Happy Birthday, Shaun Cassidy

 
Shaun Cassidy, 2005

 

I heard on the radio this morning that Shaun Cassidy turns 52 today. They played part of one of his tunes and it took me back. It also made me think about the whole phenomenon of teen idols. I guess ever since the invention of movies, records, and fan magazines, there have been teen idols. If it wasn’t Elvis or the Beatles, it was Bobby Sherman and Davy Jones, David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, Leif and Shaun…a few years later, it was the New Kids on the Block and Mario Lopez.  My sister, 10 years older than me, covered her cork bulletin board with photos of Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits.  My oldest niece, 17 years my junior, once had a giant poster of Neil Patrick Harris as Doogie Howser, MD above her bed.  Geez, those magazines will pounce on just about anything with a pulse! And I think because of that, there is also the phenomenon of “teen idol backlash”.  When stars are pushed in your face so much, some of us rebel. 

 


It’s sad—Justin Bieber does have talent, but because he’s promoted so heavily, my daughters can’t stand him, and based on what I’ve read on the Internet, many other teens echo their feelings.  It was the same for me, David, and Donny.  Today, I’d pay to see them perform.  But when I was ten, I spent time defacing their “centerfolds”.  I laughed hard a few years ago after finding something similar on Emmie’s bedroom floor—she and Allison had friends sleep over the night before, and they’d taken a Sharpie and spent lots of time (and giggles) drawing (among other things) devil horns, a moustache, a beard, high heels and numerous speech and thought bubbles on a “lifesize” poster of Zac Efron.  Ah, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

But if that’s the case, then Allison may be having a real teen idol crush coming along at any minute. Because 10th grade is when I finally lusted after a teen idol… Yes, after everyone had long ago put away their pop star magazines, I started buying them again. I couldn’t help it—one look at Shaun Cassidy singing “Surfin’ USA” on a “Hardy Boys Mysteries” TV episode and I was hooked (and I remember the exact moment, where I was and what I was wearing when it happened…). I hadn’t even been a fan of that show, but it happened to be on the screen when I walked into the house one evening—and the rest is history.

My feelings faded slightly faster than his star, but it was fun while it lasted. It was fun listening to his albums, fun waiting to see him on TV each week and fun snapping up the latest issue of Tiger Beat and 16 as soon as they appeared on newsstands. Amazingly, among the few things that I’ve saved from my Wonder Years are four issues of Tiger Beat and “16” Magazine, ranging from 1970-1977.  So in honor of Shaun’s birthday, I decided to dig them out of a cabinet and share some of the contents from the one with his photo on the cover.

From a “Tiger Beat Super Special”, circa 1977 (price- $1.00):

 

-The cover headlines: SHAUN: Singer, Actor…Heartthrob!; FARRAH- The Most Popular Angel?; Goofing off with THE ROLLERS!; and The Jealous Side of LEIF!

 

-It also stated on the cover that this was a Giant Photo Issue! (Aren’t they all?) “More Than 400 Pictures Inside!”  Wow!! What were they? Well the four-color, slick ones were Leif Garrett on the ski slopes (featuring his autograph, printed by a machine!), The Bay City Rollers (I actually liked them, too but that’s a whole other story); Donny and Marie (check out those teeth!); The Jacksons (without Michael); Shaun (of course) and Parker Stevenson (but the Shaun part was cut out); Charlie’s Angels; and Robby Benson.  The rest of the “400” were all on black and white newsprint, which, after 33 years, I was worried were going to disintegrate in my hands…

 

-The inside articles: six on The Rollers, four about Charlie’s Angels; three articles on Leif (yes, Leif sang “Surfin’ USA, too); three on Shaun; “The Many Faces of Valerie” (Bertinelli); “John Travolta: Meet His Mom and Dad”; the favorite soups of about 15 different stars (who knew Tony DeFranco liked Minestrone?) with special serving tips for when you’re fixing “your special guy” dinner (“for something different, try the coffee table in the living room instead of the dining room table”) and complete menus for “what if” you were fixing dinner for your favorite star (darn, if only I’d fixed a Polynesian dinner for Shaun); and an article entitled, “Marie the Mother: Can You Picture Marie as a Mother? She Can!”.  Among the 90 pages was also “Donny’s FREE Day” (How he spends his time); “Starsky and Hutch: Tired of Each Other?; “621 Super Facts about The Captain and Tennille”, and all about Kaptain Kool and the Kongs (a Sid and Marty Krofft-made Saturday morning band—anyone remember them?)

 

-Some tidbits from a two-page spread entitled “The Newest Scoops from Hollywood!”:
    Diana Ross to star in “The Wiz”!

    Barbra Streisand sticks out her tongue at a busload of tourists!

    Kate Jackson is steady-dating Warren Beatty!
    
Lindsay Wagner voted “The Most Watchable Actress in America” by the International Society of Girl Watchers!
    Mackenzie Phillips is being groomed for a recording career by her famous father!
    Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is making a comeback after staying in his bathrobe and bedroom for almost three years!
    Neil Diamond not nominated for a Grammy even though his latest album, Beautiful Noise, sells over 2 million copies!
    Alice Cooper is working on a movie with Mae West!
    Jodie Foster wishes people would quit calling her a child actress!
    John Denver will write the theme song for his new movie, “Oh, God!”
    David Hasselhoff, star of the drama “The Young and the Restless”, makes his singing debut on The Merv Griffin Show!

 

Okay, okay, enough page turning for now.  Better go put the magazines back in their Ziploc plastic bags before they self-destruct.  Many Happy Returns, Shaun!

At Least I Buy Fresh Fruit…

I’ve never thought of myself as a domestic diva, but I think I’m at least a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10, between “Barely Knows How To Boil Water” and “While Homemade Bread is Baking In Perfectly Cleaned Oven, She Hand-Paints Her Own Gift Wrap And Coordinating Tags On A Table She’s Refinished All By Herself.”  I mean I did major in journalism and Home Economics.  I was in 4-H for six years as a teenager, sewing and cooking up blue ribbons at the Des Moines County Fair (seriously—stop laughing!!). Once, about a dozen years ago when hosting an Easter dinner for 10, I put 10 fuzzy, jelly bean-sized fake yellow chicks in the doorway of 10 miniature birdhouses and carefully placed a tiny strip of paper into each beak, bearing each guest’s name, as a place marker.  I know how to channel my inner Martha Stewart or Julia Child.  And yet, with a French exchange student living in our house, I’m starting to notice things that would make Julia turn over in her grave.

 

It started when another French AFS student came over after school one day for a visit with Cleo, our French student.  Cleo was fixing a snack and showing her friend what we call our “spray-on butter”.  “Look, they have butter spray!” Cleo remarked in her broken English, holding up the yellow plastic bottle.  The other girl marveled, but I couldn’t tell if it was in disgust or admiration.  I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! is neither butter nor anything else that comes from a cow, for fear they’d be disgusted for sure.  I mean, isn’t the word “gourmet” a French word? Didn’t the French invent the art of fine dining? (And isn’t real butter, lots of it, a mainstay of that dining?)

 

Since then, I’ve noticed other ways our domestic style might be seen as “less than fine”.  I use a wet Swiffer to mop the tile floors and disposable dust rags for the furniture.  Thanks to evening meetings for Andy and/or me, we pick up Subway’s $2.49 Sub of the Day for everyone at least one night each week, and take-out fried chicken with macaroni and cheese if there’s a second busy night.  “Your dinner’s in the fridge, just grab it whenever you’re hungry!” I tell the kids.  We each have our own “special” drinking glass that we rinse and re-use to avoid filling up the dishwasher every day with a zillion different glasses (Andy’s has a holographic image of Van Halen on it; Emmie’s is a giant lime green plastic ice cream cone…).  We scramble our eggs in the microwave.  Bake muffins from a boxed mix and scones from a refrigerated tube.  Use canned, diced tomatoes in many recipes instead of fresh.  Buy lots of quick-fix frozen foods, like Lean Pockets, vegetables, dinner rolls, pizza…


Are we just a bunch of crass Americans? No, just busy Americans. 
But at least we sit down together for a meal several nights each week, even if we don’t get started until 8 p.m. And if that means cutting corners in order to make it happen, well then bring on the instant mashed potatoes. I’d much rather be that kind of a family than the one described to me by a long-time acquaintance a couple months ago—she told me she can’t even remember what year her family was all together for a meal other than on holidays.  And I think I understood Cleo’s words enough to learn that her family members are often on their own when it comes to meals as well.  So, even though my family and I are not “gourmands”, hopefully she enjoys the camaraderie of our family dinners.

 

Which reminds me—I have silver napkin holders in which you can insert a photo, or name card. I need to personalize one for Cleo. And since the first day of autumn was yesterday, maybe I’ll make a table centerpiece of tiny pumpkins and dried gourds while I’m at it…with a nutmeg-scented candle…and maybe a few acorns…

The Passing Period: More Like A Passing Dash

When parents have a bone to pick with a teacher or a school, it’s definitely a whole different ballgame than everyday consumer complaints. Many things race through your head when trying to decide if you should speak out or not.  Will the teacher take it out on my child in the classroom if I complain? Will my complaint really make a difference? Will they laugh at me after I leave? You know there are those parents who are in the principal’s office every week spouting off about this or that.  Will I be labeled as “a complainer”, too? Oh, I may hold up the grocery store line once in awhile to have them do a price check, but not enough to where they’d remember me.  But at a school? Usually you plan on being there for several years, every day for 9 ½ months out of each year.  They’ll remember you. It’s enough to make a parent keep their mouth shut. And many do.  I have complained over the years, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve complained in 10 years.  I try to pick and choose my battles carefully. Like the time Allison’s kindergarten class left the school to walk to a nearby park for an outing, and left Allison behind, in the school bathroom. She came home that night and told me she was a little scared and sad when she realized everyone had gone, and she walked out of the school all by herself and down the street to join the kids at the park playground.  That was definitely complaint-worthy! Then there was the teacher who spent more time screaming at the kids and making them put their heads on their desks than actually teaching them anything.  And the teacher who would routinely leave the classroom, during class, to chat with other teachers in the hall for long periods of time, and also leave group tutoring sessions in the same way, sessions that kids had gotten up at the crack of dawn to attend.  “Talk amongst yourselves,” she’d say, and leave.  It took me a long time to come forward on that one. She was an award-winning teacher.  But the kids were getting disillusioned, and their grades were tanking.  Though other parents knew about the problem, I was one of only two who came forward and said anything. “Why did you wait so long?” the principal said.

Now another problem that has been festering for awhile has finally come to the surface, and I think I need to put it on the list of “worth complaining about”.  Only to who, and how, I’m not quite sure.  Here’s the issue: remember how “back in the day” in jr. high and high school, we used to have 10 minutes between classes? We could used the restroom, or stand at our lockers and brush our hair using the mirror in our cool “locker caddy”, or walk our significant other to their class and still have time to make it to our own. Well, I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but kids in many jr. high and high schools today only have 5 minutes between classes.  Our school district is no exception.  Allison’s high school is huge, with row upon row of beautiful, blue painted lockers, and NO ONE — USES THEM.  Bond money was used to build even more lockers a few years ago when 9th grade was added to the high school, and still, NO ONE — USES THEM.  Seriously.  There’s no time to use them, and as a result, many kids get a huge school bag and carry everything with them, all day, so they won’t be late to class.  Allison’s bag last year was so big, she could have easily taken our dog to school, along with her notebooks, textbooks, and lunch, and no one would have noticed.  That bag was so heavy, I couldn’t carry it more than a couple steps. It’s no wonder she’s been told by a dance teacher that her shoulders are out of alignment!  But that’s not the main reason I want to complain about the short passing periods.  The worst casualty of cramming as many classes as possible into one day is that kids, especially girls, don’t have time to use the restroom between classes.  And during class, many teachers have a policy of zero bathroom breaks, or they give kids 6 bathroom passes to use for the entire semester.  Huh? I hadn’t heard about this much in the past because Allison had “potty-friendly teachers”, but this year she doesn’t, and said she was almost in tears one day last week by around 4:00 pm.  I did the math.  She hadn’t been able to use the restroom since 9 that morning.  Ouch. And in the “mean girls” pecking order of the cafeteria lunch table, if she gets up at lunch to use the restroom, she says her seat will be taken when she gets back… so she doesn’t get up. 

Two days after Allison told me this, a friend of mine remarked that her daughter, a new 7th grader, could hardly concentrate on learning anything because of the “potty policy” of her teachers, and said the daughter told her that now she and her friends won’t hardly drink any water at lunch so they won’t feel uncomfortable later.  I realized the same thing happens at the high school.  Allison, and Cleo, rarely pack drinks in their lunches. Don’t kids need to stay hydrated, especially when the weather is still 100 degrees outside? Can’t you get kidney infections from “holding it in” all day? And, if we can get really frank here for a moment—where there are teenage girls, there are menstruating girls.  Just when do they have time to take care of that issue? Can we say “at greater risk of toxic shock”?  

Naturally, I feel compelled to do something about this. I have a gut feeling that not many parents, if any, have felt the same way. (And even if they did, who has the time??? And who wants to talk about kidneys??? Or tampons??????) But, to whom do you complain? The school nurse?  The principal? The underlying problem is the scheduling, and it would probably take an act of God to add more time to the passing periods, which would lengthen the school day.  But I do have one ace up my sleeve.  I sit on a district-wide School Health Advisory Committee, composed of principals, parents, physical education teachers, school nurses and school dieticians.  I’ve been on it for years, and we just happen to be having our first meeting of the semester tomorrow morning.  Maybe it could be brought up there. (Then again, maybe I will just put my head down on the desk…) 

Ordinary Family

 

Just watched a sneak preview of the new ABC TV show, No Ordinary Family, about a family who discovers they each have a superpower after surviving a plane crash.  And I must say, while I know a lot of people are into superheroes these days, I thought the best parts of the show were the ordinary moments.  The moments that people can relate to, where they can say, yeah, I know someone like that, or wow, they act just like my family. Once the characters started catching bullets or running as fast as one, it wasn’t as “compelling”. But the teen daughter texting all the time, the family being so busy and running in ten different directions, the mom worried about her son’s grades, the dad’s dogged attempts to “make family memories like they used to”— I could relate to all that. The director, or writer, or lead actor Michael Chiklis, or whoever, obviously had gone through the same thing (or knew people who had) and they did a nice job of “painting ordinary”, creating scenes that you know are repeating themselves all across the country.  It’s always nice for families to feel recognized, validated, and that we’re not alone.

 

I think a great coping skill is to have the ability to “see” the beauty in ordinary, sometimes nerve-wracking family moments in our own lives, while they’re taking place— snapping “mental photographs” of the moments that probably won’t make it into a scrapbook but probably should, because they are so much more of what defines a family than some re-touched Olan Mills portrait.  Like the child who is always getting into the car half-dressed, hoping there’s an old pair of socks and a brush left on the backseat in order to finish the job…  or the teenager still  sleeping when she needs to be at school in 10 minutes, lying under a comforter that is covered in clothes and other “stuff”…or the husband who rearranges the furniture and lighting before every televised Dallas Cowboy game in order to create the perfect “lair” for optimum viewing.  For me, it’s even better when there are a lot of ordinary things going on at the same time, under one roof.  Like at our former house, when I’d be cooking dinner and Andy would be fixing a bathroom faucet and our girls would be dancing in tutus to Broadway tunes in the living room and actually getting along.  Or one recent evening, when Emmie was crying monster tears on her homework at the kitchen table and loudly wailing about how she now hates her time-consuming gymnastics schedule but doesn’t want to quit, while Luke was barking at a neighbor’s cat through the front windows, and at the same time, Allison, studying next to Cleo in the dining room, was begging Andy to allow the use of an Ipod as part of a homework assignment. 

Extremely frustrated with the whole scene, he sighed and said, “This family has serious problems” before heading to bed. I just smiled, kissed away Emmie’s tears, and finished taking another mental snapshot, a very “ordinary” one.

Friday Freebie: Netbook/Laptop Case

From now until October 1st, get a free “Uncool Mom” netbook case or laptop case with every $40 order from the Uncool Shop! Or, you can just order one of the cases for around $15. I just entered the laptop world a couple months ago and am really loving it.  All moms of teenagers should have one– when they’re driving you crazy and you can’t get any work done, you can just “fold up your office” and get away– to your bedroom, the nearest coffee shop, etc.  I even get work done in my car sometimes, while waiting to pick up kids… for the freebie, just enter the code FREESLEEVE (Canada: CADFREESLEEVE) at checkout. To see all the designs available for the cases (as well as all the cool Uncool exercise tanks, etc.) , just click on the Uncool Shop in the right-hand sidebar of this blog.

Form Fatigue

Are other parents with school-aged kids feeling the crush of back-to-school paperwork this year, or is it just me? That was the question on my mind last Thursday afternoon when I got an email asking me to fill out what seemed like the 50th  (or was it the 60th) “form” I’ve had to fill out since the start of school.  I put the question to Barb, a mother of two, ages 10 and 13, who was at the elementary school that day doing some volunteer work, like me.  She said she was about to tear out her hair as well, and reminded me that even when we fill out all the forms we’re supposed to, on time, we often get repeats of those same forms sent home with our kids or included in a mass email, which play mind games with us and make us wonder if we ever did what we were supposed to do in the first place!

First, there are the official back-to-school forms that must be filled out for each child, every year: The Emergency Contact Form (Please fill out parents’ names, addresses, phone numbers, other emergency contacts, birthdates– yes, even the parents’ birthdate, in case you write any hot checks– child’s name, grade… Have they ever attended school in this district before? If so, tell us which school, and never mind that you’ve had kids at this school for at least ten years…Are you divorced? If so, attach a copy of the divorce decree.  Is your dirty rotten ex allowed to pick up your child from school?); The Technology Agreements (Do you give your child permission to use the Internet on school computers?  If yes, does your child solemnly swear not to watch Fred videos on YouTube repeatedly or play Farmville?); the Release of Information Form (Do you give your permission to have your child’s image used in school district publications, even if they’re sticking out their tongue? Do you want your phone number and email listed in the school directory?  Can we give your child’s contact info to colleges and universities? How about the military? Yes, we know your child may only be in kindergarten—but you still have to take the time to read the entire form and check the proper boxes…); the Health Form (Has your child ever suffered from the following 100 conditions? Will you please go get your insurance card out of your wallet and write down a bunch of information from it on this form?)  and the Proof of Residency (please attach a copy of your latest utility bill showing your name and address, to prove that you are not trying to get your child into this school without currently living where everyone knows the Texas pledge of allegiance, votes Republican and thinks carrot cake is good…)

It wouldn’t be so bad if the form filling-out ended with these forms (although the health form alone took me almost 30 minutes per child!).  But it doesn’t end there.  A few days later, you receive the “I have received the district student/parent handbook” form for each child, and in the upper grades, the “I have read and understand the drug and alcohol policy” form. Sometimes each teacher has their own class conduct/expectations form, in addition, that needs to be read and signed by both parent and student. And, unless your child is in ZERO extracurricular activities, there are even more forms near the start of school for sports, band, choir, drill team, church youth, Scouts, etc. (and God help you if they’re involved in more than one).  More emergency contact forms, health forms, field trip permission forms, conduct agreements, and will-you-be-a-parent-volunteer forms (I think they might get more volunteers if we didn’t have to fill out so many forms all at once… ). And get this—not only do a cascade of forms have to be filled out, they have to be filled out fast! In some classes, if you don’t, it affects a child’s grades– the child will get a zero for a homework assignment if the parent doesn’t fill it out by the deadline!  

Excuse me?! I finished school 26 years ago.  I have work piled on my desk, work that I get PAID to do, and three people in my house are under the weather from really bad colds, including myself, and my vegetarian teenager is angry because there’s nothing in the house at present for her to eat and I really do need to get to the grocery store and the dog needs walking and my foreign exchange student needs me to mail a package to her sister in time for her birthday…and a teacher is telling me I’d better fill out forms RIGHT NOW?? I’m sorry, but I can’t even find the forms, and even if I did, I think I’ve got writer’s cramp.

Child Safety– How Far Should We Go?

Yesterday was a day for wanting to pull my children closer and “circle the wagons”. 

 

First, I had the heart-stopping experience of seeing my youngest have a close call with not one, but two cars, while crossing a busy street at a crosswalk while walking to school. The dog and I always walk her to the intersection and watch her cross.  She pushes the button and waits for the green light and the “Walk” symbol to start flashing. The cars turning left have the green light as well, but usually they wait. Yesterday, they didn’t.  She’d gotten halfway across and was entering the second half of the crossing when the first car pulled into the turn and stopped about a foot from her. Startled, she backed up and let it pass, continued walking, and then the second car turned into the intersection and went behind her, again with only about a foot to spare. My mouth was open and almost on the ground, and I wanted to scream every obscenity in the book (I didn’t). Thoughts raced through my head as she walked onward towards school. How could these drivers do that to a child? Are they so intent on making the light that they don’t care? It had never happened before, but as I drove through the intersection later in the day I realized how easy it could be to just not see someone crossing the street.  When you’re turning left at an unprotected green light, you’re focused more on the cars in front of you.  A pedestrian at a crosswalk can go undetected, unfortunately, blending in with all the cars waiting to the side.  And at busy intersections like that one, we drivers aren’t used to seeing a lot of pedestrians, anyway, at least not in this suburb. So, do I stop all walking and biking to school? Do Luke and I walk with her on the crossing, me ready to shake my fist at any cars who dare to approach? Do I get a large orange flag to carry along?  Do I use this as an opportunity to further teach her about safer crossing, since we all have to cross busy streets throughout our lives?  Or should we encourage jaywalking? Emmie once crafted a petition to send to City Hall about getting a bike overpass built at that intersection, but never gathered the signatures.  Maybe it’s time for her to take up the call again…

 

That afternoon, I was interviewing a woman from the Houston area as part of a freelance writing assignment, and she told me about a local organization to which she devotes a lot of time: The Laura Recovery Center, which started 12 years ago after a 12-year-old girl named Laura was abducted from her Friendswood, TX neighborhood.  Her remains were found 17 days later; her killer has never been found. As I looked at the LRC website , my heart hurt for the second time that day.  Laura had told her mother she was going for a quick jog and would only be gone 20 minutes, just like both Emmie and Allison sometimes do. Yes, they’ve been educated on “being aware”—but Laura’s perpetrator, like others we hear about, is suspected of using quick force—grab and go, and I’m not sure any amount of education or carrying a cell phone can prevent that. It’s the constant dilemma of modern parents:  Should I let my children play and “be a kid”? Am I an irresponsible parent if I do? The statistics posted on LRC’s website show that stranger abduction is very rare, even though the media stories would cause us to believe otherwise…but no one wants to be counted among the “rare”…

Later that night while reading the news, I learned that a 7-year old Arlington, TX boy died recently after swimming in a state park river with his family, a river in which my own family has walked.  A nasty amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri got up his nose and invaded his brain and spinal chord, and he died within four days. The disease is extremely rare, said the news story.  Over a nine-year period, from 1998-2007, there were 33 reports in the U.S.  Is that supposed to make me feel better? Just last week I’d added a “Florida river swim with manatees” into our October vacation plans…

Toward the end of that news story, it looked like I was going to get some welcome words: the boy’s dad said that while he’s now more protective of his other child, he refuses to “keep her in a bubble” — and he recommended that other parents do the same. “Let them live life to the fullest,” he said, and then added, “but make sure they’re safe in doing so.”

As I write these last few words, while the “First Wednesday of the Month” City Emergency Siren Test blasts through my neighborhood, I’m seriously wondering what “safe” is.