Monday, June 24, 2013

The Boob Tube May Be Making Idiots of us All

Sometimes, some things make me wonder if I'm really, truly living in the same world as others. We seem to be occupying the same planet, and likely even do many similar things like eating, drinking, taking our showers and getting on with our lives. This morning I read a post wherein the author was wondering "what the world was coming to" because apparently the Discovery Channel has a new show with gasp! naked people. AND, further horrors!, the show was on at seven or something and not late at night along with the lurid ads for Joe Francis's latest adventures in filming half-dressed drunken co-eds. 

Besides the fact that I often ask myself "why isn't Joe Francis in jail already?", I had to wonder how capable the author of the post in question feels in their everyday life. Do things like having the newspaper not make it to the porch utterly stymie their day? I mean, of all the meaningless bullshit on television, this is what they choose to get upset about? Naked people? Not stupid mean people, stupid diva petty behavior, not toddlers being taught to act like trash by their personality-disordered stage mothers, not the super-violent shows featuring the undead....

nope, the real problem is the naked people.

Palm, meet face. 

The real problem is that people are getting dumber by the day, some of us. I'm sorry to say it, but if you have to go and lament that there are naked people on television and think of this as a cataclysmic event, life is going to be very hard for you going forward. We do this magical thing in our house where, when we don't like what we see on tv-- we do this thing called 'turning the television off'. I didn't even have to go to school for it or go online to find out how to accomplish this. No "DIY:Power to Choose What You Watch, if You Even Want to Watch Anything at All". 

I am feeling so capable this morning! Really! 

Apparently, though, someone else had lots of concerns too. What about the kids with televisions in their rooms? 

Well, what about them? Besides the fact that kids don't need a tv in their rooms?

Besides the fact that there are parental controls which one can avail themselves of?

Besides the fact that someone was dreaming their way through life, thinking that the tv stations were only going to display anything of questionable content after 9 pm. Are you for real? 

When did we get so clueless that we expected the television and cable stations to care about us? Our kids? That they deliberated, thoughtfully and sensitively,  about when their programming would be on and who it would affect? If this is truly the state of things--and I don't think it is on a wide spectrum, or we are all in trouble--we have become thoughtlessly and incredibly dependent on others to think for us. Frighteningly dependent.

That, to me, is far scarier than naked people on my television. Which isn't scary or upsetting to me, but kind of a waste of my time. If I want to see a naked person, we do have a full-length mirror. What's scary to me is how we teach our families and selves to be dependent on being entertained at all time, no matter how mediocre or craptastic the so-called 'entertainment'. Yesterday I saw a father at the pub with a toddler child; he bought the child a small bag of potato chips and then set an iPhone in front of her so she could watch an inane video of a cartoon girl smiling. 

Did Dad talk to her? No. Did he play with his little girl? No. He sat alone, she stayed in the stroller, and he drank his beer and didn't talk to her. The iPhone was his proxy parent. I felt sad for the kid, really. I remember Kiddo being this age, I'd lift him up and let him watch the flashing lights of the elephants dancing on the Delirium Tremens beer sign and giggle "look at the dancing elephants", dancing with him and singing a little tune. We looked at the tap handles on the wall, talked about the animals on them. "Oh, look at that big polar bear" or "See? There's a black doggie." We packed board books. Now he's six, but still points out the 'dancing elephants'. Yesterday, Joe and I were having our beers and writing/drawing a story with Kiddo about "Fang Friend", a buddy he'd imagined in the form of a two-headed snake and likes to make up stories about. As I saw this younger father ignoring his child, I did have a moment of fear that with all the new technologies, people are going to begin to park their kids in front of little televisions everywhere they go and they will feel that this is an acceptable way of parenting

Kinda-sorta reminds me of Huxley's "Brave New World" where humans are created in scientific ways, gestating in glass jars and raised up by screens instead of parents. Just in case you haven't read it, things don't end well for the one  human who can think for himself. Pretty sad, but we are somewhat recreating that dynamic when we keep shoving screens at our kids instead of engaging with them, helping them solve their problem, work through their boredom, learn how to be patient while waiting, learn how to plan ahead and bring a book or activity along.... instead of relying on pocket tv.

I don't want to live in a nation where we all wring our hands because we feel powerless when the tv does something bad, because we are incapable of getting off our butts, turning off the channel and finding something else to do. How passive and helpless do we have to be, really? How many other options does that person have, so that they don't need to waste time and energy being upset about this one? How we teach and guide our children when it comes to being self-reliant and keeping themselves busy will have a lot to do with how they choose to parent the next generations. How we teach them to be choosy about their media choices-- and how much they engage with media versus the real life will have a very significant impact on how we do as a nation in the future.  

We are pushing our children away from us, routinely, before they are at a developmental stage of desiring this separation. That, I think, is one of our worst mistakes we are making. The fallout of that can't be good, either. As the child seeks their parent's attention and is instead handed a device, what we are saying is "watch this, not me".  So I guess we need to be very, very careful about what they are watching, huh?

Or maybe we just need to think for ourselves and turn the boob tube off. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

(Not the) Fun Mom

Just as I am typing this title,  my sleepy Kiddo, so cute in his submarine pajamas, walks into the kitchen and over to where I sit here, with Gus on my lap, and snugs up to me. "Mom, what are we going to do today that's fun?" 

Not "Mama, my heart's angel, deliverer of my life, good morning, how are you?"
Not "Mom, I had a dream about you and you were defeating Lord Garmadon and the skeletons and you are the best mom in the world."

No, the first things usually off his lips in the mornings these days is: "Mom, what fun thing are we doing today?"

This makes me want to slip into my new alter-ego, Julie, from The Love Boat. Remember Julie? She was the cruise director, always directing people to fun activities like scuba diving in  Puerto Vallarta or shuffleboard on the Lido Deck. Julie always had time to make life fun for everyone and every so often, she'd even have a few minutes to get herself involved in some heartbreaking romance for a week or so. Julie was all about fun and excitement. Me?

"Well, sweetie, today we're making chocolate chip cookies." 

"Okay. (Looking over to Joe.) Dad, will you come lay in bed with me for a few minutes?" Off they go. And I feel like Julie again: the Julie who just got dumped by her dinner date (they were going to eat at the Captain's Table, too!) by some guy who has taken up with some exotic looking-creature in disco dress instead.

The cookies are actually significant to me. We were going to make cookies yesterday, but I forgot to take the butter out of the freezer early on and there's no way you can cream butter and sugar together when the butter is in a solid state. I could have been a sport and shown Kiddo "hey, let's see if we can mangle the beaters and destroy my hand mixer", but see, I'm not a Fun Mom, more a utilitarian, all-purpose sort of mom. I will need that working hand mixer for another day when you are bored, Kiddo, so we had to wait an extra day on the cookies. No big deal, though, because yesterday, we got to do a bike ride to the store. He picked out some fusilli, chatted up his favorite grocery store personnel and we went home. 

and we got to make Pesto! Big whoop-ti-do, right? Not for us. Making pesto is a sort of culinary coming together for Kiddo and I, one of our more sensory activities. We pluck the basil leaves from their stems, he gets to pick out the big chunks of fresh Parmesan I've grated, and he's my Master Cuisinart Button-Pusher. Over the past few years he's learned how to use the 'pulse' button without being told "push/stop/push/stop", so he's a wiz at getting the pine nuts and cheese ready for the basil and olive oil. Yesterday he tested the nearly-finished product on a tasting spoon and declared "it needs more salt". Kiddo is into this whole pesto thing and loved being able to stir the bright green sauce into the warm fusilli, sneaking bites while I pretended not to notice.

There is still work being done on our house, and the two fellows doing the job are in their 50s and childless by choice. That's right-- neither has had a child or helped to raise one. Yet, I still feel judged by their presence, by what they don't say when I'm helping Kiddo with his homework on into the second hour and losing my patience, and by the repeated mention of The Fun Mom.

The Fun Mom is the wife of one of Carl's* friends. I kept hearing her referred to as "The Fun Mom" so often that I thought this might be the name you'd find on her birth certificate. Maybe she was the product of forward-thinking parents who knew she was destined for popularity among the friends of her future children? I don't know, and really, don't care. The fact is, even though I've never met this woman, she was bugging the hell out of me. I'd be exasperated, reminding Kiddo to write his name on his homework, and he'd be fretting and whining how boring it was to write one's name on one's work because he has to do it "all the time" (oh, child!), and in would pop Carl, regaling me with another story of The Fun Mom, another mention of how all the kids like to hang out at her house. 

Another affirmation that being the utilitarian "get it done' mom isn't cool.

Until I noticed, one day, that the one story I kept getting about The Fun Mom was that she allowed the kids to play video games in the basement. That she is cool because she lets the young'uns play some shoot'em-up game where (Carl tells me) the kids have their characters stand over the victim and shoot them and then the kids yell "I teabagged him!" in victory, not knowing that 'teabagging' isn't the term for killing anyone, unless it's with total embarrassment at a gay strip bar....

I mean, WOW! Compared to that, I am SOOOOO not the fun mom. And it suddenly occurred to me that even if I am not a whole bucket of fun 24/7, I shouldn't care what anyone (who doesn't live here) thinks of my parenting. I am a housewife who folded four loads of laundry yesterday while my son watched "The Cat in the Hat" tv show. I am fun enough to tolerate Martin Short's goofy voices for my son's sake. I am fun enough that even though I had two full racks of dishes to wash, I also put together a math refresher sheet with a nickel-arcade theme and gave him a dollar's worth of nickels to work the story problems through. ("The game needs 4 nickels to  play. With all the nickels, how many times can you play the game?") Fun enough to read him his "Ninjago" early reader over again, even though it bores me to tears. I got on the phone and arranged a playdate for him on Saturday. And I let him have an ice cream cone, just because.

Fun enough.

This  mom is trying. Really, really, trying. I'm not Julie. Julie didn't have crumb-laden floors because the passengers never minded the warning "Please eat over your plates!". Julie didn't have two full baskets of clothes and linens to fold: I'm pretty sure there was a laundry staff of underpaid workers on The Pacific Princess. I'm not the freaking entertainment coordinator, I'm trying to run a household. This means that I am chef and scullery maid all at once. This means that sometimes we have to walk to the store for groceries, but don't worry, you can bike, even though somehow-- for reasons which don't make sense--it always takes longer when you bike. This means that sometimes I'll offer you playdough to keep busy while I'm washing the dishes...

But if you don't want to do Playdough and you don't like my other suggestions, I'm comfortable letting you find your own fun. I do not think you will D-I-E if you are not entertained. So I will let you be bored, sometimes, so you can figure out what to do on your own. You can help me if you like, with what I'm doing, I'd love your company. And I know that some would say that reading, math and writing during summertime to keep our skills sharp isn't necessarily fun, but I'm looking for ways to keep it interesting. I'm trying to keep it all balanced. I'm trying to ensure we don't have a two-month-long transitional meltdown like we did last fall. Because that was the Most UnFun Ever. Ever.

The other day, Kiddo and I were talking, again with the "what sort of excitement have you cooked up for me today, Mom?" conversation and I dropped a bomb on him. 

"Sweetie, my job as your mother is to take care of you, to make sure you are growing and learning and that you are healthy and fed and alive. And that you have a safe and friendly house to grow up in. But it's not my job to make life fun for you or keep you happy. That's for you to figure out--- how to find that happy place inside yourself, and how to be happy with what you have. Just like it is your job to follow directions and take care of your tasks, but it isn't your job to make me happy either."

This is likely both sobering and liberating at once. This at once declared that I am not, as we thought, Julie-- whose focus is solely on making others feel like they are having a good time-- instead, I'm Captain Stubing, running the ship and trying to keep it on course. While Julie will happily drop everything for you to make sure your experience is pleasurable, Captain Stubing is more "Learn to play solitaire, dude, I'm steering this damn thing and trying not to hit a coral reef."

As for the Fun Mom, I never hear about her kids doing homework. I'm sure they do it, it likely just doesn't fit into the Fun Mom story. Besides, why am I listening to some childless guy's opinions about parenting anyway? I might give them more credence if he was a peer teacher or a step-parent, but his background was in "Hot Cars, Hot Girls" before he became a carpenter. He's a good carpenter, and hell, I wouldn't tell him how to do his job-- if I was in charge of that, the house would probably be on the ground already. So maybe I'll be less self-conscious and not let those Fun Mom comments get in my craw so much. I'll bet he's never gone into Hour Two of homework--repeatedly-- like I have with Kiddo.

But he's not a bad guy, so we'll still give him some cookies. If cookies aren't fun, I don't know what is.

*Carl is not this guy's real name. Just so's ya know.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Moving Out the Past

This weekend Kiddo and I held a toy sale. We both had our reasons. His: to raise money for a particularly desired Lego set. Mine: to clear out some mainstay preschool teacher items that I have been loathe to let go of.  I was hoping that we'd both walk away from this somewhat the richer for it in our own ways.

Kiddo has been talking about this Lego set since about February or so. He was (and is) you could say enamored with it. Why not? It's got lots of monsters and "fun" creepy elements. It became a ritual to stop and look at the box every time we went to the store,  his face would be rapt and radiant at once as he looked at the same figures on the box every time, talking about what was happening in the scene and asking a jillion qusetions. Twice he'd set out in earnest to earn one, however, the cost was $60 and that's a very daunting task for a kid who's six and gets one dollar allowance a week. Along with that, he was doing extra jobs to earn a dollar here and there for me, jobs beyond self-care tasks or homework or his general family responsibilities. These, instead, were the jobs that my parents never really had us do, jobs that saved me time. Some might disagree and say that paying a child for helping out and doing what's asked of them should be avoided, and I think there is good reason to be cautious about this. I also feel that doing small tasks and being used to having to do them thoroughly and correctly is a good thing to teach, because if he ends up doing small odd jobs for others as he grows up, he will know this. 

In short, you don't get the dollar unless you earn it, and I don't pay for you to learn those things you need to learn to take care of yourself later on in life. I will, however, pay you to make my life easier but only if the task is done as asked and in the time I have asked it to be done in. We've had a few teachable moments, but he trusts that if he does the job that I will pay him and so we are both growing at this. 

He worked hard this weekend, in the ways that he could. There was much for the garage sale he couldn't do, yet he walked all over the neighborhood on an extended grocery run while I stapled up flyers. Before that walk he had helped by busting open a pack of paper towels when I cut my fingers on the block of staples I was trying to load into the staple gun. (Next time I don't have instructions handy, I will consult a YouTube tutorial. Live and learn.) He carried toys outside to the tables and helped me when the sale was slow, emptying the buckets of yard trimmings I was filling up and that was an extra dollar. Considering he was dumping the buckets way up high over his little head, he did a fine job. And when the sale was over, he was helping us to bring what remained back in, which was about 1/3 of what we'd put out.

A good sale over all. I said goodbye to some of my dearest preschool staples, namely my peg-together dollhouse set and the little kitchen. For the past year or so, I'd been holding onto them-- they were a security blanket of sorts, a reassurance that should I need to go back to teaching preschool that I had most of a whole classroom of props and toys to furnish a classroom from scratch. 

Letting go of these things meant letting go of the idea of going back. It's like throwing caution to the wind, for me anyway. I've resigned myself to the fact that my next job may very well be at the local grocery store or some other place. Will it be as mentally challenging? Probably not, unless I get a my 'dream job' and land at the library, shelving books. Keeping track of the extreme specifics of shelving within the Dewey Decimal system is right up my alley. In any case, I said goodbye to those totemic items--ones which allowed me to keep alive the idea that 'just in case' I could go back to do something I am pretty burnt out on. 

Don't get me wrong-- I love working with children. But the business has changed a lot since I started and frankly, I don't want my son to be the person who gets 'what's left' of me at the end of the day. Children require a lot of patience and in the moment problem-solving, and it can be draining by the end of the day. After twenty years of a job I cared very much about and put a lot of my emotional, mental and physical energy toward, I am ready for a job that I can leave at work, whether that means taking off an apron or rolling an empty book cart into a back room, I don't want a job which ends up taking so much of my mental space again for a while. My life is at a place where I am content to take care of the house, the garden and my three guys (yes, that includes the one with the tail who seems to be the most demanding of all these days). I like having time to pore over Kiddo's homework with him if need be and I like that we don't have to rush through the more important things because I've got lesson plans to do, activities to prep or parent communication to prepare. Just clock off and say goodbye and leave work at work.

The beloved items found a home with a wonderful neighbor who just discovered that she'll be teaching kindergarten in the autumn for the first time. I was elated to give her a bargain and know that those items I loved so dearly would be well-used in a classroom once again.

Kiddo, too, got his heart's delight and is now the proud owner of a Lego "Rancor Pit", complete with the enormous Rancor Monster, a Luke Skywalker figure with two faces (fierce and congenial) and a Rancor Monster Keeper fellow with two faces (happy and sad, because if you remember correctly, in "Return of the Jedi", Luke defeats the monster and the keeper cries). He's built and deconstructed the set twice now and is going for a third time soon.

And it's time to go pick up Kiddo from school here in a minute. We'll eat lunch together,  he'll read to me for 20 minutes and we'll tackle the homework while I do dishes. We have our routines and soon, school will be out. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss the downtime, and I'd also be lying if I said that I had a profession which felt more fulfilling than being his mom. Certainly, I'll look for work when the time comes that Kiddo doesn't need me as much as he does now. But for now, I feel lucky that I get to have another summer with him, enjoying the season together. He likes to tuck his little hand in mine when we walk, still, and I think that says a lot. He's got a mom that he actually likes, most of the time. For me, that's payment enough for the Mom Job.