This Page

has been moved to new address

Reel Mama

Sorry for inconvenience...

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
Reel Mama: June 2011

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Beauty Way

My friend singer-songwriter Johndavid Bartlett told me that the Navajos don’t have a word for human beings.  Instead their word for it, roughly translated, is equated with “being human.”  For the Navajos, being human means walking the Beauty Way.  I define that as leading a beautiful life.  Preparing my daughter for walking the Beauty Way, leading a beautiful life, means everything to me.  But how will we recognize the Beauty Way?  It’s so hard, because sometimes the Beauty Way seems ugly.  It’s messy, full of thorns, and sometimes it feels like walking on glass.  Sometimes the Beauty Way, the most beautiful way to live, can be the most painful.  It is giving and receiving; it is loving and losing.  It is feeling empathy for another.  It is when we are at our most vulnerable.  The Beauty Way can involve sickness, and it most definitely involves healing. 

For the Navajo, the Beauty Way is ultimately about attaining balance in life.  It is achieving that elusive inner peace, but sometimes to attain that peace, one must endure a wicked winter that doesn’t feel beautiful at all.  It is those winters, all those hardships, heartaches, and failures that we endure, that make us the most beautiful, because we have learned and we have grown.  Those hardships reveal a road leading us to the most beautiful place of all, the place where we are the most human, loving, and feeling deeply and passionately.

I close with this saying from the Beauty Way ceremony, a wish for you and for our children:

With beauty may you walk
With beauty before you may you walk
With beauty behind you may you walk
With beauty above you may you walk
With beauty all around you may you walk

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to kill your kid’s creativity

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably taken the PSAT and the SAT.  Maybe you’ve taken the GRE for grad school or the LSAT for law school.  Well, there’s a new kid on the block: the OLSAT. It’s the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, and it’s being administered to children as young as three for admission into Gifted and Talented programs.  Even though my daughter will be two in a few short months, I had never heard of the OLSAT, let alone the Stanford Binet (this is your standard IQ test), the WPPSI-III, or the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. The Stanford Binet IQ test and the WPPSI intelligence test can be administered to children as young as two.  This blows my mind.

I wouldn’t have known about any of this except that a friend of mine came across this jaw-dropping Craigslist listing and posted it on Facebook:

Hamptons Tutor Needed (Hamptons)
Specialized educational consulting company is seeking experts in Education or Psychology to help prepare and tutor children for performance tests and assessments that are commonly administered in NYC.
• Must hold a doctorate or be a doctoral student in the field of Education, Psychology (Child, Developmental, Clinical, Educational, School), or any other closely related discipline - OR - hold a Master's in a related field and have extensive experience working with children and/or administering children's standardized tests (e.g., OLSAT/BSRA, ERB, WISC, Stanford-Binet)
• Must have experience working with young children (age 3-5)

The ad goes on, but you get the gist: a Bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to prepare effectively the 3-5 year olds for the battery of tests.  You actually need a PhD.

The ad is for Aristotle Circle, a company that tutors students of all ages, even those in graduate school, in standardized test preparation.  Here’s my problem with this company (one of many): on their welcome page, right underneath a picture of Harvard yard flashing across the screen, you’ll see numerous links to information about college and grad school test prep, but most prominently featured are the links for “Free OLSAT Practice Test” and an OLSAT prep workbook with 250 exercises, and the WPPSI prep workbook with 500 practice exercises. The message is clear: parents, if you want your kid to make it to Harvard, better start now, at the age of three, or better yet, two.

Aristotle Circle claims to promote learning through play.  They also encourage you to “save with our multi-test bundles”! My favorite is the ERB, OLSAT® A & Bracken BSRA® Bundle. All told, 1100 practice exercises potentially for your three-year-old.

I could not care less that this company includes “monster stickers to encourage persistence and promote learning through play.”  At this rate, how can a child know anything else except practicing exercises for standardized tests?  All of the quality time a parent could spend with the child would be dedicated to these exercises.  Any real time spent learning through play, the very thing that got the child to a point where the parents realized the kid had a gift, would be squandered on practice exercises and the sticker system.  Under this system, real play dies. 

Many parents won’t take it to such an extreme, but many will.  To me this is a painful example of how many educated parents have lost perspective on what’s truly important when it comes to parenting: connecting with your kids in a meaningful way, teaching them life lessons, helping them grow and learn in the natural course of your day together.  I’m talking about children five and under here.  The OLSAT exercises tout “fun” and “play” but it’s done with an ulterior motive.  How is doing the five-hundredth practice exercise going to help you discover the joy of day-to-day living, the fun of togetherness, with your child?  The repetitive nature of these exercises is a killjoy.  It’s drudgery for our littlest minds, and decorating it with purple dinosaurs doesn’t change that.

The fact that anyone feels that a three-year-old needs to be subjected to a battery of IQ tests to determine abilities is heartbreaking to me.  It shows the competitive nature of parents to get their kids into the best schools from the outset.  I do think these parents want the best for their children, but at the same time, they don’t mind having the bragging rights that their child is Gifted and Talented and that Susie Q next door will be choking in their own child’s dust.  Their child is the one who will make it into Yale.  But is this in the true interest of their own child?

According to a First 5 LA article linked to from the Artistotle Circle site, gifted children show remarkable creative thinking, but the “drill baby drill” mentality with preparing our nation’s children for test taking is killing our kids’ creativity and resulting in a documented creativity crisis in our country.  These hardline parenting tactics can take a seat at the table of blame, and so can No Child Left Behind.  We are producing generations of kids who are great test takers, but who cannot innovate, or think outside the box.  Employers are seeing this more and more with the new workforce.  More new young workers are hitting a wall when it comes truly to thinking creatively, and it was this creative thinking that has made our nation great.  If we are to continue to be, then creative unstructured play must be encouraged, nurtured, and celebrated for our kids.  It should be mandatory. We need to develop children's imagination, independent problem solving and self-reliance, and it can start with a simple game of “let’s pretend.”
We need to get back to basics when it comes to parenting.  The best parenting advice I ever got was from my dad:  kids just want to be along for the ride.  They want to be part of your life, to be included on your journey.  We need to be able to step back sometimes and allow our kids to make the most of their childhoods.  

And you definitely don’t need a PhD to be a great parent.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Public displays of affection in the Youtube generation

Several striking cases involving teen sexuality have hit the news this and last week.  Today we learned of the bizarre case of a photo of a dance being published in the Big Bear High School yearbook that showed two teens performing a sex act in the background.

The photo went unnoticed by the yearbook advisor until it was too late.  Now the yearbooks have been collected, and the photo itself is being called child porn, because the teens were only 15 and 17 respectively.  The 17-year-old boy may face additional charges related to sex with a minor.  Apparently the act involved the boy’s hands being inside the girl’s dress, but just how explicit the act was seems to be a matter of debate in the media.  According to the Huffington Post, it could have been quite explicit.

I had to think about this one when I first heard about it on an NPR call-in show, where it was presented as a rather mild case of teen intimacy, nothing too explicit.  Seen in this light, most of the parents felt it was a waste of the county’s resources to treat this as a case of child porn.  All teens fool around, they argued.  What’s the big fuss?  Let this one go. This photo has not been made public from a reliable source, so there isn’t a way to verify just how far things went.  Law enforcement’s swift and strong reaction to this leads me to believe that the act isn’t very innocent. 

I think that if the act was consensual, if it was a case of two teenagers in a relationship letting things get out of control, then charging the boy with statutory rape is an extreme punishment that would ruin his life.  The teens are already suffering the public humiliation, possibly the ridicule of their peers, in addition to punishment they may be facing at home.  If it wasn’t consensual, then that is another matter entirely.

I have to ask, where were the chaperones at this dance?  I think they were intentionally looking the other way.  What struck me the most about this case was how this young couple took “PDAs” (public displays of affection) to a whole new level.  Sure, teens fool around, but the Youtube generation takes voyeurism to a new level.  Growing up as a member of Generation X in middle America (Texas), performing a sex act of any kind in public was absolutely unthinkable, especially for a 15-year-old girl. Discretion and privacy were the order of the day:  what those kids did on the dance floor in the photo would have at the very least demanded the cover of a low-lying hedge or some bleachers. The Youtube generation doesn’t just have a completely different definition of privacy than previous generations: I’m not sure they understand what privacy is, and I don’t know what the implications of that will be.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Protected sex is important but this is ridiculous

As recently reported on NPR (of all places!), an AIDS advocacy group has lodged a complaint with California's Division of Occupational Safety & Health against the adult film industry, resulting in a proposal that would ultimately require all adult film performers to wear condoms.  The draft rules of the resulting proposal would require "use of condoms or other barrier protection” within the adult film industry.  The part about condoms makes sense to me, but apparently some involved in this case believe that the “other barrier protection” should consist of goggles, a lab coat, and latex gloves.  All they would be missing is the chemistry set.  But trust me, there would be no chemistry.

The part about the goggles and the lab coats strikes me as a perfect example of the overkill running rampant in our society.  Like Marsha Melons with her new, probably skimpy lab coat, our society tends to add layers of bureaucracy where they don’t need to be.  Think about that the next time you’re doing your taxes.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The “El-Mama”

To every parent of a toddler or preschooler, Elmo is the undisputed hero, when you just need that extra five minutes to scarf down that sandwich. In our household, Elmo reigns supreme.  But I found out just how much a few months ago, when I was weaning my daughter at 17 months and working on helping her sleep through the night.  We had put Leilani down for the night, but as usual she was putting up a fight.  “Mommy!” she cried.  Silence.  “Daddy!”  More silence. And then: “Elmo!” 

I’m not sure what my daughter was expecting.  A big furry red creature approaching her bedside to comfort her?  How frightening.  But then I thought, maybe this isn’t so crazy. Maybe I should buy said suit for my husband, or, if he refuses, for myself, so that we could provide our daughter with the comfort she is craving.  Mommy and Daddy just aren’t cutting it anymore.  We need to take it to the next level.  We need to become Elmo. 

Elmo’s newly acquired status was confirmed a few days later.  I had left Leilani briefly in her painstakingly baby-proofed nursery to go to the bathroom.  Predictably she was standing at the baby gate, but what she said was unpredictable.  She wasn’t calling for me or even Elmo for that matter.  She was calling for “El-mama.”  Yes, she had conflated “mama” with “Elmo.” I quickly realized what Leilani was actually looking for: she was hoping for a hybrid creature, half mommy and half Elmo, to come to her rescue!

“El-mama” is so much easier for a 17-month-old to pronounce and so much more convenient.  Yes, Elmo was now on a par with me, or maybe I was now on a par with Elmo.  I’m not sure.  He had achieved the highest status anyone can achieve in a baby’s developing mind.  Elmo had ascended the mommy pedestal, and he was trying to knock me off.

And yet, I am eternally grateful to Elmo, for he has enabled me to keep my sanity in those little moments when I just need a break, or even a bit of cheering up.  Before I became a mom, Elmo annoyed the hell out of me.  But now I’m kind of okay with sharing my pedestal.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sing stupid

Who knew that Stephen Colbert is into musical theater?  He has performed in a filmed version of Stephen Sondheim’s Company that will be shown in theaters this weekend.  Also a little known fact is that he is classically trained in theater and music.  His favorite voice teacher told him to “feel more and think less” during a performance.  After all the lessons and all the theory they had discussed together, her advice for him was to forget everything she had taught him and just sing from the heart when he went onstage.  In other words, to “sing stupid.”  Following his instincts in the spotlight would enable him to give the best possible performance.

I think this is great advice when it comes to parenting.  When I became a new mom, I felt that I needed to reinvent the wheel.  I was afraid to trust my instincts, and I felt that I had to weigh every opinion in every book, message board, and yes, even blog, not to mention advice from friends, relatives, and even strangers on the street. 

When it comes to “performing” as a parent, there’s something to be said for keeping it simple and trusting our instincts.  In those most challenging moments, what I really needed to do was to “sing stupid,” to forget all that reading and who said what based on whatever theory, and just do what came naturally to me as a mommy.  This is in our DNA.  We don’t need to memorize an encyclopedia to be great moms and dads. 

I think that every day, there are moments when we follow our instincts as parents, and this is when we are at our best.  So tonight, after the kiddies are in bed, turn on Stephen Colbert, and give yourself a pat on the back.  Today you probably sang stupid.  You were great without even trying, and you didn’t even know it.  

Monday, June 13, 2011

When will they get to eat?

Last night an NBC promo for the Miss USA competition posed a probing question about the contestants: when will they get to eat?  These girls feel compelled to starve themselves into bodies the size of a twelve-year-old boy, an extremely top-heavy twelve-year old boy, so I feel for them.  I haven't had the body of a twelve-year-old boy since I was a twelve-year-old girl.  

When did prepubescent become the new sexy?  I always thought that Marllyn Monroe was the pinnacle of sexy, the perfect size, but nowadays she's more like the size of the "before" model in the Weight Watchers ads.

These poor impossibly gorgeous beauty contestants are probably "hangry," a favorite term used by Anna Paquin of "True Blood" fame when she has to do a crash diet and body-hurting workout before her semi-nude scenes on HBO.  “Hangry” is a combination of "hungry" and "angry," and somehow this is appropriate for these girls.  They’re hungry and they're mad as hell about it, but they just have to power through.  I'm glad it's them and not me.  

For me food is one of life's great joys, but lately I've been a little stressed about it.  Of course, I recently learned that "stressed" spelled backwards is "desserts."  Honestly, that doesn't help me.  I should not be feeling a sense of accomplishment that I was able to close my bathrobe this morning.  I'm really bummed because my fat pants are now my skinny jeans.  When I was pregnant I was the size of Graceland, and I just feel that my body will never get over that. 

I told my husband, who works in health care, my weight today, and he told me I’m “WNL.”   “Woman needing liposuction?”  I asked with trepidation.  Luckily no.  I’m “within normal limits”!  I may be within the limit, but I’m pushing it as far as it can go.  Since we agreed to lose weight two weeks ago, my husband has lost twenty pounds.  I’ve gained four.  It’s not fair!

My scale came with a pre-printed weight on the box. I've thought of cutting out this number and pasting it over the digital scale's actual window.  I can't think of a faster way to get to my "ideal" weight. 

Oh well.  At least I’m not hangry.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Justin Bieber's Hair

I recently overheard a mom of two girls say, “Does my new haircut make me look like Justin Bieber?”  My first thought was, “Lady, if that’s the case, you didn’t get a very good haircut.”  But then I thought about it.  Justin Bieber has gorgeous hair. On second thought, I would LOVE for my hair to look like Justin Bieber’s.

Then I saw his new perfume commercial.  Yes, you heard right, Justin Bieber has launched a new perfume, called Someday.  And in the commercial he is sporting a new semi-buzz cut.  This may be splitting hairs: it's not a classic army buzz, but he has shorn those gorgeous locks.  Does this mean he has lost his powers to entice the ‘tweens?  Hardly.  What he’s lost in hair he’ll make up for with his new perfume. 

It’s like the flamboyant theater director Roger De Bris says to the timorous Leo Bloom in the Producers“If I could bottle you I'd shove you under my armpits everyday.”  So moms, while you’re out getting your Justin Bieber haircuts (not the “after” semi-buzz cut but the luxuriant and chic layered locks of the “before” do), your daughters are busy shoving him under their armpits.  What an image.

For me, Justin Bieber is like perfume: a little bit goes a long way.

Friday, June 10, 2011

How to know if your marriage is in trouble

Your marriage may be in trouble if…

1.  You are looking up “assassin” in the phone book before the honeymoon is over.  Here is what Michael Bublé had to say about his new wife:  "We love each other so much, we totally need a break...By the end [of the honeymoon], you want to kill each other.”  Can anybody say “red flag”?

2.  You discover your husband, who just happens to be the former governor of California, has a love child almost old enough to drive, and you were the only person on the planet who didn’t know.  So it turns out the Terminator is also the Inseminator.  Ah-nuld needs a time out with a dunce cap over his you-know-where, with Maria Shriver doing the counting.

3.  Your husband is a congressman but seems to have missed his true calling as a Fruit of the Loom model.  So he “sexts” wildly inappropriate photos of himself to girls gone wild.  Go ahead, Weiner, take out your billboard in Times Square.  Just remember that Mark Wahlberg, you ain’t.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stroller Days

As the full-time mother of a toddler, much of my day is spent in survival mode.  “I can’t wait until my daughter has more self-control,” I thought to myself recently as I pushed the stroller the five blocks to our destination.  “I just need to get through this.”  I was thinking this because Leilani had once again refused to go into the stroller, and it was only after a hard struggle (her face red and back arched like an Olympic gymnast poised to take gold) that I had won the day, and Leilani had finally agreed to be in the stroller.  At that moment, a woman who was crossing the street in front of me said, “I was just admiring your stroller.  I miss those stroller days.  I’m on my way to get my daughter.  She’s a teenager now, and I have to figure out how to get her to do her homework.”  That mom was probably thinking the same thing I was in that moment: “I just need to survive this challenging moment in my child’s life.  I just need to get through this.”

So much of the time as a parent I feel like I’m Tarzan flailing through the jungle of motherhood, looking for the next vine to grab.  I usually miss and fall on my ass.  But I hope I don’t miss what’s really important.  Years from now, when I think back to stroller days, I may remember the meltdowns, but I’ll also think of the two of us together, barreling towards our next adventure.  The stroller gave Leilani a front row seat to the greatest show of all, life unfolding in front of her.  I know I’ll miss these stroller days.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Who is George Glass?

If you are a member of Generation X, usually defined as people born in the seventies up to 1980, then you probably know, or once knew, who George Glass is.  If you know your Brady Bunch trivia, which most of us Gen Xers (and pre-Gen Xers) do, then you’ll remember that George Glass is the fictitious boyfriend Jan invents when the real boy she’s interested in, Clark, falls for Marcia instead (no surprise there: Marcia Marcia Marcia!).  George Glass is resurrected in a brilliant wink to her fellow Gen Xers in Bridesmaids, when Kristen Wiig’s character needs to save face after her one night stand refuses to accompany her to her best friend’s wedding. She tells him there are lots of other people she can take to the wedding, such as George…George Glass.

I bring up George Glass because I feel that he is representative of something very special about Generation X: we are the last American generation to share a truly collective experience, at least when it comes to pop culture.  For example, I was a WASP (white Anglo Saxon Protestant) growing up in Texas.  My husband was a recent immigrant from Cuba growing up in LA, but we both came home after school and watched re-runs of the Brady Bunch, or the Munsters, or Bugs Bunny cartoons.  After all, there were very few viewing options in the 1980s, so everybody watched the same thing.  I love it that all these years later I can be talking to a fellow Gen Xer who grew up anywhere in the U.S., and if I make a pop culture reference from our growing up years, they will light up and know exactly what I’m talking about, and we are on the same page.

I don’t want my daughter to miss out on the collective experience of her generation, but what will that experience look like?  I have no doubt that there will be hallmarks of her generation that will sum up the zeitgeist of her formative years.  Yet with so many different sources to draw her attention, will she share in a true collective experience, something that thirty years from now she can refer to and everyone her age will know what she’s talking about?  Her generation (Generation Z?) will forge its own identity.  It will move mountains.  It will amaze us, delight us, and probably shock us.  And I hope it will have its own George Glass, a kind of secret handshake, binding them all together.

Click here to watch a clip of Jan Brady inventing George Glass.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May I help you?

Have you ever tried taking a toddler to a restaurant?  If you needed a good workout, or just needed to test the outer limits of your patience or the inner reserves of your strength, give it a try.  Today I braved what may be impossible moving forward: I took Leilani to the Cheesecake Factory to have lunch with a dear friend. Now, after she refused to sit in her stroller, high chair or booster seat (Leilani, not the friend), after she spilled the mega beer stein of ice water all over the bench we were sitting on, after scattering baguette slices and Cheerios as far as the eye could see, after the porcelain plate was dropped to the floor (thankfully without breaking), after the meltdown performance of a lifetime (plus two encores because our fellow diners couldn’t get enough), after she escaped under the bathroom stall door while we were in the ladies’ room, after she slipped under the table to lie postrate on the floor (that was fun), I am now home, lying prostrate on the floor.  All this prompted my friend to say “I think you’re ready for your village now.”  Yes, it takes a village to make it through the appetizers.  Remind me to put “village” on speed dial the next time I need to do lunch.  

Stop and smell the "flah-flahs"

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Leilani, it’s that you can’t walk by a bed of flowers without stopping.  She kisses them, shakes them, and bends their stems.  She always stops and smells them.  She notices the flowers, appreciates them.  They don’t have to be roses.  “Flah-flahs” (Leilani’s term for flowers), are there to represent the beauty in life, but it took my seeing them through the eyes of a child, where everything is new, to remember that.  And if it weren’t for her, I would have kept walking right by them.  


What is a MILF?  Well, I looked it up, and according to Wikipedia, it’s the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Islamic insurgents in the Southern Philipines with possible ties to Al-Qaeda.  Yikes. 

We all know that this isn’t the “MILF” I’m talking about. The term I’m talking about was popularized by the movie American Pie and now it has entered our lexicon as a formal entry in the formidable Collins English Dictionary online, which puts it in very genteel terms: it is “a sexually attractive, middle-aged woman.”  Let’s just say that it’s “Mothers I would Like to Fantasize (About).”

Frat boy vulgarity aside, everybody talks about what this term means for men, but what does it mean for women?  What does it mean for us, the moms?

MILF is a hope, a prayer, a cry in the night that we’ve still got it.  Yes people, even moms need our mojo, and we pray that we haven’t lost it. MILF is a desire to be desired.  And why not?   Everybody wants to be wanted, and let’s face it, every mom wants to look like the ultimate MILF, Jessica Alba, say, or Angelina Jolie.  But there are the über-MILFs, and then there are the rest of us.  I’d love to look like that, but I’m sorry, a watercress salad and six hours a day doing the latest insane body-crushing workout fad aren't going to cut it for me.  I don’t have time to be laid up for weeks recovering from having my body reworked by those Michelangelos of MILFs, the plastic surgeons.  I’m the mother of a toddler for god’s sake.  I should be on Rocky’s diet. I should be bulking up, swallowing raw eggs and bench pressing.

Moms, it’s time to take ownership of MILF.  Forget about MILF the acronym. Let’s give MILF a new meaning.  Let it be for us whatever it is that makes us feel beautiful.  It’s loving, and letting ourselves be loved.  It’s feeling empowered, and going for what we want in life.  It’s accepting ourselves, and not just striving to conform to an image.  It’s dreaming, and taking small steps each day to live that dream. It’s being ourselves, our very best selves, the person we always knew we could become.  Now that’s mojo.  Moms, you’re beautiful, and you’ve still got it.