Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Popcorn was Better than Some of the Flicks

It was not a great movie year and the holdays did not bring out the big hitters like they usually do. In fact, I only went to the theater four times in the past week. Those four flicks included:
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • We Bought a Zoo
  • Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
  • Sherlock Holmes
They were all...good, fine, okay. None of them blew me away. Maybe it's me, maybe my expectations are too high? Of all the movies I saw in 2011, here are my top 10:
  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. A fitting tribute to a remarkable series.
  2. Crazy, Stupid Love. Ahhh...
  3. The Descendants. George Clooney is George Clooney regardless of the role he's in (does that make sense?) The good news is that George Clooney is always exceptional. This movie is powerful with well-timed moments of humor that make the heaviness bearable.
  4. Crazy, Stupid Love. A stellar romantic comedy? This is one of the best. LOVE Emma Stone. "Seriously? It's like you're photoshopped!"
  5. The Help. Loved the book, thought the movie did it justice.
  6. Ides of March. Second movie with Ryan Gosling. This is no coincidence.
  7. Super 8. Fun, action-packed, Stand by Me meets E.T.
  8. Bridesmaids. Not the raunch fest I expected. Lots of laughs with surprising heart.
  9. Horrible Bosses. Jennifer Aniston at her best.
  10. Win Win. You can always count on Paul Giamatti to deliver a fine performance. This is one of the more moving films I saw this year.
  11. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Also a faithful translation from book to film. Great acting. Not sure whether I liked it as much as the Swedish version.
To be fair, I didn't meet my movie quota for the year. There are still a bunch I want to see that may very well be top 10 material. These include:
  • The Muppets
  • Moneyball
  • Tree of Life
  • The Artist
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Drive (#3 with Ryan Gosling, no coincidence)
  • War Horse
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
This post is ripe for your comments. Let's hear 'em!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Waded Into the Vast Wasteland, Just for You

It's okay. Relax. I'm back. Been busy eating and drinking my way through the Christmas holiday, but now it's time to diet and exercise get back in the swing of things, at least until Saturday when the debauchery resumes.

As we approach a new year and all that it represents, I think it's important to reflect on where we've been. Is the "old" worth our attention in 2012 or is it time for new beginnings? Yes, you guessed it. It's time for my Fall 2011 new television lineup review. 

On September 14, I tackled the important subject of my television viewing habits. I explained my disinterest in reality programming (except for "America's Next Top Model" and "Project Runway," which aren't "real" at all), and noted that the only other shows I watched regularly were "Glee" and "White Collar." Interestingly, I had forgotten all about "White Collar" until I reread that post. And frankly, I'm not sure about "Glee" this season. Those teens are having more sex than I am

The rest of my "Fire Up the DVR and Get This Party Started" post consisted of what I considered to be a top ten list of the then-upcoming new fall programming. Strictly for research purposes, I watched a couple episodes of most of these programs so that I could report back to you and help you decide how to spend your valuable down time in the new year. So here, in the same 9/14/11 sequence:

The Fall 2011 TV Program Review

"Mind Candy" for when you want something light.
  1.  Up All Night with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett, a comedy about new parents and a wacky boss.Very funny. Not too heavy on cutesy baby stuff. Relateable. 
  2.  Hart of Dixie with Rachel Bilson, about a big city doctor/girl who finds herself adapting to life in a small southern town. The story lines are woefully thin (almost as thin as Rachel Bilson), the acting is mediocre at best, and yep, I like it. It's basically a romantic comedy and you know I'm a sucker for those despite how trite they are. We all deserve a guilty pleasure. And besides, I don't expect it will last long.
  3.  Pan Am with Christina Ricci. She gets top billing but is the least interesting character on the show. I like this program, too. The whole "stewardess as undercover courier" is a bit weird, but since it's apparently based on fact, we'll go with it. 
  4.  Person of Interest with Jim Caviezel. He's the deep, dark, brooding type and that just doesn't do it for me. 
  5.  Broke Girls is the number one head-scratcher for me. Apparently this lame comedy with two incredibly annoying no-name actresses is a hit. 
  6.  Two and a Half Men with Ashton Kutcher. Used to love Ashton Kutcher in rom-coms. The bloom is off the rose. 
  7.  A Gifted Man with Patrick Wilson is sappy and wonderful. And Patrick Wilson is incredibly easy on the eyes. I imagine it's very popular with the 60+ audience, kinda like "Touched by an Angel" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."
  8.  Once Upon a Time with Ginnifer Goodwin is good fun. You sound like an idiot if you try to explain the show to someone who doesn't watch it, but basically it's a fairy-tale drama in which a group of fairy-tale characters trapped in a Maine town are cursed into forgetting their true identities. Got that?
  9.  Homeland with Claire Danes is getting great buzz, but unfortunately I haven't seen it. Should've noted that it was on Showtime when I added it to this list. I don't have Showtime.
  10.  Finally, I never got really desperate so I never watched the already-cancelled Playboy Club
So there you have it. In the unlikely event that someone disagrees with me (doesn't it always surprise you when someone whom you think is intelligent and has good taste doesn't agree with you?), let's hear it!

Coming Soon: Top 10 Movies of 2011 and The Top 10 Books I Read in 2011.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Thoughts? I Must Have the Wrong Blog...

Alright, I admit it. For much of this year, I've been a grouch, a grump, and most recently a Grinch. It's a wonder the two of you still read my blog. In an effort to get in your good graces before 2011 comes to a close, I'd like to share some happy thoughts on this eve of Christmas Eve: 

  • Abby and friends surrounding my dining room table, flour everywhere, cookie cutters scattered about, sprinkles at the ready, crafting the yummiest part of Christmas
  • Christmas cards from friends near and far. For many years I've been saving those photo cards of friends' children. I enjoy the nostalgic trip down memory lane when I see how the years have turned them from mere babes to youth and young adults. 
  • The Christmas tree. Yes, decorating was on my list of bah humbugs in my Dec. 8 post, but there's something about hanging the ornaments on the tree that warms the heart of even a Grinch like me. I especially love those that remind me of family vacations and special getaways, and others that mark my wedding day and baby's first Christmas. And then there are the priceless handmade gems from the kids' early years of Sunday school classes.
  • My annual theatrical performance. Not to be confused with my daily dramas. For the past two years, I've been asked to participate in the skit for the children's Christmas Eve church service. Last year was my big debut when I impressed children and theater critics alike with my convincing performance of an evergreen tree. This year I am playing the role of "Stage Manager" for "Idol Schmidel," a singing competition where the audience helps select the Next False Idol. Get it? I'll be signing autographs after the service which begins at 5:00 p.m. 
  • And speaking of church, Advent Sundays with Pastor Bill's messages of Faith, Hope, Joy and Love have provided important reminders of what the season is all about.
As wonderful as these thoughts and experiences are, my favorite Christmas moment occurred this morning while reading the newspaper. Yes, you read that right. The newspaper, a daily harbinger of gloom and doom, manages to find plenty of stories of goodness and charity and hope and love during the Christmas season. In today's Philadelphia Inquirer, I was moved by these stories:

  • In Coatesville, an anonymous donor had 40 turkeys he decided should go to the city's most-deserving residents. Police officer Rodger Ollis decided to have some fun with the opportunity, and gave the gift to those who had performed a public service or were simply "caught doing something right."
  • A body shop in Woodbury refurbished a car for a previously homeless woman who supported her sons and put a roof over their heads with her job at McDonald's. Each day, regardless of the weather, she took the bus to her job and to her children's caregiver, never complaining about the inconveniences. The expense of a car was never within reach.  She's astounded by her newfound freedom, a freedom most of us never consider. 
  • Across the country, Layaway Angels have been paying off others' balances at stores like Kmart and Walmart. 
  • In Cheltenham, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church paid the $68,000 tab of hundreds of shoppers who'd bought clothes on layaway at the Burlington Coat Factory.
  • David Pincus passed away from leukemia on Wednesday. The 85-year-old humanitarian devoted himself to relieving the suffering of children. The paper described him as "fond of basset hounds, stiff martinis, athletics, and monumental acts of generosity." Now there's a guy I'd have liked to know.
What if the newspaper shared an equally uplifting story every day of the year? Would more of us be inspired to give back, to help someone in need, to simply appreciate the gifts we've been given?

Here's wishing you and yours a most Merry Christmas and a New Year full of goodness, charity, hope, and love!

Monday, December 19, 2011

And the Award for Mother of the Year Goes to...

My son Ian has had a fairly rough year, and I'm not just referring to the regular abuse he takes from Abby. Normally a pretty healthy kid, the latter half of 2011 has been one medical issue after another. There was the fall from the Media Theatre stage which left him with a broken finger. There was a spider bite that infected his foot while he was about 10 hours from home on a church youth group trip. There was the virus which caused him to miss the first two days of 8th grade (it's always a freakin' virus, isn't it? Never the bacterial kind you can treat with antibiotics). And there were at least two other bouts with a bug that left him down for the count.

Being the less-than-compassionate cautiously caring mom that I am, on most several of these occasions I suggested Ian suck it up persevere:
  • You should go to karate class, just don't use that hand with the broken finger.
  • Put a sock on to cover the infection and hop around on your other foot. 
  • You're not really too sick to go to school are you? 
  • Go to school and call me if it doesn't work out.
It's not just because I'm heartless maternally-challenged that I encourage Ian to deal with it work through adversity. It's because Ian's such a good actor. I mean, seriously, the kid has talent. Those dramatic proclivities, however, make it difficult to discern just how sick he is. And being the suspicious and mistrusting perceptive mom that I am, I naturally assume the kid's laying on a thick layer of pathetic and not nearly as ill as he'd have us believe.

So today I sent Ian to school with a sore throat that had him miserable yesterday. Given that he was able to sit upright to play video games and even talk online with his friends, I assumed a dose of Tylenol was all he needed to get his butt outta bed and go to school today. I guess I assumed wrong. Around 11:00 a.m., the nurse called me. The conversation went something like this:
This is Nurse Betty*. Ian is in my office with a sore throat. He said you knew he had a sore throat and that he was sick yesterday. Are his tonsils normally swollen? Some kids have naturally enlarged tonsils. 
I don't think he always has swollen tonsils. The doctor never mentioned it.
Well, they're a little swollen today. He doesn't have a fever, but he looks just miserable. I used to work at your elementary school and don't recall Ian have been to the nurse's office more than a handful of times. And I've only seen him once before in the three years he's been at the middle school. Do you want to call the doctor? Should I give him some ibuprofen? 
Yes, I'll call the doctor and I'll come pick him up now.
Fellow moms know exactly what Nurse Betty was really saying:
You knew Ian had a sore throat and was sick as a dog and you sent him to school anyway. You're an unfit parent. 
How is it you don't know the size of your child's tonsils?
Based on how rarely I see this fine young man, Ian is not faking his condition. 
Call the doctor and pick him up immediately. You're an unfit parent.
Looks like I'm not winning the Mother of the Year Award...

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Guest Selection 101

If you're like most people, the Christmas season will provide you with a fair number of opportunities to celebrate with family and friends. (Unless you're me. I have no plans. Call me.) What the hostesses with the mostesses know about entertaining is the critical importance of having the proper guest list. It's like preparing a great meal. The combination of dishes and the ingredients in those dishes can determine your meal's success. While I know nothing about preparing a great meal, I have recently given thought to the subtleties involved with guest selection.

In the best case scenario, you want to be certain your core group of friends or family members will attend the event in question. This core group is made up of those special folks whose company you will enjoy regardless of whether anyone else shows up. The Freakin' Angels are such a group. As are our less than angelic, but equally fun heathen non-church friends. You know who you are.

The importance of having this foundation in place cannot be overstated. Without it, your entire guest list becomes a gamble. Let's face it. There are folks you should consider want to invite because they are part of the larger group of friends (or they're members of your family and you don't have a choice), but whom you would not want to entertain without the core group in place. Admit it. If you've ever planned a party, you know exactly who I am referring to. These individuals tend to:

  • Talk a lot. About themselves. Loudly.
  • Not talk at all or fall asleep.
  • Drink too much (and they're not "fun drunks").
  • Overstay their welcome.
  • Complain. 
  • Make inappropriate jokes.
  • Fail to compliment the hostess ad nauseum.
  • Have children who annoy you and whom they bring to every get-together.
  • Talk politics and/or theology.
  • Cook better, dress better, have better hair, decorate better, and/or make more money than you.
Should you invite these folks and your core group fails to show, the entire event could be a disaster.

Another risk in event planning is the guest combination. Unless you have 75+ attendees, you may want to pay particular attention to the group dynamics. It can be risky to combine family with the work folks, the church folks, and the going-straight-to-hell folks. In the event you find your guest list to be more than a bit random, it is best to invite what I like to call the "folks without shame." These pathetic individuals will talk to complete strangers, regardless of how they look, their lineage, their career path, or their stock portfolio. While this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable to some of us, it's actually ideal for a social gathering with questionable group dynamics. I actually know a number of these individuals and would like to embarrass name them here in case you're planning a party and need to hire them.
  • Cathie H.
  • Shamina A.
  • Dave A.
  • Karen S. (aka "Mom")
  • Karen H. 
  • Theresa B.
  • Pedro A.
I'm sure I'm missing a few, so if you feel you deserve to be on this list of desperately friendly folks, give me a call. And invite me to your next party while you're at it.

Well, I believe that covers most everything in Guest Selection 101. If you think I've missed anything, leave a comment (you know comments make my day, right?). And please, don't lose any sleep worrying about whether you're a core group person, an "I don't want to be alone with them" person, or a social butterfly. We all have our place on the social ladder of life. 

Here's hoping all your holiday festivities have just the right mix of guests. And God Bless Us Everyone!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Itchy, Itchy, Scratchy, Scratchy, Ooh I got One Down My Backy

I have always been a fan of primates. There’s the human family resemblance and advanced skill set, and I really appreciate the way they take care of each other. The kids want another dog, but I'm thinking of adopting an ape, chimpanzee, or snow monkey. I could use the assistance with grooming.

Particularly when dealing with a case of head lice.

See, with Ian, Rob and I having enjoyed foot infections, broken fingers, back surgery, and shingles this year, Abby felt left out. Being competitive by nature, she decided to join the fun with, yep, you guessed it.

The call came from the school nurse late Friday afternoon, ensuring an auspicious start to the weekend. Rob was the one at home for the walk of shame pick up and shampoo round of treatment, while I was lucky enough to return in time for the actual “nit-picking.” While my family would say that I excel in nit-picking, as originally defined, it turns out nit-picking is not one of my strengths. Flake or nit? That is the question. I spent at least an hour going through my daughter’s past-shoulder-length hair, scratching my own head every 15 seconds in the process.

Once the mark of pariahs, it appears that today nits and louses are no big deal. Perhaps because vampires are in vogue, we no longer get worked up about blood suckers. My daughter actually seemed disappointed yesterday when she went to school with the all-clear (or clear enough) from the nurse, particularly because two of her friends were sent home with the creepy crawlers. Like I said, she’s very competitive.

Lice Lifters to the rescue!
Today I went through Abby’s hair again (this will be a daily ritual for the next week or two, hence my need for primate assistance). The good news is that I’m getting better at recognizing the little buggers, the bad news is that I'm still finding the little buggers. The good news is that I may not have to go it alone for long. Forgoing the use of our four-legged relatives, I have learned that there are now brilliant money-making schemes businesses that actually remove head lice for you. Apparently the over-the-counter stuff is no longer doing the trick and with fewer moms staying home to take care of crap like this, some enterprising folks have found a way to ensure a clean bill of hair. One of Abby's friends used a service called Lice Happens which, for a paltry $295, will come to your house and take care of the critters, guaranteed. Another service, Lice Lifters, charges $175 if you come to them.

If I'm still finding these blood suckers tomorrow, I may have to make the call and spend the cash. Think Abby'd be willing to consider it a Christmas present?

And did I mention how freakin' itchy I am?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Anticipation or Angst?

For the past few years, the Christmas season has thrown me into an emotional and mental tailspin. My inner Grinch first appears when I see retailers' holiday displays in October, and hear carols before we've reached Thanksgiving. By the time Black Thursday night rolls around, I'm in quite a state (You crazy shoppers can't even wait till Friday morning at 5:00 a.m.?)

As a Christian, this time leading up to Christmas (also known as Advent) is supposed to be about the waiting, the anticipation of the birth of Christ. The societal madness, however, turns it into a time of rushing and decorating and shopping and planning; the complete opposite of waiting. I'm sure if I was a better Christian I could just overlook the craziness of the season and focus my heart and mind on Jesus. Instead, I get grumpy.

A major factor in my grumpiness is the whole gift-giving aspect of Christmas. Each year my children provide me with their wish lists (which I confess to requesting), and each year that list is made up of more expensive items than the year before. This causes me a good deal of frustration because:
  1. If I cut back on the number of gifts since they cost more, the tree will look bare and the kids will be disappointed in having just a couple items to open.
  2. Since they were mere babes, I have been conditioning them to expect a substantial pile of loot and I can't do a 180 now.
  3. These gifts will mean nothing to them in a year (I'll be lucky if they interest them that long). I'm willing to bet neither of them can remember what they received last Christmas.
  4. There are so many children in this world, country, state, and in nearby communities who have nothing. Kids who are asking Santa for food, a home, a job for an unemployed parent.  
  5. My children already have so much.
It's not that my children are undeserving of gifts or unappreciative of what they receive. They're both great kids (when they're not trying to kill each other). It's just that I can't get past the thought of those in need. Even buying gifts for those less fortunate, which I do for church and work, doesn't ease my discomfort.

I think another factor in my grouchiness is the sense of obligation I feel during this season. I have to decorate the house. I have to send Christmas cards. I have to make a real meal if it's my turn to play hostess. I have to buy gifts for my kids, my nephew and nieces, my parents, and my husband. It's not that I dislike decorating, sending cards, or buying gifts (although I do dislike cooking), but I like to do these things when the spirit moves me. I enjoy giving someone a gift to surprise them, to show my love when they least expect it. Hitting and ordering a bunch of stuff just doesn't have the same appeal.

Finally, Christmas Day goes by too quickly and with too little fanfare. Ironic, isn't it? The build up is overwhelming and the day-of falls flat. Opening gifts takes all of 15 minutes and then everyone goes to their separate corners to play with their new toys. The rest of the day is just like any other with a fairly quiet "real meal" with my parents or Rob's family thrown in. I wish I could spend Christmas surrounded by large numbers of family and friends with laughter, food, drink, music, and merriment. Invitations being accepted at

I know many of you have been reading this saying to yourself, "These are your choices, Kim. You don't have to do anything." In theory, you're right. In reality, it's not that simple.

I welcome your suggestions on how I can make the entire season of Christmas merry. My husband and kids would appreciate your advice!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Focus, Commitment, and Perseverance, Oh My!

Our school district has a strong fencing program which Ian participated in last year. Unfortunately, the practice facility moved off-site, membership fees dramatically increased, and Ian wasn't interested enough to make the extra effort and financial investment worthwhile. The other night he mentioned that one of his classmates is now a Junior Olympian in the sport and I asked him if he wished he was still involved. He told me "no" and noted "it would take me about three years to catch up."

Being the pain in the ass thoughtfully concerned mother that I am, I casually responded to Ian's comment, saying:
That's the trouble with kids today. It's interesting that you say that. You don't know what commitment and perseverance mean. I think your generation struggles with commitment and perseverance because life as you know it doesn't require it. You expect to have what you want when you want it immediate results because that's the way things work for you most of the time. Commitment and perseverance involve focus, and it's difficult to focus your attention on one hobby, sport, or talent when life throws new information, entertainment, and opportunities at you at the speed of light. 
Conditioned to life at 4G speeds, it almost seems absurd to ask or expect a kid to invest YEARS mastering anything. They simply aren't used to anything taking time. I have seen this lack of stick-to-it-iveness before with Ian. Regardless of whether he formerly enjoyed an activity, he easily becomes bored and wants to move on. I really believe today's technology conditions kids this way and I expect it will only become worse.

As is the case with most of my posts, I don't have an answer for my conundrum. I suppose I'm pulling a D. Herbert Lipson here (see If Anyone's Going to Insult My Kids, It's Gonna Be Me); just venting and casting a wide net with my fault-finding. The good news is that Ian saw the point I was trying to make during our conversation. The bad news is that he agreed with me, admitted there was nothing he could envision enjoying for years at a time, and will quite possibly see this conversation as justification for the way he is things are.

Two weeks ago Ian joined the gym where Rob and I work out. He's been enjoying weight training and is looking forward to impressing the ladies with his fine physique. I must admit I have had my hopes up that this might be something he could stick with. That was until last night when we were leaving the health club together. Ian pulled up his t-shirt, checked out his abs, and upon discovering that he had not yet developed a six-pack, announced:
This exercising stuff isn't working at all. I quit.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Heaven Gains an Angel

My daughter, like many children, has a favorite saying in times of disappointment:
It's Not Fair.
To which I reply, like every other parent:
Life's Not Fair.
Today I would like to add that death, especially, is not fair.

Yesterday the world lost--and heaven gained--a freakin' angel. Ann Bates lost her second battle with brain cancer. While we take some small measure of comfort in knowing she is restored and at peace, we grieve for our loss. We grieve that Ann leaves behind her young son Nicholas, her husband Chris, her parents, and all her extended family and friends.

Despite pretending via this blog to be a writer, words have a way of failing me when they really count. In particular, moments when my freakin' angel friends offer Scripture to comfort and ease the pain of suffering, I am woefully inadequate. I especially struggle to "pray well with others." All I know is that God somehow let us down. He took from us someone unbelievably good, with a kind and generous spirit, a beautiful smile, an unshakable faith, an inspiring level of love for family, friends, and strangers alike, and a penchant for medical terminology and extra-long conversations. Perhaps God just needed someone like Ann up there with Him. Though I would certainly argue that we need the Anns of the world right here on earth with us.

I have written about our dear Ann before, four times in fact, most recently during my "mad as hell" phase. Please see the April 20, 2010 post to read what her Freakin' Angel friends had to say about her during happier times, shortly before she and her family moved to Princeton.

I leave you with this quote from Scripture as shared by our friend Theresa:

...I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly you will find me. I will be found by you, says the Lord. I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and bring you home again to your own land. -- Jeremiah 29: 10-14, New Living Translation
Welcome home, Ann.

Monday, November 28, 2011

If Anyone's Going to Insult My Kids, It's Gonna Be Me

Anyone with a sibling can relate to the "no one can pick on my sister/brother but me," phenomenon. You may regularly beat the snot out of your most immediate family member, but if someone outside the bloodline gets in on the action, you're prepared to rise up in defense. I experienced this with my own sister and I've seen it happen with Ian and Abby.

A similar phenomenon takes place with parents and their children. It is perfectly acceptable for me to criticize, condemn, and express disappointment with my child(ren), but should a neighbor, teacher, or even another relative find fault with the fruit of my loins, look out cause momma bear won't stand for that.

Recently this momma bear felt the need to sharpen her claws after reading an opinion piece in the November issue of Philadelphia magazine. In his Off the Cuff column, a certain D. Herbert Lipson, 81, chairman of magazine, penned what amounted to an attack on today's young adults and the parents who raised them. Lipson began by bemoaning the general state of our nation and then specifically turned his attention to:

  • Occupy Wall Street/Philadelphia and the "ragtag bunch" of "perpetually unemployed" 
  • The "fundamental decline in our competitive spirit"
  • The dismal state of our educational system as evidenced by our ranking 9th in percentage of citizens who are college graduates and 51st in science and math education 
  • The fact that more students major in psychology than in engineering...because engineering, or physics, or math, "requires a great deal of work." And, "That’s not something our young people are interested in."

Lipson didn't hold back when describing the future leaders of this country:

There are very few 22-year-olds—excuse me, make that 25-year-olds, because most kids don’t graduate from college in four years—who impress me as going anywhere. They seem poorly educated and unmotivated. They strike me as lazy and immature. 
But he made sure to share the blame:
The fault isn’t entirely theirs—we’re all responsible. Somehow, we’ve substituted coddling young people, shielding them from pain and the problems of growing up, for the real lessons of life. Our culture now insists that childhood is a time to make sure no hardship punctures the pristine bubbles in which we keep our children. No wonder they’ve become lazy and uninterested in tough challenges. The great irony is that in protecting our children—and not introducing them to the obvious idea that nothing is obtained in life without prodigious toil and hardship—we are relegating them to lives that will not be as successful or happy as ours.
And most importantly, Lipson offers a solution:
They’d be much better off getting prepared for the real world instead of having a childhood of fun and games.

Okay, take a deep breath with me.

My reaction to Mr. Lipson's angry old man rant ran the gamut from "You make a couple reasonable points," to "I beg to differ," to "No one calls my kids lazy and immature but me!" Okay, technically I don't have children in this age group. I do, however, know several young adults who qualify based solely on their age and most definitely NOT as he describes them. In fact, since I first started this blog nearly two years ago, I've wanted to celebrate these young adults and write a post that recognizes them for the outstanding contributions they make to this world. Mr. Lipson's "off the cuff" commentary provided the incentive I needed. So allow me to celebrate:

  • The entire Northern Ireland young adult group that came to this country a few years ago to join my church mission team working in the poorest areas of western North Carolina. Today they are in ministry, teaching, and other careers that make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Neighborhood "kids" Richard, Ryder, and Bridget. Perhaps the most mature, well-rounded, intelligent young adults you ever want to meet. Richard is in his 2nd year at Swarthmore College (I don't know what he's majoring in, but even if it's not science or math related, he's going to kick butt with whatever he does), and Bridget and Ryder are in high school. And they're not just smart and respectful. They're funny, personable, and great to be around. And they made top-notch babysitters when my kids were little.
  • Salim, the boy next door. We watched him grow from a smart high school kid who built his own computers, to a  U of Pitt graduate in engineering and chemistry. He's currently working on his graduate degree (PhD, I think) in biomedical engineering and is employed by Pittsburgh's UMPC Artificial Heart Program. Oh, and his slacker sister is a child psychiatrist who works in war-torn countries with Doctors without Borders. How embarrassing for the family.
  • Our dearly departed Cara. She was God's gift to children's ministry before she left us for the west coast. She's now in seminary in California.
  • My kids' summertime babysitters. This exemplary lot included: 
    • Laura Jean - Newly married occupational therapist
    • Kevin - Physical therapy major at Ithaca College
    • Nicole - Student at Grove City College; children's ministry intern (and her brother Mike is in dental school)
Quite a poorly educated, unmotivated, lazy and immature bunch, eh?

Finally, I need to address one of Mr. L's concluding remarks:
They’d be much better off getting prepared for the real world instead of having a childhood of fun and games.
Wow. REALLY? This is where we parents can't win. On one hand, my generation and the one before has been criticized for stressing out our kids. Expecting too much. Overscheduling them with sports, music, volunteer work. Preparing them for the Ivy League when selecting a preschool. Baby Einsteining them into the Mensa society. Now this curmudgeon suggests our children are having too much fun.

As a parent I struggle daily with what to expect from my children. How hard I should make them work. What hardships they should endure. Will my parenting make them stronger and more resiliant or push them over the proverbial edge? The last thing I need is someone at least thirty years out of parenting young children to deliver such a scathing review of the efforts we're making.

What is your reaction to Mr. Lipson's "Off the Cuff" comments?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving Public Service Announcement

You often hear how smart animals are. The pot-bellied pig who saves his owner after a heart attack. The dolphins who guide a drowning man to shore. And of course, Lassie who always manages to bring help when Timmy is stuck in a well. I, for one, have not enjoyed the company of particularly intelligent animals. In fact, more often than not, I have had a front row seat for "animals behaving badly." The dog who eats cat poop out of the litter box, follows it up with an entire shoo fly pie, and spends the evening throwing up on my carpet. The deer which, despite watching his buddy get hit by a car, decides to cross the highway at rush hour anyway. And who can forget watching the chimp at the zoo scratch his butt and then stick his gnarly long "finger" into his mouth? This is not intelligent behavior.

It's a good thing we human animals are significantly more advanced.

My higher level thinking, much like my dearly departed dog Maddie, reveals itself when it comes to food. In the past I have had issues when making poor nutritional choices. But, being the intelligent creature that I am, I have learned from my mistakes. Yesterday was a case in point. I made a healthy lunch selection: chicken cordon bleu sandwich with fries and a Coke. I then treated myself to the required movie theater popcorn while taking in a 4:00 p.m. showing of the new Twilight movie (still more evidence of my advanced intellect). After sitting in ridiculous rainy evening rush hour traffic and arriving home past 7:00 p.m., I decided to indulge in the one food I've been craving for weeks: chocolate chip pancakes. Dinner of champions. I inhaled five of them in about five minutes flat, washed them down with a nice cold glass of milk, and spent the rest of the evening doubled over in the bathroom.

My purpose in sharing this story is not to make you feel badly about your less than intelligent choices. We can't all be as highly evolved as Maddie and me. But with Thanksgiving Day upon us, I wanted to give you the support and encouragement you may need to survive the onslaught of challenges that present themselves on this most gastronomical of days. Think of me and my example before you:

  • Drink too much in order to drown out the embarrassing family stories being shared around the table
  • Eat yourself into a turkey coma thereby missing the big game
  • Pig out on broccoli and other veggies to generate room-clearing gas
  • Consume an entire pie by yourself because your pants were already too tight anyway
As a public service, should you find yourself tempted by any of these scenarios, call me immediately and we'll go to the movies.

Popcorn's on me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What's Up, Doc?

Doctor's offices are a world unto themselves. Or maybe little universes with each specialty doctor making up its own little world. 2011 has been a banner year for the MacShimers and doctors and frankly, I've had enough. What other professional can get away with making you sit in a crowded waiting room for an hour or more for a scheduled appointment? How is it that they manage to book five appointments for the same doctor at the same time? Do many people decide to skip their appointment, ultimately leaving only two competing for the 2:30 time slot? I can't imagine that's a frequent occurrence given the hefty missed appointment fees they're now charging. And who do they think they're fooling when they bring you to the exam room, take your vitals, strip you down, and tell you the doctor will be in a "minute?" In this alternate universe, a minute is equal to at least fifteen.

And then there's the all-to-frequent "non-diagnosis." I suppose this should be relief. I know no news is supposed to be good news, but when you're feeling like crap and the doctor you just waited an hour for can't find anything wrong with you, it's more than a little frustrating. According to my latest scientific research, at least 95% of children's doctor's appointments are a complete waste of time and money. The diagnosis is invariably "a virus," or "allergies." I believe these are code words for "Who the hell knows. Kids get sick. Give him Tylenol and some 'fluids', and get out of my office since I have five other appointments booked in this same time slot." At least my recent adventure with shingles resulted in an actual diagnosis, with prescription meds and even a bit of sympathy. Is that too much to ask?

I would like to propose that doctors come up with a name for those mystery conditions that make you feel like your intestinal track is going to fall out of your backside, or your head is going to explode into a million tiny messy pieces, or with one more step you're going to fall over because your world is spinning and a mad case of puppy love is not the culprit. I suggest the medical community approves the use of the term MAD. We can pretend it stands for Mystery Ailment Diagnosis, but we all know what's really meant. And it's completely accurate because either I'm crazy or I'm really ticked off that you don't know what the hell is wrong with me. Yes indeed, I'm mad.

Finally, I would like to propose that you never leave the doctor's office empty-handed. If you're MAD, you should receive a small official-looking bottle of pills containing tic-tacs or cinnamon hearts or something so you can at least feel as if your visit and your co-pay wasn't a complete loss. And if you grow tired of taking those "meds," you can shout out "I may be MAD as hell, but I'm not going to take these any more!"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Just Don't Sleep Naked

I have always been afraid of getting older, even when I was a kid. Mostly it was a fear of the unknown. As one who wants to be in control of every situation, I was apprehensive of what was to come, particularly the BIG STUFF. In my early teen years, I distinctly remember worrying about exactly how I was going to...
  • Get my driver's license
  • Apply to college
  • Survive at college
  • Find a job
  • Get married
  • Buy a home
  • Have a baby...
Of course, I lived through all of those turning points (though I'm still questioning my decision to have a baby x2), and in retrospect it seems comical to have been afraid of them, but I definitely was anxious of growing up and getting older and what that meant I was going to have to experience, ready or not.

Recently my fear of getting older has been resurfacing, but with a different twist. Now, I am afraid of losing what I already know and I'm not referring to the turning points, but rather to the basic concept of "me." (Hold on, she's getting heavy here.)

Off the top of my head I can state that I'm afraid of roller coasters, water skiing, dancing, breaking concrete with my elbow, and putting my feet up on the dashboard of the car (only while in the passenger seat, of course). Let me clarify: I'm not afraid of doing these things, rather I'm afraid that if I don't keep doing them, or have an opportunity to do them in the very near future, I may never do them again. Got that?

Case in point. Sleeping naked. Once you quit doing that, you can never go back without frightening yourself, your partner, your children, or the UPS man.

I think my current aging fears are my Dad's fault (remember, it's best to always blame someone else for your problems). Dad's 72 years old but he looks about 60 and acts about 50. Despite being retired for years, he still works when called by his former employer (cause he's so damn good at what he does). When he's not working for the company, he's in his wood shop building some amazing piece of furniture or whatnot. When he's not in his wood shop he's doing yard work, chopping down trees, or fixing something for the neighbors. When he's not otherwise engaged, in the summertime he's on the boat, fishing, crabbing or cleaning it, and in the fall and winter he's 25 feet up in a tree hunting deer. If none of these are a viable option, he's sleeping. For good reason. I'm exhausted just thinking about his activity level.

Recently, however, my dad has had a few setbacks. In the past few weeks he has sliced open his leg with a chainsaw cutting down a tree limb for a friend (9 stitches). He damaged a tendon or muscle in his bicep climbing up a tree with his tree stand. And he caught his arm on the lathe in his wood shop, destroying a new shirt and breaking his watch, but thankfully leaving his arm intact. And did I mention he lost his brand new hearing aid in the woods?

One might suggest to Dad that it's time to find new, less dangerous and strenuous activities, but I know better than to make such a recommendation. Wood working, welding, helping others, hunting, these things bring my dad joy. No, actually, they keep him alive. I know he can't imagine slowing down and trading in his old life for a more age-appropriate one.

So, Freakin' Angels, let's take a pledge to continue living life as we know it. Let's sing and embarrass our children. Let's dance in our pjs in the kitchen. Let's make fun at rich, well-dressed women with botox injections. Let's eat pie, drink milkshakes, and toast our friendships with many bottles of wine.

Only promise to never sleep naked, just in case I decide to stop over for breakfast...

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Sexual Awakening, or Two, on Glee

"Glee" got lucky this week. ("And so did a number of its characters," she said smartly.) Were it not for the shocking revelations coming out of State College, PA, the FOX TV show's November 8 story line might have created a hailstorm of controversy.

If you're not a Glee watcher or know nothing about the program, let me quickly summarize it for you. It's about a bunch of diverse high school students who have two things in common: 1) they're in the Glee club -- a singing/dancing performance group, and 2) they're all outcasts of one sort or another. The show routinely tackles some difficult subjects, not the least of which includes intimacy with the opposite--or same--sex. I could write a whole post on the angles from which "relations" have been addressed, but today I want to focus on this most recent episode.

The show begins with two of Glee's stars (Rachel and Blaine) finishing a rehearsal performance of their West Side Story love song in their starring roles as Maria and Tony. Despite a goose bump worthy performance (at least according to this critic), fellow student Arnie, one of the school musical's producers, suggests that it lacks passion, the passion that one can only express by recalling his or her own sexual awakening. And, if they haven't been "sexually awakened," how can they be believable in their roles? We should note that Artie, though wheelchair bound, lost his virginity in another season's episode.

With their Broadway ambitions on the line and their significant others on their minds, Rachel and Blaine decide to lose their virginity to their boyfriends (Finn and Kurt respectively). Rachel seeks counsel from the fellow Glee girls who almost universally support the idea of her and Finn consummating their relationship, (though the trouble maker in the bunch notes that he was "terrible in bed"). In fact, one of the show's most understated and seemingly rational characters, Tina, warmly reflects on how special it was to lose her virginity to her boyfriend Mike because of the true love they have for each other.

In the end, both Rachel and Finn and Kurt and Blaine go through a fair amount of apprehension and missteps, but ultimately consummate their relationships.

First, let's disregard how awkward it was to be watching this with your child. Let's instead consider the pros and cons of Glee straightforwardly addressing the topic of losing ones virginity. On the plus side:

  • While Rachel and Blaine first consider taking action as a means of growing into their roles in the school musical, ultimately they recognize that this should not be the basis for losing ones virginity.
  • Kurt refuses a drunken Blaine's advances and waits till it's a moment they can both be certain of.
  • We know that at least Rachel and Finn use protection.
  • The big moment is presented with good taste and as much modesty as possible while still getting across the point that two people are in bed and are about to or have just had sex 
Now for the cons:
  • When instigator Artie mentions "sexual awakening," his two fellow adult producers, a guidance counselor and football coach, quickly display discomfort and leave the room. At no point do they engage the students in any way. No adult is involved at any point in this episode. 
  • The decision is made quickly for both couples. Seemingly within the span or a day or two. It is not one that has been contemplated or reflected on in many episodes over what can be seen as a significant period of time.
  • Glee is a life-changer for thousands of kids. Think I'm exaggerating? Just watch the movie, read the Facebook posts, listen to the Twitter chatter, and check out the dozens of websites created by fans. For many, Glee is a lifeline that makes them feel like they're not so different after all. A true gift during the most difficult stage in one's life.
What it comes down to is this. Glee is an 8 p.m. television show watched by millions of tweens and teens. Do I think these kids will choose to have sex because characters in a television program had sex? Yes, I do. If they're already considering losing their virginity with that beloved boyfriend or girlfriend, I completely believe that this episode can provide one of the impetuses needed to make the decision.

I don't want to know tweens and teens were having sex before this episode aired. I know kids who aren't having sex are thinking about sex. I realize it's our responsibility as parents to monitor their television viewing (easier said then done). I understand that we need to be communicating with our children about this difficult subject well before they see it on Glee (unless they're ten and you thought you still had time to get to "the talk"). But ultimately I also believe television producers have some sort of obligation to consider the message they're sending.

I did not have sex in high school (there, I said it, just in case you were wondering) and even though I was slightly older when "it" happened, I'm still not sure I was mature enough. Maybe it's because I'm a mom now, but I don't think you're emotionally and mentally read till you're about 30. Okay, 29. I'd hate to see kids (that's what they are) decide to "go all the way" with the "love of their life" (for that week, month, or even year) because a television show that they respect made it seem like the right thing to do. I hope Glee addresses the potential repercussions of this level of intimacy in future episodes, and that it won't come too late for the kids who already made their big decision.

I know you have something to say on this one, so let's see those comments.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I Went on Vacation and All I Got Was...

Some people go on vacation and come home with a t-shirt or maybe a sunburn. Me, I like to make a statement. I went to Orlando and "All I got were these Lousy Shingles." The good news is that we now know why my neck was aching for several days beforehand. And we also know I wasn't kidding about my stress level (see "Not Feeling the Love, People" and "I'm Mad as Hell"). Seems shingles are triggered by stress. Hey, when I want people to know I'm bugging out, I don't just settle for irritable and depressing blog posts. Nope. I give you physical proof! How many other bloggers do you know who would do that for you?

Since this is my first time even turning on my computer in almost a week (Wow! She really isn't herself, is she?), I'm going to keep this brief and share:

The Top 10 Things I Learned on My Trip to Orlando

10. Avoid booking a flight that arrives at your destination after midnight. That's the witching hour. Not only do you, your husband and kids start getting grumpy, tired, and short-tempered, but the folks still working in the airport become evil, especially...
9. ...Rental car agents. They're usually annoying, but they turn it up a notch when it's late, you're the only victim around, and you're half asleep. They try to rob you blind by suggesting a bigger car, insurance you don't need, GPS, toll passes, adding an extra driver, and fueling deals that benefit them and not you. It's just a matter of time till rental car companies charge you extra to put lugggage in the trunk or people in the back seat. If we start to see this happening, I want credit for the idea and a piece of the profits.
8. Obstetrics nurses cannot diagnose shingles unless your legs are spread and you're pushing them out of your birth canal. That's the last time I bring one along on vacation for healthcare purposes.
7. Regardless of how they make me feel, I will continue to go on roller coasters simply because I refuse to believe I'm too old for roller coasters.
6. When visiting the ER, even if you've only broken your toe, suggest that you might also happen to have a contagious disease. They find a room for you real quickly that way.
5. Traveling with friends may be the only way for us to go from here on. My children didn't fight, I didn't nag as much, and Rob didn't lose his temper once. I know it makes it seem like we don't want to be alone as a family, just the four of us. And that's about right.
4. Vacation ownership (a.k.a. "timeshare") sales reps are the devil's spawn. They make rental car agents look like nursery school teachers. I think crying, screaming, or throwing up on their desk is the only way to get them to stop with the hard sell. I'd rather spend the afternoon with a used car salesman, or (shudder) an accountant.
3. The world's longest lasting red lights are in Orlando.
2. The weather is always nicest on the day you're flying home.
1. Shingles makes psoriasis look like a walk in the park.

P.S. If you're really into gross stuff, I can send you a picture of my neck and ear. It kinda looks like rotting flesh. Neat, huh!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Not Feeling the Love, People

What we have here is a failure to communicate. Actually, I am communicating just fine. You, on the other hand, apparently have nothing to say. So what is it? Have my posts lately been too serious? Depressing? Boring? The only reader I've heard from recently is my pastor. That's a bad sign. Maybe I've been too religious or conflicted in my faith? I just don't know how to please you people.  And you know how sensitive I am. You know everything I do I do it for you for recognition.

Lately my bruxism (teeth grinding and clenching) has been so bad that I've had terrible aching in both sides of my neck and shooting pains in my right ear. Bruxim is caused by stress. I don't want to make you feel bad, but that stress is directly related to you never leaving a comment on my blog. It has nothing to do with being the mother of a teenager, or any of the other issues that have made me so angry of late. Nope, it's all your fault.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to take some time off from this blogging thing and let you decide if you miss me and want me back. And if you think I'm being harsh and that you don't deserve this, just imagine what it was like to date me. Rob was heavily into drugs when he proposed.

Before I sign off, I'm going to leave you with a new volume of HARO (Help a Reporter Out) "Weird Requests." Then, I'm outta here. Unless I hear from at least 50 25 10 5 of you, begging me to stay, I'm never coming back. Farewell, cruel blogosphere!

Top 10 Weird Requests from HARO (Help a Reporter Out )
  1. What should women eat to shed pounds?  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say "Less."
  2. Stressed relationships & arguing during Halloween  Seriously? Your relationship is in real trouble if you argue over costumes and what kind of candy to give the trick-or-treaters.
  3. Men willing to talk about menopausal partners  Better make those men sign a waiver because you know there is a strong possibility of bodily harm should their menopausal partner find out about this little "talk."
  4. How do dogs celebrate outside the USA? I confess, I didn't realize that American dogs have their own way of celebrating. But then, I've never been invited to one of their parties.
  5. Need diapering expert for major parenting website  Just goes to show you that everyone can be  an expert in something.
  6. Have ghosts damaged something in your home? So the kids were telling the truth when they both said "I didn't do it!"?
  7. Knife expert needed for Playboy Magazine This may represent a whole new level of kinky I just don't want to know about.
  8. Embarrassing parents/mates/family Really, they needed to put out a search for this? Just ask the guy in the next cubicle over. There's an embarrassment in every family.
  9. Is this a bad time to be a clown?  There's nothing funny about that.
  10. How has your life changed since you had a baby? Not at all, really. Though there is this little alien creature who occasionally cries and seems to want my attention. Not sure what that's all about...

You know what you need to do now, right?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kicking and Screaming and Nearer My God to Thee

We didn't have many traditions in our family when I was a kid. There was nothing particularly unique about our holiday celebrations. We didn't have a special way of celebrating birthdays. No stories were told around the campfire (probably because we didn't go camping). My parents didn't sweat it when I chose to skip college and grad school graduation ceremonies, or when I decided to write my own wedding vows, or when I opted to keep my family name instead of taking Rob's. I guess I'm just not a traditional kind of girl.

There is, however, one Shimer tradition that has carried over to my family:
The Sunday pre-church meltdown. 
When I was a kid, there was something about trying to get all four of us to church that resulted in rather unChristian-like behavior. Our church was about a half-hour away and my parents were big into punctuality. This meant we were always rushing around at the last minute, becoming stressed out and irritable in the process. By the time we got in the car no one was speaking. If we were lucky, our iciness toward each other slowly thawed during Sunday school and the church service. It was an experience you knew would repeat itself each and every Sunday. The result was that going to church was preferable only to going to the dentist.

The church that Rob, the kids, and I attend is about eight minutes away and I'm the only one who cares about punctuality. The three of them are always taking their good old time and I become stressed out and irritable waiting for them. We've I've been known to spiral downward into yelling, threatening, demanding, and bribing, while Rob prefers quietly seething or being the funny guy to break the tension. As for the kids, they react with whining, pleading, pouting, and sulking. By the time we get in the car, no one is speaking and you know the experience will repeat itself next Sunday. You see the similarities here?

Well, in an effort to break with the Sunday pre-church meltdown tradition, I have made the unquestionably most likely wrong decision to no longer beg bribe cajole require my children to go to Sunday school or church. Despite being an elder and a former Sunday school teacher, and although I know it looks bad to others, I just can't handle the fight that's involved. It's not so much a case of "picking my battles," as it is about the state of mind I find myself in after the battle. As you know or can probably guess, I'm an open book with my emotions and I don't need to bring that scary face to church.

This past Sunday was a case-in-point. Abby decided at the very last minute (I literally was already in the car) that she would come to church with us. She was wearing the clothes she slept in and I've seen rat's nests that looked better than her hair. My anger (which we already know is at maximum capacity these days) did not subside through the entire service. I was so frustrated with her I told her she shouldn't go up for communion looking the way she did. I know, I know. God would not approve of my behavior. He was perfectly happy seeing Abby in church regardless of how she looked.

I am really at a loss as to how to get my children to church, a place I love dearly, without going through the Sunday morning ordeal. I'm already preparing myself for next year when Ian has confirmation class. I've told him he's going whether he likes it or not, but that will in no way keep him from giving me grief about it each and every Sunday. I realize I can deny my children the things they most enjoy unless they accompany me, but that seems like a great way to ensure that they despise the mere thought of church.

I can't be the first church-going mom to deal with this, so I'm open to eager for desperately seeking your advice. What's worked for you?

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm Mad as Hell

I do not count anger management issues among my many character flaws. But maybe I should make that past tense, because lately I've been angry a lot. In fact my chi is so outta whack I haven't even felt like writing for my stupid blog. See what I mean?

My anger may have been awakened by the spectacular collapse of the Phillies in the post-season. If they hadn't choked, I would've been in Texas last week, enjoying a nice juicy steak before rooting on the team at the World Series. Instead, I'm in Wallingford with a pain in my neck. Literally. The left side of my neck has been bugging me. I'm sure it would have felt fine if I was in Texas.

While we're on the subject of the Phillies, it ticked me off today to see Jimmy Rollins post on Facebook that he's psyched that the Series is going to game 7. Excuse me? I don't think the Phillies players should be allowed to even watch the Series, much less get excited about it.

And it's not just the Phillies I'm angry with. Parenting my kids is also making me crazy. Sometimes it feels so damn difficult that I just want to throw up my hands and say "You're on your own, kid. I have no idea what I'm doing here." And because I feel so overwhelmed and under-qualified, their mere presence can make me want to scratch somebody's eyes out. The other night, a dead laptop battery (the fault of a certain child) resulted in my throwing things and slamming doors. The only positive in that scenario was that I only threw clothing, nothing that could break. My anger apparently has financial limits.

Next on my list of anger targets? Book buyers. Specifically Christian book buyers. Where are they? Why aren't they buying really solid Judson Press titles? I'm doing everything in my marketing power to promote them and still the needle's not budging. What do I have to resort to, a naked clergy calendar? That might work, actually. If any of my pastoral readers are interested, let me know (but don't send naked pictures unless requested).

And what's with the freakin' government? Why, based on false assumptions, did we fight an unwinnable war that killed nearly 5,000 of our soldiers? Why do we take care of the world before we take care of our own citizens? Why am I paying into Social Security and Medicare when all signs point to it not being there for me when I retire? Why does it seem the whole system is going to hell in a hand basket and I don't think anyone has a clue what to do about it?

But Phillies, kids, book buyers, and the government aside, I think I'm mostly angry at God these days. It's new territory for me and it's not a good place to be. I'm angry at God because He continues to make life most difficult for those who least deserve it. Yesterday a colleague died after battling brain cancer for several years. He was in his early 50s and leaves behind three children. And my dear friend Ann, also a victim of brain cancer, continues to fight for her life while her husband and nine-year-old son can only pray. Truth be told, I'd like God to wipe out some of the bad guys with this cancer shit, and leave the good ones alone. He can tell the difference, can't He?

I guess I owe you an apology. I shouldn't have dumped all that on you, but I suppose it may help to get it off my chest. Just to be safe, it's probably best to keep dishes and glassware out of my reach for a while.

I'll try to be cheerier next time. Promise.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Freaky Tuesday

Last Tuesday was Freaky Friday. You know, the movie where the mom and the daughter switch bodies and roles (back when Lindsay Lohan had a career)? That happened with Abby and me. I have to admit I've seen it coming. Along with all her impressive qualities, Abby also is a control freak bossy enjoys being in charge. Just ask her brother. She routinely hounds bitches at instructs suggests ways for him to get his shit together improve the way he does things, even something as trivial as refilling water bottles.

Signs that Abby's need to run the household control things was getting a bit out of hand occurred a couple weeks ago when she informed me, after my directive, that she would not bring in the garbage cans from the street because, "That's Ian's job. He's the boy." There are two problems with that statement:
  1. Assigning gender roles is not appropriate for the girl who wants to be the first female president of the United States.
  2. I'm the mom and I'm pretty sure that I'm supposed to be in control around here, not her.
When I explained this, she pointed out that Ian should do it because, "It's the only exercise he gets." Clearly I need to watch what I say around her.

But let me set the stage for Freaky Tuesday. Here's a brief summary of events leading up to our official role reversal: 
  1. Sunday night, our usual routine. Abby goes to bed. I tuck her in and kiss her goodnight.
  2. Monday morning, I decide on the spur of the moment that I'm going to visit my parents that evening. I pack an overnight bag so I can leave directly from work. 
  3. Abby is still asleep when I leave for work.
  4. I spend Monday night at my parent's house. Talk to Abby briefly on the phone.
  5. I spend most of Tuesday with my parents. When I arrive home around 5:00 p.m., Abby is at soccer practice. 
  6. I leave home at 6:20 p.m. for a meeting at church.
  7. Abby arrives home from soccer around 6:45 p.m. that evening.
  8. I call Abby from church around 8:00 p.m. to tell her my meeting is over but that I need to get together briefly with a couple of people. I will be home in about an hour. 
And that's when the switch occurs:
Abby:  [Heavy sigh] You're never home anymore. I haven't seen you in forever.  
Mom: [Guilt ridden; realizing it's been almost 48 hours] You're right. I'm sorry. I'll come home now.
Abby: Nooo, it's okay. Go ahead.
Mom:  No, really. I'm coming home.
Abby: (Laying on thick layers of guilt) Noooo. Just do what you have to do.
Mom: Are you sure?
Abby: Yes. I'll see you when you get home.
I have a confession to make. The part I left out of my conversation with Abby was that I was going to "meet with a couple people" at Iron Hill Brewery. For a beer. Now granted, they were from my church committee, and we were possibly probably going to discuss church stuff, but still... It hit me that I had become the teenager, out with my friends, while Abby had become the mom, complaining about never seeing her daughter anymore and laying on the guilt big time.

While a large part of me enjoys the mere thought of being the kid again and thus having no grown-up responsibilities, I'm pretty sure that some day very soon, Abby and I will swap roles again. And I'll be waiting in vain to spend time with my daughter because she's too busy with her friends.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

You Can Go Home Again

You know how selfless moms are? They spend more money on their children than they do on themselves. They save the last piece of cake for the kids. They devote every waking minute to make sure the needs of their offspring are being met. Based on that description, I'm not actually a mom. I'm more of a mother (don't say it).

My mom, however, was, and is, that kind of mom.

Yesterday was mom's 70th birthday. You know what that means? It means I'm getting old. (Notice how I bring everything back to me?). Monday night I drove to my parent's house (about an hour away) to surprise my mom. She was certainly surprised given that I haven't been there in months. She was probably shocked that I remembered how to get there (but she was smart enough not to say it).

I love my parents dearly. I enjoy their company. I don't, however, feel the need to go home to their house. After all, I am a busy woman with a full-time professional career, a stupid number of volunteer responsibilities, and two children who can't drive. This means my free time is limited and, when I have any, I want to be home with my family and friends. This is another example of how not selfless (I suppose you could say "selfish") I am.

I also frequently point out (or would point out if I didn't think I would get in trouble for my "back talk") that they are retired and therefore have all the time in the world to come visit me at my house. In between soccer games, church stuff, school events, and social obligations, that is.

And that leads me to my "a ha" moment. I think my parents want me to visit them at their house because they get to have me all to themselves (and who wouldn't want that?). They don't compete with all the stuff going on in my life when I'm there. They don't have to listen to me yell at the kids (there's less to yell about at Nana's house). Of course they don't have to drive and spend the money on gas, either. (Where do you think I get my thriftiness?) And I think being together in my childhood home reminds them of when I was a little girl and they were the center of my world. As my children get older and I imagine them moving out and moving on, I have a sense for what that will feel like (though these days my children moving out sounds like nirvana).

Naturally my surprise visit for mom became a treat for me. Dad shared stories from when he was a young Navy sailor hitchhiking his way home from South Carolina. Mom passed along a small photo album from their wedding which had belonged to my grandmother. We ate out for every meal (I spent the night and much of Tuesday). I slept really well. And we laughed. A lot. I always forget what a respite going home can be.

Mom, Happy Birthday. I love you. And thanks for guilting me into coming home.

My party girl. Mom and I on St. Patty's Day 2011.

Monday, October 17, 2011

When There's No Need to Lie; A Celebration of Friendship

Last week in "You Annoy Me, or, I'm Busy this Month," I explained how I encouraged accepted understood my children's need tendency to lie when it comes to the difficult experience of breaking up with a friend. Despite a good scolding from a coworker (thank you, Patricia), I must stand by my comments, simply because I know if the shoe were on my foot, I'd also lie to save someone's feelings. Actually been there, done that.

Lest you think I'm just a mean, bitter woman, raising children to deceive others and squelch perfectly good friendships, today I want to share with you the inspiring story of a relationship involving no malice and requiring no subterfuge (my 25¢ word for the day). My daughter Abby has a best friend, Maddie, whom I wish she could some day marry. Okay, that came out wrong. I meant to say that I hope some day Abby can marry someone like Maddie. Well, you know what I mean. The friendship of these two ten-year-olds is really something special:
  • They are equals in practically every way (though Maddie is a good bit taller)
  • They bring out the best in one another
  • They make each other laugh, think, and grow
  • They avoid petty jealousies and typical tween girl issues
  • When at each other's houses, the parents forget that the other child is not actually part of the biological family
  • The in-laws parents are great friends who thoroughly enjoy each other's company (well, I suppose I should only speak for myself on this one)
These girls are truly one-of-a-kind, or I should say two-of-a-kind. They both possess determination, focus, skills, creativity, and intelligence beyond their years, impressing and inspiring both sets of parents. This type of friendship is so rare at their age, at any age really, and when I reflect upon it, I realize that these are the same qualities that define a solid marriage. Hence my marriage comment earlier.

Our children will almost certainly have friendships that as parents we find toxic unacceptable disappointing, but when these good ones come along, they are cause for celebration and encouragement. So today, Maddie and Abby, I celebrate your wonderful friendship. And Ian and Noah, you've got something really cool, too. And Angels, well, I can't imagine life without you. Isn't friendship a beautiful thing!
 "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." --C.S. Lewis
My Abby, Maddie, and friend Abby L.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hair and shoes and face, oh my!

Life is mostly a series of little everyday moments, but once in awhile we hit a turning point (which can be as painful as it sounds). Those times in our lives when everything changes. When the decisions we make alter our destiny. In reflecting on my own 42 years (and it's not even my birthday), I've noted some high and low points that made me the woman I am today:

1976:  Remedial gym class. Explains why I am unable to accurately high-five at sporting events.

1980:  My Connie Chung destiny. I impressively narrated the school concert.

1986:  Discovered whipped cream and lobster tail, though not at the same time.

1988:  First seriously toxic relationship ("I'll never love again!").

1991:  My friend Rob told me we were "compatible, so..."

1992:  Decided my first NYC boss and rollerblades were the devil's spawn.

1993:  Fell victim to the joy of dessert at Mirabella's in Stone Harbor. It was almond amaretto cake. I've wanted dessert ever since.

1995:  Married my friend Rob. We are compatible. 

1998 (May): Gave birth, without an epidural, to my split personality teenage son. Decided to stay home with child.

1998 (September): Added the Phillies to our phamily.

2001: Gave birth, with an epidural, to the first female president of the United States of America.

2001: Decided I could no longer stay home with teen and president and keep sanity. Returned to work

2006: Met angels.

2009: Broke concrete with elbow. Thankfully did not break elbow.

2011:  Began mid-life crisis.

I think it started with the professional hair coloring. I would be at least 50% gray if I wasn't coloring. It became too cumbersome to keep up with at home. I bought a Groupon and took my chances with a salon I'd never been to before. The rest is history.

Along with the hair coloring came the eyebrow tweezing. It didn't occur to me to do anything with my brows until a couple years ago. Now suddenly they need as much regular attention as my hair. And don't get me started on the upper lip stuff.

While at my Groupon salon I mentioned those annoying not-so-fine lines above my upper lip. The owner gave me a sample of some doctor-approved face cream that was sure to solve the problem. She told me to try it out before buying a tub of the stuff for about $532 (only a slight exaggeration). I have seen no improvement, but then I don't remember to use it everyday. So the crevices remain. Is it time for Botox? I can always ask my dentist.

And speaking of facial issues, what's with the pimples? A mid-life crisis should not include teenage zits. I'm applying cover-up like spackle. What's next? Laser resurfacing?

Then there was the Great Shoe Awakening of 2011 (not to be confused with Hurricane Irene or the east coast earthquake which were mere inconveniences). I woke up one day and realized all my shoes were crap. I threw out half of them and replaced them. At Nordstrom. Most of them look like the shoes I tossed, but at least they're from Nordstrom instead of Target. A move in the right (albeit expensive) direction.

And the most recent indication of my mid-life crisis is my second hair cut in about a month's time. I used to go for six months without a cut, now I'm unsatisfied a week later. In my latest reinvention (yesterday), I went with  bangs. To cover the zits. Of course now the haircut doesn't match any of my clothes. And you can guess what that means...

Monday, October 10, 2011

"You Annoy Me" or "I'm Busy This Month"

There's a long list of parenting things that I'm not particularly good at, including:
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Cooking actual meals
  • Math homework
  • Braiding hair
  • Limiting video game time
As my children grow older, however, I find their friendships to be one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. 

I imagine every parent has been in the difficult position of comforting their child after they've been hurt by a friend. An unkind word, a new bff, a phone call that's never returned. These are painful experiences even for adults, but can be devastating to a child whose world is their friends. There simply are no words that can make it all better when the girl or boy you thought was your bff decides to not invite you to their birthday party. Trust me, I've tried to explain that one.

When you're first in the terrible position of healing the hurts inflicted upon your child, it never occurs to you that someday the tables will turn and your child will be the one in a position to hurt another. And I have to confess that I can't figure out any way around it without encouraging accepting my child lying to that friend.

The reality is that kids at this age outgrow one another, discover qualities they don't like in each other, and simply stop enjoying each other's company. When this happens and it's not mutual, interactions become awkward. I figure there are three options when your child finds him/herself in this situation:
  1. Grin and bear it and maintain a friendship they're no longer interested in
  2. Tell the other child they no longer like them want to hang out 
  3. Lie and tell the "friend" they are being forced to spend time with their family (against their will, of course), they're grounded, or they're suffering from the bubonic plague
Grinning and bearing isn't easy or fair, and telling the other kid the truth is brutal (for both parties). That's why I'm in the unChristian camp of believing a small fib to avoid hurting someone is better than the ugly truth. I realize that this doesn't always solve the problem (particularly with children that don't easily pick up on "hints"). I also know that this is akin to teaching your child it's okay to lie, but I'm at a loss for a better way to manage the rocky road of tween and teenage friendships.

So, Freakin' Angel readers, what say you? I'm looking for advice here.Seriously. And yes, you can tell me I'm a terrible mom to think it's ever okay to lie...But I know you're lying if you claim you've never done it yourself.

Now, please excuse me. My alma mater is on the phone looking for donations. I have to tell them I'm the babysitter and Kim "Shimmer" isn't home...