Monday, December 22, 2008

These are the moments we'll remember, Christmas edition

A week has passed since my last post, and I'm pleased to say, I've got my holiday mojo back. How can I not be bubbling over with Christmas cheer, with a 3-and-a-half-year-old running around the house singing Santa Claus Is Coming to Town and We "Miss" You a Merry Christmas? Christmas with a child is like nothing I'd ever imagined -- as is everything, really. The world just looks better when you look through your child's eyes, period. (And let me tell you, I am squeezing my son even tighter this week.)

There's a great little commentary piece in this week's Time magazine -- which happens to be the Person of the Year issue, and one of my favorite reads every year -- about the importance of traditions, old and new. The word tradition typically means rites or rituals that families carry out year after year for generations. Traditions are anchors -- they keep us grounded and fill our memory banks. But sometimes traditions get stale -- or worse, we feel sad when we cannot carry them out. I learned this years ago when my mom died and our family changed rapidly -- sometimes holding on to old traditions is more painful than positive. I'm a firm believer in knowing when to let go of a tradition, and when to start a new one.

Of course this is a prime-time tradition-starting year for me and my family. We have a little guy who's just starting to understand Christmas and Baby Jesus and Santa and all the things that December holds. I carry many traditions from childhood, and so does Big Daddy, and I like to think we've melded them rather nicely into our own home -- and we've started some really great new traditions (not the least of which is the annual tree-and-Pizza-Hut evening!). In the last couple years, especially, thanks to Sweet Boy, Big Daddy, and my dear friends, I've discovered some new traditions that I hope to carry forward:

1) Baking cookies -- You've never experienced kitchen fun until you've given a 3-year-old a hand mixer and said "Hold on tight!" then watched the flour fly. This past month we've measured and dumped, we've gasped, we've giggled, we've mixed 'til our arms ached -- and we've "tested" a lot of dough. And Sweet Boy has been especially proud to give away the treats we baked to teachers and neighbors and friends and relatives. (We even baked a special batch of oatmeal cookies for Aunt Kathie and a special batch of chocolate chip cookies for Big Daddy for Christmas morning.)

The past few years I've gotten together with my two best girlfriends, too -- my sister-friends, whom I've known now for 2/3 of my life. We devote an entire Saturday each December to baking cookies...and drinking wine. Again, we measure, we giggle, we mix til our arms ache, and we drink til our heads ache. We come away with some yummy cookies, but even better, we come away with the love and support that gets us through the blech parts of the season.

2) Decorating the tree...for a week -- Little boys have little attention spans. So decorating an entire tree and home in one evening doesn't go so well. Instead of getting frustrated this year, though, we embraced this short attention span thing and stretched out the tree trimming over the course of a week. It happened by accident, really, but we had such a fun time adding ornaments to the tree each evening that I think we'll do this every year.

3) Creating an advent wreath -- When I was a kid, we had a lovely advent wreath. It was a wooden circle with a mirrored base, and I've been searching for something similar for years. However, this year a friend gave me a great idea: Make a wreath with found treasures and natural elements. How perfect! Sweet Boy and I went treasure hunting in the woods behind our house and collected pine boughs, holly branches, pine cones, dried hydrangea, and "monster's fur" (aka, pine needles), and we arranged it on a tray in the center of our dining table. We've lit a candle at dinner time each Sunday, and we will light the Christ candle Christmas Eve (while we eat our first annual homemade Christmas Eve stromboli!). Every week, as I sat at the table with my boys, I have felt the same calm that I remember feeling as a child when we lit each candle. In the midst of such a hectic season, the candles bring me back to center.

4) Power shopping with a friend -- I am not really a mall person. I don't really like to shop, especially as Christmas day gets closer and the stores and roads get harrier. But there are two shopping days that I really enjoy: Black Friday with my sister in law, when we hit the Cherry Hill Mall in the afternoon, after all the crazies have gone home to nap; and the evening I go with my friend CT a week or so before Christmas. Hitting the mall with a friend makes the crowds seem less grouchy, the stress level slightly lower, and the deals somehow even better.

5) Building a gingerbread house -- A friend gave me a gingerbread house kit last week, and Sweet Boy and I had a blast assembling and decorating it. I've never seen him get so excited about a crafty type thing, and I've never seen him work with such concentration and diligence. And he's so proud of his house! (Truth be told, I'm really proud of it too...I'm no great crafter, but this turned out not bad at all for our first attempt!)

6) Enjoying a date day -- Big Daddy and I took vacation time for the next two weeks. Can you believe it? Two full weeks together? We haven't had this much time together, I'm thinking, since our honeymoon in May 2000 -- and we will surely drive each other bonkers before January 5th rolls around. But we decided to start it out right by devoting the entire first day to one another: We dropped Sweet Boy off at school at 8:30 this morning, then went to breakfast, finished our shopping, caught a movie, did a little more shopping, then relaxed at a coffee shop until it was time to pick up the boy. It was one of the best days we've had together, ever. (So good, in fact, that we're planning another date day next Monday, too!)

Traditions -- sharing old, creating new -- are the best part of Christmas. These are the moments we will remember forever, and tonight, as I gear up for the mania that will overtake us these next few days (wrapping gifts, last-minute errands, cooking, loading everything into the car for trips to Philadelphia and New Jersey, chasing a rambunctious, sugar-loaded child around relatives' homes), I'm happy. I'm really happy, in fact, and I'm storing away all these good little Christmasy moments in my heart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Christmas blahs

I had great intentions for this blog this month. Really upbeat and positive intentions: I'd planned on writing about all my favorite holiday things -- baking cookies with my little one, picking out and trimming the perfect Christmas tree, wrapping gifts with a bottle of wine in front of the fire -- but so far the month has gotten away from me. (As I'm sure it has for you, so you probably haven't even had time to stop here and notice the lack of posting going on.) I love Christmas, especially now that I have a small child to share the wonder with. But it's a difficult time for me, as it is for most of us I'm sure, because every now and then I'm just knocked down by a wave of melancholy -- I think of my mom or my grandparents or the Christmases of my childhood, and even though they're all good memories, there are holes there now.

I've been trying hard, really hard, to keep the melancholy at bay this year. After all, I want Christmas to be as fun and exciting for my son as it always was for me as a child. We've been enjoying the season, and I was feeling all sorts of Christmasy a couple weeks ago -- poppy Christmas songs on the radio, cookies baking in the oven, lights twinkling all over the house. But then I got bad news about a friend, a dear woman I worked with, who died on December 4. I attended the funeral on December 10, and even though it was a really upbeat funeral, relatively speaking, the melancholy has crept in and I haven't been able to shake it. The rational side of me knows that I should not be so deeply affected by this loss, but I worked with June for 10 years, and I guess I took it for granted that she'd always be there in the office, popping in to tell me about a silly article she'd read or something she saw in the news that reminded her of me. And I'm sorry that I never got to tell her in person how much I cared for her, how much I appreciated the friendship she showed when I first met her at that crazy time in my life, how much I learned from her about being a good editor, or how much her mere presence in the world filled it up. I'll miss her, for sure.

Then today, just as I had started to get through these feelings over losing June, I got word that a friend's baby son died this past weekend. He had just turned 1 in September, and I had just met him a few weeks ago. I was on my way to pick up my own son at preschool when I took the call, and when I walked into the preschool -- when I saw all those beautiful, healthy kids running and playing without a care in the world -- I was overwhelmed. I stood like an oaf in the middle of the preschool gym and I cried. My heart is broken for my friend and her family. But at the same time, I realize how blessed I am, how fortunate I am that my son is here in front of me. How unfair life is.

So here I am, a week before Christmas, not feeling so jolly, despite every effort to keep smiling and singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 1001 times with Sweet Boy. I haven't done much shopping at all, haven't wrapped any gifts, haven't sent a single card. And tonight I don't really care if I do. I'm just not feeling it. My Top 10 Favorite Christmasy Things post can wait until next week.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Plan B is the president

OK, so as you know, I've been trying hard to avoid watching the news. But I do occasionally listen to the radio (local Delaware news stations hardly count as news, though) and I get my daily skim-dose of Yahoo news and So I know a little bit about what's going on in the world, even though it's still all pretty bleak.

Here's a little something that caught me up this morning, from an AP story about the Senate's rejection of the "Big 3" bailout:

"Due to this colossal failure by the U.S. Senate, now it's up to the president and the Treasury secretary," Bernero said Friday on CBS' "Early Show." "Working Americans will appreciate the president stepping in — and pull us back from the precipice, pull us back from the economic cliff."

Lawmakers, who aren't scheduled to return to legislative work until early January, were looking to the president, as well.

"Plan B is the president," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said action by President George W. Bush was the "only viable option."

Sweet Jesus, does this strike fear in your heart, as it does mine? President Chimp-Face is our only hope, our Obi-Wan Kenobe, in the face of certain economic doom and the collapse of our cushy little lifestyles? Pull us back from the precipice? Only viable option? Are you serious?

I admit, for the last few weeks, especially as I watched the last 5 minutes of Charlie Gibson's interview with the Bushes, I felt a teeny-tiny itty-bit of pity for this man, who once stood so proudly at Ground Zero or on the deck of that aircraft carrier, thumping his chest and demonstrating so much cowboy American bravado. He's cowed and hunched now, and I believe I even saw his eyes tear up in that interview. He's facing the last days of one of the worst presidencies on record, and I think he's finally seeing how royally he effed it all up. Can't we just let him stew in it a while? Why now ask him to make some kind of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't decision?

Oh, I know why. Because he's still the PRESIDENT, God help us.

Too bad he's already thrown the economic trump card of "let's go to war." Twice. Whatcha got left, Bushie?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Today's fabulous website

I just discovered a really great website for you to browse when you need a break: 1001 Rules for My Unborn Son.

I especially love the following:
Rule #293 Don't shout out requests at rock shows. (Please, no more "Watchtower!" from the cheap seats.)

Rule #282 Never swing at the first pitch. But don't be afraid to strike out. No man bats 1,000. (Great advice I received from my own dad, and it can be applied to pretty much every life situation.)

Rule #249 Identify your most commonly used word or phrase, and eliminate it. (Where do I start?)

Rule #239 Never post a photo online you wouldn't feel comfortable showing your mother, your boss, or the dean of admissions. (Amen!)

Rule #213 Go barefoot. It toughens the feet.

Rule #206 Never turn down a girl's invitation to dance. (Hear that, all your 8th-grade boys?)

Rule #189 Learn to drive a stick shift. (I still put my foot on the imaginary clutch.)

Rule #148 When handling a frog, be gentle.

Rule #120 Spend time with your mother. She's cooler than you think.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Contemplating Santa Claus

Sweet Boy sat on Santa's lap in the mall on Friday. For the first time. Willingly. And with a smile on his face. This is pretty big, when we consider that when he was 1 he screamed bloody murder at the sight of Santa, and when he was 2, he stepped just close enough to snatch the candy cane from Santa's hand then run back between my legs. (Even bigger is the sad fact that I missed his first chat with Santa because I was standing in line at Starbucks, waiting for my SIL's fancy coffee concoction while she wandered over and introduced my child to Santa without either of his parents nearby. But I probably shouldn't go least I have the souvenir photo, right?)

This may be the first year that Sweet Boy is truly aware of Santa. He still hasn't quite grasped the whole Santa-brings-me-toys concept yet -- which is great, don't get me wrong -- and every time we ask him what he wants from Santa, he tells us something different. (And he told Santa on Friday that he wants Spiderman stuff. I have never heard him mention Spiderman. Ever. Go figure.) I know this is the year when the Santa tradition will take root, so we need to play it close. For instance, this week Mommy will help Sweet Boy write his letter to Santa, and we will list three things that he would like. However, we're going to try to make it clear that ASKING for three things doesn't necessarily mean he will RECEIVE all three things. Santa always brings at least one present, and other presents come from Mommy and Daddy and all our family members. Sometimes Santa may bring a surprise or two, also.

You hear and read so much about the Santa Myth and how damaging it is for children. In fact, I have a friend who is a pastor and psychologist/counselor, and she is adamant that enforcing a child's belief in Santa Claus is psychologically AND spiritually damaging, that it erodes their trust in their parents, leads to a lifetime of materialism and attachment issues, etc. Heavy, right? So while I do want to follow some Santa traditions, I'd like to avoid, if at all possible, damaging my son's trust, priorities, or psyche. I don't intend to lie to him when the day comes that he asks me about Santa, but for now, I don't see any harm in giving him something to get excited about.

I remember exactly the day that I realized that Santa wasn't a real live human who squeezed down the chimney on Christmas Eve. And I remember exactly what my mom told me when I asked her about Santa:
Santa is the spirit of Christmas---the joy of giving to others, the love of your family around you, the happiness you feel during the season. Above all, Santa is generous and sees the good in all people. As long as you believe in this spirit, then yes, Santa Claus is real.

I was 6 years old when I started reciting "Santa is the spirit of Christmas" because I really didn't want to let go of the magic. And every year I watch my own father, now age 59, turn into a living breathing Santa Claus right around this time -- he still believes in the magic, and because of him, his adult children all believe too.

Of course this "spirit of Christmas" thing is a pretty abstract concept for a three-year-old, so we'll probably go with the "Santa brings you presents" approach this year. We won't dwell on the reward bit of the lore, though, because I don't think Santa Claus should be used as a disciplinary tactic. I'm thinking the trick will be laying the right foundation this year so that Sweet Boy understands that while Santa brings him presents, Santa is not the be-all and end-all of Christmas. I want to be sure that Sweet Boy understands that there's a lot more to Christmas than just asking for and receiving toys. I will certainly not get all intellectual about it with him -- and I will never, ever tell my child that people who believe in Santa Claus are stupid or gullible. But I want to be sure that in a few years, when he realizes that Santa is not a jolly old elf dressed all in red who rides through the sky behind a team of reindeer that there is still magic in Christmas, that there is still joy in generosity -- and that there will still be gifts for him under the tree Christmas morning.

However, right this minute, I'm not exactly certain how to strike that balance, especially when everyone around him is talking about Santa -- school, TV, radio, relatives -- "What do you want from Santa Claus?" is the question of the month. How do you present and explain Santa Claus to your kids without heaping too many untruths on them? All suggestions and family traditions are welcome!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

If you can't say anything nice, part 2

Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I went back to the grocery market yesterday for the last few items on my Thanksgiving recipe list. (Even though everybody knows you don't go anywhere near a grocery market two days before Thanksgiving!) Different market than the one mentioned the other day, and this time I had Sweet Boy with me (he usually keeps me on my toes, which means we move faster through the store, thereby spending less money -- which was not actually the case on this day, but let's move on).

So we're wandering through the produce section in search of decent looking shallots (which I buy, like, twice a year, so it takes me a while to even find them), Sweet Boy driving the car at the front of the cart, which means I'm steering awkwardly though the jam-packed aisles, apologizing left and right as I knock down displays and bang into shins. Along comes this kind-eyed old woman, beaming a smile at my boy. She looks at me and says, "What a lovely child. Good thing you had a boy, though."

At first, I'm thinking, wow, what a nice thing, to remark on my beautiful boy and my good fortune (because as you know, I'm feeling all head-in-the-clouds grateful this week). So I reply: "Yes, I'm very lucky to have a little boy. I really love his energy, don't you?"

She looks at me like I'm speaking Chinese, then says, "No, honey, I mean because he's going to be so tall. You don't want a really tall girl, after all."

Um, what? Again, I'm speechless. Stupefied. Amazed at the lack of tact. With nothing to say, I continue on my way. But she goes on defending her thesis: "I mean, with his height, at least he'll be a star athlete someday. Maybe basketball or baseball..."

I just snap back, "No, actually, he's much more musically inclined." (I readily admitted, did I not, that I never have a witty comeback? I gave it my best effort.)

Keep in mind, this stuff doesn't really hurt my feelings -- I'm damn well used to it after all these years of tallness. What I'm wondering today, though, is do you think she just didn't notice that I'm in fact a tall girl? Perhaps she thought I was standing on a step stool or she was standing in a foot-deep hole. Am I just being sensitive, or did she really imply that it would be a horror to have a tall daughter? And I won't even get started on how vehemently I hate the notion that all we tall people are good for is sports!

I wish I could say these kinds of remarks only occur at grocery markets, because hell, then I'd just stay out of grocery markets. But it's just coincidence that I've had two stupid comments thrown my way in the past week, and that both of them occurred at the grocery. It happens anywhere, anytime, and usually when I least expect it.

Maybe I should change the title of this blog to People Are Stupid, or I could call it Check Your Brain Filter. There certainly would be no paucity of material.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Boy trouble-free (for now)

So many of you responded to my Boy Troubles post last week, I felt I should post an update. Although it's only been a week since my discussion with the preschool director, I have noticed some extremely positive changes in the before- and after-care set-up. When I drop the kiddo off in the morning, there are teachers positioned throughout the gym playing games or putting together puzzles or just generally keeping the kids busy. And I haven't yet seen any little boys in timeout. Then, in the afternoons, the administrator has been in the gym with the kids, which seems to keep the caregivers on their toes. While I realize that these are just the first steps, I'm feeling much better about the situation. And even more important, Sweet Boy seems really happy this week, too. So something's going right over there.

I did learn an important lesson last week, though. It's crucial to speak up every time something bothers me in matters of preschool and childcare. I think so many of us hesitate to bring up our displeasure, thinking that the preschool teachers and directors know more about childcare than we do, or that if we squeak too loudly they'll somehow think less of us or come down harder on our kids. But I realize now it doesn't really matter if the teachers like me or think I'm a pushy mom. What matters is that I open my mouth when things are bothering me. For the sake of my child. I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but we moms (and women, in general) spend a lot of our time trying to make sure people like us -- it's difficult to put that aside, but sometimes necessary.

On a related and much lighter note, I heard Sweet Boy "reading" in the living room while I was cleaning up after dinner. His latest favorite thing is picking up a book -- any book -- and telling me a story as if he's reading to me. Tonight's tale was about a scary, hairy monster walking through a dark, dark forest, and the brave alligators and elephants that stood up to him and told him to stop scaring them and turn on the lights. The storytelling was quite elaborate, with sound effects and different voices for each of the characters. (And you know I eat this stuff up!) When I finally finished the dishes and went in to sit with him on the couch, I cracked up at the book he'd selected for tonight's reading: The Trouble With Boys, by Peg Tyre -- which I borrowed from the library last week and which sort of set off the little preschool maelstrom in my head. Ironic, no?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Time to give thanks

This is my favorite week of the whole year, every year. Since I was a child, I looked forward to Thanksgiving more than any other day. When I was a kid, it was a day that the whole family came together, from far and wide, and gathered at my grandparents' tiny Long Island home. My family would get on the road at 4am so we could be in the kitchen eating Entemann's coffee cake with Grampa while Gramma put the bird in the oven. As we got older (and bigger), we'd all pack around that dining room table, shoulder to shoulder (and sometimes arm over the shoulder of the person next to you -- we're all pretty big folks, uncles and cousins all over 6 feet tall), and laugh and joke and eat. Then we'd all lay around the living room watching football and moaning about our full bellies. These were some of my favorite days, and still top the list of my favorite childhood memories.

Now Thanksgiving is smaller in scope; we've all grown up and grown away from each other. But it's still my favorite day, in a whole new way. I now host the meal at my house, and my immediate family gathers. We all pack into my tiny kitchen, "helping" with the cooking (but mostly tripping on each other), drinking wine and laughing. The menu is always pretty much the same and not terribly exotic, but it's not really the food that makes the day special. It's the time together, the shared memories, the inside jokes that only brothers and sisters understand. It's watching Sweet Boy's eyes pop open when he sees the giant turkey in the middle of the table. It's the smile on my father's face when he sits back and rubs his overstuffed belly. It's the excitement in my husband's voice when he talks about Black Friday shopping with his older sister. It's the buzz in the air about the upcoming Christmas season, planning for our next family get-together. It's the transformation I see in my dad and my husband, from down-to-earth, responsible men into wild-eyed, giddy Santa's helpers. It's the way we all just relax together, if only for an afternoon.

This year I am somewhat overwhelmed with gratitude for my abundant blessings. I sat in church yesterday and teared up more than once as I let it all just soak in. I have a beautiful family and a warm home; we have plenty of food in the pantry; we are healthy. I plan to celebrate those blessings this week, to say thank you out loud and often, because life is so good.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

If you can't say something nice...

OK. I want you to take a minute to describe this scene. Picture this:

I'm in the local grocery market, where weird things always happen. I have a coupon in my pocket for the free turkey I've earned by spending so much friggin' money on groceries. So I'm looking in the freezer case for the largest bird for my buck, so to speak. I'm bent over, no gloves, elbow deep in a freezer, wrestling with these giant frozen turkeys, and an old moustachioed woman with a Russian accent is talking my ear off. She's leaning her tushy on the edge of the freezer waiting for the butcher to cut a fresh turkey in half for her -- which is something I've never even imagined could be done! -- and she's telling me all about why, how, and where she'll be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. Because I'm all for a little friendliness between strangers, I listen as I continue to wrangle my turkey from the case.

So, a couple minutes pass, my hands are starting to sting from the cold, but I finally grab my 19-pounder (yeah, dammit, I found the biggest one in there!) and pull it out of the freezer. I drop it into my cart, where it rolls around like a bowling ball (or a giant severed head), and I smile triumphantly at my new Russian friend and wish her a happy holiday. I blow some hot breath into my freezing cold hands, and turn around to walk to the check-out line. And this is when it happens...

"How's the weather up there?"

What? Are you kidding? I stop and stare, dumbfounded, at this average-statured, middle-aged man standing in front of me. He's beaming a big dorky smile, obviously impressed with his wit. I say nothing. I can't even speak. I cock my head to one side and look him in the eye, then I start walking away, pushing my giant turkey in front of me. Maybe he'll just disappear. Yet he says it again as I pass him, as if he thinks I didn't hear him: "How's the weather up there? You're a taaall girl!"

Those of you who know me know that I'm not quick with the comebacks. Ever. And I don't say mean things even when people are offensive. So I ignored him and moved on. He didn't hurt my feelings, of course, and really, that wasn't even an offensive comment. Just stupid.

Why am always amazed at people's need to point out the obvious to me? I've noticed that I'm tall. I have been 6'2" since I was 13 years old, dude. This is not news. Would you walk up to someone who is obese and say "Man, you're fat!" Or, do you approach an elderly woman and holler "Damn, your hair is gray!"

And another thing that I'll throw out there as a public service message: If you're going to comment to a tall girl about her height, try to come up with something a little more clever. Please! At least you might win points for originality, like the short little wrestler dude in college who tried to convince me to go home with him by telling me "You know, we're all the same height laying down." I mean, that was at least different!

We tall girls will only cut you some slack for dumb comments if you are obviously slow or retarded, as was the case with the guy at the 7-11 a couple years ago who threw a couple of Jolly Green Giant and Big Bird remarks my way while I poured my morning coffee.

But really, how's the weather up there? Come on!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Boy troubles

Sweet Boy is in a preschool class this year of 15 kids, 12 of whom are boys. This statement strikes fear in the hearts of most human adults. He's been with most of these kids for two years now, and although he'll tell you all the other 14 children in this class are his best friends, we have always had trouble with hitting. Sweet Boy hits other children, and other children hit him. It's hard for me to know who usually instigates -- I know my son is not a blameless, beatific bearer of beatings -- but I know him well enough to know that he'll play nicely until someone doesn't play nicely with him...and then it's on! Poor D. learned the hard way today when he took a puzzle piece from Sweet Boy and whacked him with it. This left my little guy with a good ding on his forehead, but apparently Sweet Boy has a mean left hook, which left D. with a bloodied nose. (Yeah, you shoulda seen the other guy.)

But I'll back it up a minute. This morning when I got to the gym to drop Sweet Boy off, one of the teachers met me at the door. "We are meeting one-on-one with the parents of the Brat Pack this morning to explain our new, stricter rules in the gym," she said. "They're not allowed to wrestle and carry on any more, and we'll be putting them all in time out when they do." OK. First of all, the Brat Pack? This offends me. I realize you think this is a cute little name for a rambunctious bunch of boys, but no more will you label my son or any other 3-year-old this way. Second of all, this is a new rule? You mean wrestling has been allowed up until now? I don't get it. How can you enforce the "hands to yourself" and "use your words" rules in the classroom when in the before- and after-care it's an every-child-for-himself Wrestlemania? I don't know whether to file this under D for duh, or A for about friggin' time.

So fast forward now back to the end of the day, when I had to sign the incident report in the administrator's office. I was truly shocked and upset to read that my child had not only been clocked in the head by another child, but that Sweetie clobbered the other child hard enough to bloody his nose. So I squatted down in front of Sweet Boy and asked him about it: What happened? How did it make you feel? What would have been a better way to deal with D. than hitting him? etc. Right in the middle of this exchange, just as Sweetie is opening up and telling me his side of the story, the administrator interrupts and says, "Well, you know it's a class full of boys. They're just more physical and express themselves with their hands instead of their words."

And that's about the time I had to use my words. Am I wrong in feeling that the lots-of-boys thing is just a horrible excuse? While I realize that boys are often more physical than girls and I think I'm pretty realistic in my expectations for children's behavior, I do not agree that just shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Well, they're boys..." is acceptable. Anywhere.

This brings to mind a much bigger problem that's been on my mind for months as I've been working on editorial and publicity for a book about teaching literacy specifically to boys. The so-called boy crisis in this country is alarming -- and it's something that all of us moms of little boys need to be aware of. According to Peg Tyre, author and journalist (and recent e-mail buddy of mine):
Boys get expelled from preschool at nearly five times the rate of girls; they get identified as being learning disabled or having behavior issues at four times the rate. They are twice as likely to get held back. They bring home more C's and D's on their report cards and according to the Centers for Disease Control, by the time American boys are sixteen years old, a full 14% have been "diagnosed" with an attention deficit disorder. Currently, there are 2.5 million more female undergraduates then male undergraduates, a gap that is growing by 100,000 every year. [Read more of this article here.]
Why does this happen, you ask? Because even as young as 3 years old, boys learn from the overt and implied signals of their parents, teachers, and caretakers that they are rambunctious brats who need to be put in time out every five minutes...or worse, medicated or excused or expelled. Teachers, who are generally female, don't really understand the how and why of boys' behavior, so they either dismiss the hitting and pushing as typical boy stuff -- or they punish the hell out of kids until they can't stand being at school anymore. And I'll be darned if I'm going to stand by for even one minute of this with my son! Not now, not ever.

I know my son is not blameless. I know he hits, I know he pushes, I know he can fly into a raging 3-year-old temper at the drop of a hat (or puzzle piece, as it were). But, I also know that he loves to run around chasing a soccer ball, he loves to tell wild imaginative stories about spooky spiders, and he loves to sing and dance and act silly. And I guarantee that some of the more frequent instigators among his classmates would respond positively to the same kinds of play. Why not get the before- and after-care faculty involved in more constructive play with these boys? How about organizing some games with them that engage their more physical nature without pitting them against one another or giving them reason to beat on each other?

The administrator assured me that they are having a staff meeting on Thursday to address all this and to discuss the new policies in the gym and playground before and after school. I am right now drafting my letter (complete with references and websites!), because I truly hope that they're not thinking about constantly punishing these kids instead of being more proactive. Because I really don't want to deal with finding a new preschool.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My news boycott

Today's major declaration: No more listening to/watching/reading the news this week. It is depressing and horrible and anxiety inducing, and I am done with it!

After last week's election rush, and the Phillies' World Series rush the week before that, it seems like everything on the local and world news is back to the sky-is-falling focus: giant companies failing, jobless rates rising, more suicide bombings in the Middle East. It's all just sucktastic.

So instead I'll stick to Curious George and the Food Network on TV and crappy pop stations on the radio. Bring on the Beyonce and the mindless call-ins from girls who don't like their Gap store coworkers! As for online, I'll continue to read my favorite blogs, because these are all written by sensible people whom I like, but I'll just skim past any news headlines for a little while, if that's OK with you.

And I just might start sticking my fingers in my ears during any work meeting or conversation in which someone wants to cite some shockingly bad economic news that has no direct bearing on my job or life, like for instance HarperCollins publishers dropping from Q1 profits of $36 million last year to $3 million this year (is this even possible? I'm no math wiz, but isn't this a 90-somthing-percent loss?) or that 6 out of 10 people cannot secure auto loans (I haven't actually verified this tidbit because, well, that would require reading news). Why do folks feel the need to one-up each other on bad news that they hear/see/read? If you report it to people around you, does that make you less likely to fall victim to it? Or is it more the "talk it out" phenomenon, like when you have a nightmare and it always helps you to feel less frightened if you just tell someone about it?

Yeah, nightmare...lately the news makes me want to hide under my bed, which is really no way to live, let alone raise a child. Life in my little nook of the world is OK right now, thank you, and I'd like to just bask in that for a while. So, at least for this week, I choose ignorance. Which is, as we all know, bliss.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mom, the Un-Awesome Playmate

"Play with meeee!"

I, like many mothers of young children, hear this approximately 300 times per day. I try to devote as much time as possible to play on the weekends, but playtime during the week is packed into small chunks here and there -- lunchtime or just before bed, most days -- because, let's face it, weekdays are busy with non-play things.

Sweet Boy plays pretty well on his own now, and really he always has. These days he passes the time with trains or cars or his favorite three stuffed animals, Liony the Lion, Ramma Rhino, and Phil (the elephant we brought home from the Philadelphia Zoo this summer). He spends long stretches of time lining up the cars in neat little rows, then crashing them into one other while yelling "Whoa! Whoa!" and laughing like a comic-book villain. Or he builds elaborate train tracks that don't connect so he can run his trains off the edge of the table and marvel at the noises they make as they plummet to the floor. And he loves to make the animals wrestle. (Are you getting the theme here? All boy, all the time.)

His independent play is good for at least two obvious practical reasons: (1) he's an only child (so far), and (2) I work at home so he has to keep himself entertained for long stretches of time. But I recently realized another plus: It's great that he can be happy playing on his own because I'm not so good at make-believe. In fact, I kinda stink! It is really hard work for me to play with cars or trains or "my animals" or even Mr. Potato Head. I have trouble coming up with playful dialogue or kid-friendly story lines, and frankly, I get bored really quickly. How pathetic.

Now I know you might say, well sure, you're a grown-up, Tall Girl, and you've long since grown out of all that imaginative play characteristic of childhood. But I'm not sure that's truly the case. Truth is, I don't know that I was ever good at make-believe. (Which might also be why I haven't yet written a bestselling novel...but we can talk about that another time.)

I'm thinking back about playtime with my brother, who is only 20 months younger than me and was my built-in childhood playmate. I remember "playing guys" with Star Wars action figures and sometimes playing with Hot Wheels or my dollhouse together. Unless Brother was directing me with his usual "now you say this," I was no good. And I got so bored. I could play hide-and-seek or tag or Uno forever. But playing guys was just not my thing.

And apparently it still holds true now with Sweet Boy. I can play Candyland or Memory over and over, I love to color or make Play-Doh critters, and I can spend hours on any playground chasing and being chased, but ask me to "play animals" for five minutes and I start to sweat. I even prefer building giant Lego skyscrapers to talking like a toy elephant. It's the pretending that just throws me!

I wonder if this is a boy/girl thing, or if it's a left brain/right brain thing; my son reminds me a lot of my brother, so it's possible they have similar ways of thinking that might just be opposite mine. Or maybe it's a I've-always-been-an-uptight-Mommy-type thing, which is really quite possible because, well, I have always been an uptight Mommy type.
Or perhaps I just don't think too quickly (scratch improv comedy off my list of possible careers).

Whatever the root of my particular dysfunction might be, I'll continue to work on playing. It's worth it just for the proud little smile Sweet Boy gives me when I have a true make-believe moment.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A new day, a new world, it'll be ok

I haven’t written anything substantial in recent days because, well, I’ve been nervous and anxious and so uber-focused on the election that I was, frankly, boring. I bored myself, and I didn’t want to bore you with anymore political stuff. Because really, we’ve all had enough political stuff.

And then, of course, Tuesday happened. Around 10 p.m. Tuesday evening, I cried a great big sobbing-laughing emotion-releasing cry when I realized that Obama would be our next president. Tears of happiness, tears of hope, tears of disbelief, and tears of a tiny bit of sadness that my mom didn’t get to see this happen. I cried throughout Obama’s speech, and all day Wednesday, my eyes teared up and the goosebumps reappeared every time I thought of his words, of this moment in American history, of the magnitude of what lies ahead.

Obama’s anecdote about the 106-year-old woman reminded me of my grandparents. They are in their mid-80s, children of the Great Depression, parents of the 60s revolutionaries, grandparents of the gen-X and gen-Y kids who have finally stood up and said “enough is enough,” and great-grandparents of a child who will grow up without even flinching at the notion of a black president, or even a woman president. I’m awed when I imagine what their eyes have seen.

Throughout this election season, I have not really discussed the candidates or the campaign with my grandparents because I know they have conservative views, both politically and socially, and I didn’t really want to get into any kind of debate. I mean, come on, they’re old, they’re set in their ways, and arguing would just upset us both. But last night I called them, just to say hello.

My gram and I chatted for a few minutes about the usual stuff—the weather, the kiddo, baseball (I told you it’s in my genes!)—and then Grampa got on the phone. Before I tell you about my conversation with him, let me tell you a little about my grandfather: A retired Naval officer and school principal, he was an imposing figure who raised my mom and her three brothers with a heavy hand. My brother and I were extremely intimidated by him when we were kids, but by the time my sister came along, he had mellowed quite a bit. He was (and still is) intensely intelligent and a consummate teacher, always drilling us on math or correcting our grammar. To this day he reads the Sunday NY Times cover to cover. Grampa always needed to be “useful”—he would visit our home and mow the lawn because he just couldn’t sit still. He was never overtly affectionate with his children or grandchildren and he was extremely frugal, but he showed his love by building us things—amazing, super-sturdy furniture that will be passed down for generations. (In fact, the photo below was taken in the gazebo he built by the bay in the town where my grandparents have lived for 50-some years.)

Grampa aged very well until about 5 years ago, around his 80th birthday, when his mental acuity and physical strength really started diminishing. Now he and Gram are pretty much house-bound, unable to drive, and when we speak these days, he has a hard time remembering my name or the names of my husband or my siblings; when we see each other in person, he often confuses me for my mother. These are the symptoms of getting old, I tell myself, the payoff for living such a long, hearty, good life. But his eyes still sparkle their brilliant blue; think Paul Newman-blue eyes.

When we talked on the phone last night, though, my grandfather was sharper than he’s been in months. He was chatty and light and knew not only who I was but asked questions about my son and my husband and my home. I didn’t bring up the election—but he did. And this is what he said: “We waited up Tuesday night to see who won this election. A late night, eh? And I am pleased that this young man will be our president. I can’t believe it, a Negro man is president! What a different world. But I’m pleased. It’s scary times right now, isn’t it, love? But I think he will be a good president. You kids will be ok. I think it’ll all be ok.”

And when I hung up the phone I got teary-eyed one more time about the gravity of this week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

More evidence that we watch too much TV

Today's the day, right? Did you vote? Did you stand in line? Did you get butterflies in your tummy when they called your name and said "Now voting!"? Did you call all your friends and family and remind them to vote? If you said yes to any of the above, I'm proud of you. And if you didn't there's still time. Please, go vote. I don't care who you pick -- just do it. We are so fortunate to live in a country where our choices matter. Don't take that for granted.

OK, off the soap box. Lighter tidbit:
My son is walking around the house (school is closed because it's a polling place) repeating this mantra: “I’m Barakabama and I approve this mechage.” And then I just turned on the boob tube (because I can’t stay away from the news today, even though I really should) and there was a McCain ad on, and Sweet Boy said “Look, mom, that’s John McCain.”

So either my child is really attentive and smart for a 3-year-old and already aware of his civic responsibility... or the television is on way too often in this house. I'm guessing the latter to be more true than the former.

However, when I asked him who he was voting for, he responded with a great big smile “Oh, you silly mommy, I like Barakabama. He makes people clap they hands.”

Good boy. You get to eat a Reeses Cup for breakfast.

Oh, by the way -- today is Big Daddy's birthday. He's celebrating by, um, sitting on the recliner with the TV on...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cute photos to calm pre-election jitters

I'm too nervous about tomorrow's election to write much of anything useful or intelligent.

So, here I'll post some cute little photos of my Sweet Boy in his Halloween costume.

And then I'll stress-eat some more of his candy.

And I'll continue to imagine how the world might be for him if we can innaugurate you-know-who on January 20.

Have you ever seen so many Spideys or Power Rangers gathered in one place?

My boy loves to sing the Black Cat Skat song...

...but he really hates masks (just like his mama!)

Here he's practicing his very cutest
smile and "trick-or-treeeeeat!"

All aboard the Sweet Boy Express...choo-choo!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pinch me, please -- my Phillies won!

I've been a waste of space this entire week, thank you, Phillies.

I have not been able to focus on much of anything, I have been nervous and jittery, and I have caught myself more than once humming the Rocky theme. Monday evening I finally let myself get excited, only to have my World Series dreams put on hold...and then I spent the entire day Tuesday in a phog (that's right, I did spell it that way!) not sure of what to do with myself during the longest rain delay in baseball history; I was truly unfulfilled, confused, and sad. All I could think was, dammit, this is a Philadelphia team, after all...something bad is surely going to happen at the last minute and knock us all down. Again. Just like always.

But by Wednesday afternoon, I'd regained my mojo and the buzz was back. Forty-six hours after Game 5 was called on account of a seeming monsoon, I (politely) kicked friends and neighbors out of my house -- people who had gathered to talk about books, eat, and drink wine, three of my favorite things! -- so I could sit in front of the television and cheer for my team.

Then finally, last night, around 9:45, I looked at my husband and said "This is it, isn't it? It's the top of the 9th...Oh. My. God..." He ran upstairs and woke up Sweet Boy (who of course had no idea what was going on, but we weren't about to let him miss it), and the three of us sat huddled on and around the recliner. I was on the floor in front of Big Daddy, his hand clutching my shoulder, and with two outs in the 9th, he said, "Babe, you've gotta breathe...I can feel your heart pounding through your back." I had my hands over my face and my knees pulled up to my chest, almost protecting myself from the disaster that I was still sure was going to happen -- a home run, a hit batter, a freaking airplane crashing in the middle of the field! -- I just couldn't believe that we were going to actually win a championship.

When that final pitch went over the plate, I screamed a scream that couldn't be stopped. It came up from my belly, uncontrollable. My son was scared and crying, and I kept saying "I'm sorry, baby -- AGGGHHH! -- I'm sorry, baby --- AGGHHH! -- Mommy's ok, I'm sorry --- AGGGHHH!" My friends and family called on the phone and we all stood screaming together. No words. Just screaming. Sweet Boy looked on in confusion and horror, but then joined in the jumping and screaming, too. He'll get it someday.

Today, I swear the sun is shining more brightly than ever. There's an electricity in the air that I've never experienced. People I've encountered are smiling and polite -- and they all have the same kind of stupefied, I-just-smoked-a-doobie kind of expression. The one I see in the mirror, in fact.

If you've not been a Phillies Phan since birth, it's going to be hard for you to understand this mania. And it's true, I admit: We're ridiculous, I'm ridiculous, this is ridiculous. You're looking at me and thinking, really? Baseball? Who cares? And I'm sure I'll regain my senses and be very embarrassed in time. But today I'll continue to giggle and jump up and down and recount my favorite moments of the post-game coverage. (Did you see the phootage of Harry Kalas and Wheels in the press box? Priceless! These men are like my summertime uncles, and the joy on their faces nearly brought me to tears. And Charlie Manuel, who is married to baseball, speaking more eloquently to the throngs of screaming fans than I have ever seen him speak to a room full of reporters. And Jamie Moyer -- you phabulous old pitcher, you. And Pat Burrell high-fiving the people in the stands. And the sign in the outfield that said "Mitch, you're off the hook." I could go on for hours...)

I have lived my entire life simply loving baseball but really loving the Phillies -- even though I have never, ever thought of them as a championship team. (I was 4 when they won the other WS...don't remember it at all.) They've always just been my team -- scrappy and funky and working-class and beautiful in their historical shabbiness, just like their city -- playing baseball and winning a few here and there, giving us something to listen to during the barbeque or a fun July evening outing -- but never the best team. And Philadelphia has always been my city; I've said a lot recently that I'm NJ by birth, Delaware by circumstance, Philadelphia by heart. It makes me so happy to see my city, my family, my friends so happy.

I know a World Series victory means nothing in the grand scheme of life. Really, I do. I haven't completely lost my mind. But this week, this moment, it is awesome. It is bigger and better than I ever even imagined. It is all-consuming and I'm completely willing to lose myself a bit to it. Of course we'll all talk about this time for years, just like all sports fans do, and we'll recount the final game to our children and grandchildren, to be sure.

But even more, in this moment we have hope and happiness in a time so otherwise full of gloom and uncertainty. All things seem possible today. Last night when that last pitch crossed the plate, I screamed for my team and I screamed for all the dreams that once seemed so far out that they weren't even speakable. I think you know the dreams of which I speak...let's hope this high carries right on through next week, too -- and the next four years or more. It's a feeling I could surely get used to.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Baseball Gods, please have mercy!

Dear Baseball Gods,
Here in the Philadelphia region, we have been very patient Phans. Since the days of Schmidt and Carlton and Matthews, we have suffered through long, torturous seasons in hard plastic seats hundreds of feet from the field in that horrible concrete toilet bowl known as Veterans Stadium. Now we have this fancy, pretty new stadium and we are so grateful. And our team has been pretty good these last few years. We appreciate that, of course.

Sure, we boo when our Phils lose games in the preseason, but that's because we expect so much from them! But we also cheer. Loudly. I could hear the celebration of the NL Championship in 1993 from central Pennsylvania, for pete's sake. We got so close that year, Baseball Gods, but you did not smile on us then. I still cringe when I think of that meatball that Mitch Williams served up in the bottom of the 9th of game 6...

So many times we've come so close, in all our sports, only to have the ultimate victory pulled away from us in the final moments. We hesitate to get too excited anymore because we know the pain that comes later is just too great. Yesterday, though, right around the third inning of Game 5, the thrill finally started to settle in...we were finally letting ourselves get excited about our team finally winning a World Series.

And then you stepped in and made bad things happen! The rain and win and tie score in the middle of the 6th inning has left us sad and confused. Why do you continue to punish us?

We ask you now, O Wise and Powerful Baseball Gods, have mercy on us. Smile on our Phillies. Bring that excitement and buzz back to this region. We really, really need it now more than ever. Did I mention there's a box of Tastykakes, a couple cheesesteaks, a dozen soft pretzels, and a case of Yuengling in it for you?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Candy, candy, candy, candy

If you're anything like me, you're psyched for Halloween not just because you get to see your kid glowing and happy in his new James the Red Train costume (which is truly a gooby costume but he's been uber-excited about it since you brought it home in July), nor because there's a chill in the air and the sound of children's laughter wafting through the streets. Oh, and there are jack-o-lanterns to carve and parades to walk in and fabulous photo ops. These are perfectly good reasons to get excited about Halloween, of course.

But if you're like me, you're really psyched for Halloween because your husband will take your sweet child out trolling for free candy! And where will all the free candy go? In the jar in the back of the pantry closet, to be doled out in small portions as "special treats" when the child finishes his veggies.

Right. We all know most of it will go right in my belly.

Halloween is just the start of the eating season around my house. So in an attempt to hold off my next round of rapid weight gain and its accompanying self loathing, I found this
handy little tool for planning the candy consumption. This also might be helpful in planning what you buy to hand out to the little ghouls and goblins who knock on your door, just in case you have leftovers.

I think I'll stick to the Hershey Kisses and Minis, and perhaps a few Twix bars. All this time I've been thinking the non-chocolate treats were a safer bet, but that doesn't look to be the case. Although I will surely eat enough candy corn to make me ill. I just love that stuff.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Better luck next year

Drinking cocoa and watching the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, picking out and decorating a Christmas tree, baking Christmas cookies, making Valentine cards, dying Easter eggs, watching 4th of July fireworks, and carving Halloween jack-o-lanterns... These are a few of the holiday traditions I have been excited to do with Sweet Boy, now especially because he is finally old enough that he can do this stuff with us and be excited about it. (My favorite line from this summer was sitting at his first fireworks display, not sure how he would react to the noise, when he turned to me and said "Mommy, this is fantastic!" That's my boy.) I was sure that carving a jack-o-lantern out of the pumpkin he picked would also be fantastic.


Sweet Boy wanted NO PART of this. He was horrified by the idea of putting his hands in the "gloop" as he called it. And note the expression on his face while Big Daddy pretended to eat the pumpkin guts. This kid is not happy!

About two seconds after this photo was taken, the crying began. Once we got the tears to stop, he just went off to play while Big Daddy finished carving and I finished picking out the seeds to roast. And then, when it was finished and we lit the candle inside, Sweet Boy just stood there saying "I don't like that spooky guy" over and over. So the jack-o-lantern now lives on the front steps, not on the dining room table as planned.

Oh well. There's always next year.

At least Big Daddy is proud of his Halloween creation.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Primer: Health care

Babble is featuring a great article about health care, its history in the U.S., how we got into the current state of ickiness, and how the major presidential candidates propose to fix things. Read it.

(You'll also learn in this article why Norway tops my list of places to move my family if things don't go well on November 4. Norway = many tall people + socialized health care + "prosperous bastion of welfare capitalism, featuring a combination of free market activity and government intervention" --- wow, sounds pretty good, don't it?)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Someone else wrote eloquently...and I'm just passing it on

I happened across this blog post in some reading yesterday (not really even sure how I landed on it), and although I don't want to get into any kind of abortion debate on this blog because we all have strong feelings about this topic, I feel that this woman writes her feelings so eloquently I have to share it.

Issue aside, McCain's disrespectful handling of this question in last week's debate demonstrated the overall disrespect for women that I'd begun to suspect (and his body language and tone demonstrated his disrespect for his opponent...but that's off-topic). His stance on women's issues -- health and reproductive care, education, women in poverty -- shows over and over his (dis)regard for women in our society. (And we all know now about his first wife and the circumstances that ended their marriage, right? That right there tells me a little bit about his feelings of women's worth.)

His actions in this campaign -- offering his current wife up for a wet t-shirt contest or calling her the c-word, laughing when colleagues refer to Hillary Clinton as "the bitch," and well, picking his nonsense-speaking VP candidate when there must be a few much more qualified Republican women out there -- just punctuate how little he (and perhaps the Republican party in general) thinks of us women. Which is too bad, because truly, when it's all said and done, we run the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Take me out to the ball game

The Phillies are going to the World Series. This is thrilling. Not really because it means much in the grand scheme of life, mind you. But in this moment in my life, it is huge.

Baseball means different things to different people -- and I think you either love it or you hate it. I mean, really, it's boring and slow. But there is no other game in the world that can change so quickly, in which one small error can be the difference between winning or losing. I don't think there's any other game, either, that carries such nostalgia and sentimentality.

I grew up on baseball. Literally. The whole time I was growing up, my dad was a coach for a nationally ranked high school baseball team. When I was really young, in addition to coaching, my dad played on two softball teams. Looking back from a mom-wife perspective, I'm not sure how my parents remained married -- him off coaching and playing while my mom did all the schlepping of two young children -- but from a kid's perspective, it was great: my spring afternoons and evenings were spent rolling down the grassy hill next to the field, eating water ice in the stands, cheering as dad's players scored another run or, even better, when dad whacked the softball beyond the centerfielder's head. (A serious piece of dad wisdom I carry with me to this day: If you can't run fast, you better hit it hard.)

Baseball was on the TV a lot when we were kids, or on the radio. The sound of Harry Kalas's voice calling a game still sends me back. When I was a child I wanted to be the first female major leaguer. And today, really, I can imagine no better job in the world than to be a professional baseball player. Of course as I got older, my fantasies revolved around becoming a baseball wife -- is there anything sexier than a man in a baseball uniform?

The last time the Phils got this far into fall ball, it was 1993. In the spring, I was a senior in high school; in the fall I was a freshman in college. In between, I was a rabid Phillies fan. That summer was one of the most exciting, hopeful, happy times of my life -- for many reasons of course. But that's all somehow wrapped up in my brain in a Phillie Phanatic suit.

One of the most excellent afternoons of my young life was the day of my HS graduation. Ater rehearsal a bunch of us hopped on the train, then the subway, to see an afternoon Phillies game. They played their arch-rivals, the Braves, that day, and completely lit'em up in the 7th inning. We had planned to leave the game early to get home with plenty of time to get ready for graduation, but we ended up staying through all the excitement -- I still get goosebumps remembering 40,000 people doing that tomahawk chop to mock the Braves pitchers -- and we didn't get home until about 20 minutes before the ceremony started. My mom literally threw my dress over my head as I chugged down some water and ran out the door. I delivered my salutatorian speech with a fiercely sunburned forehead, the roar of the crowd lingering in my ears, and the smell of cotton candy still in my nose. It rocked.

I worked in an ice cream shop that summer, and we played the games on the radio. We ran specials (unknown to the owner) every time the Phils scored. And it was cheaper to go to a game at the Vet and sit in the nosebleed section than it was to go to a movie, so my friends and I went to a lot of games. We'd sit so far away you could barely see the ball leave the pitcher's hand, but we'd laugh and eat peanuts and start the wave in our own little section. Pure fun.

So anyway, baseball means a lot to me, especially Phillies baseball. It's summer and friends and happy, simple times. It's my dad and my childhood. It's sunshine and ice cream and silliness.

And cheering for the hometown team in a championship brings people together in a way that nothing else can. Right now especially, at a time when I often feel overwhelmed by so many adult responsibilities and anxieties, it's nice to have something so simple to get excited about.

Go Phils!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Paying kids for grades?

I read an interesting article in the Washington Post this week about a new program that actually gives middle school students a paycheck for achieving good grades and meeting attendance standards:

The District's experimental program to pay 3,300 middle school students for good grades and behavior is filled with valuable life lessons about hard work, thrift and showing up on time, its supporters say.

And on yesterday's first payday under the "Capital Gains" plan, kids at the 15 eligible schools cashed in. They earned a total of $137,813 from the initiative, a joint venture of the District and Harvard University. Students can earn a maximum of $100 every two weeks. The average award yesterday was $43.

The article doesn't state what, exactly, the standards are that these kids are aiming toward, but it does say that some of the programs goals have been met -- and the administration anticipates that as the kids realize what exactly they'll be receiving every two weeks, their grades and attendance will continually improve.

Hmm. Not sure what to think about this. On one hand, sure, give the kids some incentive to achieve. Many of them probably come from lower income households in which school is not necessarily a priority. Maybe giving them a paycheck will keep them motivated to focus on their education, and it may help their families make ends meet without forcing young kids to get jobs (or worse, earn money illegally).

But is this really the best way to spend grant money? What about providing $200/month/child to fix up the school facilities or offer more extra-curricular programs? Or paying the teachers better so they're motivated to do their jobs? What about putting that money into tutoring programs or before- and after-school programs that keep kids safe and healthy? What are these kids going to do with the money they earn? The article cites at least one who's running to the mall. How about teaching students how to invest it so they can capitalize on their good grades and go to college or buy a first car or home?

I don't think I'm on board.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Top 10 reasons why my neighbor might not be speaking to me

I thought I'd started to develop a nice little friendship with my neighbor. She's really a lovely woman -- smart and funny and friendly. But in the last 6 weeks or so, she has become cold and unfriendly to me. Of course I am too chicken to go bang on her door and say, "What's up?!" so instead my little brain has been turning, guessing as to why she may not want to talk to me anymore:

10. She thinks my husband was serious about attending the kegger her kids might throw while she and her husband were out of town.

9. My cat snuck out and ate the goldfish out of her garden pond.

8. She's switched from regular coffee to decaf...or from decaf to Haterade.

7. She's offended by how horribly I've hacked down the shrubs in my front and side gardens.

6. She saw me running through the house naked that morning a couple weeks back, when I realized all my undies were in the dryer, and now she thinks I'm trying to seduce her husband....or worse, her sons! (Worse still -- she saw me running naked through the house and was completely disgusted and nauseated!)

5. I haven't yet invited her to Book Club. (She should be grateful!)

4. My dad has really annoys her every Thursday when he leaves by repeatedly driving back and forth in front of our house, honking and waving to Sweet Boy. (Could she be jealous that he's not waving to her?)

3. I offended her when I offered her son only $20 to mow our yard. (What's the going rate?)

2. She heard me yell and cuss and threaten bodily harm at Sweet Boy when he played with his poop on the train table. (What's worse, the cussing or the face that my kid plays with poop?)

1. She knows I'm voting straight Democrat on November 4.

I'm working up the courage to go over there to find out what's going on, and maybe I'll know before the weekend's through; we're usually outside working in our respective gardens on Saturday mornings. I'm thinking she's just stressed out, with school starting and three sons and a husband to care for and a household to run, and she probably hasn't even noticed that she's ignored me for 6 weeks. Yeah, that's it.

(Of course, Neighbor, if you're reading this, know it's all in good fun. I value your friendship, and I think you and your family are great neighbors. And I really miss you!)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Here's a really fun idea for a girls' night in

Dime Night
* Get a box and fill it with the weird little trinkets, strange canned goods, and no-longer-needed items sitting around your house. Great sources include your coat closet, your kid's toy bin, your garage, and your pantry.
* Invite 5-10 of your girlfriends over. Tell them to fill their own boxes with stuff, and bring 'em along with a baggie full of change.
* Sit around drinking wine, eating cheese, gabbing about your kids and your parents and your husbands, and bidding on the items your girlfriends brought over.
* Start the bidding on each item at one dime, and see who can come up with the best marketing campaign for their old hairdryer, the ugly novelty photo frame their MIL gave them, or the pair of St. Paddy's Day socks they grabbed on impulse at RiteAid last year.
* All proceeds go into a pot, and at the end of the night you donate the kitty to your favorite church or charity. Any leftover items can also be donated (or saved for the next yard sale).

This leads to some seriously fun times, ladies. Be creative, too, in the items you auction...some of my favorites have included a used maternity bra, a sequined red gown, and plastic lawn flamingo.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stay at home Dad

How's this for a dream day: Big Daddy gets Sweet Boy out of bed and on the potty while I go on an early-morning walk with my friend, then they play and read books in bed until I get home and jump into bed with them. Then Big Daddy dresses the boy while I shower and feeds him breakfast while I get dressed. We all drive to preschool together and I wait in the car while the boys saunter into the classroom, stopping occasionally to chat with the mommies he met at the birthday part on Sunday. Big Daddy and I then go out for a cup of coffee and a bagel and sit together reading the paper in the coffee shop for a few minutes like a contended old married couple. Bellies full, he drops me off at home so I can get to work while he runs around town finishing errands. He picks up Sweet Boy from preschool and takes him to lunch. They bring me lunch back to the house and I don't even have to leave my desk, and Big Daddy gets Sweet Boy ready for his nap. He then turns his attention to some small household projects that we've both neglected for lack of time (or interest) on the weekends. I continue to work, on a bit of a high after some really positive feedback on my current project. After the napping and working is done, the happy threesome travels to Bucks County to watch our nephew's football game in the warm autumn sun.

This is too amazing a day to even dream of...but it really happened. Today. And it was wonderful. Big Daddy stayed home from work -- mental health day -- and took care of me and Sweet Boy all day long. I seriously could get used to this.

There was a time early in Sweet Boy's life that we discussed Big Daddy becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. We were disgusted by our childcare options, and hated leaving our baby with a stranger all day. I had the higher salary, more stable job, and better benefits. And we both know he would be great at it, really. He has infinitely more patience than I do, still has more child-like instincts than I do (which makes him a better play-pal) but has more disciplinary instincts as well. And he doesn't mind housework or cooking when he has time to do it; he also loves running errands. He could very well raise our child and manage our household if that was his full-time job. Turns out my job responsibilities shifted and I was able to do this wacky three-day-a-week telecommuting dream schedule, so I've been able to balance both the working and the parenting and the household-running while Big Daddy has kept his job in the big city, as well. But today I'm thinking about what might have been.

Truth be told, I would suck at stay-at-home parenting. I love my child, of course, but I also really love my job. I love working. Maybe not the aggravation of the 9-to-5 routine and hustle, but I love the interaction and challenge of my work. (I also love to go to the bathroom by myself, but that's just a bonus.) During the three months that I stayed home with the newborn love of my life, I was bored and miserable. Granted he was a blob of screaming, eating, pooping baby at that time. It might be much more interesting and exciting to me these days to be home with him every day, now that we can enjoy playgrounds and libraries and eating ice cream together. But I still really love going in to my office a couple times a week. I have a huge amount of respect for SAHMs because they have the hardest, most important job in the world. I just don't know that I'm cut out for it.

But my husband is. Maybe someday, if I can get off my creative butt and finally write that bestseller so we no longer are swamped with debt and bills, we can give it a try -- me the sole breadwinner, him the childrearer. Of course by that point the baby will be grown and out of the house...but one can dream.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Obama comes to Mayfair...and we were there!

There are very few people in the world for whom my husband will get out of bed at 5:30 on a Saturday morning. But when I mentioned Friday afternoon that Barack Obama was going to hold a rally outside the Mayfair Diner, which happens to be 3 blocks from his mother's home in the neighborhood he grew up in, Big Daddy didn't even hesitate before saying, "Absolutely, we'll go!"

So I roused Sweet Boy from his angelic (sweaty and drooly) slumber at 6:00 this morning and hustled him into his clothes, telling him we were going for a ride to Nana's house to see a very important and exciting man. And he responded, "Is he gonna bring us breakfast?" Well, no, but I promise you, kiddo, it'll be even better than pancakes.

We got to Mayfair around 7:00 and Sweet Boy and I joined the line of thousands while Big Daddy took the car to his mom's house to park. We didn't see him again until we were through the security gate an hour later because he got swept away in the throngs that flooded Cottman Avenue. It was a generally subdued crowd (what do you expect so early in the morning?) but there was a palpaple buzz of energy. Even Sweet Boy knew something big was going on -- it must be a special day if mommy lets me sit on a city sidewalk, pick up pennies from the cracks, and eat a donut from a stranger!

(Believe it or not, this was Sweet Boy's second Democratic presidential rally...but for the first one he was a mere cluster of cells in my belly. That was the day I attended the Kerry rally in center city four years ago that I realized I quite possibly was pregnant, as the waves of nausea just wouldn't let up.)

This rally was the most organized event I think I've ever attended. I had no idea that a few thousand people could be so well behaved -- we all just walked calmly through the security checkpoint and metal detectors, chattering and laughing and occasionally chanting "O-ba-ma!" My only moment of anxiety came when we got to the metal detectors, though, because they were moving people through so quickly that Sweet Boy and I got separated; even though he was only about 5 feet away from me, with so many people around we both got nervous when our hands came apart. But the officer at the metal detector noticed, and he held Sweet Boy's hand and kept him (and me) calm while I went through security and collected my belongings.

Big Daddy found us pretty quickly, which is good because the anxiety started to surge again as I realized just how tightly packed we were going to be; I had a moment of "oh crap, I can't carry this boy by myself for very long." However, this is one of the only times I love being a Tall Girl, when I'm in a large crowd. I can see over just about every head, and when I put my kid on my shoulders, you can spot us from two blocks away. We got a great spot, right around the center of the crowd, and we had a great view of the podium.

Before the speakers started, a little boy led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. I haven't said these words in years, probably since my graduation ceremony. And I have never felt chills when I said them. Standing in that crowd, hearing that little boy's voice above the others and holding my own little boy in my arms, I fought tears. I thought of why we were there, I looked around and noticed the hodge-podge of skin colors, the mix of blue collar, white collar, retired, struggling, and well-off -- I realized we were standing on the verge of history. I thought of my mom, as I so often do, and I knew she would have loved to be there by my side. I think she always dreamed of this day, and I really wish she could have seen it. She would have been proud of us, of this city, of this country.

Obama soon took the stage with my favorite U2 song playing -- I love it that this man plays U2, Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder at all his rallies -- and we all went berserk. But people want to hear his words, so they settle down very quickly and pay attention. Sweet Boy made it almost all the way through Obama's speech -- he was so tired! -- but started to really lose it when the chanting began. I very calmly looked in his eyes and said "Sweetie, I'm sorry you're upset, but there's nothing to be scared of. It's happy yelling. Exciting. Mommy and Daddy are right here, not going anywhere, and this is a very important day for us. So stop crying. Now." In other words, no way, Jose, are we leaving now!

Obama's speech was fantastic, as always, goosebump-inducing and poignant. The man just fills me with so much optimism -- it's almost too much, though, and I find myself sometimes thinking, "Is this possible? Can he do these things that he's talking about?" I've decided to believe. A few months ago I hadn't yet heard him say anything substantial about his plans as President, but I think we have all seen him come into his own as a leader. He's much more than an orator these days; I feel like he really is ready to go.

And I tell you what, today he said some things that really knocked my socks off. Beyond the all-consuming economic stuff, bigger than the healthcare initiative, and more powerful than ending the war, he talks about giving back to our country. All of us. Volunteering our time and working for the greater good. Fixing the fundamental problems in our schools and in our communities, the little things that chip away at our foundation. Ensuring that our children have a real shot at amazing futures. He restores my faith in this country, he reminds me that there's more to us than uberconsumerism, and he helps me to remember how much potential there is here. He makes me want to be a better American.

It's not often that I feel like a cool mom, but today was definitely a cool-mom day. I took my kid to a political rally! I am so glad we decided to do this instead of pumpkin picking. (Oh, by the way, we did take Sweet Boy for his pancakes afterward...he deserved a mountain of pancakes!)

Just before bedtime this evening, while watching the football game, an Obama ad came on and Sweet Boy said "Look mom, it's Barack Obama! I know him!" And I hope someday we will look at the photos we took and say, "Remember, buddy? This is the day we saw President Obama speaking in Nana's neighborhood." Again, I choose hope.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Hi, my name is..."

Imagine this scenario: You walk into the library with your child and immediately spot another child from preschool. You say, "Look, honey, there's little Anna! Hi Anna!" And your child runs right over to Anna for a big ol' giggly hug or high five. You look at Anna's mom and smile and exchange pleasantries, and then you walk away telling your child "Say goodbye to Anna and her mommy." You see this woman every day at pick-up and drop-off, and you run into her in the library, grocery market, playground; you've spent hours chatting with her at birthday parties or at the preschool Halloween parade. But do you know her name?

I spend so much energy trying to teach my son to have good manners, to be friendly and outgoing. Every time he encounters a new child, he walks right over and says "I'm Sweet Boy, what's your name?" I'm always so proud of his bravery.

I'm a friendly person, I think. I mean, I have no problem talking to a stranger in line at Target or while pushing the kiddo in the swing at the playground. But for some reason, when it comes to actually introducing myself and asking another person's name, I'm socially deficient. I've always been this way -- weddings, parties, workplace functions -- I'm somehow embarrassed to just reach out and say, "Hi, I'm TallGirl. Can you remind me of your name?" As if the person will either (a) laugh, (b) run away, (c) just plain hate me, or (d) think I'm an idiot because I have been smiling and saying hello for over a year without ever asking their name.

This is one of the things I love most about my husband -- he has no problem walking into any social situation and making new friends. We will go to a party, for instance, where we know no one but the host, and we will leave with very detailed information about at least five of the guests because Big Daddy just knows how to introduce himself and make conversation. I, on the other hand, am awkward.

So, in my continued efforts to step outside my comfort zone in teeny tiny ways every week, I made a goal for myself this week to reach out and introduce myself to a couple of the moms I see so often. The first attempt was a complete bomb. It went something like this: At the YMCA pool after Sweet Boy's swim class, I noticed one of the moms from his preschool class sitting near our flip-flops. So as we were putting on our flops, I said hello, and we chatted for a second, and as we were about to leave, I reached out my (dripping) hand and said, "You know, we chat so often, and I don't think I ever introduced myself -- I'm TallGirl." She took my hand and smiled, but the look on her face was complete confusion. And you know the best part? She didn't tell me her name! So I walked away wondering, did I annoy her with my dripping wet handshake? Could she hear me over the din of the splashing kids? And it quickly disintrigrated to, Does she think I'm stupid? Does she think I'm ugly? Is she going to tell all her friends about the crazy, socially awkward woman in her bathing suit who approached her at poolside -- and laugh?!

However, just as I'd recovered from this debacle, I had a much better encounter with another preschool mom yesterday. It restored my faith not only in myself but in the friendliness of others: Sweet Boy and I went to a local playground for lunch, and one of his buddies from his class was there too. Of course he ran right over and jumped on the swing next to his friend, and I said hello to the mom. Just as I had mustered enough courage to launch my "You know, I never introduced myself" spiel, she looked me square in the face, smiled, and said "Would you remind me of your name? I know we've met, but I'm just terrible remembering names. I'm Cindy."

HOORAY! You can't even imagine my delight to tell her my name, and to laugh at how I always forget. And then making small talk as we watched our little monkeys play together was just so much easier. There wasn't that odd feeling of "but I don't even know your name!" hanging over us. (And I have repeated her name and her children's names about 100 times so I don't forget!)

I'm going to try to take a page from Cindy's book and just go for it when it comes to introductions -- no matter how many times I've seen or talked to the person. I'll let you know how it goes, though, because apparently, from my first encounter, I'm not the only socially awkward mom out there.