another word that begins with the letter P during that little exchange.

We haven't had this much fun during a debate season since Al Gore and his lock box, hell, probably since Nixon/Kennedy if you believe our elders.

Your thoughts??

p.s. By the way, Saturday Night Live is knocking it out of the park - if you haven't watched in years, you'd better get on it quick before the election's over.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Dreaded School Choice Problem

DS is about to turn 5 [insert heartfelt "I can't believe how fast they grow" sentiment here], and will be eligible to start public elementary school next August. The decision of where to send our firstborn to school is, hands down, the biggest worry-inducing stressor we've encountered so far as parents. (And with our low sleep needs kids, that's saying a lot. But also, I fully realize we've had it rather easy in some ways, too.)

The deadline for next fall is February, tick tock. However, I think we're going to keep him at his current bilingual Montessori for Kindergarten, which is the highest grade they offer. It's been so fantastic. My kids have peaked: they're only 3 and 4.5 and already this is the best education they'll ever get in Podunkville, and we all know it. The teachers understand my kids without needing us to tell them. Case in point, teacher says to me yesterday at pick up: "hi hush, we're going to give DS more challenging work because today he got bored and started seeking negative attention..." Music to my ears. Their approach makes our lives so much easier.

I thought we had already decided (back in Nov '10) to send DS to the Home District public school closest to our house, which has been nationally-recognized for excellence.

Then some of the optics changed. Turns out we now have 3 viable public school options to explore. (My internal satisficer says, oh shit.)

Now the bilingual school in Away District is suddenly looking a lot more attractive. What's changed? "Make Your Day," the shitty discipline policy with absolutely no research support that encouraged kids to rat each other out is dead and gone - hooray! How did this miracle occur? Some very dedicated PTA parents pounded the table for several years, and held meetings, and did surveys, and created blogs, and got in the school board's faces, and moved heaven and earth, and lo and behold, they got it replaced this school year with a more empathic discipline policy called PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support) that both teachers and parents alike seem to prefer. Remind me never, ever to make fun of nor to devalue the efforts of PTA parents moms again, because they did our little community one tremendous service.

There's also another public school option where the classes sound amazing, as in subjects I myself would want to learn - and, well, it's actually a "public school alternative for Homeschooling Families." Hmm.... I confess I am not naturally inclined to be super open-minded about homeschooling, though I am sympathetic to the homeschooling option for certain cohorts (twice exceptional, and rural gifted, for example). My opinions are malleable enough. The good news is, as predicted, wacky homeschoolers on the internets do not equal life. This local couple we've been getting to know lately have two delightful sons attending the homeschooling public school, and they are like this walking advertisement for the wonders of secular homeschooling. They are low-key, nonjudgmental, NPR-listening types who have invited us to talk with them more, and to visit the school.  I'm also seeing that homeschooling is quite possible for working families like ours, and that contrary to its name the "schooling" doesn't always occur at "home." [Wow, I still can't quite wrap my brain around the fact that we're seriously considering homeschooling. Proof that if you live long enough, you'll see it all j'suppose.]

Then, of course, there's the word on the street about each school. Gossip folks. Consider the source, don't believe everything you hear, blah blah blah. So here's what's allegedly so very "bad" about each school (let's assume the truth is somewhere in the middle and we all have very different priorities) --

The Bad
Home District school: "It's like 85% Mexican and all kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch. I know this family who sent their (white) son there for Kindergarten (he doesn't speak any Spanish). He had no friends all year. They paired him with this autistic kid. He ended up hating school and crying every day at drop off. They finally requested a transfer to a school with more native English speakers." [Note this is the one and only negative parent experience I've ever heard about anyone having at this school and it was told to me secondhand, and no names were given for me to verify.] And (from a teacher who trained there) "If your son does not watch TV and play video games, he'll have a hard time making friends with other boys as he gets older, because those are the main activities over which the kids in this population seem to form bonds."

Away District Bilingual school: "It all depends on which teacher team your kid gets assigned to - there are some great teachers you will want to request, and then pray your kid doesn't end up with one of the crappy ones. The principal is a nice guy but he's not a good leader and there's no cooperation between the Bilingual teacher teams and the English-only teacher teams." Also - "My son acts out because he's bored. His teacher says he's so gifted it's like he's special needs, but instead of challenging him more in school they encourage him to attend a half hour math enrichment after school as if that solves the problem - so, what's the point of him sitting in class all day? We have to do a lot of extra work at home to meet his needs." And "My daughter went there K through 5th and afterwards we took her to Mexico to visit her grandparents, and it turns out she does not even understand a word of Spanish. We should have never trusted that school." "We didn't know our son got in until my wife finally called the school 3 days before school started and demanded to know." "We didn't find out which teacher my daughter was assigned to until literally the day before school started - she had been asking us all summer long. Frustrating." [Also, due to budget cuts, in this district there is no school on Monday mornings, and that lost time is never made up.]

Homeschooling Public School: (From a parent who sent her sons there for 2 years before putting them back in public school) "A lot of the kids in the upper grades, not so much in K I'd imagine, are there because they do not fit into a typical classroom, so you have a lot of possible ADD and spectrum kids, usually undiagnosed because the parents are in denial, and it can make classroom management a real challenge. There's a religious homeschoolers clique there that it's impossible to be part of if you don't attend the right churches, so that eliminates a lot of the opportunities to socialize." (From another parent whose daughters went there for 2 years) "My youngest daughter needed to socialize more. She's mean to other kids and this school was just not the best place for her to really improve upon those skills."

The Good
Home District school: (From several teachers who have observed or taught there) "I've never seen a school where the children are so respected." "The principal and the teachers have been working together for a long time, they have really strong relationships and make a great team. The superintendent is really proud of the school and is invested in making sure it continues to get all the resources it needs to succeed." (From parents too numerous to count) "The school does a great job, I seriously can't think of anything to criticize." "My daughter is pulled out of class to work at a higher level on certain subjects, she feels really good about school." "Every teacher there is awesome, you don't need to worry about requesting the 'right' teacher."

Away District Bilingual school: "Since none of the schools in this district are winning any awards, we figure at least our kids will come out knowing Spanish."[Also, we think a lot of the families there would be a great fit for us socially, i.e. a lot of former big city liberals now living in Podunkville send their kids there. "If this school were in a big city, there'd be a lottery for it and we'd never get in."] From the daughter of a bilingual teacher: "I'm amazed at how beautifully her accent is coming along when she speaks Spanish. The opportunities to learn Spanish are awesome."

Homeschooling Public School: "This school solved the so-called gifted 'problem' for us. We gave our daughter the choice of staying here or going back to the school where she had had the boring 2nd grade experience from hell." And, "Regular public school just does not have high enough expectations for student learning - those teachers think it's perfectly ok to get a failing grade on the science portion of the state standardized test. This is a healthier environment where higher expectations are the norm."

Logistical Concerns

Home District school: None. The school is 6 minutes away from our house, and the bus stop is only a block away. School is in session the full school day, all week. My kids already speak enough Spanish that they should be able to make native Spanish-speaking friends without any trouble. We watch TV and play video games at home (um, lol), so ditto.

Away District Bilingual school: It's a 22-minute drive each way, and transportation won't be provided. DH works nearby and could handle drop off most days - but I bet it would be hard to nail down a definite routine and I worry my work could potentially suffer if transportation times are not in stone. There's no school Monday mornings (to which I say WTF?). The previous discipline concerns seem to no longer be at issue. Also, I worry that since my kids already speak a ton of Spanish, will they even be challenged enough in a school that does not seem to favor single-subject acceleration.

Homeschooling Public School: It's a 26-minute drive each way. There is obviously a whole lot of work involved in this type of education, but here at least some of that burden is carried by the institution. Still, we'd be responsible for filling out the paperwork with the state, and figuring out how the hell this would actually be done.

Ok, so. I'm asking you kind souls who have graciously read all of the above, in its imperfect informational glory, to please pretend you are me: which option would you choose? Are there any options you're able to eliminate immediately? Please share any data points you may have. Lay it on me! Gracias!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Childcare: yep, we've done it pretty much every way there is

@Nicoleandmaggie had a good post recently on mother's helpers, where folks shared their various and sundry childcare arrangements. This topic always makes for fascinating reading for me - what is it about hearing how others do it that I find so interesting?
Here's my comment on how we've done the childcare thing - 
In the last 5 years, we’ve used nearly every child care arrangement under the sun: postpartum doula (aka baby nurse, or night nurse), daycare center in a large city, emergency back-up childcare paid for by my former employer, evening (high school/college age) sitters, daytime mother’s helpers, regular babysitter (aka nanny… where I’m from the term “nanny” is reserved for women who live in their employers’ homes and/or folks for whom “nanny” is their preferred job title), preschool, and full-day childcare swaps with another family.
In a perfect world (which by the way, I’ve never lived in), I would prefer postpartum doulas and mother’s helpers from birth to 6-months-ish, a nanny when the child is 6-9-months-ish to 2.5 years, then daycare/preschool from 2.5 years on. Actually, “in a perfect world” we’d live near family and they’d be super helpful, but I digress.
We’ve found Bright Horizons daycare centers in large cities to be excellent, but often oversubscribed for regular use – great if you can be flexible as to the days. Like someone else here said, BH was also my former company’s back-up childcare provider.
Now we live in a small town, and we appreciate the convenience of having the same loving, trusted, wonderful babysitter/nanny come to our home 3 days a week for the last 2+ years, sometimes with her daughter when she’s not in school. She taught the kids Spanish, keeps the house tidy, and is a great resource person to have in the event of an emergency, as we live 2 time zones away from our nearest family.
Re: how do I trust a nanny? See “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker. Intuition + references + hard-hitting interview questions + coming home early unannounced + time = trust. In our experience, the best nannies are women over 30 who have raised children of their own, and who want to be paid legitimately (and really, you’d be out of your mind not to follow the letter of the law on this issue).
As for evening sitters (for date night), we’ve generally found that childless women between the ages of 15 and 25 are a real mixed bag – not always the most reliable, punctual, detail-oriented sitters, to say the least. We have had a lot of flaky, “I forgot I had prom” crap, and people who don’t want to do things our way, etc. But ever since we’ve learned to give a lot of instructions, repeatedly, and write everything down for them – even the painfully obvious things (to us), and oh, this is a big one – pay them in cash so they don’t lose our check and require us to close our bank account and go through all the hassles that entails, and text and double text them to make sure they’re actually coming on time… yes, it’s a chore. At the moment, we have an awesome regular date night sitter (age 18) who has been with us for awhile, and we are paying her handsomely and worshipping the ground she walks on.

I suppose this is why I am incapable, not to mention, unwilling, to judge anyone else's childcare decisions. Nor will I ever be One True Way about it. That is all.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The First Presidential Debate

WTF, President Obama?

Wow, that was painful to watch.

Please tell me that was deliberate. You deliberately let Massachusetts Mitt win the first debate, right?

Please tell me your super secret strategy was calculated in advance to make the Big Rich GOP donors, who had previously written Mitt off as having no chance of possibly winning the White House, suddenly want to start donating to his campaign again - instead of funding those key GOP Senate and House races.

Mitt Romney's debate performance reminds me of why I hated working in business with people who act just like him - with that shady sales-yness, that bogus 5 minute elevator pitch-speak, that rude Alpha Male bullshit. Ugh.

And Mitt totally lied, and did a complete 180 on his entire position. I think Obama is a decent man, and when Mitt's duplicity completely took him by surprise, it showed.

Where was the press to call him out? I mean these are verifiable, prior public statements people!

Was it the altitude, President Obama? Was it that you'd have rather been wining and dining Michelle on your 20th Anniversary? Did you just need a nap?

I still think (and hope) you'll be re-elected, even though you've let me down on some issues (like pretty much all Democratic presidents who move to the middle to woo the median voter).

When the next debate is in the Town Hall format, we'll get to see Mitt (awkwardly) interact with his dreaded 47%-ers. I hope you'll sock it to him in your classy, unflappable, above-the-fray style. In the meantime, put Bill Clinton on the talk circuit to do some fact-checking.

I know, I know, you're saying "Don't worry, people. I got this."

I know you do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yelling - can it be right?

Is yelling at your kids really so wrong?

The message out there in the larger culture seems to be yelling = bad. We can't abide yelling when teachers and principals do it to kids, unless they're in the inner city doing a tough love-style modern version of Stand and Deliver (see the excellent book "Work Hard Be Nice" about the KIPP schools.) But it seems to be something that primarily happens in the privacy of our own homes, when it is a parent disciplining their own child.

The reason for this post is I'd like to clarify my own thinking about yelling. Does it depend on what we mean exactly by "yelling"? DH and I certainly yell at our kids sometimes, and I'm not so sure our brand of yelling is always the big awful kid-harming problem society makes it out to be. But is that just my own self-serving bias talking because I don't want to have to change the way I parent? 

The first time I ever met somebody who had never been yelled at as a child by their parents I was like "Who are these mythical Zen parents?" I wondered. Honestly, how does one spend 18 years raising a child without ever raising their voice or losing their shit even once? For real? I'm in awe.

I so often read about (mothers, always mothers) on the internets feeling guilty for even occasionally speaking harshly towards their kids. There are even webinars you can take to supposedly teach you how to stop yelling at your kids. I recall something in the NYT about yelling being the new spanking. (Um, nice try, but no.) Some folks say they feel guilty for having to do even basic, garden-variety discipline. I guess despite my own Catholic upbringing, guilt is an emotion I hardly ever feel. I yell at my kids, and I never feel guilty about it. The times I felt my own yelling went too far (2 occasions), I've immediately apologized to my kids and we've talked about my triggers (when the kids fight physically, break things, and won't stop whining), and how we can all make better choices next time. Perhaps that helped me avoid feelings of guilt.

Whenever I think of yelly parents, I'm reminded of when Alec Baldwin got called a Bad Dad for getting caught on tape yelling at his then 12-ish-year-old daughter who IIRC did something I would have possibly yelled at my kid about, something like not showing up somewhere and not calling. My first thought was how as a kid, I was treated to a lot worse by my folks for doing a lot less. Certain name calling on the other hand, I'm sure that can be quite damaging. (Just to be clear, for me yelling and name calling are two entirely separate behaviors that might sometimes intersect.)

I was raised by two loving (slightly-fucked up but still by all measures wildly successful) parents who are yellers. My mom would yell maybe twice a month, but only ever at my dad and/or me, never, ever, ever at anyone else on the planet. The Dr. Phil term "rageaholic" just might describe her perfectly - she would let things boil up inside her, then throw everything but the kitchen sink at us (the exact opposite of what communication in healthy relationships is supposed to be like.) By negative example, she taught me the importance of proactively naming and speaking the truth of my emotions. A well-placed "I'm really starting to feel irritated about this..." before the shit hits the fan, whether at work or at home, is my lifeline.

As an adult, my personality is much more like my dad's. He would yell maybe twice a year, usually in response to being yelled at for too long by my mother and always over something he thought was a ridiculously petty to argue about like housework, for which he definitely pulled his own weight -- and this, by the way, THIS is why DH and I see the outsourcing of our housework as an essential, nonnegotiable expense for which we'd gladly go into debt to preserve and we'd never drink another $4 latte to maintain. Seriously.

Here's the thing, I feel I had a very happy childhood. And I've actually analyzed my childhood probably more than is necessary, so we're not talking Drama of the Gifted Child here. I felt extremely loved and cherished. I'd even say my parents are really, really good ones in most respects, but my mom has some real personality issues that mostly now just affect her. They are absolute superstar grandparents who have perfect boundaries. Ever since I entered my 30's and they their 60's we've gotten along so well, I even catch myself daydreaming about having them live in a cottage on our property someday, if they ever both retire.

The childhood yelling baggage I'm carrying seems to tell me there are some kinds of yelling that should be avoided (the kids will have bad memories if they see mom and dad fighting but never making up, I think NurtureShock confirms that), but it is not always this awful end all, be all thing. Sometimes yelling is simply the truest reflection of one's authentic voice at a particular moment. What I appreciate only in hindsight about the yelling in my family-of-origin was that they always kept it real - I was given the freedom to truly express my emotions. It was only later, when I experienced other families secondhand where no one was ever allowed to be angry, anger was not tolerated, anger was not seen as "ladylike" (a friend's mom had a padded "angry room" in a crawl space she would hide herself in whenever she got mad, where so no one in her family could see and I saw the result of that was a whole lot of passive-aggressive crap I wouldn't wish on anyone. We've got to be able to express anger. We don't need to yell to express anger, but sometimes yelling is what we choose. I think it's ok to honor that.

Talk to me about your yelling, your lack thereof, your childhood yelling baggage, etc. I'm all ears.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Why I loved Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I just read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, aka "The Tiger Mom." You all must know of her, the Yale Law professor mother whose eldest daughter was accepted at Harvard and Yale, who makes scores of American parents feel insecure whether or not they've read her book, right?

That's what I used to think anyway, until I actually took the time to hear her out. (Thanks, book club and local library!)

I loved the book.

I can also see why her ideas are extremely confronting for folks.

Before I dive into some of those ideas after the jump, my basic take on the mass hatred of her book is that in large part the hate is about anti-intellectualism; if she had instead used her intense methods to help her daughters win Olympic gold, I can guarantee you people would be applauding her instead of reviling her.

The hatred is also in part about our general reluctance to even question our closely-held beliefs about What Kids Really Need. As if every kid needs the exact same things at all times.

As I see her so much more clearly now, Professor Chua was trying to be vulnerable by examining her parenting and her own family of origin - all of it, in context, the good, the bad, and the ugly - while also attempting to be funny and humble about it. However, like certain ex-nerds of the emotionally-not-always-terribly-bright variety (i.e. yours truly), she often misses her mark and comes across as painfully tone deaf. She struggles to find her authentic voice within the memoir form. After her second child "rebelled" against her methods, she says, "I got my comeuppance." But in the end, I think her honesty and vulnerability save the day. This is a deeply honest, searching book about both successes and mistakes.

By the way, MBTI shout-out (yes, I know there's no peer reviewed research to back it up, but I like it) I'm guessing she's either ISTJ or ESTJ. My own mom is ISTJ, and I had similar educational outcomes as Prof. Chua's daughter S, without nearly as much in-your-face parenting, so that makes me on the one hand sympathetic to Chua's approach, but also I'm never going to be One True Way about pretty much anything. So I can read a book like this one and I'm able to take or leave the ideas, without prejudice. I get that not everyone is so inclined, and that's fine too.

I kept wishing she had said more about how she actually made her parenting choices, particularly in terms of the way she describes her kids, and about how she so carefully structured their time.

Why didn't she use a word like "gifted" to describe her two daughters S and L? I got the sense they'd probably test profoundly gifted, based on descriptions of their unusual behaviors from ages 1-3. But she never called them "gifted" or anything even like it. That's perhaps in line with the old school Eastern beliefs with which she was raised (by her Chinese-diaspora immigrant parents) that says talents aren't innate or fixed -- diligent behaviors create talent over time. (She was certainly prescient about the 10k hours requirement to be an expert described Outliers, as well as Carol Dweck's research urging us to focus on effort.) I got the sense she saw her daughters as "gifted," but to her mind that probably meant "They can start very young, they will be able to meet my extremely high expectations, and they can tolerate a lot of feedback and pushing because they are more naturally inclined to thrive under my tough but loving set of challenges."

How did she decide S would devote herself to of all things, piano, while L would devote herself to violin? I wanted to hear more about how she decided that a musical focus, and these two instruments specifically, would be a fit. Music and school were their only activities. Wow. The older my kids get, the more shocking that idea becomes. Talk about confronting. Most of my friends have their 5+-year-olds in about 8 different activities in a given year. I think the ideological difference boils down to the question of would one rather be a jack of all trades with many interests in the hope that one or two of those interests eventually becomes a deep passion, but at the risk of never finding that elusive flow? Or would one rather set it up so one could virtually guarantee to become an expert at one main thing and hope that the lessons gained while on the journey to expertise create the lifelong ability to cross any finish line in life, but at the risk of having no true passions at all? I don't know the answer so I'll of course say "both." I can see the benefits and detriments of both approaches. "Depends on the kid" I think (not much of a conclusion, but I think that's closest to the truth.)

I also wished she had said more about being a working mother, and how they pulled off all of the amazing international travel they did as a family, and also where in the hell was Tiger Dad? They had essentially the same job demands as law professors. Why did it seem like the childrens' educational burden was 100% on their mother? I was surprised she didn't engage in any kind of quasi-feminist analysis other than the unsatisfactory, hey, I'm Chinese, he's Jewish. Different worlds. I care more about hands-on helping the kids succeed, he's more about protecting them from psychological harm, etc etc. He reportedly "supported her methods 99%," while not seeming to lift a finger.

So why read this provocative, controversial book that pretty much everyone else hates? If your kid is gifted you might learn something about how to help her cope with perfectionism, and hear about at least one way to help her attain a state of flow in something. If your kid is not intellectually gifted in all areas all the time, or you don't know yet, I would submit this book is also for you, especially the bit about how Prof. Chua reinforced math at home with drilling and flashcards. I loved the idea that math is learnable, no matter how you self-define. Don't limit ourselves thinking we're "bad" at math because it doesn't come easily - that's a bunch of b.s.! I love the idea to believe in your ability, and to put your time in, and to work closely with someone who truly cares about your success in life whether that's a parent, a teacher, a peer, or a mentor.

Enough said. Don't believe all the silly hater hype that the Tiger Mom sucks. Open your mind. Give her ideas a shot. And by all means, please don't make the mistake of taking her so damn personally.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"The Deep Blue Sea" starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston

One of the things that always energizes me is watching a really special, beautifully-rendered movie that transports me to another time.

Want to spend an hour and a half in post-WWII London? You don't mind depictions of infidelity? You're ok with possibly getting your own heart a little broken by the end?

If so, you must check out this most delicious, devastating period film - The Deep Blue Sea dir. Terence Davies. (Not to be confused with the similarly-titled shark horror movie Deep Blue Sea starring Samuel L. Jackson and Saffron Burrows. Gah.) Unfortunately, The Deep Blue Sea is not available on my Netflix instant queue, so I rented online. Which reminds me how much I love the internets. I love, love, love that we're no longer bound by only whatever happens to be available to us locally. Hallelujah!

Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston (he was Loki in Thor) play these gorgeous young lovers in London circa 1950 who are in the midst of serious identity struggles. She's Hester, a suicidal woman who has recently left her safe, sexless, suffocating marriage to an older judge so she could follow her fleeting passion-- Freddie, a former RAF pilot, who was only ever really happy and useful during the excitement of war. As you can well imagine, after a time, their love's reality doesn't match up with the initial fantasy. Let's just say they're all a mess, their motivations remain enigmatic, and their performances are a treasure to watch.

The supporting cast is also amazing. Hester's mother-in-law is unforgettable, as is the no-nonsense apartment manager, with her spot-on explanation to Hester of what real love is.

As both a history buff and an Anglophile, I was so delighted by the scenes of communal singing - "You Belong To Me" at the pub and "Molly Malone" in the tube. I imagine this was a popular pastime in the British pre-television era. Almost as though it was acceptable for the crowd to emote, but the individual must always keep that stiff upper lip.

This shadowy, mournful, wistful film is definitely not for everyone. It's based on a play from the 50s, so if you love old school dramatic theatre you'll probably enjoy it. I know it's one that will definitely stay with me.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wake me up when September ends

Crazy, full, active, wonderful month here at Casa Hush, hence the lack of blogging.

I'm training for a 5k that will take place at Thanksgiving time, trying to beat my PR of 25 minutes. (Anyone want to virtually join me? I double dog dare you to sign up for a local "Turkey Trot" where you live.) I run to help keep my blood pressure within the normal range. My family history of heart disease sucks. I recently invested in an at-home blood pressure monitor that I like - the Omron 7 Series Plus. It was about $50 at Costco.

Both of my kids are at the same Montessori this year. It rocks. They love it. They are speaking a ton of Mexican Spanish, and have even started using some funny slang that I don't always understand. Like "chongo" (translation: a hair thingy). Awesome.

Over the weekend, we went swimming outdoors for what was probably the last time this year. This was the summer that DS finally learned to swim independently and in the deep end. He loves to show off by doing back flips off the diving board. DD is not far behind. If only she were a bit taller, she'd be able to touch the bottom in the shallow end and would have a lot more confidence. I think it helped that we never put them in "floaties" or life jackets (unless we're on a boat, of course.)

Fall is closing in. I went for a run in the crisp, cool air this morning. Work has finally gotten a lot less busy this week, so I suddenly have more time to play, instead of needing to be at my computer and phone at the butt crack of dawn.

Some friends came to visit last week. They're expecting their first baby in January. They kept asking us for advice. "Trust your instincts" was the basic summation of all I could come up with. Apparently, I am only able to give real advice anonymously and online.

We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week. ;)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

True Blood S5:E12 recap- Season Finale

Season 5 is officially dunzo. And what a wacky, polarizing season it was. The unevenness and odd plot lines caused some once-devoted fans I know to finally quit the show in frustrated exasperation. Hell, I almost stopped watching. Glad I hung in there though, and I'm glad y'all did, too. It's been fun blogging about it, and I'm very grateful to the 3 or 4 of you who have been kind enough to consistently share your thoughts in my comments section. Gracias!

Closing thoughts on the Season 5 Finale... An unforgettable cliffhanger.... Yes, let's talk about the last scene first. Because, wow.

Wow. Beel out-vampired Salome. She didn't smell the silver. You've got to hand it to her for going out with such class: "Lilith chose wisely." As she was retching up blood, inside I was thinking, "Not on that gorgeous rug, Salome!"

Then Eric and Sookie arrive. Is Eric really that loyal to Beel or does he need to see it through in order to make sure Sookie understands he's actually the better vampire for her? Probably a bit of both. It looked like Beel had met the true death, and frankly, I kind of wanted him to after he called Sookie an "abomination," and pulled a shitty "I told you so" by reminding her of what he said when they first met about vampires hurting the ones they love most. Goodbye, Beel! Then something came up out of the puddle of blood... I suspected it would happen but it still shocked me...


Now that was some exquisitely scary schizz. Eric looked positively terrified, which we never see. Yikes!! (I'm hooked! When does Season 6 begin again?)

Alcide finally came around, upon hearing Rikki's testimony about what's being perpetrated on even the very young girls in the pack. Alcide used his Dad's extra special stash of V to become the new packmaster. Wonder who the hell's blood that was?? Apparently, some vampire even older than Russell Edgington. Warlow? Hmm... I detect a future plot line there, pitting Warlow/Weres against Sookie, and Alcide conflicted over which side to take. "Pack first" - there's a slogan I can get behind, but I have a feeling it will be much easier said than done for the Herveaux family. Great scene with Alcide and his dad talking about words vs. deeds.

The Tara/Pam storyline finally arrived at a healthy place for their relationship. Tara wasn't going to even wait one more second for Sookie to open those silver prison bars. And Jessica knew it. ;)

The award for the most camp-tastic scenes of the whole season goes to... Fairy Mirella giving orgasmic, salt-induced birth to quadruplets on the pool table at Merlotte's while Lala, Arlene, and barfly Jane Bodehouse look on, with poor Holly acting as midwife. I love that Mirella left the babies with Andy the "dick," and waltzed the eff out.

Jason bonked his head and now he sees dead people - his late parents, who understandably hate vampires and want him to hate them, too. In theory, his newfound abilities should bring him closer in empathy to Sookie. I've enjoyed their sibling relationship this season.

Luna skin walking as Steve Newlin on national TV = awesome. Hands down, the best killing of a vampire ever had to be the way Sam offed Chancellor Roslyn. I could not help but think of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. And we all know what happened to that lady.

And now the first scene last: Eric staked Russell Edgington while he was distracted by the scent of the fae. Felt good. I was sad to see Russell go, before the opening credits even rolled. Damn.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

True Blood S5:E11 recap

Anybody out there? Bueller? You guys still watching True Blood? One episode left, and it looks like the war(s) is/are about to begin.

I'll keep this brief.

I loved the scene with the shit-talking General who 'owns the day' and 'has weapons,' and I loved that Eric killed him for being "a dick." And, of course, to provide an escape route so Eric and Nora could fly off into the night. I guess the tape of Russell and Steve killing all those frat boys has gone viral. Thanks, TB, for an enjoyable sex scene, even though it was brother/sister, it was still long overdue.

Pam's been arrested and taken to Authority HQ for the death of Sheriff Marilyn Manson. She protected Tara from Chancellor Roslyn's wrath - I think that was extremely significant. How's she going to get out of that one now that Eric has left the building?

Alcide and his Dad, the Trailer Park Vampire Slayers - "when we die we turn to goo!" - I personally loved that whole scene, very camp-tastic. Alcide could have left his shirt off. Just a thought.

Andy is Fairy Mirella's babydaddy. Weren't Holly and Arlene were just talking about their men and "loyalty"? Spoke too soon.

The quirky Fairy Elder who lived a very long life right up until she met Sookie, and who dances and references Ke$ha, Boyz II Men, and John Cougar Mellencamp - ugh, I was not a fan. Something was off about the writing of her character, and I just could not suspend my disbelief. I kept thinking "why did the actor and director make the choice to portray her in this odd, unbelievable way?!" Come to think of it, I don't especially love the way any of the fae have looked or acted this season. As I've said before, Claude is not good looking enough. Bah.

Russell Edgington seems pretty unstoppable. The fae appear to be totally defenseless against him now that he can see right through the portal into Fairyland. Maybe Warlow is going to step in when Russell tries to eat Sookie. That, or Eric will fly in.

Beel hitting Jessica during their disagreement was extremely sad and uncomfortable -- religious zealotry and misogyny seem to go hand-in-hand. Jessica being ordered to turn Jason while the vampire guards monitor her, yikes. Beel is not that dumb... of course, Beel could have added an "as your maker, I command you" clause that would have made Jessica actually go through with turning Jason, but he didn't.

Lilith appearing to every Chancellor (except Roslyn?) telling them they're the Chosen One and that they must drink all of her... is that so she can possess one of them and come back into corporeal form? Maybe she is "real" afterall. The bloody handprints on the glass certainly suggest so.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

True Blood S5:E9 & E10 recap

Hello, my long lost fans of the fang! I wanted to post this recap sooner but my beloved TV-watching and blogging had to take a temporary backseat to work and parenting. You know what I mean. So without further ado...

It's so hard to believe there are only two episodes left of Season 5, which also means summer is almost over. Already we've seen a lot of Big Endings of the kind that TB used to reserve for its Actual Season Finales--

Jesus is gone but not forgotten. Lafayette has his mojo back, just like in the earlier seasons - love him. Jessica and Jason said their sad goodbyes to Alaska-bound Hoyt, who now seems to have everything he's ever wanted (and I got very teary-eyed. Literally, I cried. Well done by all three actors.) Terry and Arlene gave blood for blood and got rid of both the Ifrit curse and that pesky corpse in one fell swoop. Ghost Godric is really gone (another very sad scene, though Eric looked too hot crying - no complaints here). Sheriff Dearborn, The Dragon, and her ilk have been brought to justice. Alcide is again a lone wolf, just like his washed-up dad, aka the Cop Terminator from T2. As with killer Rene at the end of Season 1, Sookie has survived another murder attempt by a local guy she's known for years (Mike the Creepy Coroner/new vamp who got staked with chopsticks instead of simply revoking his invitation to her home - nice!). Who turned him, anyway?

There are still quite a few plotlines to tie up and only 2 episodes left to do it.

Tara and Ginger have killed the new Sheriff in town. Before he met the true death, Marilyn Manson called and asked for his look back. Lol. Ginger is an expert screamer. As I've said before, Ginger deserves a raise. The Pam/Tara dynamic is still the source of uncomfortable racial imagery, anyone else catch the Gone With The Wind - Prissy shout-out: "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no vampire babies." It was 100% intentional. Even the name of the episode is "Gone, Gone, Gone." (P.S. Pam rocked that white studded jacket.)

Beel: is he or isn't he a True Believer? I think he's an almost-there believer, or at least a wannabe convert - as I've said before, Beel's probably got a long term strategy going - like any successful vampire must, he has decided to lose some battles in the hope he'll eventually win the war. It will involve saving Sookie, but Eric will come out looking like the better, less-self-interested romantic partner for Sookie. Salome definitely has Beel under her thumb. Does she remind anyone else of another hot, brunette, elder vamp from Beel's past? Lorena, correct! I predict Beel will likewise eventually have a hand in killing off Salome.

When Beel was watching the video of Eric and Nora having the vision of Godric getting killed by Lilith it was as if he was somehow searching for some shred of concrete proof that Lilith is actually real. Like he's internally grappling with his own beliefs while externally saying what he must. The look exchanged between Eric and Beel when Russell mentioned his dream of daywalking with fairy blood said an awful lot. Then again, after Beel dragged Jessica to Authority HQ, handed her the Vampire Bible and gave her a mini-lecture on religion (and at the same time probably giving her a bit of religious homeschooling PTSD), I thought ok, so will Jessica be the one to finally slap some sense into her dear old dad? I have thoroughly admired Jessica this season - no doubt she will push back unless forced to drink the wacky Lilith V.

Russell was great to watch as usual, too. His clever exchange with Eric - Eric kissing Russell's ring and finally giving Russell the forgiveness he had asked for a few episodes back in Salome's chamber, wow. Clearly, they're both faking the religious fervor, and they both know it. Then Russell comes right out and admits it. Russell has had enough of these silly religious zealots: he's all "I'm 3,000 years old, I like to eat people, and when I'm super pissed my ancient Teutonic accent comes back!! Grrr!!!!"

Russell and Steve Newlin slow dancing in the frat house amongst the corpses of all the frat bothers they've just eaten was a great mix of scary/campy/funny. Steve Newlin's kidnapping of Emma and making her stay in wolf form - treating a child like a dog both literally and figuratively - holy hell, I'm really having trouble with it. Seeing a child being mistreated even in fictional form is just way too uncomfortable for me. Sam and Luna shifting into little white mice to keep tabs on Emma, how horrifying for any parent to watch. I think this will all come to a head in the next two episodes. They'll call in Alcide, Martha and the small handful of anti-V weres, and I bet somehow Steve Newlin meets the true death and Russell gets even crazier (if that's even possible) over the loss of yet another paramour. But I hope they don't actually kill Russell.

I found myself surprisingly enjoying the plotline about the Old Stackhouse Family Contract with Vampire Warlow found hidden under the floorboard of the bed. Good call, Officer Jason, you do have half a brain in there - and it reminded me of Lafayette's funny prior admonishments to the ghosts about getting too cute with their clues. It looks like an ancient scroll with hieroglyphics, so they first take it to the local university to have a professor examine it? Really? Did they really think he'd be able to read fairy? If this were the books, that professor would turn into a Bad Guy in the next season. Taking it to Claude should have been their first logical step, but oh well. Mirella finally translated it with her mad fairy handwaving skills - and BTW, she's pregnant with Andy Bellefleur's baby, right, right??

As their first female family fairy (I love alliteration), Sookie has been promised by her ancestor to Warlow. As a food source or as a wife? Wait, isn't this all cribbed from the Paranormal Activity movies? So that means, Sookie Is In Danger... All Over Again!! Naturally. Will getting rid of all her fae-ness make her less enticing to Warlow? Hmm...

Your thoughts?