About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Family Communication

I hate hearing the following: "It wasn't me;" "I didn't do it!" "It's not my turn to do that!" "HE did it, not me!" "Why are you asking me and not him?!" Or, "I think you love her more than me." Etc.

The refrain goes on and on. Despite chore charts and incentive plans, allowances and penalties, my kids persist in finding ways to point out how life is SO unfair and how they are so innocent. I actually think this is totally normal, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I want phantom kids: ones who make no noise, pick up after themselves without reminders or complaints, don't break things, and who get along wonderfully. Turns out I have real children.

We recently reinstated the venerable family meeting, and gave everyone a chance to air their grievances against each other. Whew! Not a pleasant meeting at all, though it was probably good to have it. Together, we came up with a new and revised (notice I didn't add "improved") chore chart, complete with a list of monetary penalties which occur for certain offenses (such as swearing, a habit the middle one has recently acquired and, were there are world class title to win there, he'd get it). Now, off to implement said plan. Easier created than implemented, as ususal.

According to my children's logic, we must have a band of miscreant, destructive aliens living in the house, for the toys and clothes left on the floor, the globs of toothpaste on the bathroom counters, and the mysteriously broken items in the house are NEVER the result of my children' actions, at least never the result of the most-likely guilty party. Similarly, it is never "their" turn to take out the trash, put dishes in the sink, or feed the cat. Sigh. I wonder sometimes if I am a total failure in the parenting department. Alas, I think I'm a real parent, too. Turns out, genetics really is true: real parents have real kids. Bummer.

To be fair, my kids would probably start a similar essay with the following sentence. "I hate hearing the following: 'Please pick up your clothes off the floor,' 'Please put the milk back in the refridgerator,' 'Please go take a shower,' 'Please pick up the toys in the backyard.'"

If it feels like parenting is nothing more than an endless list of poorly-received requests, it must seem like childhood is an endlessly annoying to-do list, one that is never conceived by the child. My kids correctly point out that I am a champion nag. Ug. What an awful personality quality, but if I'm honest, it is so true. I can point out to them that I'd be less of a nag if they were more self-starters, but it seems that immaturity prevents them from seeing my logic.

From my perspective, one of the most annoying things about the nagging-and-complaining communication pattern is how it perpetuates the very things it aims to prevent (the nagging and the complaining). I've moved to a silent chart -- I point to it and raise my eyebrows, in the silent, motherly sign of "did you do those things you're supposed to have done?" *Kinda* works. Some days. At least with the two who can read.

I've come to the conclusion that family communication probably improves when kids are no longer kids and kids and parents no longer live under the same roof. Shocking!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Farrah and Michael

So, it's been a little over 24 hours since Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died. In true American form, that is SO yesterday's news. I'm moving on. Well, not really -- I'm taking time to make fun of their fans, and of Hollywood. After all, it's a toss up as to which is more ridiculous.

Before I get going here, let me be clear that I am truly saddened by their deaths. They were cultural icons. Whatever that means -- and I have to be honest that I'm not entirely sure -- they seemed to be "it". Her hair and his dance moves defined a whole generation, for better or for worse. I think I was the only girl I knew who never attempted the Farrah hair; I had more of a Kate Jackson look, though I secretly wanted to look like Jacklyn Smyth.

Michael's talent was undeniable, and though it's fun to take pot shots at his weirdness and his personal trials and possible immorality, those things do not take away from what he gave the world through his music. In high school, the thing to do was practice moonwalking, and the really cool kids did it well, often in the middle of the dance floor with the rest of us uncoordinated slobs cheering them on. He made white socks and tight jeans cool, and I was far from alone in LOVING his music videos. I was so mad my parents wouldn't get cable. Thank God the boyfriend's family had cable!

Farrah's story, at least to me, is quite different. I wouldn't actually begin a memorial to Farrah by describing her unusual talent. Not to be mean, but that's not really what Farrah was famous for, whereas it is, at least in part, what made Michael famous. Farrah was NOT the best actress that ever lived. Yet, she did many things worthy of admiration. For one, she left a TV show when it was successful because it was the right thing for her to do, not because it was what was going to benefit a network or gladden fans. I'm thinking that probably took some courage (helped along, of course, by a mountain of accumulated money and a marriage to Lee Majors). She raised a son and stayed in a relationship for nearly 30 years. Unmarried or not, that's an achievement. She ventured into sculpture and artwork, some of which (from what I saw on the Baba Wawa special) looked kinda good. She had the bravery to pose nude TWICE, once in her fifties. She knew she was beautiful, but she also didn't want to let that be the only thing she was known for. If you ever saw her in the TV movie, "The Burning Bed," you know that she was in fact a whole lot smarter and capable than the role that originally made her famous.

A friend who used to live in Carlsbad (where Farrah lived) showed me where Farrah worshipped -- a trendy, undeniably Hollywoodish, kinda-out-there, Hinduish place. That tells me she was attempting some kind of relationship with God, and I think that's admirable. (For you doubters out there, Farrah had been worshipping there for years, not just since the diagnosis.) From what my friend had been told -- years before the diagnosis -- Farrah was a faithful, regular worshipper. And she took the time to have coffee with my friend, simply because my friend went up to her and said, "I just wanted you to know how much I used to enjoy Charlie's Angels." What a nice person (both my friend and Farrah!).

Yesterday, the news portrayed both Farrah and Michael as flawed (true) and as equally artistically talented (sorry, not true). Hollywood took the opportunity to hold them up as iconic, because really -- how could Hollywood pass up that opportunity when Farrah and Michael had the audacity to die ON THE SAME DAY?! What was missing, in my opinion, was the truth: one was freakishly talented (yet freakish) and the other uncommonly beautiful (yet only commonly talented). I suppose this was done as much to placate fans of both as it was to allow Hollywood the opportunity to weave a story of similarity between the two. I don't see the similarity, obviously. It also gave Hollywood a chance to propagate yet another myth: that in dying, the very famous become like the rest of us.

The famous suffer like the rest of us, true. But I do not believe that in dying Farrah and Michael are suddenly like the rest of us, or like the 10,000 children who starved to death yesterday. They were not, and are not, "like us." We (their fans) and Hollywood made them that way, and we have to live with the difference we created -- for all the negative AND positive reasons that difference spawns.

They have stars on the walk of fame. They died with arguably the best medical care. They had legions of people praying for them, blogging about them, thinking about them. Though their families may have (very understandably) wished to be obscure (yesterday in particular), the reality is that most people never have the opportunity to experience the kind of LOVE from so many people that these people had. It's hard to imagine, frankly, and I suspect hard to understand when it's directed at you. It is truly crazy. But you cannot make the argument that death equalizes everybody. Even in death, Hollywood stays Hollywood. Fame remains. Crazy fans remain crazy.

In the end, it looks as though one of these stars had more talent, but far less success in personal life, than the other. Who would I rather have been? It's not hard to choose. (Hint: it's the one whose death was all but eclipsed yesterday by the death of the other.) RIP Farrah and Michael

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Eight Easy Ways to Screw Up the Vegan Diet

So I've been experimenting with the vegan thing. No surprise: vegetarian is easier than vegan. I don't have a problem making the big, obvious choices: portobello mushroom burger instead of beef, tofurkey instead of deli turkey, Buddha's Delight instead of Kung Pao Chicken, tofu and veggies instead of meat lasagna, rice milk instead of cow's milk. Except for the last one, I'd been making the other choices fairly consistently for the past 20 years.

I'm not, by the way, claiming to have been a perfect vegetarian for all that time, just that I've often preferred vegetarian options over meat ones. Anyone who knew me during my grad school years knows that my husband and I were "economic vegetarians," people who at home never ate meat simply because it was cheaper to plan meals without it. But the vegan thing is much more challenging, both because there are so many places where dairy creeps in, and because I like it. A few examples:

#1: The salad dressing. Admittedly, I was at McDonald's with my oldest, and that establishment is not the easiest place to go vegan. The meat-free, cheese-free, tasteless salad was my choice, but my salad dressing had milk products in it (as well as corn syrup, which is in EVERYTHING). I figure I had about a tablespoon of salad dressing. (Far less than what comes in the packet they give you.)

#2: The coffee with milk in it. I know, I could have driven farther to find a Starbucks, but that would have been wasting gas, and isn't that a shame too? So, I got my coffee at a place that did not have a non-dairy cream or milk alternative. Sue me; I had a tablespoon or two of real cow's milk. I hate coffee by itself. And I didn't feel like tea. Whine, whine, whine.

#3: The lure of the local gelateria. My kid got a scoop, and I tasted it. Delicious, by the way. Add up a teaspooon of milk to my daily tally.

#4: Eating what's already in the fridge before it goes bad. In the time-honored tradition of avoiding throwing away things already purchased, I've had a (gasp!)real yogurt or two since I started this (though not on the same day). The hard-line vegans will say it would have been better to throw it away. However, I come from a long line of people who believe that a penny spent should NEVER be thrown away. Throwing out those yogurts would have felt like flushing the money down the toilet.

#5: Being the polite guest. My brother-in-law, not knowing I've started this vegan thing, orders pizza. Regular, old, cheese and meat pizza. I hate being a rude guest, and I was seriously hungry and had a two-hour drive ahead of me. I ate a piece (cheese only).

#6: Ignorance. I chose what I thought was a dairy-free gelato option at our neighborhood's overpriced gelateria. Turns out, even the sorbettos have 5% milk solids in them. Sigh.

#7: Failing to find acceptable alternatives. For breakfast, after a piece of fruit, I like cold cereal with milk. I've tried milk alternatives, and although I've settled on one that I can tolerate in coffee (vanilla rice milk), I haven't found one I like with cereal. I guess that's about 1/4 cup per day of real cow's milk, without fail, even on days when I make no other vegan "mistakes."

#8: Saving money. Strict vegan is EXPENSIVE! The other day, I bought the following: organic bananas, two containers of coconut milk ice cream, Hershey's chocolate sauce, four cans of organic cat food, Boca burgers, two containers of coconut milk yogurt, soy cheese, tofurkey, an avocado, and non-animal-tested shampoo and conditioner. I bought these items at a well-known chain, one that specializes in organic, locally grown stuff and is frequented by those who are well-heeled. They accept no coupons, even for things that you can get in the bigger chains. For that ONE bag of groceries, I spent $65. That is seriously far more expensive than the non-organic, non-vegan alternatives. (I estimate three or four times as much.) My husband would have a heart attack if he knew. Please don't tell him. And I assure you that such spending is not a habit of mine.

Clearly, we cannot do the strict, vegan, organic thing for the whole family, at least if we want to stay on our budget. We don't, by the way, eat out much, so it's not like we could "trade" going out for eating in. We also already don't eat meat at every meal -- I'd say four out of seven nights, we don't have meat at dinner. But even if it were just for me, it's a big expense, and one I feel very conflicted about. Is it right for ME to go vegan, spending more money on MY food, than on the food for everybody else? Seems very weird to me. Not to mention that it's just plain odd for the mom to eat differently than everyone else. Family meals should be about sharing food. Not preparing different dishes for each person.

For now, I'm siding with the argument that the good is NOT the enemy of the excellent. Eating less dairy is good, though eating no dairy might be excellent. Eating more organic is good; eating all organic would be ideal. To the stalwart, evangelical vegans, I probably appear to be a cheater or, worse, somebody who doesn't "get it." I think I do get. I've just made different choices, hopefully defensible.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Symptom Checklists

One of the things I love about blogging is the ability to write down my random thoughts as I do something else -- I'm writing this, for example, as I cook some pasta.

As everyone knows, the watched pot never boils, so writing now is a good use of time.

Today, I took the kid with ADHD to yet another therapist, this time to have some testing done to figure out whether or not he has a non-verbal learning disorder. We explained this to him by saying we needed to know more about how his brain worked. He is SO sick of being tested. I don't blame him at all.

While he was completing various types of mind puzzles with the therapist, I was filling out checklists of symptoms in the waiting room. Any parent with a kid with some sort of behavior problem has completed these. Often the same ones. More than once.

I can't help but be critical of the diagnostic (im)precision in mental health. In part, this is due to my training as a medical sociologist who specializes in mental health. Critiquing the modern medical model of mental health and the DSM is really the field's bread and butter. So, forgive me as I lapse into a semi-sociological discussion of what is wrong with the diagnostic lens.

Some of the questions on the form, presumably already pre-tested on thousands of kids with behavioral problems, seem like typical "problems" for ANY kid. For instance, "does your child never, seldom, or often, leave a trail of his or her things throughout the house?" Are you kidding me? Oh, of course not! My kid tidies up after himself consistently all day long! Or, "does your child never, seldom, or often have a messy closet?" Again, if this is a key diagnostic question, then my whole family is in deep trouble. Another: "does your child never, seldom or often have to be reminded to take a shower or brush his/her teeth?"

If any of you out there with nine-year-old boys NEVER have to remind them to attend to their hygiene, I am in awe of you (and them). Of course, mine is fastidious about clipping his toenails, flossing his teeth, and shampooing twice and conditioning once during each shower. (RIGHT!)

I can show you a LONG line of boys (and not a short line of men!) who need some fairly consistent reminders to shower regularly, change their underwear and wash their hair. I understand that at the extreme end of the continuum, neglect of bodily care is indicative of mental illness. But at the age of nine, it seems more than normal to groan about having to take a shower, or to tell your mother that she's "ridiculous" in her insistence that the underwear be changed daily. It also seems normal to me to lie about having brushed one's teeth, particularly if a favorite TV show is about to come on, or a friend has just arrived at the front door.

So, I obediently completed these forms, all the while contemplating what my answers would indicate. I answered truthfully, though I did provide in the margins some comments as to what I meant by "seldom" or why I might have thought a particular answer to a particular question was truly indicative of NOTHING.


Later, I took a few Facebook quizes -- notoriously inaccurate and put together by people who are doing nothing more than having fun. They are not meant, obviously, to be statistically accurate or even informative. According to the quiz, "How gay are you?," I am 65% gay. Fine by me, but apparently my gayness is indicated by my color and fashion preferences, more than anything else. Similarly, I took the quiz, "Who is your celebrity twin?" and got the answer, "Kate Hudson." Hmmm...I think the only thing she and I share in common is small boobs. (Yeah for famous women with 'em; they make the rest of us feel better!)

At the end of the day, while waiting for water to boil (which it is now), I'm left pondering the accuracy of symptom checklists. Obviously two that I took today make no effort to be accurate and have no real influence on my life. But several of the ones I completed for my son *might* have true diagnostic (and therefore treatment) consequences.

I will proceed with caution, for reasons that I hope are already obvious.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Late Night Grocery Shopping

It's been a few days since I've "blogged." I could write about Father's Day, but nah -- you can go read Parade magazine if you need such a fix.

Last night, I ran to the grocery store for some essential items, some of which were of the feminine variety, and others of which fall into the category of family necessities (i.e., toilet paper), and one of which is seasonal (ant traps). While standing in line, perusing gossip mags ("Is Jen Really With Brad?" "Did Kate Really Spank Her Kid?"), I saw the York Peppermint Patties. I checked the calorie count -- 140. Not so bad for a dessert. What the hell! I threw one on the counter with my stuff.

When my turn to pay came, the checkout lady looked at me and winked. "Do you need this now, or should I put it in the bag?" At first I didn't know what she was referring to. The toilet paper? Uh, no. The ant traps? Ditto. OH! She saw my supplies and the chocolate and figured she had a woman on the rag in front of her, salivating like a rabid dog for chocolate. No way was I going to cop to that. "Uh, no, just put it in the bag."

I ate it before I left the parking lot.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The difference between Facebook and therapy

Sometimes it's a fine line. If it were therapy, I'd be sitting in a pleasantly-enough decorated office (plant and tissues near couch; neutral, non-political artwork on walls; soothing water sound somewhere in the room; faint smell of incense or candle or similar), and I'd be paying somebody to listen to me give them my current litany of struggles of daily life, none of which are very unusual. I'd leave, not really sure if I'd accomplished anything, and likely frustrated with the lack of response on the part of the therapist. (Their instructions to remain neutral, let the patient figure it out, etc. can be very aggravating to someone who wants answers. Of course, if they gave answers, the patient would only go once or twice, and then it's really hard to keep said therapist in business.)

This isn't meant to be a slam on therapy. I've been a willing participant a time or two, and met one or two therapists that I thought were actually helpful (i.e., they DID give advice, and weren't interested in seeing me for the next ten years).

On Facebook, I accomplish much the same thing for myself, and all for free. I blog about my thoughts, and get much needed feedback. At the same time, I really wonder if Facebook has replaced seeing people in person, and what that does to my (and others') mental health. I really miss seeing my friends in the flesh, at the grocery store, at the bus stop, at school events, in my living room, in my kitchen, kvetching over a cup of tea or coffee. I need to see people in person a whole lot more than I actually do.

Not that I haven't made friends here; I have. Just don't have those close ones yet -- the ones you can really be yourself with. (Though there are a few new ones here on Facebook, we "see" each other here in virtual reality more than we do in person.)

I really miss girlfriends; but I least I have you here on Facebook. It's better than not at all. And it's a lot cheaper than unloading all this to a therapist. Gotta love the internet for something.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Realities of ADHD

This is the blog I've been dying to write, but hesitant to do. By writing about troubles in the parenting department, I open myself up to all sorts of criticism. And, well, thanks, but no thanks. I have plenty of people advising me. Don't really want more.

This blog is about the reality of having a kid who doesn't behave the way he "should," or the way I want him to. About having a kid that stands out for his rudeness, his defiant behavior, his chronic underperformance in school, and his inability to blend easily in a group, his inability to go with the flow, or cooperate in general. He's the kind of kid I would have simply labeled a "brat" before I became a parent and learned that behavior is NOT all due to parents. He's the kind of kid I couldn't stand when I was one myself, because *I* had no problem following rules, working hard, staying focused, making friends and I was so sure that *those* kinds of kids should just behave better! (Dammit!) He's the kind of kid that drove me to distraction as a Sunday School teacher (and his kind of kid is really THE reason I decided I did not want a career as an elementary school teacher). Bless their hearts, teachers have to put up with the difficult kids, too. And because they're generally discouraged from throwing the darlings against the classroom wall, they tend to do so with gritted teeth and a smile. (We parents get away with the gritted teeth, no smile, and occasionally regretted words and actions.) Classrooms are rarely uniformly comprised of the easy kids. (If they were, I would have finished that M.Ed. I started so many years ago.)

I suppose it's karma that I got a difficult kid. I was, except for my chronic anxiety, an "easy" kid. My parents simply told me to go to bed, and up the stairs I went. I did my homework without being asked and my piano and flute practice too. (My parents, by the way, remember me this way, too.) I always brushed my teeth because I was scared of getting a cavity. I always checked things twice (or three times) because I wanted things to be RIGHT, and I didn't want to be in trouble. I was, in many ways, the opposite of my son. I was hyper-vigilant, obsessive to a degree, a hard worker, and honest. He really doesn't pay much attention to rules and finds it hard to accept blame for his mistakes (he does, eventually). And I would NEVER call him a hard worker. He likes the easy road. Unless it's baseball. He will work hard on that.

His official diagnosis is ADHD, combined type. In case any of you out there think that all ADHD involves is an active, restless kid, please re-evaluate your misinformation. There are three main types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive and combined type (both inattention and hyperactive). The latter type, which we deal with 24 hours a day, is quite an involved disorder, as I have so unhappily discovered (officially during the past two and a half years, since his diagnosis, though, in reality, during his entire lifetime). He was a demanding and colicky baby who was only happy when being held. By 18 months he was in CONSTANT -- and I do not use that term lightly, for my other two kids are active, too -- motion. He never walked; he ran. He climbed; he threw; he poked; he took apart. At that stage, we just joked that he was "all boy." (There is quite a bit of overlap between typical boy behavior and ADHD behaviors, and I do believe that more kids -- particularly boys -- are diagnosed than actually have ADHD. However, ADHD is more than activity.)

He never sat still or did imaginative play; never did a puzzle; hardly even watched TV. He was truly incapable of entertaining himself and constantly required our attention. (When he did "learn" to watch TV, at about age four, we were overjoyed. Any parent with a hyperactive child will identify with our experience.)

By the time he was four, it was blatantly obvious that he was wired differently than other kids. His preschool teacher (a very lovely, very experienced, patient woman) said he was "a nudge," and that he "had problems being part of the group." She also ackowledged that he was also quite brilliant, for he knew how to read long before he "should" have.

As a preschooler, in addition to his activity level and inability to follow directions, he showed signs of Aspergers (a high functioning form of autism, which, by the way, he no longer seems to have). He knew numbers through 1000 by the time he was three; he was reading rhyming words at that age and "writing" sentences with magnets by four. (His first magnet sentence was "If I were a big crab, I'd be at the beach.") Once, at a Gymboree class shortly after his second birthday, one of his classmates looked down at the gym mat and, seeing the Gymboree logo, said to her proud Dad, "Look Daddy! ABCs!" My son ran over and said, "No. No. No. G-y-m-b-o-r-e-e!" And then he ran off, leaving the Dad to ask me, "How old is he?" and "Did you teach him that?" No, I didn't. I still don't know how he learned his alphabet so early (lower and upper case letters).

We have many such stories of our son's intellectual ability, though his test scores remain only average. That, too, is typical of ADHD kids: once they know something they KNOW it (crystalized memory), but novel information is very hard for them to deal with (their working memory SUCKS). So, you can tell my son the rules and he can tell you he's heard you and that he understands, but five minutes later he messes up, often to the utter consternation of the kids who have no problems playing by the rules.

Before I understood his disorder, I would get so angry at him when he would repeatedly say to me, "I'm just so forgetful." Turns out, he is! But try explaining that to a parent of a child who has no problem taking turns, following rules, and understanding that "fair" means "equal chance," not "it benefits me." The kids actually handle this kind of thing better than the parents.

He has other disorders, too. His auditory processing is literally in the 5th percentile. That means 95% of kids his age (nine) process what they hear with more accuracy than he does. He also has a similar vision problem (convergence insufficiency) which we are working on through expensive-not-covered-by-insurance therapy (which, of course, he despises). And he's on meds for the ADHD itself, which has helped him behave better in school, so at least *that* part of the problem is (currently) under control.

He also can't ride a bike or pump a swing (balance issues, which turn out to be connected to the vision stuff). He is very bossy and very prone to temper tantrums, which some therapists simply see as his need to control an environment that seems so hard for him to understand (if your body doesn't give you correct sensory input, it's not hard to understand why the world is difficult).

The latest in the list of possible diagnoses: he might have a non-verbal learning disorder. I'm only learning about this now, but from the little bit I've read about it, it seems to fit. (Or at least, it fits as well as the other labels he's been given; diagnosis isn't actually the strong suit of mental health.)

He CAN be a lovely kid, and he has made great strides in recent years. This past school year was our best ever, and he had a mutual love for his teacher. (That ALWAYS helps!) But there is never an easy day with him. Honestly, it's hard to be him. We try to do the obvious (praise the good, ignore the bad, punish only the worst offenses). If we tried to punish all that he did wrong, we'd only be punishing. And we've found out that doesn't work. To an outside observer, however, it looks as though we just let a whole lot slide. That's true. We do. But there's a reason for it. To borrow a phrase from the theater, there IS a method to our madness.

The hardest part of having a kid with this kind of disability is that it isn't obvious, and we look *really bad* to those parents who are lucky enough to have kids who can consistently act approrpriately. He isn't blind (though his eyes don't work right); he isn't deaf (though his ears don't work right). He isn't crippled or mentally retarded. He's quite handsome. And he performs "high enough" to not warrant an IEP. Simply put, he often acts like a brat.

But it turns out, this kind of brattiness is not simply due to inept parenting (not that I'm claiming any kind of perfect ability, here). Parenting him has been such a humbling experience that I no longer assume, when I see a child misbehaving, that it really has anything to do with the parent at all. I *DO* get upset if I see a parent mistreat a child. But I no longer assume that behavior is always so neatly tied to parental actions. I used to always assume it always was.

Are you raising the perfect kid? Or, at least the kid who, most days, does most things you ask of her without too much of a fuss? If you are, congratulate the kid. Not yourself. Parents are part of the equation, but I think the kids that turn out well need to take a lot more of the credit. Being able to behave makes parenting a lot easier. I wish my kid was better able to behave.

I'd look like a better parent. And he'd be a happier kid.

Bathroom Usage

Sigh. The latest installment in the email arguments over our new church welcome is: "will we have to offer a transgendered bathroom if we open the church to transgenders and transsexuals?"

To be clear, we HAVE opened up our church to all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity (among other things). But, I seriously doubt that people who are looking for a place to worship are going to choose us based on whether or not we already have a gender-neutral bathroom. (We don't, though I see no reason why we couldn't do that in the future.)

I just don't think the bathroom issue is the biggest thing on people's minds when they're looking for a place of worship. Call me wild and crazy, but I think if people are looking for a church, they aren't first saying, "Well, the number one thing we need is a church with a transgendered bathroom." Perhaps they're looking for fellowship? Friendship? A decent worship experience? Programs for their kids? Some old-fashioned church music? A way to reconnect with parts of their past that have long been dormant? I doubt it's the bathrooms.

For the few readers who might really be concerned about the bathrooms, I'll offer this: most of the bathrooms in the church are super-small and therefore immediately locked once you're in them anyway. In other words, they're like your lavatories at home: private. They may currently be marked "women" and "men," but there's no reason the labeling on the doors couldn't be changed in the future, if someone voiced a need to have that done.

I'm sick of the stupid reasons people come up with for not welcoming all people to churches (and other places of worship). I'm pretty sure people who come through our doors will find our places of pee adequate enough.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

So much to blog, so little time

Today. Today, my quite diverse church -- at least in terms of political leanings -- voted 81% yes in favor of a welcome statement that explicitly describes our congregation as welcoming of ALL people, regardless of race, ethnicity, language group, economic status, gender orientation, sexual identity, or handicap status. For me, of course, this was a no-brainer, an easy "yes," and WAY overdue.

In case you don't realize it, an 81% majority on any issue in a church is an extraordinary thing. You probably couldn't get an 81% majority on votes for colors of pew cushions, or on types of plaques to hang in the memorial hall, and certainly not on the menu items to offer the choir kids. In other words, there would be less unanimity on issues of far less consequence.

Over the past few days, emails have flown, fast and furious, between a few people who were adamantly against this proposed welcome, and a select few of us who had been vocal in our support of it. We knew, based on early survey data, that this welcome was likely to pass at today's congregational meeting. In fact, it passed with a larger margin than was suggested by the data (the survey data had revealed a 75% majority in favor).

The arguments against the welcome have fallen into two camps: a) the anti-homosexual one, and b) the don't-we-already-welcome-everybody-why-should-we-single-some-people-out one. Another line of thinking was that the welcome didn't explicitly proclaim the gospel, though in my humble opinion, that was basically a clever combination of arguments a and b.

I have, predictably, made some enemies by my vocal stance in favor of this issue (in fact, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg; I am all for gay marriage). I have also made some new friends, and discovered that you really cannot predict who is against or in favor of this issue. Some of the most conservative, closed-minded people are about 24 years old; some of the most open-minded are in their 80s (and have invited me to be on committees to schedule talks during adult education hour).

Lesson: never be afraid to speak your mind. Good things sometimes happen when you do.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Morning Thoughts

Writing again. I remember being told, when I was a kid, that writing was like anything else in life -- you get better at it the more you do it. I've pledged that I'm going to post something most days. What that means for readers is that some days the post will actually be interesting, pithy, funny, clever. But that's "some." Most days I think the best I can aim for is correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. But hey, that's more than what the majority of my college students accomplish on their exams and papers.

It's a grey, rainy morning here. And it's graduation. Of course, those two pretty much go together here in the Pacific Northwest. After all, it's June. Not July. Summer starts here in July (usually July 5).

My son and I have a picnic to attend later; wish the weather was going to be more hospitable. I don't much relish hanging out at a ranch in the rain, waiting for hot dogs and hamburgers that I don't want to eat anyway. Sigh! But I'm sure we'll go. And I'll bring my veggie burger with the soy cheese that grosses everybody out.

I have to admit, I have a *wee* little bit of fun watching people's reactions to the fake cheese. On one level, I totally get it. I prefer the taste of real cheese too. But I've promised myself a month of trying this vegan thing and so far, the only real dairy I've had is milk in my coffee. (I do NOT mess with my coffee, even if I do have it down to one cup a day.) So far, I actually think giving up meat and dairy isn't hard at all. There are plenty of relatively tasty alternatives, and filling up on fruit and veggies has a) made my skin clearer, and b) helped me lose three pounds.

To be honest, I didn't have bad skin to begin with, and the "need" to lose weight is debatable. But I like the results nonetheless. Now, if the **&&!! elliptical ever gets fixed, I could exercise regularly again, too.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A year

A year ago today, we moved into our new house. We closed on our house in New Jersey on May 31, and then embarked (with three kids and the cat) for a brief visit at my in-laws' house, leaving a few days later from there for our new environs. Once here, we had to spend a few days homeless in various hotels (keeping the presence of the cat a secret) before finally moving our stuff into our new house on June 12. (The moving van did not, it turns out, show up as scheduled.) We suspect our moving van driver stopped over in Vegas for a night or two of gambling, but, fortunately, our stuff was not sold to Jimmy the Snake as payment. All's well that ends well.

It was a stressful time, as all moves are. In hindsight, we must have been quite a sight in the airport -- cranky 11-year-old who did NOT want to move; hyperactive 8-year-old who was impervious to the regulations of the airport security line; a not-quite-potty-trained three-year-old who needed to go at precisely the wrong moment; and the cat, who scratched up my back as I took him out of his cage (as required) and walked through security.

We've accomplished, I think, a lot this year. All three kids like their schools. All have made some new friends. The older ones are on sports teams they enjoy. The oldest is taking guitar lessons and the middle one sings in a choir. We like our new church and our new jobs. We like the community center. We like our new doctors and dentist. We enjoy the alternative vibe of our new city, all the local farmers' markets and independently-owned grocery stores, and love the weather. (Despite the rumors, it does NOT rain all the time in Oregon; in fact, NJ springs are often much drearier than what we've had here!) The summers are particularly glorious. Our yard and house are, well, nicer than anything I ever thought I'd own. I LOVE having a big vegetable garden, and have plans to make it even bigger next year.

We came here last year just as the local school kids were completing their last week of the school year. This year, our kids are the locals. It's weird -- we still feel like this is "new," yet now that a year has passed, we have to stop referring to ourselves that way. So much changes in a year. I think we'll celebrate tonight -- pizza for the kids, pasta and veggies with local wine for me and the hubby. It's been a good year.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Praying for Three Families

Since we moved here, we've gotten to know a lot of wonderful people, not the least of which are three families, all with boys, who have had trouble with them (the boys).

That lead sentence makes you think nothing much is amiss -- boys will be boys, right? We all know men (and some women!) who were foolish risk-takers in their misspent youth. They smoked, and not just nicotine. They did a few drugs. They slept around a bit too much. They partied. They didn't study. They had a series of low-level jobs that they constantly quit or were fired from. They lived in really dumpy apartments and seemed to think that doing laundry on a regular basis was just too bourgeois. To summarize, they seemed aimless until they, miraculously, got their proverbial shit together. Many of them now are very successful at what they do, and (perhaps not surprisingly), the ones I know chose unconventional careers. But, they're raising kids now (or chickens), and they've turned vegetarian and health-conscious, and they do yoga and volunteer in the community. In other words, they turned out all right.

It's likely that the ones we know with those sorts of youthful tales are the ones that, as sociologists say, outgrew their addictions. Sociologists often distinguish between two groups of drug-users: youth-restricted and those who persist into adulthood. Not surprisingly, it's the latter group that is the most problematic. They usually escalate to harder and harder drugs, and that's never good. But, you cannot tell when they are young which ones will stop on their own and get it together, and which will persist.

The kids we know have had histories of bad behavior, and as teens, have progressed, shockingly fast, to really hard drugs. As in, a year ago drinking their first beers and now dropping acid.

The parents have made the astronomically expensive and mind-boggingly heart-breaking choice to have the boys shipped out to programs which claim an impressive track record in turning kids like these around.

These are parents who are well-educated, who have tried every other avenue to reach their kids. They're involved in their kids' schools and in the community. They are, in every way that I know of, good parents.

But right now, they feel like the worst parents ever.

So, I'm writing all this just because I'd really like all my friends to pray for these boys and their parents. May they find their way back to each other, back to health, and back to the promising future their parents have worked so hard to try to give them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Finding Fault

My friend was in a car accident a week ago. Since then, no fewer than five attorneys have contacted her, urging her to press charges and telling her how happy they'd be to represent her.

She never contacted them.

Though her car is now (her words) a "lemon," it was not damaged enough to warrant getting a new one. And though she suffered a minor injury (a hurt finger), she's not leaning toward seeking money for it.

Is she wild and crazy? Or is the American legal system nuts (at least where she lives)?

I vote for the latter.

But let's have a little fun here. What could I sue somebody for today? What has been done wrong to me today?

Well, for starters, one of my tires went flat today on the way home from the dentist's office. I took it to my car dealership (I was nearby), and they fixed the tire for free. Turns out there was a nail in it. Hmmm...can I blame the Home Depot parking lot? Or the local construction crew? I'm sure it's somebody's fault that the nail was in the road. It certainly wasn't my fault; I must need to sue somebody!

OK, maybe you're not buying that one. How about this: we live in a relatively new (eight-year-old) house. Already, the paint is peeling on the outside and a tree root has grown into our sprinkler line. We're fixing both problems now -- on a new house!! The problems aren't our fault!! So, should we sue the former neighbors (they should have planted the tree farther away from the sprinkler lines)? Or the construction company (they should have used higher quality paint, or painted in different weather, or primed better)?

Maybe you're still not convinced. Here's another: just about a year ago, we bought a rather expensive elliptical machine. We both like to exercise. As I write, the repair guy is here, fixing it for the fourth time this year. Obviously, the thing is a piece of crap. (Had I read Consumer Reports before I bought the machine, I would have known this.) But still -- when you buy something and use it as intended, it's not supposed to fall apart at all during the first year, let alone four times. Who should I sue? The store that sold it to us? The company itself? Maybe the previous repairpeople? Perhaps each of them made a mistake and made future breakdowns more likely. Sure in hell -- the breakdowns aren't my fault!

There's plenty of blame to go around. Unfortunately, there are also vultures out there, all too happy to make some money trying to prove exactly where the blame lies.

Maybe we should remind ourselves more often of the meaning of the word, "accident:" it's something nobody intends to happen. It feels wrong to blame somebody for something that they didn't intend. (I do, however, recognize that sometimes the consequences are grave enough that, actually, it does make sense to make someone pay for causing accidents.)

Let's also remember the word, "forgiveness." It means letting go of the blame you want to place on another person (or yourself). I'll skip going all religious on you and just say this: when you accept the ups and downs of your life and skip obsessing about who to blame, you find you have a whole lot more time to enjoy life in the first place.

And isn't that the point?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Learnin' 'bout boys

OK. I really thought I was quite well-educated when I started to have children (already 12 years ago). I'll skip over what I didn't know about baby girls (my first child) and go straight to the embarrassing facts I didn't know about baby boys (my second and third kids).

I didn't know that boys get erections before puberty. There, I've said it. The first time I saw my infant son with one of those, I called my husband into the nursery to check it out.

"Well, what's the problem! Good for him!" (Of course a guy would say that!)

"Do you think I should call the pediatrician?"

(Husband stares incredulously at me.) "What the hell for?"

(stammering) "Well, well -- he's not supposed to get those until, like , he's 11 -- right?"

Hilarious laughter follows. And of course, I've never lived down my most ignorant moment. And now I've blogged about it for, theoretically, anybody to know about.

Fastforward to learning to deal with boys when they enter the WORLD OF SPORTS. This means they need to buy an athletic supporter.

Not to be mean, but "supporter"? I mean, nobody at age 9 has that much to "support!" "Protector" would be a better term.

I sent the husband off to buy that. He came back with one labeled for ages 10-14. Wishful thinking is all I'm gonna say.

OK. So yesterday is the game. Husband (who has taken on the task of being score keeper) picks up kid with shirt, baseball pants, bat, glove, baseball shoes, drinks for the team, and supporter in tow. Kid changes in bathroom. Kid has not brought the special underwear that is required to wear with the supporter. Genius husband has also forgotten the item. So kid stuffs supporter in plain old underwear.

You know where this is going -- right?

When it's his turn to bat, he's standing there with his legs pressed together, and bent at the knee, like he desperately needs to pee. He's actually trying to keep the "supporter" from falling down his pants leg.

After his turn at bat is over (second base hit), husband pulls him aside. "Go in the bathroom and just take it out." Son does as told, returning to his father to slap the thing on top of the scorecard, in front of everybody. He is not fazed at all. Not embarrassed at all. Parents are trying VERY hard not to laugh out loud.

Boys. Never boring. At any age. And I'm still learning about them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Changing Their Palates...

Since I just posted a semi-critical review of Skinny Bitch, I thought I'd follow it up with a humorous look into how totally ineffective I am (so far) in getting my kids to eat better.

For the record, my husband and I have always stressed fruits and veggies. That much is NOT new. Not at all.

And, we have, over the years, tried lots of gardenburgers. I like them a lot more than everybody else.

So, it should come as no surprise that tonight's dinner (salad with lettuce from our garden, veggie burgers with soy mozzarella cheese, and bananas) went over about as well as the proverbial lead balloon.

A snippet:

"Hey guys! Time to eat." (Kids come semi-obediently to the table.)

"What are we having?" (The same question, every night, without fail.)

"Oh! Veggie burgers!" (Said with lots of enthusiasm -- it's all in the presentation, right?!)

"I HATE veggie burgers!" (I anticipated this.)

"Oh, these are special veggie burgers! With cheese! And look at our beautiful salad!"

Kids look doubtful. Twelve-year-old douses hers with ketchup, takes a bite, and proceeds to get up from the table. I turn my attention to the four-year-old, who is cheerfully eating the banana.

"Want to taste your burger?"


"Why not?"

"I no yike veggie burgers, Mommy!" (Said with lots of emphasis, in case I don't understand the words.)

I repeat my oh-so-cheerful account of how these are so yummy, adding that they will make him strong -- like Spiderman. Or Ironman! Or Superman!


Meanwhile, the 12-year-old returns with a bowl of cereal. I (stupid move here) take the bowl from her, telling her that she IS going to eat vegetables and fruit and not just carbs.

"I don't LIKE those things!" (Major 12-year-old drama -- flailing arms, rolling eyes, nearly screaming)

"Well, you have to retrain your taste buds!" (Hey, I'm trying to tell it like it is.)

(Stomping out of the room) "Well, your taste buds STINK!"

(Four year old) "Mommy, she don't yike veggie burgers. You know that, Mommy?"

"Yes, I do know that." (It's actually hard not to laugh here; he is SO serious.)

"She does like bananas, Mommy. Can she have a banana?" (How thoughtful of him!)

I tell him yes, and she too has a banana for dinner.

Sigh! Only I ate the veggie burger and the salad.

A Meandering Review of Skinny Bitch

Just finished reading Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin's Skinny Bitch. As so often happens with me, when I was first reading it, I was a cheerleader: "Oh My God! They're right! They're right. I'm switching to veganism now." Though I didn't mention their book in my previous post on vegetarianism and the environment, it was foremost in my mind. It's one of the most readable books on the subject I've ever read.

Now, however, that I've had a few days to digest (pun intended) the material in the book, I'm less of a fan. That should not be interpreted as hatred or even disagreement. In fact, I really like much about the book: it is hilariously written, and contains a lot of good information, particularly about the abominable conditions of agricultural animals and the trickle-down health effects of steroids, antibiotics and contamination. The descriptions of animals' deaths is shocking, disgusting, and -- I must say -- enough to prompt just about anybody to eat less meat, if not skip right over to out-and-out vegetarianism.

Because our modern culture removes us from the milking and the slaughtering, it's easy to think that meat comes in neat packages, cheese in rectangles, and milk from cartons. It's easy not to question where our food comes from or whether it's healthy for us; it's easy to assume that something stamped "USDA" must be safe. But the authors show you'd be a fool to believe that.

The authors' descriptions of health woes due to meat and dairy consumption are impressive. So is their discussion of the USDA and other goverment agencies who supposedly "protect" our health. (Big hint: they protect the industry, not your health. As the authors repeatedly say, trust no one.) For these two discussions alone -- which I have not detailed here -- I recommend the book.

However, here's what I don't like about the book: it promotes veganism as the only acceptable way to be healthy and environmentally conscious. Really? The only way? If everyone went vegan, what exactly happens to the animal population? Would we have to mass slaughter them simply because they would breed out of control and there would be too many? Seriously, if none of the animals in agriculture were consumed, what would we do with them all? I really mean it -- the widespread cultural change they are calling for has some unintended consequences that they never address, not the least of which is: what do you do with all the animals? (For the record, I hate the idea of mass-slaughtering anything.)

People have been eating meat and dairy for -- what? -- millions of years. It seems logical to me that, while most of us in modern, industrialized societies with access year-round to fruit and vegetables do not need to eat them (and, indeed, most Americans eat far too much of them), it doesn't mean that forgoing them entirely is the only sensible option. Yet, the authors present their argument as just that, and go on to make quite wild claims about how you will drop a ga-zillion pounds and feel lighter, brighter, stronger, and more positive if you refrain from all meat and dairy (and coffee, cigarrettes, processed foods, and sugar). They fail to mention the studies which show that you can get the same health benefits as a vegan simply by dramatically increasing consumption of fruit and veggies and dramatically reducing consumption of meat and dairy, processed foods, sugar, caffeine, and cigs. Reduction, not elimination. But same net health benefit.

I'm not (0bviously) a nutritionist. And I am hardly perfectly logical. I make mistakes too. And God, I wish I'd made a mistake as lucrative as their book. Kudos to them. But let's call a spade a spade: the book is rhetorical, not perfectly researched. They do not even attempt to present both sides to the debate, because, to them, there is only one side and it's right and everyone else is plain wrong.

They present their material in such a way as to suggest that if you question it, you must be truly stupid, foolish, and backward. I resent being characterized that way, because you know what? I buy a lot of what they wrote, but certainly not all of it. They do end the book telling people to question everything, including them. But that caveat is hardly enough to placate me. I wanted a more carefully researched book regarding vegan, vegetarian, and meat/dairy-inclusive diets.

If they had presented scientific evidence on the other side of the fence (just as they attempted to do, somewhat awkwardly, for their side), it would have been a better book. Though, I must admit, probably less appealing to a wide audience.

Because, as it turns out, most people don't like to think. It's not just that people don't use their heads about diets or nutrition. It's a more fundamental problem: there is so much information out there, there is literally too much to know. You can't blame people, really, for wanting to be told what is right, and they want to trust that what they read is true. Too bad that it isn't easier to tell who is right and what is true. Bummer. Turns out that what my Dad always told me IS true: you can't believe everything you read.

There is another nagging issue with this book: the authors clearly know that buying organic, locally-grown, vegan stuff is expensive. They mention it several times and blow off the concern by pointing out that we only have one body and why not stop getting pedicures and buying makeup and other frivolous things. Well, yeah. But...

My husband and I pick and choose what to buy organic because, even at our (relatively high) income level, we don't want to spend crazily for food. I think the authors may be a little sheepish about saying this out loud, but I'm not: to live the way they recommend, you gotta have some dough. In fact, I'll go as far as saying some fairly serious dough. Somebody living on welfare or food stamps, or minimum wage, or even just an "average" wage -- that person CANNOT afford the diet these ladies promote.

So, ladies (I'm talking to the authors now, because it's *so* likely they'll read this) -- here's the truth about changing the world via veganism, saving homeless pets, and preserving the environment: this change honestly has to come from the top down. Not because those at the bottom just love their meat and dairy (though some surely do), but because the nation has made it too expensive for them to choose differently. When you're on a limited budget and can buy a burger for $1 at McDonalds, you're not going to spend 4-5 times that per person per meal to go buy gardenburgers, organic buns, Muir Glen organic ketchup, and organic tomatoes and lettuce.

So, on that note, let's watch the wealthy change the world. Hope it trickles down faster than the antibiotic-steroid-contamination cocktail we're currently getting from the meat industry!!

Happy eating (whatever you eat)!

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I love music. Love, love, love it. That doesn't mean I know it particularly well, however. But I love it. Love listening to it. Love the variety of it. Love musicals. Love watching people perform.

I can read it fairly well. I used to play the flute. I was in a variety of low-level choirs in college and afterwards, in various churches. Now, I'm learning piano and singing in yet another church choir.

But this ain't your grandma's choir. If it were, I wouldn't bother. Been there, done that.

There's no reason for my readers (all four of them!) to believe me, but the caliber of the choir I sing in now is impressively high. I'm standing beside people with years of classical training, people who've performed in dozens of operas, won national competitions, been written up in the NYT as "one of the most promising tenors of our generation," performed with Zubin Mehta, performed in NYC, LA, Chicago; teach voice. It's a thrill to work with them. And it means I've learned a whole lot this year. Their presence in our choir brings all of us up to an entirely atypical level for a church choir. For me, the learning curve has been steep!

This morning, we performed all of Haydn's Creation Mass -- 50+ choir members, 19 musicians, both services. Amazing experience. Lots of work. Lots of joy.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Today, I almost lost my kid in the mall. It didn't happen. All's well that ends well. No harm, no foul, as they say.

But that's not what I felt like for the 45 mintes I couldn't find her or her friend.

Twelve years old -- that's how old they are. They are SO sure they are mature enough to do grown-up things. They begged today to be allowed to be at the mall, unsupervised, for two hours. I (and the other girl's mother) compromised and let them go to a movie alone, after which I was to meet them at a particular place and take them home.

All of that went as planned.

When I met them after the movie, they asked to go look at something at the GAP. Fine. Off to the GAP we went.

We were not in the store for five minutes when they said they'd rather go to Aeropostale. I absentmindedly said, "Oh, that's right next door. OK, go there, and I'll come find you in a few minutes." They left. I tried on something that looked far too young for me, ended up putting it back on the rack, and went to go find them. I had not been separated from them for more than 10 minutes.

They were not there. Neither were they in the teenager-ish store across the way, or in the other teenager-ish store on the other side of the GAP. I went and knocked on all dressing rooms in four different stores, making myself terribly popular with other customers and staff. My voice kept getting a little bit louder the more doors I knocked on, and my knocks on the doors themselves a little bit harder.

Suddenly, I was looking at every male as a potential molester. Where had HE taken the girls?!! Clearly, I have watched far too many crime shows. I was now mildly panicked -- enough, in fact, to ask a kiosk worker if she would mind calling security.

A few minutes later, security ("Mike") shows us and whips out his notebook. "Description?" I ask. (I've watched SO much CSI...) "Yes," he says. I describe each girl's height, body build, hair and eye color, and clothing, give him my cell phone number, and tell him where I'll wait. Off he goes in search of two kids who look pretty much like 80% of the other girls in the mall. I call the other girl's mother and let her know what's happening.

That's always a nice conversation: telling another parent that you've lost their kid. She was remarkably calm, considering that neither of us knew where our girls were and both of us had been apprehensive about allowing them this bit of freedom in the first place.

A good half hour passes, and I happen to look farther down the mall hallway than I had previously. I notice that Aeropostale is farther down the hall. Wait? Didn't I look for them in Aeropostale, next to the GAP? I look back at the store next to the GAP -- it's not Aeropostale, it's Abercrombie and Finch. Oh God, now I realize the girls are probably exactly where they said they'd be, and that I've alerted security to look for kids who aren't missing at all.

I pass Mike the security guard coming out of Aeropostale. "Not in there," he says to me with a shrug. "Did you check the dressing rooms?" I ask. "Yep," he says. My heart sinks, and he starts to walk away. Just then, my daughter walks out of the store.

"Mom, where have you been?" she asks. I turn to Mike and say, "You checked? Really? I told you she had long brown hair, glasses, jeans, and a turquoise striped polo-style shirt. Here she is." His eyes go wide and I simply say, "It's OK. I've got them. You can call off the search." He nods his head and off he goes.

I turned back to the girls, who are very apologetic that I've been so worried. Really, they didn't do anything wrong. I wait for them to buy their (of course) matching t-shirts, and I call the friend's mother to tell her I've found her kid and will have her home in 20.

As relieved as I was at finding them, I was more than a little annoyed that the security hadn't even recognized the kids based on the (very accurate) descriptions I gave them.

As I said, I almost lost my kid today.

But I didn't. *I* found her. And her friend. And that's all that matters.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Baby Blogging

Since I'm new to blogging, I think it's appropriate to think of my blog as a baby. Or a puppy. As my sister said, if it were a puppy, it wouldn't even have its eyes open yet. So I don't have to be obsessed with the fact that I only have one measly follower.

Right. I DO NOT have to be obsessed with that.

And I don't have to be obsessed with the fact that my blog is so plain. No fancy pictures. No fancy artwork.

I also don't need to worry that I don't advertise for anybody. (And honestly, since I don't even know what that's about or what it entails, I'm not sure I want it.)

I have so much to learn.

Baby steps. It's a start.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The utterly boring (and overwhelming) nature of parenting

Yeah, I know the title sucks. And it's depressing. And many would argue with me. But that's how I'm feeling at the moment, so that's what you're getting.

There is so much at stake with parenting -- health, education, character, value system, beliefs, behavior, consciousness; the ability to see another's point of view, the necessity of helping them develop into people you would want to know as adults. Most of the time, being responsible for all that is just plain overwhelming, and I go at it with gusto because I don't want to look bad. (Let's face it, even if we know better, we tend to blame parents for their unlikeable, irresponsible adult children. I don't want that blame.) Sometimes, however, it just bores me to death.

I'm tired of the monotony of it all. Making three meals a day -- every day. Doing the laundry -- every day. Overseeing the homework (battle) -- every day. Monitoring the sibling rivalry and arguments; scheduling playdates and nagging about chores and music practice. Overseeing application of sunscreen. Making sure shoes still fit, that outgrown clothes have been washed, packed up, and given away. Sorting through the old toys to give those away, too. Making sure the kids brush their teeth and floss and rinse with flouride rinse and take that flouride tablet every night. Remembering the vitamin too. And teaching them to eat plenty of fruit and veggies, and trying (unsuccessfully so far) to convince them that McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut are really not good for them and that it is advertising and additives that convince them that those are "good" foods. Teaching them that you can't believe everything you read. Or see. Or hear. Or taste. Teaching them to resist peer pressure. Helping them not grow up too fast, but hoping they grow up fast enough to deal with the world out there. God, it's just too much!

As I write this, the boys are having one of their daily wrestles. I've been told by adult male friends that they played this way with their brothers too. And that they survived some scrapes, falls, and even broken bones. Inevitably, one boy (usually, but not always, the younger one) will start crying. I'll go in to see what gives, and they will stop their wrestling and each go to some other activity. It's a daily ritual that I hate, because I fear one of them will really get hurt. But I can't seem to stop them from wrestling, and I hear such behavior is "normal." So when one of them ends up in the ER with some sort of injury, will it look "normal" to the doctors? Or will I be automatically a suspect parent for having a hurt child? THAT is what I worry about the most.

Let's not forget the arguing. In this household at least, that's a daily ritual too. I did not give birth to easy-going, flexible children. I gave birth to kids with serious minds of their own. So there's lots of pushback to my attempts to keep them organized, clean, educated, musically literate, polite and well-nourished.

I wish I would say that I think I'm winning, but so often I suspect I'm not. I just hope time proves me wrong.

Nobody said parenting was easy. But I really thought it would be a *tad* bit easier than this.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


For the record, I care about the environment. When I can, I walk instead of drive. I recycle like crazy. I grow my own veggies. I only water the lawn every other day. And I try like heck to avoid using chemicals on my lawn, though getting rid of the crane fly larvae which are currently KILLING the grass may tempt me to the dark side, at least momentarily. I've also switched to laundry detergent and other household cleaners that are supposed to be better for the environment. I make the kids take short showers. I keep the heat on only as needed ("Wear a sweater if you're cold!"), and I use the air conditioner on only the very hottest of days. I try to do what's right.

Which is probably the main reason why, over the past year or so, I have read many articles and a few books on vegetarian/vegan diets and their logical connection to environmental awareness. I believe most of what I've read. To (very briefly) summarize: the world (particularly the US) uses far too much land and water for agriculture. The conditions under which cows, pigs and other eat-able animals live are, more often than not, deplorable. The conditions themselves are conducive to disease for both animals and humans (which is why antibiotics are so freely used in agriculture, and this contributes to problems with antibiotics and disease in humans). We could feed hungry PEOPLE with the grain we feed animals. Yet, there is such a market for meat and milk and eggs, that regardless of the fact that people do not need to eat these things, they are mass-produced, contributing to environmental degradation, animal suffering and human disease. I cannot help but be swayed to the side of vegetarianism -- why eat animals if it's not necessary for our health and if it contributes to such animal and environmental suffering? (Human too!)

I fully realize that many of my friends will retort something pithy and slightly funny, such as "Because they taste good!" Yes. Yes, they do. I agree. In fact, I absolutely love fried chicken. About twice a year, I love a good steak. I like omelets (and I don't see my giving up eggs). The smell of a all-beef hot dog at a fair can send me sniffing out the source like a Basset Hound to a rabbit. When I'm on Cape Cod (rarely), I love fresh clams. And I intentionally eat fish once a week.

So I'm admitting that I theoretically support the vegetarian/vegan-environmental argument AND that I eat a little flesh. "Little" is really the operative word here -- this week, for instance, my entire meat consumption was one bite of sausage (it was in a casserole), and one quarter-size chunk of chicken (it was in a shish-kebab). I've eaten like this for years; I've never been a big meat eater. (Except during my pregnancies; during each I was severely anemic and supplemented my diet with many iron-rich things, including a bit o' beef. I'll go to my grave saying I needed to do that, and I really don't want to hear the guilt-inducing argument from somebody who was able to forgo the beef. The pregnancies were hard enough, thanks.)

Getting back to my (and others') arguments: There is plenty of evidence that people do not NEED to eat meat. True, some vegetarians and vegans are unhealthy -- but that is because they're doing a poor job managing their diets, and not because forgoing meat per se is a sure path to poor health. (I hear the retort already: if I had just done a better job with my diet during the pregnancy, I wouldn't have eaten that beef...yes, I realize I've been inconsistent during my lifetime. Get over it!)

In fact, there's a lot of evidence that people are healthier when they do not eat meat or dairy. Less heart disease. Less incidence of cancer. Less obesity. WAY less obesity.

Have you noticed how fat Americans are? If you haven't, you either haven't been out of the country recently (and thus noticed that people in other countries look skinny to us Americans), or you have become so accustomed to jiggly arms, bulbous butts and flabby thighs that you think that body build is normal. It's not. My sister (a doctor) is so accustomed to examining fat/chunky people that when she examines a normal-weight adult, she has to remind herself that this is what people are supposed to look like. Even doctors are used to fat. That's sad.

Lest anyone read this and not know who I am: I'm NOT super skinny. Never have been. Never will be. I've had a battle with big legs my entire life. There is a difference between body builds and out-and-out FAT. Some people are naturally long and lean, others shorter and stockier, regardless of what they eat. I'm not criticizing builds, nor am I trying to slam people who battle weight. I have many friends and relatives who do, and I really feel for them. But NONE of my fat friends and relatives are vegetarians or vegans. Put another way: none of my vegetarian or vegan friends are obese. A few might be a *little* bit chunky. As in they need to hit the treadmill 20 minutes a day and lose 5-10. Not as in, "they need to hit the gym, diet, and lose 50-100." Big difference. The first problem is "normal;" the second one is not, though it is now so typical in the US that it is treated as if it were. One has to wonder how fast the rate of obesity -- currently 2/3 of Americans -- would go down if everyone went vegetarian. I know I do.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Got 'Er Done

I started off the day complaining about feeling unmotivated. The start to the day WAS slow. But after coffee and a shower, I updated my Facebook page with a new album, went to work, finished the lecture, wrote the final exam, returned with (gasp!) Taco Bell for the third-grader's pre-show meal, took the third grader and his little brother to said third-grade musical, returned, put two kids to bed, and did the laundry. I even fed the cat and read a few articles. All in all, not the unproductive day that I thought it would be. And I guess I can add "blogged twice" to my list of daily accomplishments. I could also tell you how many times I checked my email and my Twitter accounts, but that would be downright embarrassing.


The title of this post is ironic. I'm feeling ANYTHING but motivated. I have a final to write, a lecture to finish, a house to clean, a garden to weed, laundry to wash -- in other words, all the types of things 40-somethings with kids have to do -- and I feel like doing NONE of it.

My kids will come home from school today, and I will inevitably ask them if they have homework, and if so, to get to it right away. And they won't feel like doing that. And I'll briefly worry that they have no motivation, that they're slobs and lazy, destined for no glory whatsoever. Truth is, if I'd just spent seven-plus hours out of the house, I wouldn't want to rush to do my homework, either. Or my guitar practice, for that matter. And definitely not my chores. In fact, an hour or so in front of the computer or the TV would appeal a great deal to me. That, or exercising on the elliptical while watching Ellen. So, why should I be alarmed that my kids want to watch Hannah Montana or a baseball game, or play basketball when they get home from school?

I shouldn't be alarmed, but their desires to do that when I so WANT them to be more focused and ambitious than I was (or am) causes all sorts of warning bells to go off in my head. It doesn't help that there are tons of parenting advice books out there that would have me never allowing my kids to watch TV (at least not commercial TV) and would also have me keeping my kids busier than they already are. From my perspective, I can't figure out how I'd keep them busier, at least not while I'm also trying to work part-time. Guitar and soccer, baseball and vision therapy, choir and confirmation, Sunday school and regular school. That's enough!

So, I start off my day blogging about a lack of motivation, in an attempt to remind myself that my seemingly lazy kids are no more lazy than their mother. EEK. That's not a comforting thought at all.

Monday, June 1, 2009

My First Blog

So I've created it. My blog. My cousin has been asking when I'd start one, since I have such a propensity to write notes on Facebook and tag my Facebook friends. My sister and one of my oldest childhood friends (we've known each other for -- let's see -- 36 years) have also been encouraging me. I've stalled in starting one, since, somehow, blogs seem to cheapen the currency of writing. Everyone is an author.

But now I can write here, and post simultaneously to both Facebook and Twitter. Exciting!