Tag Archive | parenting

Turning a negative into a positive

I know I haven’t posted here awhile. It’s mostly because I’ve been dealing with some health issues that have gotten me really depressed, but ended up being an awesome catalyst for getting healthier.

Around April 1st I started feeling chest pain, which I knew wasn’t my heart because it only happened when I started eating–and also because I had a full cardio workup about two years ago which ended up with a recommendation to calm down and start taking yoga. Which I think is doctor-speak for “You’re super-stressed out and you’ve got to learn to cope.” Of course, I never followed the doctor’s advice, keeping up with my insane-too-much-on-my-plate life (and not taking yoga). And so, when I started feeling this chest pain I started worrying that my self-neglect was finally starting to do some real damage if not to my heart than to my stomach. So, I got myself to a gastroenterologist.

An endoscopy two weeks later showed me that I have esophagitis–fortunately no signs of cancer–but a severely inflamed esophagus from the acid leaking out of my stomach up my entire esophagus, all the way to my throat. The acid’s getting out because I have a slight hiatal hernia. So the doctor’s orders were: no chocolate; no alcohol; limited caffeine; no carbonated beverages; no fried, fatty, spicy, or acidic foods; and no eating three hours before bedtime. He also said that I might need surgery to fix the hiatal hernia, but he believes that if I lose even just 5-10 pounds the hernia will pop back into place and I can avoid surgery. In essence, I can solve this problem if I stop indulging my inner-five-year old who seems to feel like it’s okay to eat every sweet and fatty thing that it can find, and lose some weight.

On top of that, while anesthetized for the endoscopy I evidently had some trouble breathing, which, along with my snoring at night indicates that I’m developing sleep apnea. This wasn’t an issue 20 pounds ago. Which is yet another indication that I need to lose weight.

I spent a good 24 hours wailing about being fat, feeling sorry for myself and weeping in bathrooms. Then I got a call from my super-friend M., who caught me at the beginning of my 48 hour I-hate-myself-funk, and told me that even though she’d been training for a kicking triathalon, she’d put on some weight and would love to get it off for good. But then she asked me the best question of all time: “What do you WANT to do?” Not “What are you going to do?” Not “Hey, this is what I’m going to do, do you want to come along?” or “Well, what are you doing about it?” She asked me what I wanted to do. My immediate answer, “Join Weight Watchers.”

Here is my reasoning: I have been working with a phenomenal fitness trainer since November. I have learned a TON of things about clean eating, fitness, and general overall health–most of which correspond to exactly what my gastroenterologist told me about what I should avoid. But there are two things I cannot seem to master without significant oversight: portion control, and what Weight Watchers calls “Hedonic eating.” There are many people in the health community who have ALWAYS practiced portion control and who I truly believe have never had to struggle with hedonic eating. These are people who believe that food is fuel, and that is it. They do not seem to share the mindset that food is one of the only sources of pleasure in the life of overweight people. It is as good as a hug, a kiss, a prayer. It is love, comfort, solace, kindness, fun, reward, joy. We eat (or drink) when we’re happy to celebrate, when we’re sad to make ourselves feel better, when we’re stressed to make things a little more bearable, when we’re angry to calm ourselves down, or just because dammit it tastes good and we want more. It doesn’t matter if we’re hungry or full. It doesn’t matter what our mood is. Food is ALWAYS the answer. There doesn’t even need to be a question.

Now, clean eating, in which one avoids all processed foods and tries to eat only things that are found in nature is a great way to combat weight gain, but doesn’t allow for how difficult it is for an hedonic eater to eliminate sugary, processed foods. Because, seriously, hello? Who reaches for a carrot for comfort?

Now, clean eating is incorporated into Weight Watchers under the term “power foods.” Power foods are foods that are packed full of protein or good fat and a healthy about of carbohydrate and fiber, so they satisfy you and keep you fuller, longer. They’re also things that are “worth” the calories and fat that you get out of them. So a power food is a banana, which has the same calories as a 100 calorie bag of cheese nips. But it’s a better choice for its fiber content. Clean eating would absolutely tell you that a banana is superior to cheese nips, because a banana is a fruit and cheese nips are processed crap. So they’re together there.

But Weight Watchers is totally on to the fat person’s tendency to hedonic eating. The folks who run the program are intimately aware of the attitude of, “Even when I’m not even remotely hungry I eat because it tastes good and I want it and it’s yummy and I’m bored or sad or happy or angry and I AM GOING TO EAT THE WHOLE BOX.” In essence, Weight Watchers is tackling the overeater’s Id, the inner child who for some reason the superego has allowed to run wild.

I realized this the Friday after my endoscopy when I went for a mall walk with my friend D., who is also thinking a lot about getting healthier. She is seeing a nutritionist who has told her that “the closer the food is to the farm, the better it is for her,” and to drink 1/2 of her body weight in ounces of water a day. So I’ve been trying that, too. But we also had this awesome conversation about hedonic eating. She likened it to the child in the mall who throws themselves down on the floor and screams if they don’t get the cookie they want. “Would a good parent give them that cookie?” she asked.

“Of course not! They’d say, ‘No cookie for you now, and no cookie for you for the rest of the day, either.'”

“Right,” she said. “So why do you let yourself have the cookie?”

I have been a truly horrid parent to my inner child. I have been indulging that little bitch like crazy for the past 10 years. I have given in to every impulse, every desire, every want, all with the idea of “I deserve it.” When Boo was first born it was, “I kept the child alive for a day! I deserve some cake!” Then, “I have kept the child alive for a week! I deserve some cookies!” Then, “I have gotten through this day of no sleep. I deserve some ice cream!” Then, “I have nursed her through this illnes! I deserve some McDonald’s!” Then, “I have gotten her dressed, out of the house, to a music class, and back home in time for nap. I deserve this ice cream!” Oh, and when little Critter came along, it got worse. “It became, “I did not slap Boo for pinching Critter! Cake time!” or “Oh for the love of all that is Holy, I am so bored looking at these children and making sure they don’t in some way hurt themselves or each other, I am going to eat this whole box of goldfish.” I don’t even LIKE goldfish!!! But there I was, shoving them into my mouth like they were the last food on earth. When I moved from eating as reward to eating out of boredom, that’s when the problems really started. And where did they end me up? On the floor of my guest bathroom, weeping after my endoscopy, and wailing, “Food is the only thing in my life that makes me happy!”

Which is a total lie. I mean, really. I have a husband whose very presence in my life brings me unbelievable joy. I have two children that have changed the way my world spins on its axis–I never knew even dealing with a tantrum could bring me such happiness. I have friends who are the stars in my life–they bring me brightness and light and even new patterns of thinking. How could I reduce my joy to food? And during that walk with D. I realized that when I said that I was throwing a temper tantrum. Like a five-year-old who was told she could no longer have that cookie any time she darn well pleased, I was throwing a full-fledged hissy fit, saying the stupidest things and lashing out at the people I love because I was being told, ‘no.’ And here I thought I was a good parent when in truth, I’m a big spoiled baby.

And that, as I would tell my children, is totally unacceptable.

It’s still not easy. My inner Id has taken a lot of control away from me. It’s really tough to break the patterns of thinking. But having the restrictions, because of my health, has really helped. Having the support of my friends who have joined Weight Watchers for me has helped. Having a family who wants me to stop snoring so they can sleep while we’re away on vacation–and who also just love me and want me to feel better–has helped. I’ve already taken off about seven pounds, which is bringing me very close to what the doctor wanted me to do. I already feel infinitely better. My husband says I snore less, I choke less, I sound better. But I know deep in my heart that I need to keep disciplining that inner child of mine, because I still need to lose a bit more. But baby steps. Seven pounds is good. Seven pounds is GREAT. And I’m proud of me for finally starting to get my inner spoiled toddler under control.

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Please Don’t Eat The Daisies

The girls had a sleepover Monday night with a friend, and it was generally tame. They ate pizza, they giggled, they played video games, they wrote in a best friends’  journal, and they went to sleep. The night passed without incident and then morning arrived, birds chirped, coffee brewed, and the girls decided it would be a good idea to heat up last night’s pizza for breakfast. While I was on the phone in the other room.

Disaster? Of course. But not as you’d expect. Because the disaster didn’t happen when I was on the phone. Not a single mishap was performed while I was chatting, except that one of the slices of pizza was under-heated. One was perfectly edible, and one was still frozen. So I told my older daughter, Boo, to put it back in the toaster oven to reheat it. After all, they had reheated the first slice with no mishaps, so they’d just do the same with slice #2. Right?

Of course not. Because slice #2 had already been put on a plastic plate. So Boo put the pizza AND THE PLATE into the toaster oven. This escaped my notice despite the fact that I was IN THE ROOM at the time. If I was outside gardening, or upstairs talking to my contractor, or still on the phone in another room I could beat myself up for being a terribly inattentive mother. But I was Right There. I had my back turned to Boo, but was actually in the room. Which is why when she said, three minutes later, “Can I get my pizza now?” I walked over to the toaster oven and, reaching for the handle, glanced through the window. Which is when I saw pizza, and something that was definitely NOT pizza, in the oven.

“Did you put the PLASTIC PLATE in the oven??!!!” I asked, opening the oven door and seeing that, indeed, there was a totally melted plastic plate in the toaster, oozing between the grates like an orange blob of blown glass. I might have thought it was actually pretty if I hadn’t been so worried about inhaling potential toxicity.

Boo’s reply, “You didn’t tell me NOT TO . . . ”

My response to all the children in the room: “Run. Away. Now.” Which they did. Manhattan subway cockroaches exposed to a flood light do not flee faster than those three children did. They were GONE. Which was good, as I didn’t want them inhaling plastic fumes. I also didn’t want to whack Boo in the head with the now ruined toaster oven.

The problem was that I was less inclined to mete out punishment than to burst into laughter at my child’s latest artless destruction. And all because of that one phrase, ‘You didn’t tell me NOT TO . . . ”

When Boo was around three I read a book of essays by Jean Kerr entitled Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. If you’re a mom and you haven’t read it, you should. She was fabulous. The title story takes place the day of a dinner party that she is going to throw that evening. She has been spending the whole week getting everything ready for entertaining a variety of guests at her home, and everything is being set up. She develops a litany of things that her two young boys are not to do, and they are the standard admonishments that every mother recognizes–don’t mess up the table, don’t torture the cat, don’t drag mud in on the carpet. The dinner party guests are about to arrive and she comes out of the kitchen to find that the daisies in the floral centerpieces have been completely decapitated. Of course she calls in her two boys to ask what has happened here, and they tell her, “You didn’t tell us not to eat the daisies!”

This has been the story of my life with Boo. “You didn’t tell me I couldn’t eat a plastic lizard.” “You didn’t tell me I should throw up in the toilet rather than in the sink.” “You didn’t tell me that CDs and DVDs scratch easily.” “You didn’t tell me the cat had thrown up right there where I stepped.” “You didn’t tell me I should take off my shoes after walking in the mud.” “You didn’t tell me the stove was hot.” “You didn’t tell me not to feed those cheetos to the cat.” The amount of artless destruction and mess that my child has effected in her eight short years of life on this planet have led us to occasionally refer to her as Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. She is absolutely a benign and natural destructive force. And so, yesterday on Facebook, I posted this:

Boo decided to re-heat some frozen pizza for herself, for breakfast, in the toaster oven, without informing or asking me. She just put it on a plate and put it on in there. The plate? Was plastic. Now I need to buy a new toaster oven, and Boo retains her nickname: Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. Is it too early to start drinking?

Now, some might expect the usual comments to be split between judging that  my daughter shows a profound lack of common sense: who wouldn’t know that plastic would melt in a toaster oven? and claiming that her act highlights my failure as a mother: did you ever TEACH her that plastic melts under high heat? Fortunately, none of my friends said any of that, which just goes to prove that I have amazing, forward thinking, fun, and loving friends. These people are, quite honestly, the very best allies my daughter will ever have.

One of my newest friends wrote: “She just purified your family right into a renewed toaster oven. Nicely done Shiva!” I love that my friends don’t judge me even for my inaccurate knowledge of foreign gods.

A fellow school mom wrote:  “At least there was an attempt on her part to be independent and self reliant. 🙂 Sorry about the death of your toaster oven. :-(” And this is the blessing of friends who have older kids. They can always put a positive spin on things.

One of my favorite neighbors wrote: “That is a great story!! You now have a memory that will be priceless!!” And you know what, here it is, on this blog, memorialized forever!

Another dear school friend, and fellow blogger, wrote: “What a waste of pizza!!! haha **hugs Boo**” After I read that, of course, I had to convey the hug. Boo was happy to see her mom smiling and laughing about the whole thing.

One of my funniest college friends and I have a running joke that, even though he has no children, he is going to write a parenting book. I informed him that he will have to amend his book title to “Don’t stick a fork . . . OR ANYTHING PLASTIC . . . in the toaster.” He replied, “Well, I was going to put that under “Other Helpful Parenting Tips,” but in light of this morning, you’re right.” It’s amazing when a potentially dangerous episode with a child can be transformed into a writing workshop-like title discussion.

One of my few remaining before-the-children-came-along university friends, who has helped me pull myself out of many, many bad!Mommy moments commented: “Haven’t we all done something similar? Foil in the microwave? Glass baking dish under the broiler? or is it just me?”  This made me realize that I was wasting a perfectly good teaching moment being upset about a toaster. I decided the best way to handle the situation was to turn it into a learning experience and realized it was better she made this error under the mostly-watchful eye of her mother rather than alone in a dorm when she’s 19. It led me to talk to the girls about all sorts of heating mistakes–don’t put a glass dish under a broiler (I even showed Boo and Critter what the broiler WAS!); don’t put aluminum foil, or any metal, in the microwave; don’t put plastic in the oven, on the bottom rack of the dishwasher, or on the grill. I even taught them the difference between silicone and plastic! And what was more, we had fun talking about all the mistakes I made as a young wife trying to cook in a very tiny, cramped, ill-equipped kitchen.

Boo’s dear teacher from preschool play and music classes, who we greatly miss seeing, asserted: “I’m sure [Boo] only meant this to be an important science experiment performed solo for maximum educational value! Hang in there. [Her duaghter] once tried a slice of cheese in the DVD player…imagine those results!” She made me realize that kids are going to sometimes even do things not out of artless ignorance but out of curiosity (this will most likely be more true of Critter than it will ever be of Beth) and that when that happens I will have to be understanding, resourceful, and forgiving as well.

A good childhood friend of my husband’s explained: “At least she learned a valuable lesson early-and some extra points for initiative. Boo-just make mom a mushy card and all will be well!” As it turns out, he is very wise, because all is well. It even has a happy ending! After the toaster  oven cooled off and the plastic re-congealed, with the help of our contractor-friend who was at our house yesterday, the toaster oven was SAVED! And the kingdom rejoiced! I did not have to take the money for a new toaster oven out of Boo’s allowance!

And ultimately, in the light of a new day, I can even more fully assert that yesterday my friends were absolutely right–what yesterday was frustrating and potentially horrifying is now humorous anecdote of the Jean Kerr/Erma Bombeck school. What I want to know is how Jean and Erma managed to find the humor in these situations without a world of friends at their fingertips on Facebook. Maybe times were simpler then. Maybe there were less distractions. Maybe interactions weren’t as frequent or as necessary. But I’m grateful I live in the time I do, because though it seems that the frustration of mothers at the insanity of their children has not changed, my electronic world makes it a lot easier to handle it all.

Toy Jail

Yesterday I took my daughter’s cardboard Build-A-Bear box and made a jail for their toys. It’s sad, really, that it has come to this. In all fairness, the toys have not done anything to deserve being put in jail. If anything, it should be called a “toy spa,” because those toys have been so abused, neglected, and strewn about that they could use some pampering. Maybe I will put a soft velvet lining in the Build-a-Bear box so they can recline in comfort. That would, however, defeat the psychological purpose of the toy jail, which is to make the kids want to earn the toys back by doing a variety of chores around the house. Because on the outside of the box is a little envelope in which I have placed strips of index cards with different household chores they need to do to release a toy from jail. So, of course the jail has to look sad and unappealing or the kids won’t want to break the toys free.

To be fair, I don’t think the kids want to free the toys anyway. If watching them is any indication, they are perfectly content to let mommy store the toys in jail for all eternity. They just don’t care about their stuff. Well, about most of their stuff. They are inseparable from their lovies (for Boo this is a stuffed lamb named Fluffles; for Critter it is her blanket which is aptly named Blanket) and would recoil in terror should either of those items ever make it into toy jail. Everything else? Feh. Not so much. Take it, leave it . . . they’ll find something else to play with.

I suppose here is where I could go into the litany of “The kids have too much. They take everything for granted. They have no respect because they didn’t earn it. They have no idea how spoiled they are. If I had the toys they had when I was a child, I would have treated them like gold. I barely had a sock and a stick to play with, blah blah blah.” Much of which is, of course, untrue. I had lots of toys. And I treated a lot of them like crap. So much so that when I was about five my mother decided to start threatening me with the arrival of the “toy fairy.”

Ah, yes, the infamous toy fairy. She was the supernatural precursor to the toy jail. She would come in the middle of the night to the houses of children who did not clean up their toys and TAKE EVERYTHING. So, yeah, one morning I woke up, stumbled down to the living room to play with the Little People village I’d set up (and not taken down) the night before, and it was gone. Everything. Gone. Totally gone. Nowhere to be seen. I was stunned. “Where are my toys?” I asked.

“I told you I was going to call the toy fairy,” my mom replied.

“She took my toys?” I asked.

“She took the toys you weren’t taking care of, and she’s going to give them to children who will appreciate them.”

“She’s GIVING AWAY ALL MY TOYS?!!!” I asked. That had not originally been part of the toy fairy profile. I knew she’d come and take them. I didn’t know she was going to redistribute them. When I tell my kids this story they say, “So the toy fairy was a DEMOCRAT?” (And there’s about the most politics you’re ever going to read in this blog, folks).

“Well,” my mom replied, “she’ll give away all your toys unless you call her to let her know that you’re sorry and will take better care of your toys from now on.”

“I can CALL HER?” I asked. Why hadn’t I been told that before? I thought only adults could call in the toy fairy. I didn’t know she could be contacted by children.

“Of course you can call her,” my mother said. “Would you like to?”

Because I was five I didn’t yet know expressions like, “Is the Pope Catholic?” but if I had, I would have said that. Instead I think I just nodded, terrified that I was now going to have to speak to Her. The Toy Fairy. The Maleficent of the plastic world.

My mom picked up a shopping bag with a picture of Santa on it and dialed the rotary phone. Chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck. Chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-chuk. Another experience my children will never have. WAITING for the PHONE to DIAL. As it turned out, the number she was dialing was the general office number of the NY Telephone company where my grandmother worked. I had no idea that’s where the bag came from. All I saw was that Santa was on that bag. And all sorts of ideas started going through my head. Santa. The Toy Fairy. In the same place???!!!! It couldn’t be a coincidence. Did HE get his toys from HER? Was HE her redistribution machine? Was she putting the elves out of business? Did Santa not so much make toys as recycle them? My little five-year-old brain started to go down some pretty scary paths. Luckily, my mother finished dialing and someone on the other end of the line picked up.

I heard my mother mumble a bit, then say, “HI! Is this the TOY FAIRY? I have a VERY SAD LITTLE GIRL who wants to SPEAK TO YOU.”

I took the receiver of the phone like it was a snake, and put it to my ear. “Hello?”

“Hello!” said the voice on the other end of the line. I remember it flitting through my head that the voice sounded remarkably like my grandmother’s. It’s a wonder, in a child’s brain, that I could so easily dismiss that similarity because the number had been on a bag with Santa’s picture on it. Seriously. If that phone company bag had a flamingo on it, or the Empire State Building, or a picture of a phone my family would have been so busted! But Santa. I don’t think my mother knew how essential that Santa bag was to the whole charade.

“Hello,” I said again. “Is this the Toy Fairy?”

“Yes,” said the toy-fairy-who-sounded-like-grandma.

“Can I please have my toys back?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” the toy fairy said. “I’m not sure if you really WANT them back.”

“I do! I do! I love them! I want them back!”

“Well, you certainly didn’t seem to value them enough to take care of them.”

“But I do! I do! I just left them out because I’d set up the whole village and was going to play with them again in the morning. I love them! I want them back! Please don’t give them away to the other children!”

“You need to put them away every night. Will you do that?”

“I will! I promise! I will! I’m sorry!” At this point I was probably crying.

“Well then, I’ll bring them back tonight and you’ll have them tomorrow.”

So I lived for a whole day without my toys and the next morning they were back. It was like second Christmas. And I did put my toys away every night after that. Because my parents had totally upped the stakes. Put the toys away or they’re gone. Forever.

It wasn’t toy jail. It was toy armageddon.

For some reason I can’t bring myself to do that to my kids, even though I know how effective it was for me. And that, in the words of Yoda, is why I fail as a parent. I’m not willing to take the hard steps. I am, in essence, a marshmallow. Plus, I just don’t have the kind of determination it would take to get all the toys out of my house in one evening.

As a matter of fact it strikes me as both amusing and telling that my parents were able to take all of my toys away while I slept. I think, to get all the toys out of this house during the nighttime hours, I’d need a bulldozer and a dump truck. And where would I hide them? I’d need a storage pod or something.

Which brings me back to the point that my kids have too much stuff.

I know it’s rationalizing to say that the reason they’re so dismissive of their things is because they have too much. It’s almost like they can’t wrap their minds around how to organize it. But to be honest that’s just giving them far too little credit. They could organize and clean if they wanted to. They just have better things to do–like read, watch tv, play with their friends, and whine about cleaning–than to work to make my house look like a tornado did NOT just whip through it.

So how do you make a person–in this case, a child–do something they have absolutely no desire to do? Do I have to go nuclear and call in the Toy Fairy? Do I have to ultimately take everything away? Do I have to show them that mom is no longer someone to be trifled with? Or will the toy jail work?

I’ll keep you posted.

Don’t Blog Bored!

We have reached day 41 of summer vacation down here in Florida. (I’m not personally counting, but one of my dear friends is. She’s doing a photo journal of the summer, and posts one picture a day on Facebook. That’s kind of how I know). Not every state gets out of school at the same time, I learned a few years ago. Florida’s school year ends in early June (this year on my 40th birthday, June 8th) and starts in mid-August (this year on August 20th–so just about 30 days away). So, that Phineas and Ferb song–there are not 104 days of summer vacation. There are, like, 72 or something. How come they get an extra month?

We are thus just a little over midway through the summer and It has hit. Boredom. I’m bored, the kids are bored, everything has taken on this general feeling of, “Eh? Why bother? We’ve kind of done that already.”

Maybe it’s just the weather, or the barometric pressure, or allergies. I don’t know. Because there’s plenty to do around here, it’s just that none of us can work up any of the energy to do it. Some people call it “lying fallow.” I like that, the idea of letting things go and doing absolutely nothing so that I can recharge for when things really DO need doing. Except that it feels less like re-charging and more just like being on strike.

I want to work, I really do. I want to get it done. But something is stopping me, and I can’t quite name it. It’s frustrating. Maybe I’m just so overwhelmed with all that needs to be done that . . . well no. That’s not true. I mean, it’s not like I have vast amounts of things to do. It’s just that what I have to do is always the same: dishes, laundry, teach the kids something, plan a lesson, get Girl Scout stuff planned. Nothing grand or exciting, just the ins and outs of everyday life.

Day 41 of summer vacation is the Groundhog Day of summer. I’m getting the feeling of “Oh, this again?” at the same time as I’m beating on myself because I don’t know if I’m making this the BEST POSSIBLE SUMMER DAY IT COULD BE.

Did my parents worry about this stuff during my summers? Of course not. They didn’t wake up every morning saying to themselves, “How can we focus today so that Diane remembers it forever as the pinnacle day of summer break?” They pretty much did what they always did: woke me up, gave me something to eat, told me to call my friends and then either pitched me out of the house or watched kids invade. Granted, I only had, like, two friends, so it wasn’t much of an invasion, but still.

And, to be fair, I am not the kind of mom who believes I should entertain my kids. I interact with them. I care for them. I am always available for a hug. But no, I am not getting down and playing Lego’s or Littlest Pet Shops or Moshi Monsters with you. I’m more of a puzzle person, and a board game person. I’m always up for a game of Scrabble. Sadly, no one wants to play scrabble. Or play writing games. Or read books right now. So I’m bored. Bored bored bored bored bored.

Phineas and Ferb are never bored. Then again, that’s because they take the initiative to make each of their summer days the best day ever. Their mom mostly goes out and then feeds them snacks. I like that mom. That mom: she is my hero. Though I hope if my kids were building  a spaceship in the backyard I’d notice. But I love Linda (the mom) because she just leaves the kids to their own devices and doesn’t worry much. I would like to emulate Linda.

But it’s hard, because deep down inside I’m the sister, Candace. Only instead of busting the kids for doing something outrageous, I bust myself. “Mom! Diane’s not doing the laundry!” “Mom! Diane’s not playing with the kids!” “Mom! Diane’s not making dinner!” “Mom! Diane’s not putting away the dishes!” I tattle on myself, to myself. God, I am such a nag.

And this is why I should not write a blog entry when I’m bored. Because it shows how truly insane I can become. I don’t just talk to myself on occasion, I tattle on myself. But it’s a step up from when I was a kid and I used to play bored games with myself. And cheat so that my favorite board piece would win.

Then again, that sounds like a lot more fun than making dinner. Or laundry.

Getting Ready for New Year’s!

Now you probably think I’m one of THOSE people–the ones who have their Christmas shopping done and are already moving on to December 31st. Well, I’m not. I’m lucky if the Christmas presents are wrapped by December 24th. I’m not talking about that day at the end of December when people either get drunk or depressed or both. The only significance that holiday has for me is that it’s my mother’s birthday, and she’s such an awesome woman that the entire world, in every time zone, SHOULD totally throw a party on her birthday.

But no, I’m talking about the REAL New Year’s, or the one that has always been more real to me than December 31st–the first day of school.

I went into Wal-Mart today to get a new bristle brush (which, in our house, we call “tickly brush” as opposed to all the “hurty brushes” we have lying around). For some reason I cannot fathom, tickly brush likes to take vacations from us now and again. One minute it’s there, then . . . gone. For days. Then it’s there again. And it’s the only brush Critter will allow to touch her unruly locks without a whole lot of whining. I got tired of scouring the house for the tickly brush that is undoubtedly not going to show up any time soon, so I decided to run into The Mart to get another one. Which I know exemplifies everything that’s wrong with the United States, along with Big Gulps and Large Movie popcorn and televisions larger than some small European countries, but sometimes I cave to Capitalistic impulses to have more than one of something because I’m tired of wasting twelve minutes in the morning looking for an item that’s turned itself invisible.

However, the spirit of frugality and restraint took hold of me today and wouldn’t let go. First, today was one of those days when I walked into Wal-Mart and the glare of those fluorescent lights and the sheer amount of STUFF in the place nearly got me dizzy. This happens when I’ve been away from Wal-Mart for a long time. Maybe it’s all the colors of all the stuff stacked together, or the way it’s so very bright, or the sheer size of the place that’s so overwhelming. I immediately felt like a deer in headlights, and nauseated, and I just wanted to get out of there. So I rushed over to the hair aisle to find they had absolutely no tickly brushes. None.

By then, of course, I had gone through the fluorescent adjustment process and was feeling much less overwhelmed, and I felt that having gone through the trouble of parking, walking through the lot, and smelling those awful Subway sandwiches on the way into the store (the outside of that shop ALWAYS smells like vomit), I should at least spend a few minutes there in case there was something else I wanted to buy that I couldn’t remember right that moment. So I started to wander the aisles right at the front of the door and that’s when I saw them: school supplies.

“It’s only July! She wants the kids back at school already?” you might ask. Of course not. I want summer to last for the next two hundred years. I love my kids’ school, and I love my friends there, and I love that my kids like to go there. But I’m not ready to start that getting up at 6am, packing snacks and lunches, nagging them to find their shoes routine that I am so thrilled to be freed from for two whole blessed months. As a matter of fact I was thinking that if school could just start an hour or so later, at 9am instead of 7:45am, my life could feel so much more civilized and in-control. But I don’t think that amendment is going to pass, so I’m not even going to propose it.

So, no, I don’t want school to start again. I miss my kids when they’re at school. What I want is The Notebooks. The Pens. The Post-It Notes. The Folders.

*Shiver*

New school supplies are to me what shoes are to that Sex in the City character who I don’t like and never watched. But I knew she really had a thing for shoes. I could care less about shoes. Or clothes, furs. Granted, I like jewelry. But not the way I like school supplies. Other than the obvious increased chance of paper cuts, I could SO see myself in a room full of empty notebooks feeling wave after wave of joy washing over me.

I walked through every school supply aisle, slowly, and felt my eyes start to glaze and my breathing start to hitch. I leaned forward and grabbed one notebook and it smelled so new. The pages were all tightly packed together and just waiting to be opened. Oh, that CRACKLE of a just-opened notebook. And the smell of fresh paper-a clean, unblemished sheaf of paper just begging to be written on. Full of hope and promise. What might I write on you, beautiful, beautiful notebook. Mine. My own. My precious.

It took a great deal of struggle to put that notebook back. When I did, I felt like Galadriel from Lord of the Rings when she didn’t take the One Ring from Frodo.  As the notebook slid back into the box my brain said, “Ah. I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Diane.”

What is it about new school supplies, the new school year, that sets my soul pulsating? And why, at 40, do I still see August/September as the only new year’s that has ever been, or ever will be? Because no matter how long I’ve been away from it, and no matter what else I’ve been doing in the meanwhile, I am a teacher and a learner, heart and soul. Writing, teaching, and learning are my all-consuming passions. I’m not kidding when I compare myself to Galadriel. For her, the ring was the ultimate temptation, the epitome of power, joy, and achievement. For me, it’s teaching. It’s what I trained to do. It’s what I love to do. It’s one of the only things I can truly say I do consistently well. And yet, it is dangerous, because it drives me to distraction. The world falls away when I write, and read, and comment on student papers, and plan lessons, and teach. I’m in another dimension where I almost feel like pure energy. The time flies by, and what I thought was ten minutes was actually an hour.

I left teaching when Boo arrived on the scene. I just didn’t see how I could juggle the baby and the career. It was a tough decision to make because I had just landed a tenure track position in English and Writing at a wonderful local university. I was living the dream. But my daughter became my new dream, and I couldn’t find space in my mind or heart for both. So I had to choose, and I chose Boo. It was a smart choice, I think, seeing as how, two years later, I became so amazingly ill when pregnant with Critter that I couldn’t move most days. I couldn’t even catch my breath. I don’t know how I would have taught classes. It was the right thing to do.

Yet I missed it with every fiber of my being, some days. Other days I just threw myself into being the teacher of my kids, and it got better. But when Critter started five-morning-a-week preschool I immediately decided to go back. It was exhilarating to be back in a classroom again. It was like I’d never left. I’d been away for seven years, and I slipped back into that professor persona without missing a beat. It was like slipping into a warm bath, or opening a brand new notebook. Being back in the classroom, with my students, and the writing, and the computers, and the books . . . ohhhhh. I could have gotten lost there. And part of me did.

I was talking with a student one day and he remarked at how happy I was when I talked about writing. Without even thinking I said, “I love doing this more than I love doing anything else in the entire world.” Then, on the drive home, I called my dear friend who is also a college professor and mother, weeping near-hysterically. “How could I say that?” I wailed. “I love my kids. I love my husband. I love being with them. I should love being with them more than I love doing anything else in the entire world! Why did I say that? I’m A HORRIBLE MOTHER.”

“You’re not a horrible mother,” my amazing friend said. “You’re a wonderful mother. You’ve given up your career for your family. And of course you love being with your kids and husband more than anything else in the world. I listen when you talk to me. When you and the kids and your husband are away on vacation, or at the beach, or bopping around town, you’re truly, honestly happy. And don’t tell me you would rather be teaching than you would be walking through the Magic Kingdom on a mild Florida day with your family.”

“No,” I sniffled. “I really love that.”

“I know!” she said. “What you DON’T love, my dear, is housework. And laundry. And cooking. And dishes. And playing Candyland for the 275,000th time. You don’t love nagging people to do their homework, and picking underwear up off the floor, and finding wet towels on the bed, and not even having a moment of peace when you’re on the toilet.”

“Okay,” (see what an awesome friend she is, and how much better she was already making me feel), “that’s true.”

“You LOVE being a mom. You LOVE being a wife. You LOVE being with your family. And I bet that if your kids and husband could be in the classroom with you, you wouldn’t mind. Right?”

“That’s . . .true.”

“Right. So what you’re saying you love more than anything else in the world is living in a world of ideas, rather than a world of laundry.”

“Yeah. Yeah. That’s it! That is true! I like having conversations with my kids. When they’re not talking about poop. I love having conversations with my husband when they’re about something other than why we can’t get the kids to stop talking about poop. But you know what–not a single one of my college students EVER SAYS THE WORD POOP in class. I REALLY LIKE THAT. And they don’t follow me into the bathroom. Ever. That’s really nice.”

“Yeah! See? You’re not a bad mother! You’re just a really awesome TEACHER.”

So I persevered through that semester until the day came that Teddy Bear Pajama Day was scheduled on the same day I had to teach. I tried to make it work. I really did. I let my students come in an hour late so I could be at school first thing in the morning. But morning announcements ran long, and by the time I had to leave to get to my class, which was already starting an hour late, the kids had just started singing. So I had to duck out right as Christa was doing a teddy bear dance, and I couldn’t even say good-bye.

I cried the whole way to work.

Then I got to my classroom, where my students were wonderfully up and awake, having had an extra hour to sleep, and I tried to pull the, “Everything’s fine over here! Don’t worry about me! I just decided to come in looking like a tear-y eyed mess to give you all something to write about!”

They didn’t buy it.

“What happened?” they asked. I thought it was sweet that it wasn’t just the cute young girls that looked concerned. The boys looked truly alarmed.

They had reason to be, because I proceeded to make them all exceedingly uncomfortable when one tear slipped out of each eye as I explained, “I had to leave in the middle of teddy bear pajama day! And this is the LAST teddy  bear pajama day! It’s MY BABY’S teddy bear pajama day.”

“Diane,” (yes, I let my students call me by my first name) my students said, “We love having you as a professor. You’re, like, the best professor most of us have. But you really need to be with your kids right now. Anyone in the world can see that.” (I LOVE college students. Really. I think they’re almost universally made of awesome).

So, I toughed it out through the semester, had some fun, and took yet another teaching hiatus. I’ve kept busy, of course. I volunteer at the kids’ school like a madwoman. I write some, more now that I have this blog. I have projects I work on. I’m teaching a writing summer camp for Kindergarten through 3rd graders this summer. But, oh. To go back to teaching. To have that thrill of excitement for what the new semester will bring! To have a fresh new syllabus ready for review, to have the first two weeks of lessons generally planned, to look at a new list of fresh names and wonder who these wonderful new people are going to be! Even knowing that, by 1/3 into the semester the optimism of the unknown will have sunk into the pessimism of the “Oh GOD they know NOTHING, and will NEVER, EVER, EVER GET THIS!” which will evolve to the realism of “Okay. We can do this. I’m good enough to teach them this, and they’re good enough to learn most of it” which will then morph into the desperation of “Just get me to Thanksgiving, Lord, and I promise I’ll give everyone an extension on their paper so they can, maybe, get a B” to the elation of “Last week of class! Screw it! I’m done! Go home, finish your last papers, actually PROOFREAD THE DAMN THINGS THIS TIME and no, I’m sorry, spell check is NOT going to help you distinguish between the words ‘loose’ and ‘lose,” “their,” “there,” and “they’re,” or “it’s” and “its” so actually run your eyes over your own papers FOR ONCE.”  I still would be so happy to be back there.

Well, someday. I hope. Until then, I’ll just start planning all the volunteer stuff that has to be done this year. I’m sure I need a BIG notebook for that!

Pay. Attention.

No, not to me. As a matter of fact, it’s probably better that you pay me no attention at all. Though I like it when you do. I especially like it when you comment. Because that’s FUN and ENCOURAGING.

No, when I say pay attention, I’m talking to myself. And I’m reminding myself to pay more attention to my kids.

And the irony, of course, is that as I’m writing this I’m paying absolutely no attention to my kids. Granted, it’s 9:53pm, and they should be in bed already. So I shouldn’t HAVE TO pay attention to them right now. The only reason they’re still awake is because daddy is allowing them to play Rock Band with him. And when they’re rocking out, I’m mostly off the hook. Though I do play a mean fake guitar.

What’s even more ironic is that I’ve decided, today, to write about how I’m starting to realize that I should be paying the MOST attention to my kids when they’re playing video games. Because if I don’t, according to some things I’m reading, my kids may one day kill themselves. Yes, I know that sounds a bit extreme. And yesterday when a friend of mine linked to an article, “How Video Games Kill the Mind and Body” on Facebook I had a knee-jerk, “I call bullsh*t” reaction to it after just reading the title, and  after a cursory read of it, I got snarky. My friend called me out on my snarkiness, and so I stepped away from the computer for a little while and spent much of the day thinking about that exchange. After talking with my dear friend M. about some video game concerns, I realized that my friend L. was right. I was playing Devil’s Advocate, I dismissed the concept too soon, and, while it’s extreme, it probably is something parents of young children and teen-agers need to become more aware of.

The article I’m referring to is an interview conducted with Mrs. Elizabeth Wooley, who founded an organization called Online Gamers Anonymous after her son, an avid–and some, including me, would say addicted–online gamer, committed suicide. He started online gaming and became so obsessed with his online life that he stayed up all night playing, quit his job, and became unable to support himself.  A little over a year later he killed himself. She says that after her son died she came in contact with many other families whose children had become so addicted to online video game play that they fell into deep depressions, abandoned their real lives entirely and, after becoming destitute, homeless and unable to get away from the gaming life, killed themselves. She talks about parents who allowed their living child to die of malnutrition because of their utter and complete attentiveness to a game, women who’ve left their husbands to be with men they’ve met gaming online, fathers who neglect their families to play with their online friends, and brilliant teens who lose scholarships because, once on their own in their college dorms, they do nothing but play games all day and night.

I have to say this woman is remarkably fair-minded. She’s not demonizing games. She may be broad-blanketing things a little bit–I, for one, would say that she really needs to clarify that’s she’s talking about ONLINE games rather than all video games; Wii Mario Kart, Kinect Adventures and Rock Band do not share ANY of the characteristics of the games like EverQuest to which she’s referring. But all in all she’s only calling for awareness, moderation, and supervision rather than banning, outlawing, or legislating.

To be fair to me, the visceral reaction I had to this article was borne of a childhood full of scapegoating the media, pushing for regulation and banning, and outright demonizing everything from t.v. shows to video games. I vaguely recall, in my teens, people trying to outlaw Loony Toons, Tom & Jerry and other cartoons for breeding recklessness and violent tendencies in children. Then there were the accusations that Dungeons and Dragons games were making kids violent. Then, video games. And now, the accusation that video games are making kids suicidal. My opinion on these accusations had always been “I never got violent, and I watched Loony Toons ALL THE TIME” (after all, we had a total of 3-5 television stations when I was growing up. What else was on?); “I played Dungeons and Dragons. I don’t think I’m really a sword wielding elf in real life;” and “I play video games. I don’t go outside hitting people with baseball bats after playing Grand Theft Auto.” However, after my friend called me out on my knee-jerk snark, I realized two other things: I have made it a point to NEVER play online video games, and the one time I did play one (Farmville) I found very quickly that I had to get away from it as soon as possible. After all, when my real cat’s food and water bowls were empty and stayed that way for five minutes because my online dog needed to be fed within five minutes of my returning home for the day, I knew there was a problem. I withdrew from the game that very day.

Here are the differences, I think, between online gaming and traditional video games:

1. You can become an entirely other person online. And you can create every single thing about that person, from how they look to how they talk to what their skills are. And these things can be diametrically opposed to who you are in real life. An online gamer can, quite literally, reinvent herself. In the games my family and I play, our characters are pretty well-defined. For instance, I’m a HUGE fan of the Final Fantasy series (I think we’re in the middle of playing XIII now), which is essentially a quest novel in video game form. The main character is always a young Japanimated boy with spiky hair and a bad attitude. Also, he has no parents. And he doesn’t know who he is. Or where he comes from. So we play the entire game as an ill-tempered amnestic orphan. Certainly not an identity we would create for ourselves. And our role is VERY well spelled out. We get stronger, so we can fight proscribed battles that are already programmed into the game and are thus not determined by any choices we make. Just like in a novel. Page 125 is going to come no matter what choices you make. Nothing’s gonna get page 125 there faster or slower except for how much time you put into reading the book. It’s page 125. And nothing is going to change what’s on page 125. The video games I play are predictable and pretty much plotted. Which brings me to my second point.

2. From what I understand of online games, they are totally open-ended. If your avatar (or electronic self) decides to go left rather than right, the entire game is changed forever. It’s like living in a real world rather than a novel. That’s not an option in the games I play. Again, page 125 is going to come to my snarky, amnestic orphan whether I decide to turn left or right. If I can even turn left. Because in the games I play the game makers have ways to prevent me from going left if I haven’t unlocked the plot point that allows me to do so. The idea of playing a game that would allow ONE decision in gaming to change the ENTIRE COURSE of my character’s future terrifies me from a game perspective. You mean I can NEVER KNOW what would happen if I’d just turned right? NEVER? But I can see how, if I let myself get into it, I could find it addicting. I mean, tomorrow, in my real life, the only thing that will happen if I turn right instead of left is that I’ll have to make a U-turn, or go 20 minutes out of my way, to get my kids to summer camp. Other than that, no major change will occur in my future or my fate. But in an online game if I turn left, I could meet my future online life-partner. Or co-quester. In an online game, I would think that amounts to the same thing. Which brings me to my third point.

3. In an online game, the “other characters” are REAL PEOPLE. To be honest, this is the #1 exact thing that has always kept me away from online games. Because, and I say this even to my friends out there who play games online, I am terrified of you. Part of me is terrified of you in the “stranger danger” way. How do I know you’re really you? More importantly, even if you are really you, how do I know that online you’re not pretending to be a kindly elf when in reality you’re a maniacal clown? So there we’ll be, playing along for weeks, or months, hunting trolls together, and I’ll turn around at some point and instead of looking at Lord of the Ring’s Legolas fighting next to me I’ll be looking at that clown from Stephen King’s “It.” SCARIEST. CLOWN. EVER. And then I will have to flee from my computer and hide in a dark closet, rocking. But then I’ll realize I’m in a dark closest, which is where evil clowns from 80’s horror movies like Poltergeist always hide before they kill people, and I’ll have to run out of the closet. And then I’ll see the computer and your maniacal clown face will be there looking at me, laughing. And I’ll cry. So no, I do not want to play Everquest with you. Ever. Also, another part of me is worried that I’m so incompetent at the game play that I’m going to totally wreck your experience, and you’re going to hate me forever. And who wants to play a game to make enemies? Especially of people I love talking to in the school parking lot. Finally, I’m just not a particularly social person, game-wise. If I want to socialize, let’s meet up at each other’s houses to have a glass of wine or something (I’m having a purse party on Saturday! Local friends are welcome to come over!) Or let’s get the kids together for an afternoon swim and have a cup of coffee and some apple strudel.

I’ve digressed there, haven’t I? Okay, maybe a little. The point is that online games bring gamers into contact with real people. And while that terrifies me for all the reasons stated above, I can imagine that for young people whose human interactions are less than stellar, the idea that you’re “meeting up” with your friends online, living a life as a person who is far more awesome than you think you are in real life and does things with far more skill than you think you have in real life, with perhaps more friends than you really have in real life–well, that could be addictive. Which brings me to the fourth difference:

4. Online video games can literally allow gamers to live a second life. I mean, isn’t one of the games out there actually called “Second Life”? That, alone, should tell us something. Especially if our kids are playing it. Kids, teen-agers, twenty-somethings should not have a second life. Second lives are for spies and people in witness protection, not for young people who have not yet gotten their first, real, only life off the ground. Because while sometimes life can resemble a video game (and during my days when I played a lot of games, I often found myself saying to my husband–then boyfriend–you know, this is JUST like in that video game!), a video game life is NOT a life. There is no programmer at work behind all of this. Nothing is pre-written, or proscribed (I mean, unless you believe in predestination. At the risk of sounding like the band Rush, I always choose Free Will. And this could take me on an ENTIRE tangent about God, religion, and all that. But I’ll save that for another entry).

How I want to conclude this one is in saying this:

1. Hey. L. I’m sorry I was snarky. You were right. And now I’m going to post a link to my blog on your page so you can read this and see how you. inspire. me.

2. I’m probably not going to let my kids play online video games. We’ll stick with Rock Band. It gives them a nice introduction to good music, allows me to discuss “inappropriate vs. appropriate dress choices,” and helps me teach them that “Crocodile Rock” does NOT really start with, “I remember when rock was young, Gnomeo and Juliet had so much fun.” )Elton John, I love you, but WHY did you do that to your song? It was a cute movie, it was great that you could actually make “Romeo and Juliet” work as a fairy tale about Garden Gnomes, but WHY did you mess with that song?) Also, “Just Dance” is good. The song “Pata Pata” is Made of Awesome. But the song Lollipop is not the one from the 50’s. It’s a lot . . . less . . . innocent.

3. My friends who really DO play online games, and who I know read this blog because you commented before. And you’re in SCIFI with me (something else I’ll post about later). And any OTHER readers out there who play online games. What do you think? Are they addictive? And if and when you play, do you have a hard time pulling yourself away? And what advice would you give to parents who are okay with their kids playing video games normally, about allowing kids to play online? And this could be not just games like EverQuest and Second Life, but games like Farmville, Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters? Because the girls REALLY want to play on the Moshi Monster online game, but it’s got some of those same “living online” elements that these other games have. Other than only allowing them to play under supervision, limiting their screen time, only allowing them to play after they’ve completed homework and chores, and all that, do you have any other advice?

4. And hey, husband! I think you’re awesome and I’m coming to bed as soon as I publish this. But what do you think about all this?

And finally:

5. What do you all want me to blog about next? I’m taking requests.

Now I’m going to go hug my kids who are still awake, through no fault of my own. I sent them to bed ten minutes after I started writing this. Because I was paying attention.