Friday, March 30, 2012

Hybrids, Hair and Hope - Part II: Hair

Continued from Part I

If you pay attention to what people are posting on Pinterest, you can't help but start to notice what's trending.  From entertaining ideas to home decorating to recipes to shoe styles, people are pinning what they think is cool and before long you're realizing that it's all the rage to do your kid's next birthday party in rainbow colors.

So that's how I noticed that a retro-classic concept in hair design is making its return:  the braid is back.  The last time I remember it being cool to braid your hair (off the volleyball courts and softball fields) was in the 80's, I think.  With nary a French braid on the radar, today's braided styles are all about creativity (the one in the picture is called a waterfall) and range from the cute to the sophisticated (think of braided up-dos for brides).   I even managed to find a style that was age-appropriate for me and rocked it to work last week.  Fun!

A website I saw was showcasing "Hunger Games inspired styles" and it showed lots of braided hair.  I also noticed that some of the female characters on my favorte HBO series, "Game of Thrones", are wearing braids.  I'm not so sure, though, that Hollywood is altogether responsible for the rebirth of this trend.  I got thinking about it after reading an article on AOL's Daily Finance page:  The Hair Index: What Your Cut Says About the Economy  (the slideshow at the end of the article is a hoot!).  It raised a question for me:  is our fashion influenced by the country's economic health?

Now, hearing someone in Washington say America's fiscal fitness is on the uptick doesn't exactly boost my confidence in my own financial stability .  It's still expensive to stock my fridge every week (let's not even mention filling up the gas tank!), and I still have enough "what-ifs" in the back of my mind that I can't do much "discretionary" spending without feeling guilty.   I'm going out on a limb and guessing that most people I know and most people they know feel the same way. 

And what do we do when we're feeling miserly?  We cut back and find ways to make do.  Have you noticed the increasing popularity in the concept of repurposing?  Folks are finding ways to put their old items to new uses instead of buying new.   It's the definition of making do.  Braiding is like repurposing for hair:  you've already got the materials, you get something new and fresh and it costs you nothing! 

 It's just a theory.  Maybe the big braid revival wasn't a product of our frugality, but I'm thinking the fact that we latched onto it might very well be.  (Continued in Part III)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hybrids, Hair and Hope - Part I: Hybrids

Go figure - after years of wanting and waiting, I finally get the car I've always wanted and as soon as I do, it falls out of style. It's so un-fashionable, in fact, that sometimes I actually get kind of embarrassed when I'm driving it around. Well, maybe "unfashionable" is the wrong word. "Irresponsible" might be better. Here's the problem: it's a gas guzzler and everyone knows it. In a society where the car that gets 35+ mpg is king, my car - which gets 20 mpg on its best day - is a pariah. The company that makes my car doesn't even advertise it anymore. Oh, they still make it, sure enough. But now they're kept in the "back room" of the dealership, where only shifty, carbon footprint-stomping customers go to make their shady purchases.

And I think it's great (my personal shame aside). I love that the auto industry has quietly put its collective heads together and come up with a real, true, viable answer to exorbitant gas prices: fuel efficiency. Is it the perfect, end-all solution? Of course not. Is there an underlying financial motivator for them to develop cars that people can afford to buy and maintain? Uh...yeah. But so what? Big Auto lines its pockets - as well as the pockets of its workers - and responsible consumers get to keep some green of their own when cruising past the gas pumps. That sounds equitable to me. But more than that, it's great that the social standard for what to drive has taken a consciencious turn.

Not that there have been too many other options for gas expenditure relief. There have been lots of suggestions ranging from the mundane ("Make sure your tires are inflated to the recommended levels" and "Write your Congressman!") to the extreme ("Tap our domestic reserves and give Foreign Oil the bird!"). But nothing has produced as much of a measurable result - or allowed the average citizen some control over his own gas expense - as the availability of fuel-efficient vehicles.

The more I think and write about it, the more I want to put a bag over my car (or maybe over my head, instead) the next time I drive it.   (continued in Part II)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (no spoilers)

I saw it this weekend with a diverse mix of people: C (who's 11), E (who's 8), my parents (who are seniors) and Hubby. Of the group, only C and I read the book.

My folks and Hubby enjoyed it. I gauged this by whether they wanted to see the sequels (the next one comes out in Nov 2013) - they all said they would.   Plus, they said they liked it.

C and I loved it. It was fun whispering back and forth during the movie as we remembered and compared things about the book. We talked a lot more about it later that night. This was the first novel-length book that held C's attention enough for him to read cover-to-cover. I love that the movie reinforced what he'd read. I'm hoping this encourages him to keep up the reading habit!

I had some reservations about letting E watch with us. The book contained no obscene language (literally - none) and no sexual content whatsoever, and I was hoping the movie would follow suit.  There was a good deal of violence described in some detail but I thought that, since E had seen the Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones movies (which carry the same PG-13 rating), that he could probably handle what the movie had in store. However, in hindsight, I think now that I would have arranged for him to not watch it, instead. It won't hurt those not in-the-know to know that the premise of The Hunger Games is kids hunting kids in a fight to the death - and that death happens. I've noticed that most adult crime shows and even many movies for adults stop just shy of visually depicting bodily harm happening to children. That's not so much the case in The Hunger Games movie. Most of the time, they indirectly (but strongly) allude to the violent acts, but there are at least two times when they show them outright, and I found it to be a bit jarring - not really something I would have wanted E to see. I think I perpetrated a bit of a parenting fail here, by foregoing our usual process of pre-screeing questionable movies before letting our kids see them. Ugh.

For his part, E said he didn't like it. He wasn't scared or scarred by anything he saw - it just didn't appeal to him. Not unlike the book, there wasn't a strong element of humor in the movie. There were a few lines designed to get chuckles from the audience, but they were lost on our 8 year-old. There were some intense parts that got a "Whoa!" out of E, but that was about it. The movie (again, like the book) didn't have the Disney-esque or even definitive ending he is used to, and I don't think he appreciated the cliffhanger.

So, for adults: if you've read and liked the book, you're going to love the movie. If you didn't read the book, you will still probably like the movie, even if you're just going to see it because you couldn't resist the hype.

For kids: I think the PG-13 rating is appropriate. C is actually almost 12 and, in my opinion, mature for his 12-ness. Plus, when reading the book, he was made to understand the subtleties and deeper significances in the story. I'm not sure the movie would be a good fit for a less-mature 11 or 12 year old who had not previously read the book. And I say that based on E's and my feelings about him having watched it. He said he would have rather been home, playing Club Pengin. I think that some of the scenes are inappropriate for younger children, period.

Did you see it? Will you take your kids to see it? What did you think? What did your kids think?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nothing Looks the Same in the Light

A crappy week's worth of crappy crap came to a head one recent night. The quick rundown:

Over the previous week, both boys came down with the stomach bug, separately. Each time, we quarantined them to our room for a couple of days, to try to keep the cooties from spreading (- our room has a TV for them to watch during their confinement). Each time, Hubby and I slept on the couch and loveseat in the living room. I think we slept in bed three days out of that week.

Over the weekend, I barely saw hide nor hair of Hubby on Saturday, due to scheduled commitments (his). Sunday, the same thing, due to a planned outing (mine).

Then, on Monday, Hubby came down with the stomach bug. That same day C, our oldest, had piggy-backing commitments and I got the Evil Look of Death from the activity leader when explaining that C would have to leave a half hour early to get to basketball practice. After picking him up from the second commitment, it was past both boys' bedtimes, C still had to eat dinner and finish homework, our younger son, E, wanted his nightly bedtime story and was sad to tears that his daddy was sick. After I'd gotten E squared away, C still had to study for a test, was frantic that he had misplaced a textbook and was upset that the activity leader was spiteful to him in front of the rest of the group.

After everyone was finally in bed, I sat down and (NO, I did not cry...) gave myself a quick SIT(uation)REP(ort): I was missing spending time with my now-out-of-commission hubby, both kids had gone to bed in low spirits, I was mad at the activity leader for being a jerk, there was a sink full of dishes, the living room was tornado-ed and I was going to be sleeping on the couch again, but this time alone.

Situation: bleak. Outlook: same. Possible solutions: no optimism left to think of any. I desperately wanted to do something to make myself feel better. I contemplated writing an email to the activity leader, but I couldn't even think of how to word it without being hostile. I half-contemplated cleaning up the kitchen and living room out of a sense of duty, but the thought made me crankier. Some sadistic part of my brain started thinking about the other 4 dozen things that would need to be addressed in the coming days, and that's when I had to shut it down. The more I sat there and thought about things - ANY things - the worse it all seemed. The only alternative: sleep it off. I dimmed the lights, grabbed my blanket, curled up on couch and escaped into the relief of unconsciousness.

In the morning, circumstances hadn't really changed, but guess what had? Yup - my whole attitude and outlook. Even before I sat up, I realized I was feeling better. I was glad I hadn't spent an hour on housework the night before. The extra z's I'd gotten by going to bed instead had re-energized me. I was glad I hadn't fired off an angry email to the activity leader. Now that my head had cleared, I was able to put some perspective to the situation and think of better ways to deal with it. Plus, having gotten familiar with the pattern of our stomach bug, I knew that Hubby would be feeling better and able to participate in the day's comings and goings. Things were definitely looking up!

My final thought, before I got up from my couch-bed, was that I'd gained some new wisdom to impart to my kids someday: decisions are better made in the light of a new day than in the dark of a long night. And with that, I set out to make sure their days got off to a great start, too.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Struggle That French Moms May Never Know - Part II

Continued from Part I

1) Feed yourself like a grown-up. No nutrition lesson here. I'm talking about using adult tableware. Are you drinking out of a brightly-colored plastic cup that your kids would find pleasing? Or are you using that over-sized (insert your team's name here) cup that your husband got free with his beer at the last visit to the stadium? Stop it. Get one of the good glasses down from the top shelf where it's been collecting dust (wipe it off) and use it! Did your cereal bowl this morning have cartoon characters on it? Try using one of the nice bowls tomorrow. Ditto plates and silverware. Take it a step further and get a special piece just for you - something that reflects your style and personality. Mine's a pretty bowl and I use it for everything from ice cream to Chinese take-out. And the whole house knows it's mine, all mine. I don't use it all the time, but when I do, it really does feel like I'm treating myself to a little something special.

2) Along the same lines, let yourself enjoy something womanly. "Womanly" implies that it's not something for you to share with your kids or your husband. And it's not about getting alone time for you to veg on the couch in your sweats. It's about giving a nod to the woman you may have forgotten you are! For me, it's painting my toenails. This feels especially decadent during the long, northeast winter months when toes are most often hiding out in socks and boots. There's just something about knowing that, underneath it all, my toes are a-twinklin' and nobody knows it but me. Maybe you haven't updated your hair in a while - get a new look! Or take advantage of that Victoria's Secret coupon you got in the mail and get some pretty new unmentionables. Or, if you haven't enjoyed a bath since you started giving them to your kids, get to know that luxury again. And not with the kids' berry-scented bubble bath and all the bathroom lights a-blazing, either. Try some bath oils, soak by candlelight, play some music . And close your eyes, for Pete's sake, and relax. Even 15 minutes of this is a beautiful thing. Yes, you do have time. I had a private bath last weekend for the first time in probably 10 years - no exaggeration. The kids were tucked in for the night, I had nothing left to do, nowhere to go and no time constraints. My super-thoughtful husband interrupted me just once - to deliver a glass of wine - and then left me to my leisure. I am also not exaggerating when I say it was downright heavenly.

3) Get a hobby. Seriously. If someone asks you, "What do you like to do in your spare time?" and your answer is either sleep, watch TV, or hop on the Internet (and YES, I'm talking also about Facebook!), then you probably need to adopt some kind of productive pasttime. Go creative - make cards or cakes or paintings or music. Go healthy - walk, jog, kickbox, anything. Do something new - learn to fish, volunteer in town, start researching your family geneaology and see how far back you can go. A hobby doesn't necessarily have a point. It's supposed to be something just for you, just because you enjoy it. Some call it personal enrichment. Others call it living.

4) Stay relevant. Not that mom-ming shouldn't be the most important thing in your universe, but if you can't carry on a discussion with other people without either mentioning your kids or bringing every topic back around to how it relates to your kids, you've lost touch. Keep on top of current events. You've seen the headlines, now get the details: what is this "fracking" thing is and why does it have everyone so riled? What's going on with the Occupy movement? What are SOPA and PIPA and why did they make the Internet all crazy one day last month? What did that cruise ship captain have to say for himself? It's an election year - who are the candidates and what platforms are they supporting? In the process of learning about this stuff, it's impossible not to be exposed to many, many different perspectives. Gather and consider this wealth of information and form opinions. If you have made an informed opinion (not one that you adopted from someone else), it means you that you have an understanding of how the world works and your place in it. Not only does this do wonders for your sense of esteem and belonging , but it also arms you with fresh and interesting things to talk about when adult discussion breaks out.

Of course, I know lots of moms who always had a handle on it. Those are the ones who inspired me to get back into the swing of things. And I know moms who aren't ready yet to wear any other hat than the MOM hat they wear so well. I'm just glad to have found and to pass along that it is possible for moms to get back to being "real people", too!

The Struggle That French Moms May Never Know - Part I

The Huffington Post ran an article about how French parenting differs from parenting in the US . A great article, it made a couple of interesting points. 1) generally, the French don't go crazy, changing their lives to adapt to raising children; children are expected to grow and adapt to the world of adults. 2) French mothers don't tend to carry the "Mommy guilt". Generally, the opposite is true in America, on both counts.

I find some things about the French parenting perspective fascinating. Since I'm open to the notion that we Americans can actually learn a thing or two from other cultures, I might have liked to apply some of the concepts to the early stages of my own kids' upbringing. But, like almost everyone else I know, I am organically entrenched in the American way (for better or worse) and my kids are past their formative stages, so it's too late to switch gears now! Seriously, I can't take back all the hovering and fussing and probably-uncecessary precautions (did anyone else use toilet locks during the toddler years?).

There was a particular line from the article that struck a chord: "… the French generally don't subvert their identities to the lives of their children."Now. Anyone reading who denies that this has happened to her (yes, HER, because I'm not so sure it applies in the same way to dads) is lying. I said it. Everyone knows that to be a "good" mother in America, you are expected to give til it hurts, to sacrifice (mostly) quietly anything and everything in order to turn out "good" children. And since we all consider ourselves to be "good" moms, I know this is what we are doing to ourselves. In a wildly ironic twist, we do these things so that we can have peace. We need the peace of mind that comes from knowing that we're throwing everything we've got at this parenting thing. Otherwise, we feel the pangs of "Mommy guilt". Here's the kicker: we have Mommy guilt anyway, regardless of how much we do. With no hint of an American parenting cultural revolution in the air, it seems like we're bound to stay on this track, at least through our stint. But there are little things we moms can do to get back a bit of ourselves without taking away from our mission. I'm happy to say these things are tried and true. By me. I found these things through trial and error, by accident and often out of sheer desperation. I'm hoping to discover more of these kinds of sanity-savers as I go, but for now, these are tops on my list: (continued in Part II)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

On Housework

My friend posted this sign on Pinterest. I could have used this when my kids were toddlers and I couldn’t keep my house clean to save my life. OK – who am I kidding? There are times when I could STILL use it!

But it reminds me of a lovely lady who gave me some perspective on housekeeping when she dropped in, unannounced. Our second child was just days old and she - a neighborhood acquaintance - wanted to congratulate us and meet our new addition. She could see the panic on my face as I reluctantly let her in. Our first-born was three at the time, and his toys were everywhere. Any and all flat surfaces were strewn with laundry, paperwork, you-name-it. The kitchen was a disaster. We just hadn’t had the energy to deal with it since the arrival of the new little one.

I stammered weak apologies for the condition of the house. She looked me with sincere kindness and said, “You don’t need to apologize. It’s hard to do it all, especially at a time like this".  And she proceeded to tell me a story about her mother, who had 5 kids. It was all she could do to keep up with them. If company came over unexpectedly, there were times when she’d stuff laundry in the oven and close the door to hide it. It was the best she could do. "Do you have laundry in the oven?" she asked me.
To this day, that was one of the best things anyone has ever said to me. I have gone back to that conversation countless times since then. More than once, it has helped me to stop, take a deep breath and realize that it’s not the end of the world if the house doesn’t sparkle from top to bottom. Sometimes, good enough is just good enough.

And truthfully, sometimes I like what I see when I look around: a half-finished Lego project (“I’ll finish it later, Mom”), a board game they were playing together that was abandoned when the next funnest thing came up, a stack of schoolwork with “100%” written across the tops that I have promised to hang up on display one of these days, wrestling action figures resting in between rounds, the latest collection of rocks (“See the fossils inside?”) they found in the yard. These really are memories in the making, and I’ll take these over a clean house anyday.

I’ve referred to this poem before, but here it is again, because it really says it all:

Mother, O' Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth.
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.

Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I've grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due,
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek - peekaboo.

The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew,
And out in the yard there's a hullabaloo.
But I'm playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren't his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.

The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

~ Ruth Hulbert Hamilton

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ladies, Stop Your Crying!

Of course crying is a sign of weakness.   You cry when your emotional fortitude has been compromised.   So it logically follows that if you're someone who cries all the time, you are emotionally weak.   To the chorus of tearful, outraged voices that just rose up in protest, I close my eyes, put up my hand and block you.  Oh, did that make you cry out of frustration?   Cut it out.

 "But," you wimper, "I cry because I'm sad (or insert your favorite sympathy-inducing emotion here)".   Listen.   There's a time and a place.  And it's not every day at all hours.  Crying is for venting extreme emotion: joy, sorrow, pain.  If you cry to express every degree of emotion, you’re doing it wrong.  If you do it because someone once told you it’s okay to cry, you read too deeply into their words.

 I can't speak for the guys.  However, to the ladies I say: turn off the waterworks.   Cry when your kids are born.  Obviously.  Cry at a funeral.  Of course.   Cry at a chick flick.  Duh.  Cry when you drop a pitcher of orange juice on the floor?   Or when your kids are mouthy?   Or when the discussion with dear hubby isn't going your way?   Are you five?

Crying is an expense of your precious energy.  If you just wipe up the spilled OJ without the blubbering, you've saved yourself half the energy you would have otherwise spent.

Crying is a sign of defeat and a game-changer.   Mouthy kids get empowered if they realize you get all noodley over a little lippiness.   When this happens, it stops being about the issue at hand and turns into a power play.  Who's the boss in that relationship, anyway?  If anyone should be crying, it's the kids.  And they should be crying because you've imposed extreme sorrow (due to an extreme grounding) on their disrespectful hind-ends.

Crying is manipulative.  When you cry during a discussion with hubby that's not going in your favor, you're bailing out on your chance to guide things to a decent end.  You're trying to illicit an emotional response from your opponent and hoping it will gain you some ground.   You’re going somewhere you know he won’t go. That's playing dirty.  Have some integrity.

At the very least, stop crying to preserve your dignity.  How much respect does a red-faced, runny-nosed, sobbing mess command?  Not much.  Children cry at the drop of a hat because they are looking for attention or because they don’t know there are other ways to deal with difficult situations.  When you cry at the drop of a hat, you appear child-like, which is hardly becoming of the capable, adult woman you’ve become.

Dry up, chin up, cheer up and carry on.