All posts by uncoolmomdotcom

Little Miss Sunshine is Alive and Well

Just got back from spending almost my entire weekend at a dance convention in a nearby suburban hotel. My older daughter has been taking dance lessons since she was three, and attending dance conventions with her dance studio has been an annual ritual for awhile. For the uninitiated, here’s what a dance convention is in a nutshell: Hip faculty featuring top dancers from across the country travel to dance conventions each weekend, teaching classes to both dance students and teachers for two days, with one or two evenings devoted to competitions, where afore-mentioned hip faculty are the judges.  Trophies are given out, and scholarships to future dance conventions and Hollywood classes are awarded on the last day. Usually the faculty performs in a grand finale on the last day as well as the competition dances deemed “Judges Choice”.  Even a ragtag bunch of parents performs at the finale, thanks to groovy hip-hop moves they learn in a “parents class” earlier in the day (I’ve done that before– what a hoot!).  Dancewear and professional photos snapped just about every minute of the convention are on sale in the hallways.  It’s pretty much the same drill at every convention, dubbed LA Dance Force, Company Dance, and Dance Olympus, to name a few.  In the Dallas area alone, there are hotel conventions and other dance competitions (at high school gyms, civic auditoriums) going on all over the city each weekend, sometimes two in one weekend (and some dance studios try to take their students to as many as they can!). The hotel ones are a lot of fun, albeit expensive, and the faculty is always top-notch and friendly.  It’s good mother-daughter time for Allison and me.  We both love dance, and we get to see some outstanding, creative dances. 

What I dread at these things is what I call the “hootchie mama” contingency.

This past weekend, I saw more pelvic thrusts than at a Tom Jones concert, and enough fast butt shaking going on that I was thinking, “You could strap on a Martini mixer to each of their behinds and serve drinks to the whole crowd.”  Seriously.  In a number called “Shake Your Shimmy”, one group of over-rouged girls danced just like the women in the old 2 Live Crew music videos (didn’t that group get arrested back in the day for lewd behavior??)  And these dancers weren’t women– they were nine years old.  In fact, after the convention was over, I realized that the most overtly sexual moves in the whole competition came from the Petite and Junior divisions, not from the Teens and Seniors. 

What’s wrong with this picture? Am I too much of a prude? As the little hootchie mamas kept winning top award after top award, I seriously began to wonder– then I heard a total stranger next to me say, in disgust, “That was that hootchie studio.”  Ahhh- a kindred spirit! Upon striking up a conversation with her, I learned that even more of her thoughts echoed mine exactly.  “They might as well just put a pole up there and let them have at it,” she added.  I suddenly flashed back to a past convention where I watched girls, who couldn’t even fill out a training bra, dance to “Lady Marmalade” dressed like hookers. (Remember– that song means “Will you F—- Me” in French.)

In this already sex-saturated culture, where girls use drugs and die of eating disorders because they feel they can’t live up to the stereotypes and pressures put on them– why do some dance teachers, most of them women themselves, feed the fire by putting very young girls in this position?  And, the girls are not only being given the message that sex sells, but also that it’s okay, when you’re age 6 or 7 or 8 or 9, to act sexy in front of men.  The audience at competitions and recitals is not made up of just moms.  It’s also Dads, grandfathers, little brothers, big brothers, uncles, and that teenage boy I saw this weekend with a T-shirt emblazoned on the front with the words “Amateur Porn Star”. All these dudes are getting a big dose of come-ons by lipsticked pre-pubescents.   (I half expected Chris Hanson from MSNBC’s “To Catch a Predator” to come strolling in with his camera crew.)  Again, there is something wrong with this picture…

Our studio owner, who abhors sleazy dancing and costumes, told me she thinks the tendency to teach and perform in that way is a  “small town thing”– if that’s the case, I couldn’t help but think that most of the small-town hootchie dancers probably come from very conservative religious backgrounds….  so it’s okay to grab your crotch in a performance on Saturday night in the dance show, as long as you’re grabbin’ your Bible come Sunday morning. 

I’m proud our tiny, traditional dance studio won some nice awards without wearing sequined midriff-baring bra tops and hip-hugging “booty shorts”, without perfect Barbie shapes, spray-on tans, diamond earrings and matching, perfectly pinned-up hair with a “poof” on top, and without bumping and grinding. Our girls looked like real girls up there on stage, some with braces, some with acne, some big boned, others stick skinny.  They may not have gotten the Judges’ Choice award, but I think they’re going to be big winners in the long run, in the more important dance of life.   I just hope that they can see that, too.

My Teenager Was a Science Fair Experiment

Ah, the yearly ritual of the school Science Fair. For those of you parents that haven’t experienced it yet, get your kid started on their experiment NOW, even if they’re still in diapers!  The deadline will be on you before you know it! (just kidding).  For those of you that are past all that, lucky you.  No more late night work sessions and trying hard to encourage your child, yet stay out of actually doing their work, only to see experiments the next day that look like they were conducted by Bill Nye the Science Guy and displayed by Martha Stewart. The one thing comforting about the Science Fair is that I think the procedure is universal, at least in the U.S., since all the mega-chain craft stores (and even drugstores and grocery stores) sell the fold-out, three-section display boards, just waiting for your kid to put something on it. And they suddenly get in a larger quantity right after Christmas, so I’m thinking the timing of the contests is universal, as well.  I guess we can smile as we’re helping and encouraging our child in this endeavor, knowing that, at that very moment all over the country, other parents are probably spending quality time with their child doing the exact same thing.  Ah, the karma of it all. Can’t you just hear the voices filling the air? “Don’t glue that like that, it’s crooked!” “Mom, I just want to go to bed.” “What do you mean, the experiment is due tomorrow? I have to drive to the store at 10 p.m. and buy eggs and vinegar? What?”  “Well, if the crystals didn’t grow then you just have to put that. It doesn’t have to be a success to be a good exhibit. Just tell why you think it didn’t work…no, I’m not going to tell you why I think it didn’t work…it’s YOUR project!” “Dad, those glue sticks we bought were bogus– everything is falling off the board!!!” “WAHHHH! I hate this! I just want to go to bed!”

For me, there is another “comfort” to my kids’ participation in the Science Fair (other than they really do learn a lot about the experimental process).  It’s that sometimes, they find out useful information that can help me around the house.  Not like the science fair ideas they give you at school or on numerous Internet sites, like “How does temperature affect the behavior of ants?”  “What type of liquid will cause a nail to rust the fastest?” and “Can you really transmit sound through a tin or paper cup?” Bo-ring! 
I’ve said, to heck with those lists, if I’m going to spend any time, sweat or money on this, I’d better get something out of it.  Thus has spawned the experiments Does shower spray really work with “no scrubbing required“? (it doesn’t)  What keeps cut flowers fresher longer? (cutting the stems every day and changing the water does better than aspirin and just as good as sugar) and Will birds prefer a feeder filled with table scraps rather than birdseed? (results were uncertain)
For her first venture into the Science Fair arena, my 10-year-old, Emmie, recently tackled a tough one: Will playing fast music help a sleepy teenager get moving in the morning?  Our resident teenager, Allison, though usually woken daily almost two hours before she needs to be at school, regularly stays in bed until there’s only 35 minutes to spare and then makes a mad dash, having no time to make her bed, eat breakfast, or remember to grab her lunch, let alone her brains….and of course if she’s late to school, it’s MY fault…
I couldn’t wait for the experiment to begin and to see if it would work. 

Past research done on shoppers and exercisers (we looked it up on the Internet) made Emmie “hypothesize” that it would work, and let her know that the music would probably need to be 140 beats per minute or above. Man, that’s some fast stuff.  For the sake of saving this blog from boredom, I’ll spare you all the technical details and try to summarize how the experiment was set up. Basically, she used 10 classical piano songs already stored on our electric piano (I knew those built-in “demo” songs would come in handy one day!!!) and was able to increase their tempo using a metronome, also built into the piano.  (We didn’t use pop tunes ala Coldplay or Usher because increasing their tempo would have caused suspicion by the teenager– not to mention they’d sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks– and keeping said teenager in the dark about the experiment was crucial. As it turned out, we told her all the piano music playing in the morning was a music memorization assignment from Emmie’s piano teacher. “Emmie needs to soak it in,” I said. And she believed it!) Through the magic of a laptop, cables, some software we already had, our home computer, an Ipod, and a husband/Daddy who works in Audio Visual every day, we were able to get the 10 songs to play through our stereo system….every morning…beginning around 7:15 a.m. 

The first week, the experiment didn’t go so great.  Oh, Allison was heading downstairs earlier all right– a half hour to be exact–  heading down to turn off the stereo in a rage!  “This is so annoying!!!” she’d yell, then promptly head back to bed as I turned on the music again.  She was later than usual getting downstairs for her final dash to school. She was even late to school one day! I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t making her the first kid to arrive at school– that music was so fast, I was packing two lunchbags in seconds flat, all while scrambling eggs and making coffee at the same time.  But Emmie and I put our heads together to try to figure out what might be wrong. She decided it might be too loud– in the shopping and exercising experiments, the music was so “in the background” that the subjects didn’t notice it much.  If sleepy teenager was flying downstairs to turn it off in a rage, that didn’t sound like the music was “background”.  So we turned it down a bit. And Allison got downstairs earlier! Usually not more than 5-10 minutes earlier than the “baseline” data we’d collected, but she was actually having time for breakfast.

On the Sunday afternoon that Emmie assembled her experiment data and “Conclusions” on the display board, Allison and I were at a mother-daughter tea. I’d meant to tell Emmie to assemble it in her bedroom with the door shut, but I forgot.  I didn’t know what kind of mood Allison would be in when she got home (have I mentioned that teenagers are moody? ) and if it was a bad mood, I didn’t want Emmie to add to her angst by allowing her to see that she’d been the subject of an experiment.  Sure enough, that day Allison was feeling terrible with allergy problems and was “wigged out” on nose spray.  When we returned to find the experiment laid out in black and white all over the living room floor, Allison took one look at it and promptly kicked the bottom of the lovely tri-fold display board, creating a slight rip.

Rip and all, the experiment went on to win third place.  The music, thankfully, has gone away (even at lower volume, it finally got annoying to all of us, I think!).  And Allison was late to school today, as she has almost been almost every day since the start of Jr. High. 

For next year’s science fair, I’m hoping Emmie will tackle other household issues…maybe, “Does doing homework in front of the TV really improve your grades?” or “Which Girl Scout cookie has the longest shelf life?” or the one I’d really like to see done, “Will rationing toilet paper keep the kids’ toilet from clogging every week?” I’m not getting my hopes up too high, though.  She says she wants to do it completely on her own without any help from me next time.  Smart ki
d.


A Nightmarish Carnival of Mayhem

I wrote this last week for the Blogher network– thought I’d share it with you.  Enjoy!

Friday the 13th Came Early at My House

I guess, being an uncool mom, I should count myself lucky that within the past 48 hours, both of my daughters have expressed their heartfelt wish that I was dead. The 10-year-old ran outside, screeching it loudly to the neighborhood.  The teenager’s words were something like, “I wish you were in a grave so I could dance on it and sing Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” But lucky is not exactly how I’m feeling at present.  And all because I said no and stood my ground.


For the teenager, on Wednesday at dinnertime, it was, No, you can’t have 8 teenagers over to the house on Friday night, including 4 boys, for pizza and “backyard games”, especially since you didn’t ask me before inviting everyone, and especially since, after I initially, reluctantly, said yes, you fought with me on what time they’d arrive.  No. I told you not to badger me and you did.  No. Please go to your room and let me Shake and Bake my chicken in peace. No, your party is not going to happen.


Ding, dong, the tears and nasty comments flew.  As well as exasperated text messages across her cell phone, from all 8 teens.  And I continued to get whining, begging, bargaining, and verbal abuse from her until, I kid you not, 1 AM! (yes, the cell phone has been taken away for awhile…)


Needless to say, my patience was pretty thin when late the next night, in the middle of piano practicing, my normally sweet 10-year-old quit playing, looked me in the face and told me I’d been “so annoying” earlier in the day when I’d taken her and a friend to a park to play, to kill time between going to the post office and headiing to gymnastics class.  (I think they were hoping to stay home and sing High School Musical karaoke, but I had to get to the post office by 5 or Grandma’s Valentine would be late gettting to her, and the gym is close to the post office, so why not play in the nearby park for awhile? It’s a beautiful day! Unfortunately, they didn’t share my enthusiasm.) “She was annoyed, too!” said Emmie disgustedly, referring to her friend. A friend who normally doesn’t come over after school, but who was with us that day after I received a frantic call from her mother, needing me to watch her child for a few hours while Mom attended a last-minute training session. I’d had other plans, but I agreed. And they got to play at the house for an hour and a half before I made the “annoying” gesture of taking them to the park. So I looked Emmie in the face and told her that if I was so annoying, then her friend didn’t need to come over anymore as long as she felt that way, and for that matter, neither did any of her friends. Why would she want to ask them? I’m too annoying!!! Which prompted her to yell at me, which prompted her to get grounded, which prompted her to yell and throw things, which prompted a few Webkinz to be taken away, which prompted her screeching to the neighborhood…


As David Letterman once said, when will this nightmarish carnival of mayhem stop? I hope my husband has something relaxing planned for Valentine’s Day…



Post script: My husband bought me a fat container of bubble bath for Valentine’s Day…but didn’t notice that the inside seal had been “poked” and peeled back, and that some of the contents had spewed around the top and dried in an ooky, snot-like blob. (I couldn’t tell what the “poker” had poked into that Jasmine Flower-scented mixture, and didn’t want to find out…) So, I didn’t take a nice, hot bath, but we did go on a really fun, 1 1/2 hour bike ride on President’s Day– great weather, and so rare for him to be off work on a day when both kids are in school. Also that day, we ate breakfast out, something I don’t think we’ve done alone since before we had kids!
Friday the 13th came early, and Valentine’s Day was celebrated two days late…but it really was a happy one.

Flying Chickens, Buried Cadillacs, and Martin Luther King

Recently in my teen’s Pre-AP Language Arts class (i.e. Honors English), when the teacher was leading a discussion about the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy, my daughter was aghast that she was the only one in class that knew that the location of Kennedy’s assassination was right here in Dallas, and one of the few who knew that Martin Luther King, Jr. was deceased. “He’s dead??!!” asked the girl considered by many to be the smartest in the class (the one who never has to study and gets all A’s).  I said she must have been joking.  “No, Mom,” said Allison, emphatically.  “She was really shocked and sad that he was dead.”  Well I’m shocked and saddened that a bunch of honors 8th graders, who all came from elementary schools deemed exemplary by the state, didn’t know some things as basic to our history as that.  And it’s made me reaffirm my belief in family travel– because one of the reasons my daughter knew about King’s death is because she’d stood at the site where it happened.

Carving out time to travel has always been a priority for me, even before my husband and I had kids. Travel is not only an eye-opener and mind-expander, but it’s a great relationship-builder, even with all its downsides of lost baggage, delayed flights, bad weather and clueless tour guides.  If you travel enough, the good times (and the good memories) outweigh the bad. 

Some parents think travel, good times, and kids just don’t go together, but if you really put your mind to it and plan with kids’  habits and feelings in mind, it can work.  I remember being paralyzed with fear at the thought of any car ride over 20 minutes with my kids (check out the DVD Players in Cars post), not to mention flying on a plane with one in diapers.  But you talk to others that have done it, and you read stuff, and then you get out a pen and paper and come up with a plan.  (It’s funny, because even though my kids are older now, I still have to plan, because a teen can be the worst travel companion on earth if you don’t.) Some moms tell me they don’t travel because their husbands don’t like it– but I say, take the kids anyway and go without him.  A year and a half ago I “soloed” with my girls to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and we had a blast– it was like Thelma, Louise and Louise, Jr.



I know in this economy that vacations are thought of as “something to put aside” by many–  I was considering having a “staycation” this Spring Break.  But now I’m re-thinking it.  There are so few opportunities to travel as the kids get older and busier, and the cost of gasoline is still pretty reasonable…and we’ve racked up lots of unused flight miles with our credit cards, plus there are so many travel deals out there right now, that we can probably go somewhere for less than the cost of a month of dance lessons…okay, I’m sold! Now I’ll start planning and then attempt to sell the idea to my husband. As I plan, I will keep the following three things in mind:

-If at all possible, book a hotel/motel with an indoor swimming pool. That way, when weather drowns our plans, it makes everything okay.  And it’s always a hit even when the rest of the day’s activities haven’t been so popular with the kids.  There’s just something “magnetic” about pools and children.   I don’t remember a huge amount about the 1969 road trip I took with my parents from Iowa to California, but I sure remember swimming with Dad in the motel pool. (Vacations were usually the only time I ever saw him swim!) I have a friend with two boys who, when unable to travel someplace far, will just travel to another Dallas suburb and book a motel with an indoor pool– they have a great time.

-Find things that are purely fun in addition to educational sites.  A trip with kids that’s nothing but museums and historical markers is totally out of touch with the reality of kids…and teens.  Is there a waterpark nearby? A restaurant with a “pirate” floor show? Or…(wince) a cool mall?  We also like to mix in something kitschy, if we can, on every trip– places like the Spam Museum in Minnesota, the Orange Show in Houston, or the Mystery Spot in California. And no trip to Amarillo is complete without a pilgrimage to Cadillac Ranch.  (The website
www.roadsideamerica.com is fun for finding out stuff like this.)


-Think outside the box as to what equals a successful vacation.  Even if we don’t get the perfect “Kodak moments” for our scrapbook, cherished memories can come in unexpected places.  One special memory I have is all of us laughing hard while rediscovering the movie Napoleon Dynamite on a hotel room TV. Or when Allison threw up in the car, and we had to pull over near a farm, and while we’re all in a fluster and she’s standing outside and I’m cleaning her off, she spots a chicken sitting high up in a tree– and we all crack up. 

Yes, we’ve been to some amazing places…but we sure won’t forget a lonely stretch of Texas highway with a resident chicken who thought it was a hawk.

The Ten Commandments of Teenage Girls

I recently did a quick scan of the book, “Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul”: 101 Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirits of Mothers and all I have to say is, they don’t have a clue about what it’s like to be the mother of a teenage daughter (which makes sense, considering the two main editors are men and that contributors include Barbara Bush and Joan Rivers– when you have servants to help you out, I don’t think you go through the same thing as the average American mom.) It’s going to take heartier soup than that to rekindle this mother’s spirit.  And pretty much every mother that I run into lately who, like me, happens to be the mother of a teenage girl, could use some “re-kindling”, since they are either pulling their hair out on a daily basis or quietly seething on the inside at the pariah they’ve become in their daughter’s eyes.  I know, I know, it’s supposed to be a developmental phase that they eventually grow out of, but while we’re there, it’s not fun, and it’s hard to stay upbeat when that teenager is continually trying to rain on your parade.  With that, I offer my own “Fried Chicken Soup for the Souls of Mothers of Teenage Girls”:
 
The Ten Commandments of Teenage Girls
1.) Thou Shalt Not Talk to Me if at all possible.
2.) If I speak to you, don’t answer with anything I might find weird or embarrassing.
3.) Thou Shalt Not Talk to My Friends, but if you do, pleeeeese don’t try to say anything humorous.
4.) Thou Shalt Not Wear Anything I Don’t Approve Of, and my fashion preferences can change on a daily– no make that hourly– basis.
5.) Always remember that you grew up in the Dark Ages, so you know nothing about anything.
6.) Thou Shalt Not Sing, Dance, or Basically Do Anything That Reveals That You Are a Real Human Being With Emotions–  and God help you if you cry for any reason.
7.) Thou Shalt Not Ask Me to Dress for the Weather- remember: I’d rather freeze to death than compromise my fashion sense with something practical like a coat or gloves, unless they happen to have designer labels that everyone can see.
8.) Thou Shalt Not Suggest Any “Good Books” or Movies– if you liked them, they must be awful.
9.) Thou Shalt Not Expect Me To Like Anything You Cook.  Even if I do, I won’t tell you.
10.) In spite of my attitude, Thou Shalt Make My Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, Buy My Clothes, Pay For All My Lessons And Activities, Drive Me To All Those Activities, And Be There To Pick Me Up When They’re Over.  Oh, and don’t be late.

I modeled after God in choosing ten, but please feel free to reply with more (after all, teenage daughters can be more demanding than God!)

Behavior Charts, Reward Tickets, and Cold Hard Cash

Remember that politically correct name someone came up with for “housewife” several years ago, so a stay-at-home mom would have something sophisticated to put on a resume? “Domestic Engineer”.
Hah, hah, just like “Sanitation Engineer” for a garbage collector or “Entertainment Specialist” for a stripper.  I didn’t give the words much more thought…until recently.  As I write for this blog, I realize that I’m always looking at situations and trying to “invent” a better way to do things, especially at home. A real domestic engineer, I guess… or behavior engineer.

One of the “inventions” I’ve been working on for a long time is a reward system for good behavior and good habits.  It’s a challenge to make it “one size fits all” with more than one child, because each are wired differently.   What is a reward for one child may not work for the other.  And as they grow older, what they once considered to be a reward is no longer that.

I started with one of those pre-printed charts with stickers when my oldest was around four years old– you know, the ones where a child get stars for making their bed, brushing their teeth, not putting the cat’s tail into the Playdough Fun Factory… It worked for about a week.  Once the novelty wore off, she wasn’t interested. 

The chart was soon replaced by a six-page “catalog” I created, with pictures of items to be earned by accumulating varying amounts of reward stickers– prizes as simple as Pop Rocks and a Beanie Baby on up to a trip to the circus and a coveted Easter dress.  As she filled up the pages with stickers, she could see herself getting closer to her goals.  First she went for the candy, then the Easter dress.  She was going to bed without a fuss, arguing less, making her bed.  “Have I got a system for you!” I remember proudly telling a friend.  Hah! Famous last words.  After she earned the dress, everything else paled in comparison.

Not to be defeated, domestic engineer mom then came up with “Kid Tix”– pre-printed tickets to earn for good behavior (yes, I had too much fun with my computer and printer) which my daughter could use to shop at the “Kid Tix” store, a store I would set up in our bay window at the end of the week, with a few small items I’d purchased.  She couldn’t wait until I’d pull the curtains to reveal what was on that window ledge.  Definitely fun and effective at first, but too hard for Mom to keep “fresh”, so that idea joined the others in File 13.

Eventually, all this evolved into an allowance system we originally called “Behavior Dollars” (now we just call it allowance).  My younger daughter was mature enough for it by the time we started and participated whole heartedly.  It’s worked really well to help shape good behavior in her (and some in her sister) and is a great consequence tool for sibling fighting.

How our allowance system works
Basically, you pay a set amount of allowance at the end of every week, but the kids can lose dollars each day until Payday for various “infractions”–  not making the bed ($1), clothes left on the floor ($2), bath towel left on the floor ($2), lights left on ($1 per light), shoes left around the house (50 cents per shoe).  We keep a white board on the fridge to keep track.  If they hit their sibling or name call, I remind them that $1 now goes from their allowance to the siblings’s (this especially has worked good in the car, when it’s hard to separate them when fighting.) The perpetrator usually stops, since she doesn’t want to keep making the other one rich.)  Rare is the week when either one earns their entire allowance but sometimes one of them gets close.

Once they’ve earned money, we allow them to choose how to spend it– another good thing about this reward system.  It gives them life lessons in real world money management, about making good and bad choices with it (“So you want to dump all your money into The Claw at CiCi’s Pizza? Well, I wouldn’t, because it’s set up for you to lose, but if that’s what you want to do, go ahead…”) We pay for their needs and they pay for their wants (as long as it’s not a live animal, a tongue piercing, or a Red Rider BB gun…). Sometimes they amaze me, like
giving their own money to charity (and it means so much more when it’s their own!).  To take the whole money management thing a step further, my husband even did a “loan” once with our older daughter, charging interest and late fees– surprisingly, she paid it off pretty quickly.  And how many adults do you know who still don’t get the hang of that?! (Um… I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re in a recession?)  Anyway, at ages 9 and 13 they both had “junior bank accounts” at the credit union, complete with their own debit cards.  Guess who has saved money and who hasn’t? 

Maybe I should make one of those “catalogs” again for the teenager– it will have one page, with a picture of a nice used car on it.  Maybe she’ll have enough stickers on it by the time she goes to college…


 


 

Uncool Hands

I went naked over 10 years ago.  Naked hands, that is.  No more soaking in pink solution and breathing in air that comes with a warning label.  No more long, polished fingernails in colors like Chick Flick Cherry or Blushingham Palace.  Ever since, it’s just been clip, file, and (sometimes) buff.  And done by myself, I might add.

It was sort of an act of freedom and defiance, I guess,  like when someone decides to go bra-less– only the end result isn’t as gross.  While other moms worried about looking flawless (a common malady in the South), it just seemed ridiculous to be the mother of young children and try to maintain perfect-looking hands when those hands were digging through toy boxes, cleaning out guinea pig cages and strapping in car seats on a daily basis.  My smooth, perfectly polished nails would last about 4 minutes, the time it took to walk out of the nail salon, open the car door, and attempt to un-jam my cup holder due to a crayon that had melted underneath. Who needs the extra stress?

“Going naked” was also an act of love.  It was definitely difficult, almost cruel, to fish Barbie shoes and pennies out of my toddler’s constantly curious mouth using hands that sported dagger-nails, not to mention trying to deftly maneuver a pair of tweezers when removing splinters.  So I whacked, and never looked back.

Oh, I’ll admit, I’ve had a few manicures over the years (people do give them as gifts), but they’re still hard to maintain.  A mom just keeps using her hands, only in different ways.  Now I’m sewing on Girl Scout badges and toe shoe straps, helping to glue down Science Fair projects and making batches and batches of Chex Party Mix.  And picking up 26 boxed lunches for the Jr. High pop choir. And helping my 10-year-old play the piano.  And typing this blog.

I’ve grown to like the clean, simple look of my hands. And every time I look down on those hands, I am reminded of the sacrifice I made a long time ago.  Definitely a constant personal symbol of being a good, involved and engaged mom, and a reminder to smile when my kids try to make me feel like I’m not.

But my toes? They’re decked out in a lovely shade called  “Chocolate Shake-speare”.


To Practice or not To Practice

Both my daughters have taken piano lessons.  The older one started in late second grade, and after two and a half years, when it looked like one or both of us was going to get seriously hurt from the battles that raged over practicing, I let little sister take her place at lessons, on a gray winter day when big sister refused to go.  It was a no-brainer.  Little sister was dying to start– she’d been sitting at the piano and “pretend” playing for months, only her pretend sounded pretty good compared to the cantankerous banging made by most 7-year-olds– so it wasn’t too tough of a decision to let her start a year earlier than I’d planned.  She walked proudly down the street with me to the piano teacher’s house and was so excited to get her own music.

Three years later, she plays like someone with six years of experience, but hates to practice almost as much as her big sister did!
“Why don’t you just let her quit?” say both my husband and my mother, who can’t stand to hear her cry, and who, I might add, never played piano. But quitting piano won’t be happening anytime soon, due to several reasons.  One, even though Emmie hates practicing, she really does like to play, as evidenced by the fact that whenever she sees a piano at a church or someone’s house, she loves to sit down and entertain.  She’s proud that she has a “repertoire” of several memorized songs.  Two, I won’t let her quit because it became evident pretty quickly that she has a gift in playing and memorization.  Third, many adults tell me they wished their parents hadn’t let them quit piano. Fourth, most of her practices go pretty well.  She only melts down once in awhile.  And last but not least, we have a deal– she gets to participate in something that she really wants to do (gymnastics) as long as she keeps up with what mom wants her to do (piano).  So on days when she screams that she wants to quit, I say fine.  We’ll call the gym and quit gymnastics, too.  And some days she wants to do that. But after she sleeps on it, she forgets all about being mad. 

I thank my friend Gabe Meadows for that last piece of advice.  He had an “agreement” with his son, Mark, who is now studying at Johns Hopkins University and has a growing music career (check out his great jazz CD at
www.markgmeadows.com).  Mark was Emmie’s first piano teacher and, like her, had a knack for piano but hated piano practicing when he was a kid.  Gabe let Mark participate in sports (Mark’s first love) if he stayed with piano “until he was 18”.  (Mark says he really didn’t like to practice until he was about 13!)  In addition to having a CD, Mark has won many music contests and received numerous awards, not to mention being paid to play some pretty nice gigs!

I remember I hated practicing, too.  I took lessons for eight years, and 9th grade was when practicing started to mean a whole lot more, as I was accompanying choirs and friends in contests and I sure didn’t want to fail in front of them.  It was so much fun to be an accompanist, that working on a song over and over through practicing was, while not exactly “fun”–  very satisfying once you get it right.

So I think if you have a child that hates practicing an instrument, he’s just like most kids.  If left to their own decision, most kids would probably quit.  Parents have to decide if it’s worth continuing– does the child have a gift? Is it a skill you’d really like them to have? If so, strike a deal.  (Or offer an incentive for good practicing– I used to use Little Debbie’s Snack Cakes… )

And, contrary to what I heard a sports radio personality once say, that no one ever plays piano once they become an adult– people really do keep it up.  My brother has never stopped playing, even though he’s a photographer by day.  I LOVE to play.  Whenever I can find that elusive window of free time, that is…

Dogland

We took our dog to a dog park (also known as a “bark park”) for the first time yesterday.  I couldn’t help but see the similarities to taking the kids to a park for play dates when they were younger…there are those dogs that “play nicely” and those that don’t, those in designer sweaters and those without, those that are overly obsessed with poop and privates…and “parents” sitting on park benches with goofy grins on their faces,  marveling over their dog’s behavior (“He’s never done that before!!”) and discussing such topics as age and discipline techniques.  Some had cameras to record their dog’s every move and of course one family even brought the requisite video camera…

                                                                                  

Our dog had a blast, and I must say, these dog parks post rules that human playgrounds should use.  Like, “If your dog acts aggressive toward other dogs, you must take it out of the park.” Substitute the word “dog” with “child”–wouldn’t that be great if parents of playground bullies would do the same?  Or how about, “You must clean up your own mess.” Not only are plastic bags provided at the dog park, but a special trash can as well! If they can do that for all those dogs, why not for diapers, too? Or one may even consider changing the pet, if keeping a dog is too much of a hassle. abyssinian guinea pig colors vary distinctly with each animal, and so would make great pets for kids. And how about Rule #7,  “Children under 10 entering the park must be accompanied by a parent.” Gee, what a novel idea.  I once saw some kids at a McDonald’s Playland (too big to be sliding down tubes with 4-year-olds, I might add), who were dropped off there by their parents.  The parents drove up later to share some McNuggets…

Kid Lang Syne

I think my 10-year-old is going to have a better New Year’s Eve than me…not to knock my wonderful friends who invite us over to their house every year, but my youngest child is going to a “lock-in” at the gym where she takes classes, and from the flyer, it looks like it’s going to be better than even the hoopla in Times Square (because after all, anything with indoor bathrooms is better than that!!!).
Her party promises Pizza, Snacks, Games, Movies, Tumbling, Playing the Wii on a gigantic screen, a “midnight countdown with lighted ball drop”  and “hats, horns, and sparkling drink toast”– plus breakfast in the morning, all for the low price of $27!  Wow– wish a local hotel would offer something that reasonable (although I think they’d have to pay me before I’d ring in 2009 with Air Supply or the Oak Ridge Boys…) I’ll be lucky if I can even stay awake to see midnight. 
I’m always lamenting with other parents about how Over-the-Top everything is now with kids– like kindergarten graduation ceremonies that rival Harvard’s, 8-year-old birthday parties that feature limousine rides; and high schoolers asking  their dates to prom in such elaborate ways that future marriage proposals will pale in comparison…guess this New Year’s Eve throw down will fall into that category!