Holy Crap! I’ve Turned into a Curmudgeon

Um, no stopping in the red zone! Jeez.

I am way too cool and too hip to be such a dud. I realized, while driving home from dropping off the kid at school, that there’s some insane super-ego voice in my head providing a constant narration of what everyone else is doing wrong.
Don’t try to hide, I saw you!
On the 2-mile drive this morning, I saw the following violations (in quotes as narrated by the insane voice):
“You are driving way too fast near this school, in the rain. Slow down chump.”
“Ha, ha, ha! When you cut through the gas station to try to avoid making a more sensible right turn at the light. Yet you still lose! Too slow!”
“Does your mother know you left the house in just a tee shirt when it’s pouring rain outside? Now you are going to be wet all day. How in the world can you learn if you are dripping and cold?”
“Trash cans are supposed to be out of the street within 24 hours of pickup. Now these things are road hazards in this darn rain.”
“How can your parents let you ride your bike in the rain? And without a helmet? Is this Darwin’s theory at work?”
See? I need to settle down. When did this happen to me?
I am not authoritative by nature. I am proud of my self-actualized existence; righteous in my commitment to acting on principle rather than rule. I can spout Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to explain away much of human behavior. But how do I explain the paradox of seeing myself as being principled but requiring everyone else to follow the damn rules?
I see my reactions playing out in how Katie is looking at the world. She was born an old soul and actually does a pretty good job thinking things through (and questioning authority). Generally, she uses principled reasoning but she can be a rule follower when her friends are around. Being a role model is so hard. I can hear that voice yelling at me to stop screwing her up.
Aww crap. It’s time to go pick up the kid.
Do you have this voice in your head? I would love to hear your stories! Comment!  

Out Here in The Middle: Changing America One Parent at a Time

Patricia Heaton as Frankie Heck on ABC’s The Middle.

I was extremely moved by the events in Arizona last weekend (and this week). I listened to President Obama’s speech, hanging on every word about the incredible people who died and those who survived the brutal attack. And I have been caught up in the national frustration this week of those of us who want everyone to settle down.

“All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.” – Barack Obama (transcript)

I feel like Patricia Heaton’s character, Frankie Heck caught in The Middle. The show often opens with; “out here in The Middle…” referring not just to the middle of our country but also to the great unwashed masses of us who are simply doing our best to live day to day, trying to raise our children with good values with a hope they will be positive contributors to society; so much like those people in Arizona simply attending a political get-together.

I feel like Frankie Heck because I have no idea how to have an impact on my world beyond my small sphere of influence. I don’t want people to stop having opinions – I actually love a good debate. But I would like to regain our civility. And I do want us to live up to my daughter’s expectations. Just like Frankie who goes out of her way to make sure she’s there for Sue’s cross country track meet – no matter what she has to sacrifice to do it.

So I wonder, given this situation, what would Frankie do? And I realize, she would look at this situation the same way so many of us would: I need to operate within my sphere of influence. Based on that, I came up with a short list of things I can actually do:
  1. Turn off morning news shows. The network morning shows focus on the vitriol as entertainment. Don’t think so? Take a closer look. I want Katie to know about the news, I don’t want her to hear pundits and talking heads speculating and sparring. I used to have GMA on in the morning while we got ready. No more.

  2. Stop rewarding bad behavior. I am simply not going to support television people, radio people and others who offer no substance but a lot of hype. I have my list of who they are; you can choose your targets, but either way you slice it they need to be turned off. They don’t need to be on in my home. And if enough of us turn them off, they won’t sell advertising and maybe, just maybe, they will go away all-together.

  3. I vow to limit my vitriol. Most parenting is modeling. So I am making a concerted effort to monitor my reactions. When I disagree with someone, I am trying not to use a label (eg “that idiot”) and focus on explaining why I disagree. I am hoping Katie will learn more about my thought process and less about my extensive “off color” vocabulary.

Obama ended his speech speaking about little Christina who died so tragically last weekend. He spoke of the book being written about the children born on 9/11. He said:

“Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. “I hope you help those in need,” read one. “I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.”

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.”

My hand is over my heart. I am committed to working toward this goal. I look forward to having you join me – out here in the middle.

***************

Here’s something to remind you of connection we share with our children:

Baby Borrowers: TV You Can Watch with the Family

Have you watched The Baby Borrowers yet?

I am not a big one for reality TV, I don’t even watch American Idol. But I had read about the impact this show had when it was done in the UK and I was anxious to see if American television would somehow mess it up.

Good news: I don’t think it did!

I am watching this show with my eight year old daughter and it has already made quite an impression. Okay, she’s clear I want to be a gramma but only if she has a great job, owns a home and is absolutely prepared to be a patient, involved parent. But after watching this show, I am not sure I will get any grandchildren.

It’s a simple premise: five teenage couples who think they are not only ready to play house, but also ready to have kids get to spend three days with a baby. Incredibly brave, generous families have volunteered their children (the kids are uber-supervised) to be the “test” babies for these teenage couples.

The teens have to shop for, bathe, feed, change and entertain their kidlets. One of the teens has to go work during the day while the other stays home. All of them are rapidly brought to their knees as they learn babies really don’t negotiate.

We have the show on TiVo and my poor child has yet to watch one episode without me pausing the show half a dozen times to “discuss” what’s really going on or to validate that it really is that hard. As the show goes on, the teens will get to spend time with toddlers, preteens, teens and then senior citizens. Imagine how overwhelming all this care-taking is on a self-absorbed teenager!

I believe you can watch episodes online and I highly recommend it.

If you have kids, it’s an interesting show to watch together. If you don’t have kids, this may help you make sure you stop by the drug store before your next date. If you get what I mean (wink, wink).

 

 

 

Chicken Little: The Night the Sky Fell

Today’s blog is strictly personal. Last weekend, we made a mistake. We accidentally forgot to open the door to our chicken roost so the chickens had to sleep in the coop without the protection of the roost. Around 3am, I heard a horrible noise. I cannot say enough about how horrible that noise was. I thought, don’t worry, “the girls” are safe – they are in their roost.

But of course, they weren’t. When I finally heard what was clearly a chicken sound in the melee, I ran outside to find a huge raccoon attacking my darling little Sweet Pea. She was already dead and our other bird, Lily was in a stupor. I chased the raccoon away in a screaming fit that shockingly, my neighbors did not hear. I managed to get the roost open, get Lily inside and get myself back into the house.

I woke my eight year old daughter up to tell her the news. Frankly, I figured she had to have heard the noise but she hadn’t so instead she had to deal with a freaked out, adrenalized mom. She did a good job too because I was a wreck. Who knew I had become so attached to my little chickens? As a telecommuter, I realize they have become like co-workers to me. I go out and talk to them when I need a break. They are steady, centered companions who don’t react to stress or office politics.

Sweet Pea had a rough start in life – bullied by another hen we had originally. But we made a change and life was good. She was a beautiful Silkie mixed with Cochin and had the prettiest gold chest. She had just started laying and while the eggs were rather small, I admired her steadfast effort.

A friend from Flickr – a woman whom I have never met but shared great chicken stories with via photos and comments – was a great support. She offered advice and consolation. My cousin, who reminded me we share a “farm girl” legacy offered by our grandmother, told me we should get a new chick as soon as possible so Lily, my stunned survivor would have something to focus on.

Meanwhile, on a pragmatic front, my mom, always the trooper – saved the day. She offered to come clean up the mess and brought supplies for a proper burial including a headstone that Katie fixed up. We said our goodbyes and went to the feed store to bring home a new baby chick: a Rhode Island Red. The cutest darn thing you’ve ever seen.

Lily was a godsend for Sweet Pea nearly a year ago and it turns out her mothering instinct is still there. We slipped the baby under her wing as soon as it was dark and the magic began. She’s already taking the baby out for walks in the coop since we are having warm sunny weather. Just wait until she finds out her “baby” will grow to twice her size. She’s going to feel like Michael Jordan’s mom – no doubt!

So this is my little tribute to a sweet little bird that made a difference in our lives. We pet owners share that sweetness: the joy of new love, the enduring attachment as we care for them and the sad farewells.

If you’d like to see some of the pictures, I have posted them on Flickr.

Family Feud: Three Generations Compete on the Wii Fit!

I had no idea what I was getting into. Sure I wanted to try the new Wii Fit. It sounded great. Only I blew it. I didn’t preorder it – what was I thinking – and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t find it locally. And then it happened. Kismet. Chance. Divine intervention. I got a Wii Fit.

As usual, we put the new toy to the three-generation field test. I started – privately – because there was no need to share my weight, body mass index or Wii Fit age with everyone else. I mean, I am testing the product, why do I need to share anything else? The bad news, my little “Mii” who represents me in the game gave away the bad news. Both my mom and my daughter laughed when they saw my plump little me welcoming them to the game.

The humiliating initiation was strikingly similar to that first session at the gym when the great looking 20 year old athletic “trainer” weighs you in and does your measurements and then enthusiastically says, “okay, let’s get started!” The upside? This is a machine and I can mock it as much as I want. I went through as many games as I could, working my booty through yoga, balance, aerobics and strength training. Did I mention humiliation yet?

Both my mom and my daughter tried each of the games and did well and some and failed at others. I have to say it was nice to see the playing field leveled and it turns out each of us is better at one particular area.

Mom, who’s 70, is really good at yoga. She thinks it’s because she goes to Curves. I think it’s because she’s retired and spends most of her day breathing.

Katie is really good at balance. At eight years old, she’s still lower to the ground and hasn’t experienced her first hang over. I give her time, she’ll get crooked soon enough.

As for me, who would have thought I would excel at aerobics? At 46, I am anything but athletic, but I have always been able to take a punch, I can still carry the kid to bed and chase a group of school kids on a field trip. I also really like to dance – all that booty shaking of mine paid off. I have rhythm and can hula hoop with the pros (well, not really, but on the Wii Fit – booya)!

I have my goals set – a great feature – for this month and I have committed to using it to work out at least 20 minutes every day (folks are reporting how they are doing in online diaries). It’s pretty fun and it is getting me moving in ways I would have never managed on my own. I will let you know in a month if there are any “results” worth mentioning.

Is it worth the investment? You can check out the personal reviews. It’s about the same price as a month’s membership at the gym. I woke up this morning with an achy butt, er um, glutes and a burning in my abdomen. Something must be happening because those were some new muscle groups getting my attention. I think it’s worth it and the whole family can benefit. I mean, I will never be able to do what that woman in the video below can do, but I want to meet the guy over 40 who can! (I mean seriously, I want to meet you!)

I Got Your Innovation Right Here! Top Ten Ways Tech Could Help Tired Moms

Some days, I am so wiped out I just want to make a bowl of microwave popcorn, grab a Diet Pepsi and watch reruns. But no, I decided to be a mom. So I must soldier on. But it seems like tech could help me out just a bit. Here’s my list of what tech should do for me.

10. Get the kid ready for bed.
It has to check to make sure she brushed her teeth and did her homework. It also tucks her in and makes sure she starts reading. All I have to do is stop by for the loving – a kiss goodnight.

9. Kill spiders.
I hate getting rid of the things. I want a zapper – I am thinking a modified Wii remote – can just evaporate them with a flick of the wrist. Advanced skills let you zap flies too.

8. Make dinner (or any meal).
Think The Jetson’s. This combo microwave/refrigerator lets you press a button and the meal is served. Beautifully prepared and ready to eat.

7. Fold the laundry and put it away.
This would work like a Roomba: it would swoop up the clothes, deliver them to the washer/dryer and then somehow magically return them to drawers and closets.

6. Take out the garbage.
This man-bot looks like Steve Young (yes, I am a 49er fan) and would kick it all to the curb while looking good! And it wouldn’t forget to change the kitty litter.

5. Help me prioritize.
My cell phone would call me when something important was happening – like warning me when my mom was coming by for a surprise visit, telling me the cats are out of water or when the chickens have laid an egg.

4. Automate my shopping.
Anytime I used something in my house, a real-time Bluetooth inventory would know about it and then generate a shopping list and send it to the computer. Then I would send that to the store and have everything delivered.

3. Nintendo babysitting.
She’s playing the thing anyway. Let’s add a video camera and a GPS and I could know exactly what the kid is doing while I run an errand. I can see her, hear her and track her. What else do I need?

2. Burn calories for me.
This is the ultimate device; I am thinking a modified taser, would boost my metabolism and increase my heart rate while adding tone and definition.

1. Energy boosting subliminal entertainment.
Instead of drinking a Red Bull – or Diet Pepsi Max – I could just plug in my iPod and via special audio tracks, I would get a powerful energy burst that didn’t wouldn’t screw up my sleeping patterns later in the day.

Have an idea for the perfect technology? Let me know. We can always dream – if we can ever get to bed…

The School Talent Show, Twitter, American Idol and the Joy of Parenting

Permission slips were due last Friday for the school talent show. Let’s get real, this is elementary school – how much talent can there really be? The slip specifically noted no “lip singing” which appalled me. Is there no one proofreading these documents or do they really think that means lip-synching? Anyway…

After a day of gut wrenching self analysis, my daughter decided not to try out. Her girlfriends abandoned her (not a surprise to me) and aside from desperately trying to convince me she could mime, we agreed she has no “talent” for this year’s show. Sure, the little singing and dancing act she had prepared with her friends would have been cute, but my kid is no Ashley Tisdale. Or Nicole Richie. Or, well, you get the idea. Which brings me to Twitter.

I just started Tweeting last week and I have to admit, it’s a guilty pleasure. If you are unaware of what’s going on, this Business Week article does a nice job summarizing what you have been missing. There are lots of folks who think it’s a flash in the pan, like Mark and a summary from the WTweetJ blog. But I don’t care, that’s not the point. The point is Tweeting is all about me! I have a place to publicly vent, share and use 140 characters that summarize exciting things about me! It is awesomely self-centered. I am sure if one does it enough, it might even make you go blind.

In a world where we are all just cogs in the wheel, Twitter gives you this little place where you can feel important. And the cool thing is, you can connect with others and find out they are doing things that are as unimportant as the things you are doing. And it is fun. But does it turn us into self-centered monsters?

Monsters.

You know who I’m talking about: like the kids who try out for American Idol who have no business wasting anyone’s time. Could it be that these kid’s parents never told them they can’t sing? At no time have their friends said; could you quiet down a bit, you are drowning out the radio? Or like my mom told me, “You’re okay Jen, but that’s a voice you might want to save for the shower!” Is today’s culture hopelessly, helplessly addicted to themselves, convinced they are worthy of Idol fame? And does Twitter give validation to this culture?

Big questions that I can’t answer, but rest assured you won’t see my kid trying out for American Idol. I am gentle. I let her down easy – ahhh the joys of parenting. I do let her know there are things she does well and but there are times when she should let the professionals, like Paris Hilton, do the heavy lifting. I am bummed she won’t be in the talent show, but seriously, does the world really need another mime?

Join me on Twitter – just keep in mind, it’s not the best forum for mimes!

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights: Five Family Films that will Foster Discussion

Today, around the world, bloggers are coming together to write about a single topic: Human Rights. An online event sponsored by Bloggers Unite, this effort is intended to “shine a light” on a single topic with different – lets face it millions of – perspectives from all over the globe.

When my daughter finally ends up in therapy, my mom assures me it will be because I talked her to death. I am a communications major and I love to talk. And one of the best parts of parenting is having the opportunity to have great discussions with my daughter – we talk about everything – and one subject that comes up a lot in our household is human rights.

It takes many forms and contexts, but the essential underlying theme is that all people deserve to be free – to be able to speak freely, pursue religion as they see fit and have their basic needs met – food, water, safety. Many of our discussions have happened while watching movies. As avid Netflix members, we have family movie night on Friday and Saturday nights.

Family Movie Night: Dinner and Debate

Gramma comes over, we make a good “picnic” dinner and settle in for a family film. We usually allocate about three hours because I am notorious for hitting the pause button to stop and explain what is happening, why it happens and get Katie’s perspective on what she’s seeing. This process tends to drive my mom a bit crazy, but the overall result is I have a child who understands things on a very “connected” level. And I see her bring this wisdom to the events that happening in her eight-year-old world.

So, I sat down with her last night and talked about some of the best movies we have watched and asked her which ones made lasting impressions. There have been so many, but we decided to choose our top five. We hope you watch them with your kids – and I encourage you to look at the reviews on Common Sense Media to make sure they are a fit with your values and to make you aware of what subjects may come up. Four of the links provided for each movie will take you there.

Our Top Five “Discussion” Films (in no particular order)

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Surprise! Aside from this being one of my all time favorites, it turns out there’s a rather interesting back story with the Nazi’s pursuing the Ark. We stopped during the movie to talk about Nazi Germany, the war and who owns national treasures. We also ended up discussing the Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban as an example of how some people don’t respect the values of others.

Pride

Based in fact, this story is about an African American swimmer, Jim Ellis, who deals with discrimination in different ways. The story is inspirational if not aggravating at times as it shows how race was perceived in the 1970s. We ended up having a great discussion about how man (humans) can be so cruel to one another and that we all have a responsibility to stand up when we see something bad happening. I think Katie got the concept of just because everyone does it and condones it, does not make it right.

Bend It Like Beckham

This one is great for girls (boys too) as it shows the contrast between cultures and the struggles many kids have when their parents believe in one thing and the kids they live with every day believe in something else. For us, this lead to an interesting talk about doing what you believe is right despite what your parents’ tell you to do. Is it okay to lie? What if it is for the right reasons? I believe teaching Katie to be a critical thinker is essential to helping her fight for what she believes in, including the rights of others. This movie gave us a chance to talk about values, principles, behavior and having the guts to stand by her convictions.

Pursuit of Happyness

Based on a true story, this looks at homelessness, parenting and the struggle one can have when things aren’t going well. It also demonstrates human kindness, perseverance and the power of the parent/child relationship. We talked a lot about compassion when we watched this movie. We see the homeless is our own town and some of them have children in tow. Like most kids, Katie is compelled to help. So I have given her a way to take action. I help her give her old toys and clothes to the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center and we donate regularly to the Second Harvest Food Bank. She understands we are lucky to have what we have and she feels good about sharing what we have.

Ruby Bridges

Another movie based on reality, this is a great movie about the strength of a small girl, her parents and how her strength helped change our culture. We ended up Googling the woman, Ruby Bridges, after the movie desperate to learn more about what she had become after living through such an incredible childhood. Ruby is one of the first children to attend a white school in Louisiana at the request of the NAACP. The movie is awesome as it tells the story in a way that older children will understand. Katie and I talked about racism, courage, fear, anger and honor as we watched her story play out. This is a great movie to watch with the whole family.

Do you have movies you would add to this list? I would love to hear about it. We are always looking for new movies to watch and discuss. Please add a comment and let me know!

PS: not every family movie night is mommy propaganda time – we also watch the fun ones like Ratatouille, Enchanted and Jurassic Park!

 

Cyber Gramma: Why I Still Need My Mom in a High Tech World

It’s Mother’s Day and my kid has been sick all weekend so I really didn’t get a chance to pull anything together for my mom. Somehow she snuck a bear claw into the house yesterday so my daughter, coughing and gasping, still managed to surprise me with breakfast in bed (said bear claw and a diet Pepsi – I don’t need much!). What a nice surprise.

I tend to have a push/pull relationship with my mom – like most mom’s, she can drive me to the brink, but despite all that, she can also really come through when I least expect it. And she is truly helpful in my “high tech” life. So here’s to you mom, a little ode to how you help me every day.

M-O-T-H-E-R

M is for medical advice. This is incredibly relevant right now with my daughter sitting in the other room sporting a fever. I could Google until the cows come home but nothing can substitute for having mom around to tell me the best way to treat a sick child.

O is for old school. With so many cyber toys around our house, it seems my daughter likes nothing better than playing some “old school” games with gramma including a game called Hüsker Dü – a memory game from Denmark. Having gramma around for these moments are the things memories are made of.

T is for talking. As in, I do the talking and she does the listening. I work from home and while my colleagues are terrific, they aren’t sitting in the cube next to me. So when I get a brain fart (which can be often), it’s usually my mom who has to smelt what I dealt. Over the years, she has had to listen to me tell her the most boring stories and now she even has to read emails and follow web links. I am so glad she does.

H is for hearing. This one is really important to me because I am often faced with ethical situations that can be really confusing. She doesn’t just listen to me talk about them but she hears what’s really going on and offers me advice on doing the right thing. And let’s face it, we all have difficult decisions to make but having mom on your side to help you through the tough times can really make the decisions easier.

E is for endurance. I don’t know how she does it, she’s not getting any younger, but she manages to keep up with Katie and I as we drag her across America, around the town and through any number of kid events – from grade school open houses to camp performances. Despite the fact she raised three of her own, she never fails to be enthusiastic at all my daughter’s childhood events including fawning over artwork, strange homemade food and encounters with various living creatures my daughter finds fascinating.

R is for rock on. My mom’s been through some pretty crazy Hannah Montana dance parties. Despite Disney trying to possess my daughter’s mind, I can always count on my mom to crank up The Who or The Kinks and get my daughter rockin to classic rock and roll. There’s nothing better than watching my mom shake it while she refuses to get old.

So here’s to you mom, I couldn’t do it without you.

Happy Mother’s Day – and to all you rocking grannies in a cyber world – we love you!

Wrist Strong with Stephen Colbert on Our Trip to Washington DC

I read a headline today that caught my attention, “How Do People Find the Time to Watch Television?” Boy, I ask myself that all the time. I should quickly tell you that this great headline was in a blog I read called TechDirt which is a hot read of you like tech, law and culture. Anyway, back to television.

The point of the article was about a shift we are all making from passive media to interactive media. For me, it really is the difference between having content spewed at you and actually finding a way to make it personal and relevant to your life. And as I thought about it, this is what’s been happening around our house. It’s totally cool and I have a very recent example!

My eight year old daughter has been very engaged with this year’s election. Like so many of her older peers, she loves Obama and really wants him to win. Her interest in politics has been nourished by the media (we watch Good Morning America during breakfast). We decided to turn it into a trip to Washington DC for spring break. With her growing interest in government and the process, it seemed like a natural fit.

In DC, we spent a great deal of time in the Senate buildings – did you know there are three? – and visited Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton’s office. The staff in both offices were very kind and open to having a family drift in and check things out. Katie was truly excited to be that close to the candidates. It made something she has seen on television very real.

Signing Barack’s book was memorable.

Clinton’s office is a beautiful butter yellow. Very feminine.

We also stopped at the National Portrait Gallery – a place we might have missed if it hadn’t been television – because we had to see a very important portrait. No, not George Washington. Not Thomas Jefferson (have you ever noticed his profile looks remarkably similar to Steve Carell?). No this man focuses on “truthiness.” If you watch Comedy Central you know I am talking about Stephen Colbert.


Jefferson and Carell share a profile – can you see it?

 

Because she watches the occasional Colbert Report, she knew his portrait would be hanging near the bathroom in the National Portrait Gallery while we were there. So we added the Gallery to our itinerary and took a photo of her showing her Wrist Strong (her wrist was anything but – it was broken) with Stephen’s portrait. Once again, TV came to life.

When Colbert broke his wrist, he founded Wrist Strong! We salute him!

 

So what does this all mean? That my kid watches too much television? No, she really doesn’t but her mom is a current events junkie. What I think it does mean for today’s youth, the gap between what they see on television and what is real is much smaller. They might actually put TV more in perspective than what it was when I grew up. That interaction is an important component of their media experience – be it online or in person – and they believe they have the power to question, interpret and participate.

I bet these kinds of things are happening in your house too. Pay attention. See what you notice. And then please, share your stories.