Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Hookers, Hoochies and Ho's

"Trick or treat?"

Halloween is trickier than it used to be. Like everything else, the upcoming holiday becomes a bit more complicated when your little girl becomes a little woman. A catsuit on a 4-year old is adorable. A catsuit on a 14-year old is suddenly a little too tight, a little too curvy, a little too much.

We live in the town next door to Salem, Massachusetts. As you probably learned in school, Salem Village (which is technically Danvers now) was the site of a horrible witch hunt, trials and public hangings some three hundred twenty years ago. If you study the period (or just rent the movie The Crucible), you recognize that what happened was a shameful result of ignorance, greed, religious intolerance and mass hysteria. Not really history that a town should be particularly proud of.

However, today, Salem has proclaimed itself Halloweentown. All through October, there are street fairs, carnival rides and "haunted happenings." I kind of understand the witch attractions (although I think they're disrespectful to the memories of those falsely accused and put to death in 1692). I don't understand the vampire attractions, except — I guess — vampires are trendy right now thanks to Twilight and True Blood. Regardless, the town makes a lot of merry (and a lot of money) throughout the month. And, those of us who live in the area avoid it at all costs.

A couple of years ago, my brother and his family came to visit us. They wanted to experience a Salem Halloween, so I drove them to the border and dropped them off, hightailing it home. When they had had enough ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night, I had to go back into the fray to collect them. One wrong turn and I was stuck in a hellish traffic jam. I tried to be zen about it, breathing, meditating, and taking the opportunity to do some unparalleled people-watching. The costumes on the happy Halloweeners were tremendous. There were countless witches, zombies, psychotic clowns, pirates, headless horsemen. And then I saw her ...

The Candy Corn Ho.

I had never seen anything quite like it. Sort of a bodacious St. Pauly Girl look, a buxom blonde in an Alpine-inspired (perky bust extending above the shelf of her bodice) short short dress. Garters, stockings, high heels. But, the strange thing was that the entire sleazy outfit was made to look like a piece of candy corn.

Halloween costumes for young women veer toward the slutty, no doubt. There are naughty nurses, precocious schoolgirls, lingerie-clad witches, Playboy bunnies. I'm probably not the target audience, but I would assume that these outfits (or lack thereof) correspond to (a) the woman's inner vision of her own secret centerfold nature and (b) a man's fantasy of what makes a hot chick hot. I don't like it, but I get it.

But, when did candy corn become sexy?

I did a little research. Here is the evolution of the Candy Corn Ho, from sweet baby to tempting teen to all out hoochie mama:

Happily, my tween daughter is still more interested in collecting Kit Kat bars and hanging out with her friends than in letting it all hang out. This year, she's either going to be a pirate or a hippie. (And, with a little oversight from her mother, she will not be a slutty pirate wench or a hippie who is tripping on acid at Woodstock and forgot which VW van she left her top in.)

Hoochie ho's aside, Halloween will be fun. But, I do wish we could go back to the more innocent days of Teletubbies and Disney princesses. I'll just have to settle for the little ones who come to the door.

Here's a holiday treat from one of my favorite urban folk singers, Jill Sobule. Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

There's Got To Be A Morning After

Before I had my daughter, I was absolutely, unequivocally a morning person. What better time to write, take a yoga class, make a sweet cup of coffee and sit quietly with a book? Even now, with my schedule revolving entirely around my tweenager, I still enjoy my mornings when I can. One of my favorite things about vacations or weekends away is sneaking out before anyone else is up. In New Orleans, I comb the French Quarter. In Florida, I stroll along the Gulf. In New York, I walk forty blocks north towards Columbia University and forty blocks back to my mother's apartment just to watch my hometown come to life.

Of course, everything is different when you're a mom.

They say, "Change is good." Well, mornings with a fourteen year old girl? Um, not so much.

There is the struggle — emotional, intellectual, sometimes physical — to pry the girl out of her bed. There are the seemingly endless negotiations ... "Two more minutes, Mom, just two more minutes." There's the need for constant nagging, for staying in the doorway even though you have dozens of things to do downstairs because you know with absolute certainty that if you walk away her head will be down on that pillow again faster than you can say ...

"You're gonna be late for school. Get up NOW."

We have an agreement that my daughter has to do a handful (a tiny munchkin-sized handful) of chores each day before she leaves. She has to make her bed, put her pajamas away, hang her towels, tidy up her desk and dresser. Gasp! I know, I know, I am the Simon Legree of mothers. These dreaded chores, which, as you can imagine are performed with so much graciousness, are no longer an issue. Officially. In one of my rare acts of laying down a law and then actually sticking to my guns afterwards (mixed metaphor, but you get my point), I decreed that she was hereby forbidden to bitch and moan about them.

Did you ever notice how incredibly adept tweens are at non-verbal communication?

Whether it's her age or all the manual labor, her attitude in the morning is — shall we say — not her greatest asset. Sullen, impatient, resentful. At best, she tolerates me. At worst? Let's not go there. Between the time her feet touch the carpet until she heads out the kitchen door to walk to school, we enjoy thirty-five minutes of quality family time.


It could be worse. I read once that the Dalai Lama suggests meditating on those less fortunate than you in order to feel satisfied with your lot. In that spirit, I will now count down a list of things that would be less pleasant than a typical morning with my daughter.

Here goes:

10. A root canal ... with a holistic dentist who doesn't believe in novocaine
9. A three-hour dance recital in which your little ballerina is on stage for four minutes
8. Back-to-back episodes of Jerseylicious
7. The swine flu
6. Trying on a bikini ... in florescent light ... in February
5. Repeating trigonometry
4. Eating a grilled SPAM sandwich on white bread with mayo
3. Cleaning out a flooded basement
2. Trying to catch a miniature long-haired dachshund who has been skunked

And the number 1 thing that would be less pleasant?

1. Being fourteen again myself

There. I feel much better now. So, to all my readers ... "Good morning! Have a nice day."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tweenage Wasteland — Then and Now

Here's how it always starts.

"When I was your age ... blah blah blah." (Insert idealized memory that makes each of us sound like a character from some Laura Ingalls Wilder novel.) "Milk was a nickel." "We didn't have computers or cell phones or paper clips or diet soda." "I walked six miles to school in the snow, uphill, both ways."

Every generation romances its own past and despairs for the future.

And, with today's tweens and teens growing up in the digital age, there really are some great differences. I mean "great" as in unusually or comparatively large in size or dimensions, not necessarily as in wonderful, first-rate, very good. (Whatever did we do before Oh, right, we used a big fat book!) Media has radically changed and, consequently, tween and teen media consumption has as well.

At a glance, it seems as though everything is different. We've jumped from Leave it to Beaver to The Jetsons. But are 14 year old girls in 2011 really so different from their ancient ancestors of ... say ... 1976?

Sometimes I wonder.

Here are some typical tween traits one might have observed then and now:

Blind Brand Loyalty
The very very first words of one of my very very favorite Elton John songs: "Blue jean baby, L.A. lady ..." Blue jeans were and are important. The right ones mean you get it. The wrong ones? Well, you might as well find a seat at the lunchtime loser table. (And sit down fast so no one can see the stitching on your backside pockets, the tell-tale sign that your mother found those disgraceful denims at some discount store rather than Abercrombie or Hollister.) As a harried working mother in the middle of middle age, I want to say "Jeans are jeans!" But, as a one-time tween, I know better. Back then, nothing came between me and my Calvins.

Fancy Footwear
The shoes to choose these days are suddenly Converse All-Stars. Not to be confused with Converse One Stars. As my tween daughter logically put it, "Why would you want only one star?" Your average tweenage girl needs several pairs — paint-splattered, plaid, two-toned. To my unknowing eyes, they look like any other canvas athletic shoes and they cost more. But, I remember needing (not wanting, mind you, but needing) Adidas sneakers in the 70s. Trust me, they weren't giving those little stripes away.

Long-Haired Teen Idols
Welcome to the generation gap. I do not have Bieber Fever. Let's face it; it would be kind of disturbing if I did. He's 32 years my junior and the idea of his baby baby-face, singing "Baby, baby, baby, oh like baby, baby, baby, no like baby, baby, baby, oh, I thought you'd always be mine," is more than slightly ridiculous. He does have good hair though. In fact, it reminds me of someone from way back when ... hmmmmm. And they called it puppy love?

Parental Under-appreciation
Remember when you first had a baby and you swore you would never say those things? You know the ones I mean, "Because I said so." "If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?" Well, in the last several months, I have become my own worst cliché. "Look at all the things I do for you," I whine. "You don't appreciate me." For the record, my daughter does not appreciate me. However, my daughter does appreciate me as much as any other fourteen year old girls appreciate their mothers. And, I'm sorry to admit it, but my daughter appreciates me as much as I appreciated my own mother. (Sorry, Mom.)

A Flair for the Dramatic
Tween tragedies are nothing new. Remember, Juliet herself was "not yet fourteen." These girls are starring in a Technicolor (or maybe in 2011 I'd better say, a high-definition) movie of their own life. Like any sweeping saga, it has funny moments, romance, twists of fate and grand passions. Best friends come and go. Feelings are hurt. The highs are high, the lows are low. When my husband shakes his head in helpless wonder, I reassure him that our daughter, like Gloria Gaynor back in my generation, will survive.

Music or Noise?
Was there any haven on Earth more precious and personal than your bedroom when you had your stereo on? Music marks the personal journey from child to adult. The soundtrack of my own tweens and teens was fairly eclectic. It included Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Carly Simon, Elton, The Eagles, as well as decidedly uncool but absolutely top of their particular games: John Denver and Barry Manilow. Eventually I moved into new wave with Blondie, Elvis Costello and the B-52s. Whenever I am tempted to diss my daughter's discs, I have to remind myself that I consumed an awful lot of "noise" in my day.

I guess the purpose of this little trip down memory lane (and, I didn't even mention my Dorothy Hamill haircut — oops, I just did — actually, now that I think about it, it looked a lot like Justin Bieber's) is to suggest that tweens today are not so very different from the tweens of yesteryear. We may not agree with their fads but we owe it them to admit that we had our own.

The more tweens change, the more they stay the same.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Have it Your Way

When I was a tween, growing up in New York City in the1970s, there was a novelty store in my neighborhood where they made custom tee shirts. It was an old-fashioned and 100% analog process. You basically chose the color you wanted and the iron-on transfer you wanted and any additional letters you wanted. There was a big, heavy press behind the cash register and the salesperson slipped your tee shirt over a flat form, positioned the artwork you'd selected and brought the hot cover down onto it all like a gigantic waffle iron.

Using babysitting money, I made three tee shirts there while I was in eighth grade. One was actually kind of cool: black shirt with cap sleeves and my name in glittery art deco letters. (I am sorry to report that the other two included a photo of the sweathogs from Welcome Back Kotter and a picture of Fonzie. For the record, my taste in tee shirts has improved with time.)

We talk a lot about tween and teen communication in the digital age. But online living and the infinite individualization that it offers have changed how kids today shop too. In 1976, making a custom tee shirt was really cool (even if your artistic choices were not so much). Today, with websites like zazzle and inktastic it's commonplace. And, tee shirts are only the tip of the design-it-yourself iceberg.

Kids can self-publish books, uploading their own photos and text and receiving a bound hardcover volume by mail a few days later. Why waste time printing and sorting through pictures, then pasting them into an album? That's so 20th century.

They can build a music playlist with the songs they like (and only the songs they like). I remember buying records because of one top-of-the-charts hit and realizing ($3.69 later — Cheap Records, Lexington and 58th street) that I should have bought the 45. (Am I dating myself now or what?!?)

Tweens can create avatars, digital personas that look like enhanced anime versions of themselves. They can design their own backpack at L.L. Bean's website. And, younger girls can build their own Muppet online at FAO Schwartz or a customized doll at

Automated custom manufacturing. It's an interesting phenomenon, especially with regard to tweens and teens. Here we have a demographic group that is absolutely determined to look and act and consume exactly like each other. Yet, they have embraced technology built on the idea that everything you wear should and can be a one-of-a-kind original. Computer-aided couture.

And, like pretty much everything else in their lives, it all happens on a laptop, a tablet or — more and more often — on their mobile phone. Wow.

Lately, my daughter and some of her friends have been designing their own footwear at For a small fee (okay, for a pretty big fee — $67 for basic Chuck Taylor All Stars, yikes), you can create a pair of completely customized sneakers. Everything from laces to lining, exterior panels of fabric, sole and even eyelets is up to you. Your unique Converse footwear can be as crazy and colorful as you want it to be. In theory, no one else at your middle school (or maybe anywhere in the world!) will have the same exact shoes. I repeat ... Wow.

The online experience is fun and engaging, and as a mother I'm glad that my daughter is flexing her artistic muscles. It takes a little of the sting out of the ongoing struggle we have about wearing what everybody else is wearing.

But, it's still too much to pay for canvas shoes, don't you think?

Even more than the vintage Fonzie tee shirt I just found on eBay.

Monday, October 17, 2011

When Mean Girls Grow Up

They say that youth is wasted on the young.

Well, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't go back to being fourteen for a million dollars. The insecurities, the anxiety, the endless drama. Between clique politics and adolescent hormones, middle school is an emotional roller coaster that I do not care to revisit, thank you very much.

To say that there's a lot of pressure to be popular at this age would be a ridiculous understatement. And, the moment of truth — when you are sized up and all too often put down — invariably happens in the school cafeteria. The administration at my daughter's school recognizes this and proactively does what it can to minimize the collateral damage. Lunchtime is blessedly short. The principal and guidance counselors patrol the room, keeping a watchful eye out. Kids choose their own tables at the beginning of the year, but then they have to stay there.

This system has its pros and cons. It avoids the daily jockeying for a place next to the cool kids (and the inevitable exclusions and hurt feelings when those seats are denied). But, on the flipside, you don't get the chance to cultivate new friendships. Hit it off with your lab partner? Too bad. You can't switch tables midstream to sit together. An established friendship is going through a rocky patch? Too bad. You're stuck next to each other day after day. And, if a friendship that was fast in September has cooled by November, you still have to break bread with your ex-bests for the next seven months.

Too bad.

Overall, I think the system makes it easier on the adults but puts strain on the students. And, while it may deter some forms of bullying, if a chum is going through a mean girl stage, you're trapped in the line of friendly fire.

The form of bullying that's going on among my daughter's classmates is very subtle; in fact, it's almost passive-aggressive. It isn't physical and doesn't even include teasing. A couple of queen bees decide, on a day-by-day basis it seems, who they're going to include and who they aren't. If you're not on the A-list that particular moment, you're pretty much ignored all through lunch.

Being attacked hurts. Being ignored hurts too.

Recently, I was talking about this subject with my mother and she reminded me about my own encounter with a mean girl. It was fourth grade and the girl was new to our school. She wasn't prettier or smarter or richer than any of us but, for some reason, she had the power. And I, for some reason, was her target. She cultivated my friends and pulled them away from me. She made fun of my glasses and told everyone that I didn't really need them but just wanted attention. She announced to an entire party that my mothers M&M cookies weren't any good so no one would try them (for the record, my mother's cookies were not good; they were fantastic). Relived forty years later, these slights feel ... well ... pretty slight. But, that girl made my life miserable for an entire year.

Thinking of my nemesis, I wondered what had become of her. I mean you can't be pushing fifty and still be the class bully can you? I did a quick search on Google and there she was. She may or may not be nicer on a personal level these days, but professionally she is pretty amazing. She is a renowned journalist and AIDS activist. Who'd have thought?

For now, I do what I can to help my daughter be strong when others are weak, and kind when others are cruel. I try to help her put things in perspective, and be resilient and thick-skinned when she needs to be. We talk about the choices she makes and how she can give mean girls less power over her. We brainstorm ways that she can strengthen her more positive friendships (and pull back a little from the hot-and-cold ones). More than anything else, I explain that whatever the current injury is, it won't hurt forever. These girls will grow up and maybe they'll be wonderful people.

This morning, I read a quote that's worth repeating: Remember, if they're trying to bring you down, it must mean that you're above them.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Attention Must Be Paid ... Right?

"One thing at a time, all things in succession."

This quote is by American poet Josiah Gilbert Holland. Although he was a nineteenth century descendent of the original Puritans, his advice echoes that of Tibetan Buddhists and local yoga teachers. Mindfulness. Being in the moment. Focusing on only one thing.

Clearly Holland was not a tween girl in 2011.

Eighth grade is a challenging year. Homework volume continues to increase. There is more emphasis on scores and tests, papers and projects. And, although technically college admissions officers won't see my daughter's grades, there is a feeling that it's all starting to count now. How she performs in this last year of middle school will determine what honors and AP classes she qualifies for in high school ... which will influence what colleges she applies to ... which will point her in the direction of a graduate program or career ... which will set the course for the whole, entire, complete, total rest of her life.

Oh my! I think I need a drink.

Seriously, to her credit, my daughter recognizes that homework is non-negotiable. She comes straight home each day (well, straight home via Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts or a friend's house) and gets to work. Because I'm fortunate enough to run my business out of my home, I'm usually there to greet her, ask how school was (Answer: "Schoolish.") and prepare a very tasty, somewhat nutritious snack. She heads up to her room with her backpack.

When I check on her, here's what I find. Homework open on cluttered desk. iPhone strategically placed to receive incoming texts. Laptop on with Facebook and iChat open. Deafening music playing via YouTube videos, which means she has to stop and choose a new song every 3.5 minutes.

I feel as though my head will explode, and I'm not the one trying to complete a worksheet on early American exploration or conjugate the verb venir.

Of course, I'm an involved parent, so I immediately voice my concern. Of course, my daughter is a tween-going-on-teen, so she immediately poo-poo's said concern. "I'm fi-i-i-i-i-i-ine," she groans, as she simultaneously responds to a text and inputs her next song, barely taking her eyes off the homework sheet.

I used to be proud of my multitasking talents. Running a creative team, writing ad copy, managing our family's schedule. What a joke! My ability to do more than one thing at a time is strictly "amateur night" compared to my daughter and her generation. And, I know my age is showing, but I can't help it.

Will so much to do in so little time affect her ability to concentrate and succeed?

In the brave new world of instantaneous communication and social media, you are rewarded for the very behavior that traditional education attempts to train out of you. Accuracy, spelling, grammar ...? Who cares! Checking over your work? What a waste of time!

I can't help it. I want her to be able to study and learn, to take time crafting something and then take more time refining it until it is her very best. I want her to appreciate the satisfaction of a job well done. I want her to have an attention span slightly longer than that of a flea with ADHD.

But, given that each generation adapts to its own environment, maybe I'm projecting a little too much. While I once worked for high-powered men who still had secretaries and didn't know how to open email, my daughter will begin whatever career she chooses reporting to Gen-X execs, who grew up with PCs and evolved along with technology. Just as my bosses were impressed and eager to utilize my early adoption of Apple computing (I had my own Mac Plus in 1986 — it weighed 15 pounds and cost $3,000), her future supervisors may value her ability to connect to so many people, places and projects at once.

For now, we've agreed to some new rules. No Facebook and no iPhone until after homework is done. She can stream radio or iTunes on her computer while she works but the volume has to be low-to-moderate. She seems to understand these rules and we haven't had any major blow-ups over them. Not yet.

So, I take a big old mommy chill pill, breathe in, focus on this moment and this moment only. Ohm.

I have seen the future, and it can type really really fast.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Don't Make Me Get The Flying Monkeys!

I'm so tired.

This is nothing new; I've been tired as long as I can remember. In fact, I recall babysitting for a friend's little girl years before I had one of my own. She looked at me and asked, "Are you tired?" "Yes," I admitted. "I know why," she asserted confidently. "Because you're a grownup. All grownups are tired."

What is true about grownups is particularly so about mothers. No surprise, since we burn the candles at both ends. (They would need to invent a candle with multiple wicks to really do the metaphor justice.) Pretty much from the time my alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. until I fall into bed sixteen or seventeen hours later, I'm working. Taking care of everything and everyone. I am woman, hear me yawn.

But, that's not why I'm tired today.

I'm tired, exhausted really, of being the bad guy. The evil queen, the wicked witch, the perpetual rain on my daughter's parade.

It's particularly tiresome because it wasn't always like this. There was a time when I was the best part of her day. She was happy when I woke her in the morning; she was thrilled when I picked her up at daycare. We snuggled, we played games, we read books. I know she doesn't remember, and wouldn't believe me now (Oy vey, she wouldn't believe me!) if I tried to tell her, but I was the love of her life.

How did I become public enemy number one?

Here is a long — but, by no means complete — list of my offenses:

I caught her going online after hours.
Actually, my husband caught her; I was already asleep because I was fighting a nasty cold. Of course, he wasn't sure what the rules were or how to deal with it, so I had to be the heavy the next day. Stricter parental controls on the computer do not a popular mother make.

I force her to drink milk with her otherwise protein-free breakfast.
In my defense, I have offered other solutions: eggs, yogurt, cheese. I even borrowed a friend's strategy and suggested chicken noodle soup. But, no go. My daughter voices her daily dairy outrage each morning with dramatic, loud and over-exaggerated gagging sounds.

I put all her dressage tests in a folder on her desk.
Did I throw them away? No, of course not! I thought having them all in one place would solve two problems. She would be able to find them, and I wouldn't shudder every time I walked by her messy desk. Apparently, I was wrong. And, in the laws of my daughter, ignorance is no excuse.

I will not drive 250 miles (each way) so she can have an afternoon with her camp friends.
This particular offense seems unusually unfair. Three weeks ago, our whole family headed down to New York so she could participate in a little reunion just like this. One girl, however, lives on the west coast and couldn't make it. She happens to be visiting next week and my daughter simply doesn't understand why we can't go down again. Let's see ... Because this is the only weekend free we have in two months because of back-to-back horse shows? Or maybe because we're still bailing out our basement from a recent flood? My daughter may "need" to see her friends. But the grownups really really need a weekend here.

And, it isn't as though I'm looking forward to rest and relaxation. This weekend that has become so contentious in our household will most certainly leave me even more ... you guessed it. Tired.

There are many other examples. Apparently, I am an unrepentant serial offender who cannot be rehabilitated. I should just embrace my inner criminal. I am an arch villainess worthy of a Disney princess movie. "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the meanest mother of all?" That would be moi.

My best friend once warned me that, at this age at least, "If they like you, you're not doing your job." No wonder I'm so tired.

I'm doing my job.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Misty, Water-Logged Memories of The Way We Were

We live in a small seaside community about 45 minutes north of Boston. The town is on a peninsula, so we are literally surrounded by water. Summers are beautiful. Winters are picturesque.

Floods happen.

This past week, we had a sudden and severe rainstorm. Because it happened at high tide, many of the town's drains, which typically send rainwater out to the harbor, couldn't keep up.

The storm hit right as my tween daughter was getting ready for school, making a rather challenging part of the day even more of a struggle. Within minutes, it seemed, our patio had a foot of standing water. My husband had to run out and move our cars to higher ground. He then raced off to help my in-laws who have a history of flooding. In his defense, he assumed we were fine because our basement has a French drain down its length and not one, but two automatic sump pumps.

My daughter and I bundled up in layers of foul weather gear, went out the front and waded through a neighbor's property which was slightly less engulfed than ours. We drove the mile to her middle school through intersections that were fast becoming lakes. The parking lot at the school had already flooded and police officers rerouted us (and the dozens of families behind) to a side entrance. It was all very dramatic. In some low-lying places, less fortunate cars had stalled and were practically submerged. I carefully watched the water levels around the cars ahead of me to avoid the same fate.

Through it all, I looked forward to getting back to the house, enjoying a nice hot hazelnut coffee from my beloved Keurig single cup brewer, and working on some new ad copy for a client. All with the peace of mind that comes with having not one, but two automatic sump pumps.

This is the part of our story that my daughter would refer to as a "Fail." In fact, it was an "Epic Fail."

The equation was very simple. Way too much rain, way too fast equals storm drains backing up equals nearly three feet of water in our basement. The pumps were still pumping, but the water was running right back in. By the time I returned from school, my husband was already down in the cellar, thigh-high in water, trying to decide whether or not to shut the power off. Plastic cartons and cardboard boxes were floating by him.

At this point, I stood at the base of the cellar stairs (it was really the fourth or fifth stair up because the lower ones were under water) and did something I'm not terribly proud of.

I whined.

It was probably more like a high-pitched moan, urgent, pained, helpless. Less human; more feline in distress. "My agency samples ...?" I pleaded. "Halloween decorations ...?" "My books ...?" "All our LPs ...?" My husband shrugged and shot me a look that conveyed, "Hey, I'm dealing with bigger issues here." Then, I remembered another box that was back there.

"Oh no! My dolls!"

Time stood still and my words hung there. Then, after twenty-five years together, this became one of those moments that go down in household history as an example of my husband earning major major major good guy points.

Here's what was on his mind: the water heater ($$$$), the furnace ($$$$), the washer and dryer ($$$$) — all of which were sitting in two-plus feet of water.

Here's what was on my mind: my Madame Alexander dolls.

And, here's what happened. He stopped what he was doing and waded into the back basement, found the plastic tub marked "Dolls," pulled it out and brought it, dripping, upstairs to rest on the tiles in front of our dining room fireplace. Any thoughts of work (or even coffee) went out of my head as I started my rescue and recovery mission.

At first, it seemed the damage would be minimal; the dolls on top were only a little damp. But as I dug deeper, I found dolls face down in several inches of water. Wet hair, sopping gowns, matted velvet shoes. Jo March, a favorite 10-inch portrait doll was not only wet, she had been decapitated. The forty year old rubber bands that held her limbs to her torso had crumbled away. If my sound effects on the stairs had been pathetic, the noises I made now as I pulled these cherished playthings out was downright anguished.

These dolls were my most treasured childhood possession. They aren't really valuable; many show signs of much loving wear and tear. Beth's apron had been mended. Alice in Wonderland's leg was replaced after she was struck with a dreaded form of doll flesh eating disease. When my daughter was little, I displayed my collection along with new ones she received for birthdays and Christmases on shelves around her room.

But, unlike her mother, my daughter was never much of a doll person. She quickly outgrew Barbies and Polly Pockets. We invested much time (and even more money) at American Girl Place in New York, but once she had read all the books and set up a little dormitory under the eaves on our top floor, she lost interest in those dolls as well. The Madame Alexander dolls were always my thing, not hers. But they looked adorable around her room.

Until the horses came. As my daughter spent more and more time at stables, her room began to look like one. Horse bedding, horse posters, horse show ribbons, and Breyer horse models. Breyers quickly became her collectible of choice and eventually the dolls (mine and the ones that were supposedly hers) were packed carefully away. I couldn't bear to part with them and maybe someday they would be loved again. After all, being a doll person may skip a generation.

Here's something to remember: overpriced archival acid-free tissue paper doesn't offer much protection ... when it's WET.

So, I picked the bits of soggy paper off my dolls, carefully undressed them, spread them out on huge beach towels and brought out all our electric fans plus my blow dryer. In addition to Jo's having been dismembered, there were only minor casualties: some red dye that had run on a white apron, a bedraggled feather fan on an elegant French miss, a few hairdos that had seen better days. Wary of putting them away until they were completely moisture-free, the dolls remained on view the next couple of days. Our house looked like the home of one of those crazy lonely ladies who order dolls from the Home Shopping Network and talk to them like they're family.

It is now four days since our flood. We're supposed to have hot water again soon. We've already made countless trips to the dump. And, we're planning a massive exodus to the nearest laundromat. I've vowed to clear out any and everything that we no longer need. As my Scarlet O'Hara doll would vow, tiny plastic first raised high, "As God is my witness, that flood is not going to lick me!"

Events like this one — painful, expensive, frustrating events — help put things in perspective. After all, despite all the drowned belongings, I can still say (as I often do to my daughter), "They're things, not people." No one was hurt. We didn't lose our home. Apparently, we didn't really need most of the stuff in our basement. There was a reason why agency samples were down there rather than family photos.

My future granddaughter's dolls, however, are now safe and sound (and in Jo's case, rebuilt), in acid-free, archival storage boxes, under my bed. Two stories above sea-level.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tweens: From Play Dates to Playmates?

The sexification of underage girls continues to make news. Earlier this year, we had Abercrombie Kids selling padded bra bikinis for eight-year olds. More recently, one of the diminutive divas of the so-called reality show Toddlers and Tiaras was dressed to thrill as the hooker with a heart from Pretty Woman.

The adorable little prostitute in question? Just three years old.

Both stories gained the parties involved (a major retailer and an ambitious stage mother in need of major therapy) tons of publicity. While many of the news reports expressed outrage, the media soaked the stories for all they were worth. Whether you're looking to sell bathing suits, sell your daughter or sell advertising dollars, clearly there is money to be made.

So, are any of us really surprised that the company that tarted up America's girls next door would want in on the act? Playboy has just licensed its famous bunny head to Diva, an Australia-based chain of jewelry and accessory stores that targets tweens and teens.

A little background. The bunny logo was designed in October 1953 by Arthur Paul. Today it is one of the world's most recognized trademarks. According to Playboy's website, the rabbit was chosen "to depict the lighter side of life, the rabbit being, to many people, the "playboy" of the animal world." By embracing the bunny, men are embracing their right to live like Hugh Hefner. Smoking jacket, L.A. mansion, beautiful blondes. Ah yes, the so-called lighter side of life.

For men maybe. But the way that the bunny logo is used on female models and cocktail waitresses doesn't feel quite so light. Whether as a piece of jewelry, silk-screened on a tee or tattooed on a breast, the bunny seems to communicate that the woman in question has received at best an admiring nod and at worst a brand like a piece of livestock. Her body is so bodacious that it would be a crime to keep it under wraps. The ultimate seal of approval? Playboy itself is staking a claim.

People may think I'm overreacting. After all, Playboy is still fairly tame compared to Penthouse and other adult publications. I actually think that's part of what bothers me. By combining the wholesome with the salacious, the wide-eyed girl in braids whose school uniform — oops! — happens to be unbuttoned down to there, Playboy seems to condone lusting after neighbors and nieces. It's the same issue I have with Hooters. (Are you a restaurant or a titty bar? Make up your mind!) I'm all right with pornography and adult entertainment when it's promoted as such. When it involves consenting adults and only consenting adults. It's the blurring of the lines that worries me.

And, to my mind, selling Playboy-themed jewelry at a store that caters to the junior high and high school set is some serious line-blurring.

So, a girl my daughter's age buys a necklace (or worse, one of the little bow ties that harken back to the heyday of the Playboy Club) at Diva. What is she saying? "When I grow up I want to take my clothes off for money." Or, "Look at my breasts now." Our little girls are growing up too fast as it is! And, I for one, do not want men leering at my daughter in the same way that they oggle Miss November.

Finally, I have to add that sexualization aside, a brand that objectifies women has no place in a shop that is dictating what's hot and what's not to impressionable young girls. Playboy playmates are held up as desirable for what's on their chests, not what's in their heads. If you have any doubts, check out an old episode of The Girls Next Door. Hef's three girlfriends (why settle for one, after all, when you're celebrating the lighter side of life?) are busty and blonde, but they aren't exactly a brain trust.

I know that girls want to look pretty and even feel sexy, but please let's help them set their sights a little higher.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I Know How She Does It

I always assumed my beautiful little daughter would grow up to love the same things I do. Oh well ... That was one of many (many, many) expectations I had to reset. I'm a neat freak; she's a slob. I like dressing up; she prefers dressing down. I love wandering through museums; she'd rather wander through the woods ... on the back of a horse.

So, I was very pleased when she agreed to go to the movies with me this weekend. I love movies, any movies. The more movies, the better. My daughter was humoring me, but I didn't care. We were going to the movies!

We selected I Don't Know How She Does It. I'm a big big fan of the book; I related to working mother Kate from the very first page when she was distressing a store-bought pie in order to pass it off as homemade at the school bake sale. "This is so me!" I thought. And, indeed, in 2002 when the book was published, I really was living a parallel life of the novel's heroine. I was juggling a marriage, a home, a preschool child and a high pressure job. I was flying to Seattle every other week for an important client. I was bribing my daughter (and assuaging my guilt) with unnecessary airport souvenirs. I hadn't quite stooped to pretending other people's pies were my own — but only because I hadn't thought of it.

Bloody brilliant!

Anyway, I wasn't so sure I would like the movie. Film adaptations often fall short of books — especially beloved books. And, the choice of Sarah Jessica Parker worried me. From the preview, it appeared that much of the movie's story would be told in a first person narrative. Could we really sit through ninety minutes of SJP's voiceover without hearing Carrie Bradshaw?

We were willing to try. We bought two popcorns and a diet coke (we also smuggled in some Reece's mini peanut butter cups — shhhhhhhh) and settled into our seats. The movie hasn't received great reviews and the theatre was fairly empty, so we had our choice of seats and plenty of room to spread out. After what seemed like an age of ads and features and trailers, it began.

There she was! Distressing that pie! Once again, I recognized myself. Sarah Jessica Parker did a terrific job making you believe that a woman who is lucky enough to love her job and lucky enough to love her family has pretty much run out of luck. Everyone conspires against you: the impatient boss, the conniving coworker, the judgmental in-laws, the holier-than-thou PTA moms. My only criticism would be that Kate, understandably frazzled, was a bit too disheveled from the get-go. It would have been more fun to watch her crumble over time.

Parker was backed up by a solid supporting cast: Christina Hendricks, Kelsey Grammar, Seth Meyers, Jane Curtin. Greg Kinnear, a personal favorite since his early days on Talk Soup, was endearing as Kate's long-suffering husband. And, Pierce Brosnan was appropriately dashing as her business associate, would-be romance. (My daughter, by the way, editorialized mid-movie that Brosnan gives her the creeps ever since he attempted to sing in Mamma Mia! I told her she wasn't "the target audience.")

We both thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon at the movies. But, the best part was the drive home when I shared my own working mommy stories. Like ...

The time I was pulled out of line at an airport gate to have my bags hand-checked. (This was right after 9/11.) The very serious security woman had quite a shock when she unzipped my bag and three enormous Power Puff Girl pillows popped out. Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup must have been happy to be released. They were squeezed in so tight, I had to sit on my carry-on to close it.

Back when I was pregnant and had to leave one meeting at a utility company six times to throw up. My female coworker explained, "Oh, don't worry about her. She's just having a baby." The all-male room violently shuddered and gasped out loud. They thought I was having said baby ... like, NOW.

Once when I went to a client's office to make an important presentation and learned afterwards that I had glitter all over my suit jacket because we were going through a fairy princess phase. (Hey, when you think of all the things that could end up on a toddler's mother's jacket, glitter ain't so bad!)

The countless zingers I received from well-meaning relatives and stay-at-home moms. The playdates that I couldn't reciprocate. The store-bought bake sale contributions. Staying home from work because of her conjunctivitis. (Going to work with my own conjunctivitis.) The time I missed a flight in Chicago and sat in O'Hare's Terminal 2 sobbing because I wasn't going to get home in time to tuck a particular little person in.

But, through it all, I wouldn't have changed a thing. All right, maybe I wouldn't have missed that flight. And, maybe I would have kept a lint brush handy. It was tough and often (so often!) I felt like I was shortchanging my job or shortchanging my family, and always always always shortchanging myself.

But, I set a good example for my daughter. When I told her (and tell her) that she can succeed in a man's world, she knows I believe it because she's seen me do it.

It ain't always easy, but I do know how she does it. And so does every working mother.