Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Horse! A Horse! My Kingdom for a Horse!

My tween daughter just had the Christmas every little girl dreams of.

She got a horse.

Now, technically, she didn't get the horse for Christmas. She got the horse about three weeks earlier due to a whirlwind confluence of events that left all of us a bit stunned (not to mention, suddenly impoverished).

It all started on Veteran's Day. I know this because my daughter had the day off from school. In her world, a day off means an extra day at the stable — never mind that it's a half an hour away. Never mind that she has neither a car nor a driver's license. Never mind that her mother has dueling deadlines for clients. (Clients that, I might point out, fund said excursions to the stable.)

Still ... being the devoted parent (read, "chump") that I am, I arranged to drive her there prior to starting my day. I was wearing rumpled yoga clothes and no make-up. Just wanted to give you a visual so you can understand how I looked (and felt) when I was sideswiped by the stable owner.

"You have a minute?" the woman cheerfully asked as I was about to exit stage left.

"Uhhh, sure." I didn't, but what are you going to say?

She proceeded to explain that we had to start thinking about buying a pony — our own pony, as in, our own pony with our own money. This was a business request, really. My daughter has been competing at the "Novice" level and wants to move up to the "Training" level. This means more and higher jumps. The school's horses have to accommodate many riders and the stable's owner really couldn't continue to lease her best jumpers to just one student.

"Plus," she told me, smiling, "This is the right time of year if you're going to buy one. The owners don't want the expense of keeping the horse through the winter. You can get a much better deal."

I drove home (later than planned), thoroughly freaked out. The idea of buying a horse wasn't new. My daughter has ridden for nine of her fourteen years; this isn't a passing fad. But, my husband and I had hoped we could wait until she was sixteen. That way, she could drive herself back and forth to the stable every day. And, hopefully, we would come into some money between now and then. Maybe I would sell a bestselling book? We might win the lottery? Great Great Great Uncle Sherman (whom, of course, we have never met or even heard of) could pass away and leave us his fortune?

Oh help!

The exact words out of my husband's mouth when I relayed the conversation, were "We can't afford it!" But, after a lot of discussion, we realized that we might be able to afford it. All we would have to do is give up some of life's little luxuries — like food, shelter and clothing. We agreed that we would "start looking at horses." Like any modern mom, I went online. That's when forces beyond our control took over ...

I found an ad for a pony the right size, age and breed ... BAM!
We went out to look at the horse ... POW!
We put down a deposit ... WHACK!
We took our trainer out to inspect the horse ... WHAM!

Faster than you can say, "Holy Unexpected Equine Expense, Batman!" we owned a horse.

There was more to it, of course. There was vetting (by an actual vet), a visit from a saddlery professional. His teeth have now been "floated" by an equine dentist, and he had a pedicure from a "natural equine hoof trimmer." (As I write these checks, I imagine all the trips to spas I'll never take.) There have already been several mail order deliveries of tack: harnesses, lead ropes, girths. Soon, I trust, the buying will slow down. I mean, really, how many saddle pads does one pony need?

The horse itself (which everyone has assured us was "a steal" — eek!) was just the beginning. One of our instructors told my husband, "You could sell him for twice what you paid for him." Yeah, right. Over my daughter's dead body.

Speaking of ... if the whole process has taken my breath away, try talking to the young equestrienne. I'm surprised she doesn't pinch herself every morning. "I can't believe I own a horse," she whispers. "I can't believe I own a horse."

And, we are using the entire experience to help her build responsibility. She is paying for half the tack out of her allowance, babysitting money and savings account. She knows (and has agreed) that her grades cannot dip with all this increased stable time. She is working hard with the new horse, training him and looking forward to competing together in shows this spring.

We are very lucky that we can provide this enormous (truly, we're talking 1,200 pounds or so) new pet for our daughter. It will involve a lot of give-and-takes, compromise and prioritizing. Suffice it to say, we probably won't go on any family vacations for a while.

That's okay though. It's not like my daughter wants to be on some beautiful beach or touring a foreign country. For now, her home and her heart are where her horse is.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Christmas Eve Gift!"

Our family has a tradition that dates back longer than I can remember. It started with my mother's own childhood, growing up in Mountain Grove, Missouri. On the morning of December 24th, the first person to shout "Christmas Eve Gift!' wins. My family takes this pretty seriously — my enthusiastic younger brother has been known to call people minutes after midnight to declare "Christmas Eve Gift" victory.

The game is not unique to my family. If you Google "Christmas Eve Gift" (with the quotation marks), you'll get over 600,000 hits. I'm a working mother and didn't have time to read them all, but the handful I did peruse were sweet reminiscences much like mine in the paragraph above.

This friendly (and sometimes not-so-friendly, sometimes downright ruthless) competition frustrated my husband to no end. 'What do you win?" he demanded. "Why is there no gift? This is lame!"

So, when we adopted the practice with our own daughter, I made sure there was always a gift. A funny, seasonal knick-knack (which I chose based on its appropriateness for any of us, but bought specifically for her since I always let her win). It might be a wind-up dancing elf, a small box of chocolates, an ornament, a Pooh Bear dreidel, or (her favorite) a tiny naked baby doll from Japan wearing a Santa hat. This year, it was an adorable felt donkey ornament. I figured it was close enough to a horse if my daughter won it. And, it's the symbol of the Democratic party if my liberal husband won.

As per Christmas Eve usual, the tween walked away with the prize. I don't think she was impressed. She told me, ever so sweetly, that she thought it would look better on the big tree downstairs and not on the smaller one in her room. Clearly the adorable ornament wasn't as adorable as I thought. Oh well.

That's all right; we have another annual tradition. My husband meets his best friend for lunch (if the long nap he takes each year afterwards is any indication, we are probably talking 'liquid lunch'). So, my daughter and I go out together for our own meal. This was especially fun back when I was working at an agency in Boston and rarely saw her midday. She was just three or four years old the first time we had our special Christmas Eve luncheon. We went to a chic and charming little bistro, called ... Friendly's.

That particular day, Friendly's was overcrowded and understaffed. There were a couple of waitresses who weren't moving very quickly, and one waiter, who seemed to be pulling most of the waitering weight. He was amiable and efficient, and even though the kitchen mixed up our sandwiches (how do you mix up grilled cheese?), he kept his sense of humor and made everything right.

We felt bad that he was working — and working so hard! — on Christmas Eve. So, we decided to leave him a "Special-Secret-Santa-Christmas-Eve-Tip." I went and paid at the register while my daughter wrote "MERRY CHRISTMAS" (phonetically) in crayon on her folded placemat. We slipped an over-the-top generous gratuity inside and raced out, giggling wildly.

From then on, we made a date for our Secret Santa lunch. Once Friendly's closed (after more than thirty years; my husband worked there as a teenager), we moved on to other local restaurants: Bertucci's, Pizzeria UNO. Each time, we made it a point to converse with our waitperson and find out what he or she was doing for the holiday. Each time, we left a regular tip for our meal plus a generous Christmas bonus. Each time, we ran out of the restaurant, thrilled with our little secret and laughing.

Last year, we went to a coffee shop in neighboring Salem. The joint was jammed and our waitress was terrific! She noticed that we had made a list on one of our napkins and asked if we were still shopping? No, I told her. The list included friends' houses at which we planned to drop off goodies on the way home.

She said that she herself was almost finished. She was a single mom, she explained, and just needed two more presents, the big ones, for her teenage son and daughter. When she got off at 5:00, she was going to rush over to the mall to get them each an iPod. It occurred to me that she had probably waited until the last minute to get these special gifts because she didn't have the cash sooner. My daughter and I were excited — it felt like we had hit Secret Santa pay dirt! We did what we could to contribute to the iPods and our giddy dash out of the restaurant was even more exhilarating than usual.

I enjoy most (all right, many, or at least some) meals with my daughter. But, I treasure the time we spend together at lunch every Christmas Eve. Joining forces to help someone is powerful stuff. We don't have the resources of Oprah or Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, but we can make a difference in our way.

Maya Angelou once said, "I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver." I'll think of this as my daughter and I joyfully run down the street together after our lunch this afternoon.

May your soul find liberation and joy this Christmas Eve too.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Loosing — Er, Losing It

Even before I was pregnant, when my darling daughter was just a gleam in my eye, I knew the type of mother I wanted to be. I wouln't yell or scream or berate her. I would be kind and loving; like Marmee in Little Women, I would guide my child with a gentle firmness. We would always always see eye-to-eye. We would never never fight. And, she would love and respect — dare I say, revere — me.

Dream on, Mamacita! (Can someone please invent blog sound effects so I can audibly slam on the brakes or scratch a record here?)

It started out well. I don't think I ever raised my voice when she was a baby or even a toddler. There was no reason to, really. My daughter was even-tempered and compliant. We rarely had to say the word "No." And, despite some opinions to the contrary, it's not because we were spoiling her. She was just a super easy child. That, and the fact that she was in full-time daycare while I worked, meant that the few hours we had together each day were invariably sweet.

But, she grew up as children are wont to do. These days, we are at odds more often than evens. And, the other night ... I lost it. I mean, LOST it.

I will try to relay the story without sounding too defensive. It was nearly 10:00 and I was still at my desk, trying to hit not one but two deadlines (I told the clients EOD, "end of day" — obviously, my day hadn't ended yet). Meanwhile, my daughter sent an email with a chirpy note "Proof & print!!!" and an attached Word document. It was her two-page movie review assignment for eighth grade English.

So, being a concerned mother, I stopped writing my client's 19-page brochure and took a look at the homework. My daughter came up, eager to collect the proofed and printed paper.

"There are just a couple of typos," I told her. "See here, I think you mean 'lose' not 'loose.'"

She stared blankly at me, so I continued, "I mean, the character is going to lose his family, right? Not unleash them and set them loose in the woods or something." She shrugged 'whatever' so I changed it and went on.

"You have practically the same sentence in here three times ..." I started to point to the redundant phrases on the screen. She barked at me.

"No! Mrs. B likes that part! Leave it alone! Will you just print it already?!?"

That's when I lost it. In fact, I didn't just lose it, I cut loose with a loud shriek ...


Her eyes went wide, like one of those felt reindeer when they see Rudolf's nose glow for the first time. She caught her breath, "What?"


I sounded like Mommy Dearest when she found the wire hangers in Christina's closet. Or maybe it was more like the Dark One speaking through pre-exorcised Linda Blair. Regardless, it was not my finest maternal moment.

My daughter rolled her eyes and said "Sorry."

You probably think the word 'sorry' has two syllables, right? Well, when my daughter says it, she uses three. "Soh-aw-ree." This translates to: "I'm saying 'sorry' because you want me to although I'm not at all sorry because there's really nothing to be sorry about." She grabbed her paper and left my office.

Suddenly I felt pain. (Not remorse, mind you, pain.) Not only had I made a superhuman (or maybe it was subhuman) noise when I exploded at her, but the whole thing bubbled up from so deep inside me so fast and furious that I had bitten the side of my tongue. So, there I was, still sitting at my desk, still working, an object of my child's disdain, and feeling real physical discomfort.

Did I already mention that this wasn't my finest moment?

A little later, I knew my daughter was getting ready for bed, so I left my work (still not quite finished) and went down to say "good night." And to apologize. I firmly believe that parents are not always right simply because they are the parents. Yes, my daughter needs to say "Please," but I don't need to bite her head off. It's not her fault that it was late and I was tired. It's not even her fault that I was so stressed out. Well, maybe partly her fault, but not entirely.

"Sorry," I told her in two syllables. "I'm exhausted and feeling very unappreciated right now." She nodded. "Can we please try to treat each other with respect?" She nodded again. "And courtesy? Y'know: please and thank you." She nodded a final time.

The next morning, we were back to usual. It was nearly impossible to get her out of bed. But, she was somehow dressed and fed and out on time. I don't think she even remembered my explosion. But I remembered it.

And my tongue still hurts.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Tween Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house

Not a sound we could hear, except her infrared mouse

No, not the kind that squeaks and eats cheese,

But the kind that links to Facebook, if you please

While Mamma and Papa were already counting sheeps,

The tween was online; the Internet never sleeps.

Like the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,

Her face was alight in her laptop’s pale glow.

Her Facebook friends were all coming together

With nary a thought of the time or the weather.

To Facebook they came

And she clicked and she linked and she typed each one’s name:

Yo Hannah, yo Sara, yo Jena and Mack

Hey Kayla and Gabby and Torie and Zac!

There was so much to do, why catch forty winks?

So they tweeted and twittered and sent YouTube links.

When out in the yard there arose such a clatter,

She jumped up from her Mac to see what was the matter.

“It can’t be!” she thought. ”They must all be phonies!”

But, there was a sleigh, pulled by eight Connemara ponies.

She ran to the front door (she knew it was lame),

But, he came down the chimney – his tush was aflame!

“My dad’s such a pyro,” she wept like a willow.

Santa just shrugged and put the fire out with a pillow.

“Now what?” she asked Santa. “Did you bring me a gift?”

“You gotta excuse me, I thought you were a myth.”

“So, you have any cookies?” Santa said half in jest.

“Mallomars from New York,” said the tween, “They’re the best!”

Her parents were snug, dreaming of sugarplums and flowers.

(Little did they know she was entertaining a boy after hours!)

Santa stacked all the presents under the tree.

She looked at each one and sighed “Nothing for me.”

“What do you mean?” said St. Nick, with a big smile of course.

“Look out on your lawn and you'll see your NEW HORSE!”

“OMG!” said the tween, and she giggled to the core.

“I guess I don’t really need anything more.”

(At this point, her dear mother will stop the poem to say …

“Yes, that horse is your gift: Christmas, Hanukah and Birthday!”)

Soon Santa had to leave. He had other places to stop.

And his ponies took off with just a touch of his crop.

But, she heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight ...

“OMG! Merry Christmas BFFs and Good Night!”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Anti-Social Media, Part II: Moms Who Live in Glass Houses

"Do as I say. Not as I do."

This maternal directive is usually presented with a little bit of self-deprecation if not downright irony. Duh. Obviously, we hope that our offspring will inherit only our very best qualities. Not our bad habits, idiosyncrasies or tics.

Not our addictions certainly. Booze, pills, overpriced shoes, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.

And now ... Facebook.

I find it a bit amusing that we are all so worried about our tweens and teens and their online consumption when we have fallen into the same rabbit hole. In fact, when I'm at a business meeting these days, virtually every participant is glued to his or her laptop, iPad or Blackberry. (This is particularly frustrating when my team and I are actually presenting creative ideas. On more than one occasion, I've been tempted to stop my ad agency "dog and pony" and channel my inner Rodney Dangerfield. "Hello?!? Is this on?!? I know you're out there; I can hear you breathing.")

My business associates are allegedly multitasking, y'know, checking their emails, making sure nothing slips through the cracks while they're in a meeting. But, I am fairly certain that they are also checking in with their friends and followers and fans. There's a fine line between business and pleasure when it comes to interactive communications. And the distance between your mission critical corporate project and your "live out loud" social network is typically just a click away.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a big fan of Facebook. In fact, I have 336 friends, most of whom are my contemporaries and many of whom are mothers. For the record, these 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings are no better behaved online than their kids are. (And, the spelling? Oy vey, don't get me started!)

Here's what mothers post about:

• Our kids
• Our weight
• Our kids
• Our exhaustion
• Our kids

Did I mention, "Our kids?" Grades, accomplishments, silly anecdotes, funny quotes. Milestone birthdays, graduations. In some cases, we vent our frustration (about our kids). In most cases, we write mini status love letters (to our kids). I myself have been known to post a day-by-day countdown until I could pick mine up from summer camp.

But, here's the rub. Even if a lot of our online activity revolves around or builds upon our relationship with our kids, we need to be careful that it doesn't actually supplant that in-person, analog, real-life, one-to-one connection. If you have a choice of reading my blog or reading to your child, please close your browser right now and pick up a book. (Remember books?)

Years ago, when the Internet was in its infancy, I thought it had great potential for people who were, for one reason or another, immobile. What a great way for a disabled or elderly person to reconnect with people and places, take armchair adventures or revisit an earlier passion (I mean a hobby or interest — although there is certainly plenty of interpersonal passion rekindled online).

New mothers are often housebound, even if temporarily. Fourteen years ago, I was on maternity leave for three months. Each day, I watched my husband go off to work, then spent the day with my beloved (if not yet very responsive) child. Most days, I left the house to run some errands or took a nice walk with my tiny daughter in her Baby Bjorn. At about five each afternoon, while she nursed, I sat on the sofa watching "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." Really.

So I understand why a stay-at-home mom would reach for her keyboard and mouse now and then. Connection. Companionship. Sanity.

But, we need to set a good example too. Ad Age magazine recently published a list of the "30 Freakiest Ads of 2011." Take a look at this PSA encouraging moms to sign-off and tune-in to their kids. (I agree that it's pretty freaky, but it makes a good point.) You can see the ad here.

Right now, I'm going to sign-off myself. I just heard my daughter come in, and we need to bake brownies and wrap presents. You know, some nice, traditional, mother-daughter quality time.

Of course, she'll have her iPhone with her. But, you can't blame me for trying.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Anti-Social Media, Part I: Are the Kids All Right?

Don't worry, this is not yet another story about cyber bullying. This is about something far less sensational, but far more ubiquitous. And maybe in the long run (except for severe situations that end tragically) more damaging.

I'm talking about the fact that tweens and teens spend more time communicating online than they do off. As my own daughter would say, "Duh," as in "Mom, don't you mean way more!"

Texting, IM'ing, emailing ... these channels offer near instant gratification. They are quick and easy and convenient and by eighth grade nearly universally accessible. All good, right? Wrong. At an age when misunderstandings turn into major melodrama, these modern means of communicating lack important cues that help people understand each other. Like eye contact, tone of voice, the chance to ask someone to stop, repeat something or better explain what they really mean.

Then, there are all the solitary activities that revolve around mobile devices. Games and apps and YouTube and iTunes. Not to mention old text conversations and archived photos (my daughter has, and I'm not kidding, about 4,000 pictures on her iPhone). I'm not the only parent I know who worries that all this alone-time is unhealthy.

When I was fourteen, I was an avid reader and an early-stage creative writer, both solitary activities. But, I was also very happy to pick up my pink princess telephone (yes, really, aren't you jealous?) and call a friend. In fact, I'm certain that my parents would tell you I was on the phone all the time. My eighth grade best friend and I used to have this inane ritual that we performed at the end of every call ...

"You hang up first."

"No, you hang up first."

"No, you."

"No, you."

"Okay, we'll count to three and hang up at the same time. One. Two. Three."


"Are you still there?"

"Yeah, are you? Okay, you hang up first."

You get the general idea. (By the way, I really need to keep stories like this in mind when I think my own daughter is acting too silly. Sheesh!) Back to what I was saying ...

We all worry that our kids are glued to their electronic devices. In fact, a recent Apple commercial seems to be reacting to that parental fear. You can watch the ad here.

I've worked in advertising nearly twice as long as I've been a mother. It isn't hard for me to imagine the strategy session that eventually led to this commercial. Research no doubt showed that parents are concerned about their offspring's consumption of (and utter absorption in) digital media. They are scared that their tween or teen is spending too much time alone with their precious little machine and not enough with peers. So, the powers that be, at Apple or at their ad agency or both, determined that the best approach was to create this catchy :30 spot, called "Share the Fun." It positions a mobile device (in this case, an iTouch) as the key to a happy, healthy, analog social life.

Maybe because I do make a living writing advertising, or maybe because I see my daughter alone on her phone all the time, this ad feels too deliberate. Methinks the house that Jobs built protests too much.

But, it doesn't matter.

My daughter's iPhone is here to stay (until, of course, it becomes obsolete and I agree to buy her the next generation). I try to get her to call people, but she would rather text. I do worry that she is missing out on in-person communication. I encourage her to talk to her friends. Really look them in the eye and talk.

Of course, as responsible parents, we've created a few rules. No cell phones at the table — whether in our dining room or a restaurant. No electronics before school or after 8:00 pm. Are these rules rocket science? No. Are they going to make me Good Housekeeping's Mother of the Year? No. Are they often broken? Oh, yeah.

But, at least I've made an attempt. And, when my daughter doesn't agree with a rule (or needs a temporary maternal dispensation because of homework or carpool arrangements or an absolutely crucial life-or-death message that can't possible wait another minute), y'know what?

She has to look me in the eye and talk to me about it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Yesterday afternoon, my daughter had three friends over after school. My husband and I were both working in our third-floor offices, and we had painters in the dining room. So, the four young teens were relegated to my daughter's bedroom armed with popcorn, sodas and a complete collection of electronica.

Apparently, the "hanging out" (we graduated from "playdates" years ago) was a success.

They were fairly quiet and the room was only slightly trashed. When the last guest was picked up, it was already dinner time. So, we decided to go to a funky Mexican restaurant in the next town over.

It had been a hectic, stressful week. Actually, it had been a hectic, stressful week on the tail end of a hectic, stressful month. Thanksgiving, travel, new clients, holiday shopping, and a dining room renovation. I for one was looking for a nice meal avec la famille.

We settled into our seats and a friendly young waiter (who looked a lot like Justin Timberlake — bonus!) took our drink order. I could feel myself start to relax.

"So, how did it go?" I cheerfully asked my daughter. "What did you guys do?"


"Like what?" I asked.

She shrugged, and repeated, "Stuff." This was said in that tone of voice which means "Are you deaf, Mom?" Or, alternately, "Get off my case."

My husband added his two cents to this now fascinating conversation. "What kind of stuff?"

She rolled her eyes, "You know, stuff."

By now, I started to laugh. This did not help the situation.

"Why do you always have to know every little detail of my life?" she demanded.

"Detail? You haven't told me anything," I insisted. "I'm just trying to have a nice family meal. This is what civilized people do. They have cordial conversations over dinner."

I didn't actually hear her snort, but that doesn't mean she didn't.

At this point, I realized that our nice family meal was at a crossroads. The parents could continue to badger the child, interrogating, lecturing, accusing, eventually threatening. Or, we could move on. Maybe it was my pinot grigio. Maybe I was just too exhausted to take anything but the path of least resistance. At any rate, I am proud to report that we moved on. (This may seem like the logical choice, but it isn't always easy to be logical when you're tired and stressed out and you're dealing with your average petulant fourteen-year old.)

Luckily, there was plenty to discuss with my husband. We are both working on fairly big projects right now. We've received Christmas cards from several friends and family members, some with those silly newsletters included. We have a lot going on, as always this time of year, so there were schedules to compare and logistics to work out. Who could run which errand? In what order should we attend dueling parties? When would we buy our trees?

Meanwhile, my daughter sipped her Coke and sulked.

Soon enough, the chips and salsa arrived, followed shortly thereafter by our burritos, and there was less pressure to converse. Dinner was delicious and convenient and reasonable. So what if only two of us were talking?

Over the years, I've learned many things from my daughter. I now know that the word "Stuff" has more than one meaning. "Stuff" can, of course, mean "stuff." As in "What's this mess on the floor of your closet?" "Stuff."

Apparently, it can also mean, "I'd rather not talk right now." Okay, that's fine.

I'll be here if you change your mind.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CGI Models? Abandon Hope, Girls.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about skinny models and my worries that our obsession with thin wreaks havoc on growing girls — their self-esteem, their body image, their eating (or more precisely, their lack thereof).

But, no matter how emaciated the cover girls are, I've always assumed they were real (real thin, yes, but real as in living, breathing human beings). I've deplored the celebration of twig-like bodies, but I figured there was a (teensy tiny) flesh and blood person there.

Not anymore, I guess.

The trendy department store H&M has just confessed to using a computer-generated body, topped with multiple models' heads (one-at-a-time, of course) on their website. This perfect body (for the record, my body would be perfect too, if it was made by a computer!) is colorized to match each model's skin tone. H&M calls it a "virtual mannequin" and claims that they never meant anyone to think it was real. The pose, left hand jauntily resting on hip, right arm extended down, is meant to show off the merchandise. A spokesperson said “This is not to be seen as conveying a specific ideal or body type." It is "merely a technique to show our garments.” Supposedly, the CGI figure ensures that the focus is on the clothes, not the model.

I think the focus is on a perfectly lovely body that is perfectly impossible for a mere mortal woman to obtain.

This is nothing new. The girls in the Victoria's Secret catalog sell lots of lingerie because of a flawed bit of consumer logic. "The model looks bodacious and she is wearing this $65 bra and panty set. If I wear this $65 bra and panty set, I will look bodacious too."

After all, what are they going to do? Put the lingerie on fat chicks? I think not.

But, there's still the assumption that even the most angelic of Vicky's heavenly bodies is a real-live woman. Sure, she may have won the genetic lottery, paid for cosmetic enhancements, devoted her life to Pilates, or (more likely) given up all carbohydrates for the past twenty-one years, but we're still looking at actual skin on an actual (albeit Photoshopped) body. Right?

This brings the pressure to an all-new level. Our daughters don't just have to compete with 6-foot tall 120-pound beauties. Now, they have to compete with avatars.


I'm disappointed. H&M is a store with cute and stylish fashion that appeals to tweens and teens (at prices that appeal to tweens and teens' moms). With this eager-to-consume audience comes responsibility. Why not show the clothes on real girls? Preferably on real girls with real bodies — strong, attractive, of course, but real.

You see, at the end of the day (or the end of my daughter's second helping of Ben & Jerry's Smores ice cream — no eating disorders here, thank you very much), the same damage is being done. Whether we are tall or short, thin or fat, or just plain average. Whether the idealized body in question is analog or digital.

We are still bound to be disappointed when we look in our own mirrors.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Concealed Weapons, Pierced Ears and Other Travails of Travel

Our recent weekend away included two trips through airport security: here in Boston's Logan Airport and a few days later as we departed from Columbus. Although she is a fairly frequent flyer, my tween daughter finds the new scanning booths extremely distressing.

I get it, really; I've had some security trauma myself. Several years ago, I was going down to New Orleans to speak at a marketing conference. This was soon after 9/11 and security procedures were stringent, passengers and crew very anxious. The man in front of me was confused about what to do with his shoes and where to put his laptop. Meanwhile, I had flown quite a bit in recent months and felt certain of myself. With a level of smugness that I'm embarrassed to admit to (you'll read why in a moment), I cavalierly swept my MacBook out of its case and placed it oh-so-carelessly in its own plastic tub. Wearing comfortable clogs and a cardigan, I slipped quickly out of my shoes and jacket, withdrew a neat zip-lock bag of liquids, gels and ointments (yes, Chapstick counts). Congratulating myself on my security savvy, I practically strutted through the metal detector.

When I took Greek Tragedy sophomore year of college, the professor encouraged us to pay close attention to the moment when the hero thought or behaved as though he or she was better than anyone else. Better even than ... the gods! That moment of "hubris" would be the hero's undoing.

Me, prancing through security like I was all that? "Hubris, hubris, hubris!"

Well, my self-satisfaction was quickly eclipsed by the booming voice of a security official. He opened my backpack and demanded, "And what were you going to do with ... THIS?" He pulled out a steak knife.

Anyone who knows me (straight A student, teacher's pet, perpetual rule-follower) can imagine my horror! Was it my knife? Yes. Was it concealed in my backpack? Yes. Did I know why or how it got there? Hell to the no!

In a whirling blur, I was pulled out of line. Ohmigod! I had to provide identification. Ohmigod! The knife blade was measured. Ohmigod! A trooper came over to question me. Oh-mi-god! I almost missed my flight, but was cleared to board minutes before departure. As soon as we were in the air, still shaking and utterly (and I was certain permanently) mortified, I ordered a bloody mary.

(For the record, I had a steak knife in my bag because I had brought a nice cinnamon coffee cake to a New England Direct Marketing Association meeting a month earlier. The facility where we had those meetings never had silverware. I didn't want to bring a butter knife because I'd hate to break up our flatware set; the steak knife was old and I didn't care if it got lost. This is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I realized it about ten minutes into my interrogation. And you know what? The security people didn't really care.)

Another airport incident happened when my daughter was six. Over our weekend away, she had gotten her ears pierced. This had proved to be much more painful and traumatic than she had expected. As I pulled my bag off the x-ray machine belt, I accidentally brushed the side of her head with my sleeve. Out popped the earring; down came the tears. But, we soon found the diminutive gold stud on the carpet, ordered water with ice, and I repierced the ear myself in the food court. She was very brave and sweet. (I felt very faint and queasy.)

Back to our recent trip. Once we had arranged our carry-ons, jackets, and shoes on the belt, the TSA employee asked my daughter's age and then gestured to the dreaded booth. She was self-conscious, worried, nervous. Mostly, she was pissed. I reassured her that whoever was looking at her image was far far away and far far too busy doing his or her job to pay much attention.

I truly believe that the bulk of the TSA staff is made up of professionals. They are doing an important — and utterly thankless, think about it — job. People, it's just a picture! I've had CT scans, mammograms, chest x-rays, and ultrasounds. Even at her age, my daughter has already had an abdominal x-ray. Where are those images and who has access to them? Should we assume that all medical personnel are perfect and that all airport personnel are perverts. That seems like a bit of misplaced confidence and prejudice.

The morals of my story? Cooperate with the airport people; they are there to protect you. Be careful with newly pierced ears; they are delicate and not impervious to a mother's flinging arm. Don't try to smuggle sharp kitchen utensils on your next flight; bad bad bad idea.

And, most important, always leave your hubris at home.