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Reel Mama: July 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The man might be the head of the house, but the woman is the neck

Recently I was chatting with a group of moms, and I was surprised when one of them announced:  “I figured out how to manipulate my husband from the very beginning.”  Spouse manipulation is a touchy subject.  I didn’t want to admit to myself, let alone advertise to a crowd of my peers, that I was gifted and talented in the area of spouse manipulation.  But in the ice rink we call marriage, I have to admit that I’ve pulled off a few triple axels of manipulation in my time.

One of my favorite movie quotes of all time is from My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “The man might be the head of the house, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants!”  I have to admit, it’s kind of fun being the neck.

I remember when my husband once told me, “I’m psychic. I think there’s something you’re hiding from me, and you won’t tell me about it till it’s too late.”  It was true.  My mind flashed.  I bit my lip and looked away.  How could he know this?  Because he knew me!  Yes, I had gotten us tickets to see Cher in Vegas, and I hadn’t told him yet.  Soon I’d have him wishing he could turn back time, to the moment when he didn’t yet know he was going to a Cher concert.  “But you’ve got me, babe!” I’d reassure him, as if this were some kind of consolation prize that would make that upcoming all-you-can-eat buffet of diva more palatable. 

Even as I write, I admit I’m plotting how I’m going to get my husband to do that next thing he doesn’t want to do.  Please don’t tell him.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“What did I just say?”: The nagging question

“What did I just say?”  This is the time-honored question I recently posed to my husband during a mundane conversation we were having.  This question is like a pop quiz for relationships.  At any moment, wives and girlfriends the world over can whip out the “what did I just say?” wild card like a dueling cowboy whips out his six shooter.  The objective?  To verify that the significant other’s full attention is on them, and only them, without faltering at any time.

I asked this question because I perceived that, as my husband was simultaneously checking Facebook and channel surfing while I was talking, he might not be listening.  To my surprise, it turned out that he was, and he repeated what I said back to me verbatim.  Turns out that moms aren’t the only ones good at multi-tasking.

This question really is a covert form of nagging.  The subtext is “You never listen to me!”  Nagging is a very uncomfortable topic to me.  When men accuse women of nagging, it inevitably comes off as sexist (to me at least), and something inside me bristles and conjures the image of the stereotypical frumpy, nagging housewife brandishing a rolling pin, threatening to beat her husband into submission, even if such a negative portrayal of wives is a thing of the past. 

And yet, in any marriage nagging can’t be sidestepped. When you have a life partner you love the whole package, yet those little pet peeves, that thing the other partner should or shouldn’t be doing, inevitably drives the other one so crazy it can’t be contained.  The nagging boogie monster returns, helping itself to a seat at the dinner table, or perhaps sneaking under the covers when you are snuggling late at night (“Honey, did you remember to…?”).  And here’s a dirty little secret: men nag too!

My husband and I recently watched 2012 together.  In it the main character is divorced.  When he sees his ex-wife, she bugs him about not using his computer too much while he’s with their kids.  My husband asked, “They’re divorced and she still nags him?”  And then he gave me a reassuring caress, as if to say, “I was talking about her, not you, honey!”  But of course he probably meant me too!  I know I’m guilty of nagging.  Yes, the dirty socks on the floor drive me crazy, so some of it, I believe, is justified.  But women get nagged too, because some things we do drive our partners crazy, and in this case too nagging is sometimes justified (I really shouldn’t leave everything labeled “Handwash” soaking in the bathroom sink for days at a time.)

I once nagged my husband and then as an addendum, hoping to soften the blow, said, “I’m saying this out of love.” He quickly responded, “A little less love, please!”  Maybe the marriage vows should contain a promise not to nag too much, so that spouses can give each other a break from those unwelcomed reminders of our shortcomings.  A little more forgiveness, a little more patience.  Our spouse’s pesky pet peeves are one of the things we’ll miss the most when they’re gone.

However you want to label it, nagging isn’t the enemy.  In a marriage it’s part of life.  It’s a reminder that we’re comfortable enough with our loved one to be honest, perhaps unnecessarily brutally so, and often.  We can confess our most trivial pet peeves, loudly, and too much, and our partner can still accept us and love us in spite of this.  It’s a reminder that the friendship, the foundation of the relationship, can be tested in little ways on a daily basis and still remain true.

But in the end, nagging is useless, because will we ever really stop doing the things that drive our partners crazy?  How can we change that much?  I’ll never shake my obsession with handwashing no matter how hard I try.  Hmm.  If my husband were to find his dirty socks soaking in the sink, that would REALLY drive him crazy…

Friday, July 15, 2011

Screw the “Baby on Board” sign: Road rage, distracted driving, and why every day is Carmageddon in LA

I purchased and stuck the little “Baby on Board” sign to my back window believing that if other drivers saw it, they would drive more carefully or respectfully around me.  In fact, I’ve found the opposite to be true, and I now believe that the very sight of the sign enrages some of my fellow drivers.  Maybe I’m more sensitive now that I have a baby in the car, but I honestly believe that the sign provokes unfounded aggression in a select mad-as-hell few, as if the angry driver is telling me, “You think you’re special because you have a baby on board?  I’ll show you!  You’re not better than me!”  And then the angry driver proceeds to speed up and pass me on the right as I’m attempting to exit the freeway.  One night last week I was almost blindsided by a car that ignored its own yield sign and sped up to overtake me in my own lane.  I had to swerve into the next lane to avoid getting blindsided.  Luckily there was no oncoming traffic.  What terrifies me the most is that Leilani was in the car with me. What if it had been a different time of day?  We could have been killed.  I placed the sign out of a genuine concern for the safety of my precious cargo while on the road, a concern that has proved to be very well-founded.

The worst was earlier this year, when I had to stop suddenly thanks to the proliferation of cameras at intersections.  Fearing an almost $600 ticket, I stopped short as the light changed from yellow to red.  Though I hated doing it, I had to make a split-second decision.  The driver behind me managed to stop in time.  I glanced in my rearview mirror.  Behind me was a Baby Boomer, Caucasian, driving an olive green BMW convertible. And then, I felt an incredible jolt out of nowhere.  We’d been hit from behind.  Despite the “Baby on Board” sign in plain sight, the man had rear-ended me.  Hard.  I looked behind me to see him pulling into right lane next to us and screeching onto a side street, with one busted headlight dangling from its socket like a kid’s tooth ready to be pulled.  Luckily Leilani was fine.  The car seat had done it’s job, and I was only shaken up.

What kind of person purposely slams into a car with a sign announcing to the world that there’s a baby inside?  What has happened to common courtesy, respect, and human decency on the road? Fellow drivers, why can’t we all just get along?

Which brings me to distracted driving, and a lot of parents are guilty of this.  It’s hard not to be distracted when you have kids in the car, but I once saw a mom on the 405 in an SUV with kids inside and a newspaper draped over the steering wheel.  Yes, we were on the so-called parking lot (LA’s nickname for the 405), but traffic was still moving, if only inch-by-inch.  And now, to add to the distracted driving, there’s now an infomercial being aired for a Japanese massaging pad, and it’s being suggested to use it while driving.  So in addition to cooling her latte, scarfing the breakfast burrito, texting her Facebook friend from high school, tweezing her brows, removing her hot rollers, and disciplining her kids, today’s ultimate distracted driver is supposed to cruise around town with a back massager. Oh well, at least you can save a trip to the chiropractor.    

Today unprecedented gridlock begins on the 405, but every time I pass a car flipped over on a freeway in LA, to me that’s Carmageddon, and it happens all the time.  I wish we could make driving safer, and protect the precious lives of the little ones, not to mention the grownups, inside our cars. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Queen Elizabeth drops the F-bomb!

Okay, it’s not true, but we are coming dangerously close to the moment when this is entirely possible. 

If we had a celebrity swear jar, we’d raise enough money to cure cancer, end hunger, and bring about world peace.  I want to wash their collective mouths out with soap, a good strong one like Irish Spring (none of this cinnamon-flavored or oatmeal—they would practically consider that breakfast).  Even Reese Witherspoon, the consummate celebrity good girl, a mom who makes it a point to take her kids to church every Sunday, recently dropped the mother of all f-bombs twice at the MTV movie awards while receiving her lifetime achievement award. Classy.

But when you live in LA, it’s everywhere, and no one cares that your toddler is hearing these words.  I sometimes feel like I’m in an episode of The Sopranos just walking through the parking lot at Target.  When did I become my mother? When did I become so sensitive to profanity?  It’s not all profanity.  I know profanity is necessary in many creative works for adults to make a point or tell a story.  What bothers me is profanity used when I know it’s a program young children are watching, like American Idol (my daughter only watches Elmo), or the inconsiderate profanity used in public when children are present.

I’m a mom now, and it may not be hip, but it’s my job to police the airwaves and make sure that what my daughter sees and hears is appropriate for her tender age. So if I do have to curse in this blog, I’ll do it Yosemite Sam style: #@!*&  Fragnabbit!

It’s enough to make you want to unplug the TV, throw it out the window, and move to Amish country. However, I have no idea how to install a car seat on a horse and buggy, so I don’t think that’s going to work.

Even the smurfs are cursing these days.  Well, they’re smurfing these days.  Just check out one of the trailers for the upcoming movie.  You know what Smurfette means when she says “Don’t smurf with me!” to the villainous but hapless cat Azrael in the trailer, or when another smurf (perhaps the newly-added “Gutsy Smurf”? Whoever heard of Gutsy Smurf??) says “What the smurf!”

But what can you expect?  They gave Papa Smurf dark sunglasses, making him look like he’s going through a late mid-life crisis and probably using Viagra. As far as I’m concerned, the person who wrote that script can go smurf themselves.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A case of the wannabes: LA’s got it bad

‎"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” – anonymous (but most people think it’s Dr. Seuss!)

Yesterday at the shopping center I saw three high school girls slumped over on the curb, looking thoroughly dejected and whining: “EVERYBODY was invited to the party except us.  I mean EVERYBODY.  Even Lily was invited. She pretended she wasn’t going but I know she did.” And then on the way back to the car I passed them again.  I heard them moaning, “Heather’s never even invited us to hang out!”  I wanted to stop and give those girls a lecture about how they were acting like the plain-bellied Sneetches from the famous Dr. Seuss fable.  Remember how the plain Sneetches sit on the beach ignoring each other’s company, bemoaning the fact that they don’t have stars upon “thars” like the more desirable star-bellied Sneetches?  Didn’t these girls have each other?  Why couldn’t they make their own good times?

This behavior is so typical of LA.  Soon these girls will be bemoaning the fact that the mean bouncer wouldn’t let them into the club, just like every grownup in LA is bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t get into, or afford, the events with Prince William and Kate this weekend. 

Get over it, LA!  There’s no bouncer at the pub on the corner. So why don’t you go there, have a beer, and watch it on TV like everybody else in America?  I bet Kate and William would give anything to be sitting on bar stools just like that, relaxing with nobody watching, just about now.  Instead they’re probably hobnobbing at yet another exclusive soirée.  What a royal pain in the @ss!

Friday, July 8, 2011

How to kill your kid's creativity (Part 2)

Part 1 of “How to kill your kid’s creativity” focused on my shock in learning that entrance exams and standardized tests are now required to win a spot in many (probably exclusive) private schools and gifted and talented programs for children as young as two or three.  Much of my essay focused on a standardized test preparation service called Aristotle Circle.

In the interest of full disclosure, Aristotle Circle has offered me the opportunity to review its OLSAT workbook.  I’m going to try out some of the 1100 exercises with my daughter when I receive it, and I’m going to offer my honest feedback here in a review in this blog.   Aristotle Circle has been very cordial and professional in their communications with me. Here is what the company told me in a recent communication:

“Unfortunately for many 3-5 year olds, standardized tests are a reality private schools and gifted and talented programs require. Our goal is to help parents prepare for the test in a way that is both fun and effective - and it only works if parents like you find it a useful and practical tool you'd use.”

While I won’t be preparing my daughter for a standardized test, it will be fascinating to put myself in the shoes of the parents who are.  I’m looking forward to finding out if Leilani will find the exercises fun and effective, how long they hold her interest vs. other games we might normally play, etc.

My genuine concern about requiring standardized tests for children so young remains.  My question is the following:  in focusing so much on preparation for standardized test-taking, are parents depriving their children of the chance to innovate through creative play, especially for toddlers up to age three?  The most brain development is taking place in the first three years of life, and discovery through creative play and exploration is vital.  The workbook exercises could be a part of a child’s learning experience, but so should, for example, nature walks, time at the park, and meals at the family table.

I understand that Aristotle Circle is providing a service and responding to a demand within the parenting community.  What bothers me is what might be described as a vicious cycle spiraling out of control with today’s culture of pressuring kids to excel.  It’s a chicken-and-the-egg scenario, and much of the blame lies with these schools for the gifted and talented.  This is big business, and these schools can play into parents’ anxieties, convincing them that their children will be left behind unless they are enrolled in their programs.

I have a bit of a problem with the exclusive nature of the gifted and talented programs, because by default it implies that not all children deserve the best education possible, but only a select few whose parents can afford it.  I believe that all of our nation’s children are our national treasures.  I live in LA, and I can observe my community.  Whether it is a child of an illegal immigrant, so many of whom are American citizens by birthright, or the child of the CEO of a huge corporation, these children deserve an opportunity to excel, and they are vital to our nation’s future.  I believe public education has gotten the short end of the stick for too long.

Parents are understandably eager to avoid enrolling their children in the failing schools (usually public) at all costs and to help their children get the best education available.  No wonder today’s parents are so on edge.  Here is what Aristotle Circle said about its policy to hire PhDs to tutor children as young as two or three for the standardized tests required by the programs for gifted and talented students:

“We absolutely hire PhDs as our tutors and experts! Most ed boards who give the tests require PhDs to administer them - so our seemingly high standards are there to match the actual testing experience as closely as possible.” 

It’s ridiculous that these schools and testmakers have convinced parents that a PhD is necessary to administer board exams to three-year-olds.  The very idea of a three-year-old taking an entrance exam for anything is mind-boggling!  My husband and I both have teaching backgrounds, and academics are very important to us, but I believe this is taking it too far.

We just need to take a moment to appreciate our kids and their little milestones.  Mine right now is learning how to use a spoon.  Preparing her for an entrance exam is the last thing on my mind.  Frankly I’m not in a financial position to be able to send my daughter to a very high-priced gifted and talented school, but I’m not worried.  I believe that she will still have her shot at the Ivies and at many other great colleges and universities that offer a stellar education. We are blessed as a nation to have so many institutions of higher education that offer our nation’s students amazing learning experiences.  No other nation can offer this to its kids.  We are educating the future generations not only of the US, but of the world. 

I’m not saying that I will never worry about enrolling my daughter in an academically strong school that will challenge her and prepare her very well for her future.  But right now I’m focusing on other things.  If I provide my daughter with guidance and love, in addition to a chance to take what she perceives as “risks” in a safe environment that I supervise, such as trying something new, I know she will become the person she needs to be, and she will discover who she is on her own with my love and support. 

Read Part 1 of "How to kill your kid's creativity" here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How Mommy's brain went bye bye

When I was pregnant I was told that I would pop out my kid and kiss my brain cells goodbye. I didn’t want to believe it, and fooled myself into thinking for a while that it couldn’t be true.  Then one day I knew for sure it had happened to me.  I needed to sterilize the components of my breast pump.  I placed them in a pan with a little boiling water.  I stepped away from the kitchen (a diaper explosion called) thinking in my mind it would only be a moment, and quickly forgot about the pot on the stove.  By the time I remembered and raced in there to rescue it, it was too late.  All the water had evaporated, and my pump had melted, wilting like a flower in a Salvador Dalí painting under all that heat.  It was ruined, and so was my good Pampered Chef pan.  NOOO!!!

Just the other day at Target, I swiped my ATM card, then I walked away from the checkout stand without signing for my purchase or taking my bags with me. The cashier had to shout and chase after me, and everyone was staring.  I almost left a warehouse-sized can of coffee, mouthwash, and Vienna sausages.  At least I remembered my daughter. 

How could I just walk away like that?  It made me feel like I’m cuckoo for locopuffs. It was a certifiable mommy mental meltdown.  May the parenting gods help me!

I chalk it up to the fact that these days, I’m incredibly distracted.  Maybe I was a bit absentminded to start with, but add to that parenting an extremely active toddler, when I am constantly dropping my food in mid-bite to run after my child, and my mind is all over the place.  It can be challenging to remember to look both ways (and in LA you have to, because there is ALWAYS a car.)

I’ve heard people refer to these moments as brain farts.  You know, those humiliating moments when you can’t remember an important somebody’s name, or you lock your keys in the car with it running.  Nobody wants to admit that they’ve made these mistakes.  I can only speak in terms of me, but I believe I’m not alone.  I believe I am experiencing a constant series of mommy brain farts, and perhaps so are you. I pushed out the kid and the brain went bye bye.  Maybe I should be doing the New York Times cross word puzzle in my down time (what little there is!) to increase my brainpower.  But I think the best thing I can do is realize that this is part of being a mom, and embrace my newfound ditziness.  Heck, I’m going to celebrate it, just as soon as I stop feeling so stupid. 

So the next time you see some lady, shirt on inside out and backwards, hair in a questionably fashionable Scunci, accidently dump the contents of her purse on the floor, barely recover, pay the cashier and then walk away without her change or her latte, take pity, and give her a kind smile. She is a mom.