Friday, January 27, 2012

Something Right

He's been badgered, picked-on, hen-pecked, nagged, and tormented. He can't seem to get a word in  most of the time without being interrupted or corrected or talked-over. He knows--completely against his will--every girl power song by heart, including all the lyrics to the Mama Mia soundtrack. I feel for the kid, but I have no idea how to change this situation. Come on, as a newborn, he came home from the hospital --wrapped in a pink blanket-- to a house full of Barbies and baby dolls. I honestly don't know if he'd know how to act if all the estrogen was somehow magically sucked from our home. He'd probably plug in Kelly Clarkson or Taylor Swift, just so he could function normally.

During his short 12 years, the kid has been dressed as girl, had his Buzz Lightyear tent turned into a princess castle, and forced to compete in Dance Party 2 showdowns. He's had his Lego sculptures pulverized, his Star Wars marathons cut short, and his boyscout uniforms turned into Halloween costumes. He's had his brows plucked and his hair gelled. And through it all, he has remained such a guy! His favorite part of AFV is always the crotch shot section. He wishes everyday were Independence Day, just for an excuse to blow stuff up. Heck, last week he watched 4 full days of televised car auctions, interspersed with sports, of course. Only a guy could handle that, let alone enjoy it!

And yet, even surrounded with baby dolls and Barbies and Justin Bieber, Frank somehow figured out how to be the best kind of boy and the best kind of brother. His sisters don't know how good they've got it. Recently several of Kate's college friends and Sophie's high school friends have figured it out, though. They all want to marry him. I think when Frank grows up, he's gonna have to move to Utah.

It's curious that out of all my children, Frank is who has brought home the most demerit cards. ( For those non-Catholic parents, the demerit card is Catholic school's card stock, tangible admission of guilt, stamped by teachers and presented to parents, displaying a record of misbehavior,eventually resulting in the dreaded DETENTION!) I don't get it. My girls, God love them, are a bit opinionated, overly social, somewhat bossy, and just plain loud. How do they get away with it and he gets demerited? And on the rare occasion when the girls do get the card stamped, it's NEVER their fault! Of course! Even when one sister "shared" her answers with a friend or another "tossed, not threw" a desk across the room in defiance...or rather difference of opinion--it was never their fault.

Last week I received an email from Frank's teacher. The subject line read simply, "Frank." I quickly added up in my mind the number of demerits I had recently initialed. As far as I knew it wasn't detention time...yet. Cautiously, I opened the mail. By the time I was done reading, I was grinning from ear to ear. His class had enjoyed a guest speaker for the past week. At the end of the week, Frank--without prompting--approached the speaker and expressed his genuine appreciation for her time and expertise. He was so humble and grateful that his teacher, overhearing the conversation, was moved to tears and immediately thanked Frank and emailed me. Now, that's a Proud Mom Moment.

I've said before that I'm completely clueless as to how to raise a boy. I'm still not sure if I'm parenting right. I'm serious when I say that I think God gave me good kids because he knew I wouldn't know what to do with naughty ones. And for that reason alone, I know that even if I'm not parenting right, I MUST be doing something right.  Nevertheless, Frank is doing a lot of things right! If only there were a trophy for that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Got Out of Bed Today. Where's My Trophy?

You know what happens when you try to make everything the same? You end up looking for the lowest common denominator. You lower the bar of expectations so that everyone can reach it. And then everyone will feel accomplished and proud, right?

I remember when my daughter's middle school decided to do away with the Accelerated Reader (AR) Program. Let me explain exactly what this educational institution was throwing away. The AR program was a reading program where students would read books in their appropriate range and test over them. The books were given a point value and students earned points with each passing test score. The school volunteers had organized a "store" where students traded reading points for prizes such as games and books and T-shirts and movies and book marks and pizza coupons, etc. In addition, classes from each grade earned a monthly travelling trophy for most points earned as a class. Students could also save up points to attend bi-annual events like Water Day or Ice Cream Socials. But that's not all! Names of students who reached the 100 Point Club were displayed on the entry hall bulletin board.  Reading Enthusiasm was contagious and nearly every student caught the bug! Students recommended books to each other. They spent weekends reading. WEEKENDS! VOLUNTARILY! Competitive readers clamoured to be the first student in the 100 point club. Reading was a Big Ol' Deal!

Then, suddenly, the school announced that it would be phasing out the AR program. I immediately called the school to find out why. You'll never believe the answer. The administration told me that not every student was a good reader and it wasn't fair to slower readers to have to compete with more advanced readers. Seriously? Nevermind the fact that students were excited about reading. The emotional well-being and stability of slow readers was more important than encouraging the exploration of and the enthusiasm for books.

That was the same year they decided to do away with A and B sports teams, as well. Teams would now be divided evenly and everyone would get equal playing time. Nevermind the fact that these students were going to have to try out for high school teams the very next year. The emotional well-being and stability of children who will probably not even want to play ball in high school was more important than the training and success of students who might need basketball to pay their way through college in a few years.

When will educators, administrators, parents and other authority figures realize that thwarting healthy competition doesn't create the emotionally safe environment they seek. Don't get me wrong. "Everybody Plays" absolutely has it's place. My own children have been very happy in both competitive and non-competitive activities. The point is that they understand that the ultimate reward is a sense of accomplishment that is actually earned--no matter what the venue is.

We might have been created equal, but we weren't cloned. We aren't all the same. And thank God for that. Educational institutions, especially, should be the place to encourage accomplishment and reward success.

My guess is that some Whiny Mom got a hold of the school administration that year. Well, Whiny Mom, please get over yourself. Stop coddling your children emotionally. You are turning in them into entitled emotional cripples. Instead, help your child find something he has a passion for and encourage him to strive for excellence. Teach her to compete with herself and the meltdowns over Suzie's superior reading skills will stop. Create your own participation trophy, if you must. If you want to remain a lowest common denominator, find a way to feel comfortable there. Please, allow the rest of us to strive for exponential accomplishment and success.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Have you heard of the latest TV controversy? Little Asian girl with two gay dad parents speaks bleeped-out F-word!

I'm not kidding. That's the issue they are up in arms over now. Seriously. No, seriously.

So you must know that I am NOT a fan of childhood cursing. In fact, I fought diligently against the occurrence of it in my own home. I fought diligently...and lost. In fact, I'm still losing. Thanks to Kate.

Kate discovered the cruse word early. She also discovered the effect it had on her poor, saintly mother's virgin ears. Nothing could derail a good nag like Kate's well-timed cursing. Of course, it only derailed me onto a separate but equally emotional anti-curse word nag. For some reason, which I have yet to uncover, the anti-curse word tirade didn't bother Kate. In fact, it humored her. She found my consternation hilarious. And so did her younger siblings. None of them dared ever utter the mother-of-all-curse words, but Kate would more than utter. She would proudly proclaim. And they would giggle. Then, when they were a little older, they would laugh outright. Once they all started laughing outright, it was all over. Their belly laughs are more contagious than the stomach flu. No matter how I tried to resist, I would laugh, too.

I completely understand the mixed message I was sending. Believe me, I truly tried to refrain. But she's so damn funny! I mean...She's so stinking funny!

I had them convinced that although their stand-up comic sister might indulge in profanity for a laugh, Mom was above that. I'm pretty sure I had them convinced that not only did I not stoop to that level for laughter, I didn't go there for any reason and neither should they. A stubbed toe resulted in a bellowed, "Sugar!" A frustrated moment called for a teeth-clenched "Fudgesicles!"

Then it happened.

I was driving down Kellogg and talking to the Quiet and Calculating one on the phone. I was in the middle lane with big ol' trucks barreling down on either side of me. On the road in front of me was...something. I can't even remember now, but it was big and dangerous looking and there was no way around it. I prepared for impact, gripped the wheel with the one free hand and (in the words of my Grandma Nina, rest her soul) hollered, "Shit!"

"Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!"

Just like that.

A few seconds later, I had driven right over whatever obstacle had so inopportunely scared the shit out of me. I was mortified and immediately began apologizing all over myself that my baby girl had to hear such language from her mother and did she forgive me and that was so wrong of me and...wait. What was that sound coming through the phone? Yep, this time the contagious belly laugh was all for me.

It's so true that they get it from us, isn't it? They get our good looks, our sense of humor, and sometimes even our bad habits. In no way do I condone toddler cursing. Teen cursing isn't so great, either. But of all the truly bad crap on TV, this might not be the issue to cry over. My guess is that her fathers will be as mortified as I was and try in numerous comical ways to place blame and then fix the problem--just like real life parents.

You know I remember when the big issue with Modern Family would not have been the fact that the little Asian girl cursed, but that her two gay dads were...well, two gay dads. Thank goodness the viewing public got over that condescention. I'm pretty sure--if we all work really f*%#ing hard--we can get past this issue, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Whole Lot of Nothing

A big laundry basket overflowing with unmatched socks sits in its permanent spot in the middle of my family room. The idea is that while we are wasting our lives watching Swamp People or Hoarders or Dance Moms (God help us), we will match them. The truth is that I can't remember the last time I saw the bottom of that basket. And yet, nearly every morning I hear the same cry:

"MOOOOOOMMMMM! I can't find any matching socks."

I used to heed the call, come running to the aid of the cold-footed child, and frantically sort and sift until I finally pulled out a matching pair. Or more often, pulled out a couple that were close enough. Now, I don't know if I could find a match to save my life. The kids have taken to wearing whatever two socks they grab from the basket. I guess I should be grateful the fad of wearing mismatched socks has recently taken hold in middle school.

The fact that we have lived for years with this sock stress is a dysfunction to be addressed at another time. The abundance of sockage and the problems accompanying it actually got me to thinking of another issue. In fact, suddenly I noticed this problem everywhere. No, not the problem of mismatched socks, but rather the problem of over abundance.

Did you know that we live in a world of a lot of nothing? Think about it--a shelf full of dusty Wii games that no one wants to play. An attic full of holiday decorations that almost never see the light of day. A closet full of clothes and never a thing to wear. A pantry full of food and nothing to eat in the house. Two-thousand cable channels and nothing to watch but Swamp People, Hoarders, or Dance Moms. God Help Us!

In the midst of all this abundance, I did notice one thing there is not enough of and that is time. There is NEVER enough time. I know I'm not the only one lacking in this area. Every mom I know is constantly running out of time. We'd work out, if we could only find the time. We would eat healthy, if we had the time to actually cook a meal. We'd read a novel, finish a scrap book, match all the socks in the house...if only we had the time!

If only we could trade all the stuff for more time. I'd buy that on EBay all day long, if I had the time to cyber shop, that is. Unfortunately, that time is not now. My TV alarm just went off. A new episode of Hoarders is starting in just a few minutes.