Wednesday, May 30, 2012

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Spell Like 'Em

In 2008, Barack Obama was elected the first African-American President. He also became the first President elect who had successfully used the Internet, social and viral media in his campaign. He even had an app.

As you can't help but know (since the 2012 election coverage started long before 2012 started and is on pretty much 24/7), Mitt Romney is hoping to unseat President Obama this November. He is attacking the President's attempts at healthcare reform and economic stimulus. He thinks Obama needs to "Stop apologizing for America." And, like any self-respecting candidate in this Web 3.0 world, he created an app for it:

A Better Amercia

A-M-E-R-C-I-A. With that rather un-patriotic error, Romney has generated quite a lot of online buzz ... and not exactly the buzz he intended.

The world being what it is, the mistake was instantaneously picked up, ridiculed and memed. Memes are clever (and, granted, sometimes less-than-clever) online parodies. In the case of Romney's ill-fated app, the memes include his misspelled call for betterment coupled with a Scrabble game, a child struggling in a spelling bee, Bart Simpson, refrigerator magnet letters that read "DUMBASS," and, of course, an Etch-a-Sketch.

Poor Mitt. Poor proofreaders who work for Mitt! I'm an advertising copywriter by trade and I can tell you that these things happen. In fact, as someone who makes a living with words, I can only thank my lucky stars that I wasn't the person who mistyped or approved that one.

Then again, if Romney's purpose is to be seen as young and hip and social media-savvy, this may have been the ultimate Freudian slip. If you are reaching out to the texters and the tweeters, don't you need to talk their talk? Type their type? Or rather, typo their typo?

To the online generation, accurate spelling is a grossly overrated virtue. They simply don't have time for anything that gets in the way of speeding thumbs on a smartphone keypad. When I read the Facebook posts of my daughter and her friends, I cringe. And it takes superhuman mom effort to resist correcting her text messages. 

Amercia's a free country; there's no law against poor spelling. Why not go all the way then? Campaign posters should use acronyms (WTF! OMG!) and emoticons, drop letters, replace simple words with numeric digits (à la the Dictionary According to the Artist 4-merly Known as Prince), and avoid punctuation altogether unless it's to reinforce the candidate's point with a string of countless exclamation marks.

There are those who will criticize Romney for his new allegiance to Amercia. There are those who will think that those who criticize him are nit-picking. There are those who will think that those who criticize those who criticize are actually ignoring the real issues. But, let's all just admit that we love our country, no matter how we spell it. 

Here's what I say: gd bls amercia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pass the Popcorn: Dark Shadows

As my tween daughter grows older, it gets harder and harder to find things we enjoy together. She's often willing to go to the mall, but I get the distinct feeling that I am more of a checkbook than a cherished companion. Similarly, while she welcomes rides to and from stables and equestrian events, it is in my capacity as chauffeur that I am most appreciated. It isn't as though we spend the driving time in meaningful conversation. After all, that would mean looking up from her iPhone. 

So, a new movie with a good friend and her mom sounded promising — in concept anyway. Between end-of-year dances and talent shows, sleepovers and final exams, it was more difficult to coordinate than we expected. Finally, we agreed to an early evening showing at a local independent cinema. 

The girls were there to see Dark Shadows. I was there to see ... Johnny Depp.

My husband is amused if somewhat perplexed by my adulation of the aforementioned movie star. Despite a series of rather disappointing recent movies (both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland, as well as all the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels come to mind), I can always carve out some time to spend with my man Johnny. I relished his portrayal of the demon barber in Sweeney Todd. In fact, I enjoy his theatricality in general. But, I think my favorite roles were his kinder, gentler ones. The gypsy lover in Chocolat (ooh la la!) and the soft-spoken Sir James Barrie in Finding Neverland.

We all have our weaknesses, and Johnny Depp may as well be mine. He's less expensive than Jimmy Choo's and less fattening than Ben & Jerry's.

The girls, being fourteen and acutely aware of looking and feeling independent, took their popcorn, M&Ms and sodas, and found seats apart from ours. Of course, since the movie has already been out a few weeks (and, unfortunately for the divine Mr. Depp, is something less than a blockbuster at this point), we were pretty much the only people in the theatre. Nevertheless, the two moms settled ourselves a discreet distance from our daughters.

If you haven't seen the trailer for Dark Shadows yet, I highly recommend it. If you haven't seen the movie itself yet, I suggest watching the trailer twice.

Just kidding.

Truly though, the trailer includes the movie's best and funniest jokes, snippets of its hilariously groovy soundtrack, and a nice, fast-paced summary of the action. "Well done, movie trailer people!"

Don't get me wrong, I'm not panning the movie completely. Over-the-top actors in over-the-top costumes on an over-the-top set with over-the-top special effects. If you buy into the weird and wacky world of Tim Burton, you could do much worse than sit back and enjoy the ride. And, in honesty, that's pretty much what Dark Shadows feels like. An amusement park ride. (Actually, I'm surprised no one has built a Burtonland yet. How cool would that be!) 

Aspects of the new movie are a lot of fun. In particular, my companion and I got a chuckle out of the music, which includes several deliciously dated hits from the early 70s. Cartoonish or not, Johnny Depp's vampiric dandy Barnabas Collins is a hoot. Eva Green as his nemesis/lover, the witch turned fishing mogul Angelique, is fairly flawless. Helena Bonham Carter in a rather obtuse role is funnier than I expected. There's an excellent supporting cast. And, Michelle Pfeiffer must have sold her soul to Beetlejuice himself because the woman simply isn't aging as a mere mortal should.

Nevertheless, between Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, Love at First Bite and the original Addams Family movie (with another of my cinematic heartthrobs, the late great Raul Julia), I felt like I'd "been there, done that." It was a clever spoof and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. Not much else.

Although, there may be more here for mothers than meets the eye. I have to say that Dark Shadows offers an interesting (and particularly fanged and furry) explanation for the general moodiness of the Collins family's teen daughter. And, it was very gratifying to watch the scenes between her and Barnabas.

She sneers, "Are you stoned or something?" 

"They tried stoning me, my dear," he answers. "It did not work."

If only I could be so blissfully oblivious to sarcasm.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Relax, You're on Tween Time

Imagine you're saying "Goodbye" to the person you love as they leave you forever. You're standing on the runway, while the plane's propellers start to spin. It's foggy, dawn is just breaking and you're both wearing classic Burberry trench coats and fedoras. Very Casablanca. The nice French gendarme warns you that the plane is leaving in two minutes. You have two minutes.

Now, think about sitting in a dentist's chair. The maniacal-looking man in the white coat leans forward with a piece of machinery that looks like nothing so much as a torture device from the series 24. "Relax," he tells you. He's going to drill, he tells you. He's going to drill for the next two minutes. You have two minutes.

Just how relative is time?

As the mother of a fourteen-year old, I am here to tell you that time is completely, utterly, totally subjective. It can fly by when you want it to linger. It can stand stock still when you need it to move along. And, time can mean very different things to different people. Even people with, purportedly, the same DNA.

My daughter, like most of her peers, doesn't wear a watch. Oh, she owns plenty of them, but she doesn't wear them. Even if she needed or cared to know the time (which, trust me, she doesn't seem to), she always has her iPhone with her. Apparently, wearing a watch brands you as someone who actually lived before smart phones ran our entire lives.

But, to wear or not to wear a watch isn't really the question. My daughter and I, regardless of what is on our wrists, are living in separate parallel universes in which time itself is flexible. A minute for me may be an hour for her and vice versa.

When I ask my daughter to do something — clean her room, put away a dirty dish, bring her laundry up, start her homework — she invariably says "Uh-huh." (Translation: "Yeah, yeah.") And yet, she doesn't move. If I have been naive enough to leave her after making my request, I can pretty much guarantee that she'll do what I asked ... um ... never. Meanwhile, if I stay and stare at her pointedly or add the simple syllable "Now," I get all sorts of attitude.

Hello!?!? I wouldn't be such a nagging nag if she didn't make me nag by not doing what I need her to do without my nagging! Sheesh!

The same holds true if I want her to stop doing something. "Put the phone down." "Turn off your computer." "Put the  cookies back; dinner's almost ready." I get the same semblance of compliance: "Uh-huh." But she moves at her own sweet pace and actually ceases and desists when she's good and ready. Which is ... um ... never. Unless, again, I become the shrill monster-mother-from-the-black-lagoon that she already knows me to be. (Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!)

Then, of course, the ultimate response to either of these (and myriad other) scenarios is "All right, all right. I'm doing it. Calm down already." 

Would you like to see a mother blow her proverbial top? Stick around.

Time really stands still when my daughter stops at Starbucks after school. It also stands still when I pick her up at the stable. Well, not really, I guess. But, while the seconds and minutes (and hours unless I stop the insanity) tick by, my daughter doesn't seem to notice. I, on the other hand, am expected to put myself into some sort of sci-fi suspended animation until she's ready to leave.

These things drive me crazy. But the truth is, no matter how you measure it, time is flying by too fast. My daughter is about to leave middle school. She is growing up and growing away from me more and more every day. When I am tempted to rush her ("We are so late, turn off the TV right NOW!"), I should stop myself. There will come a time, I know, when I will miss everything about her. Even her procrastination, her attitude and her otherworldly sense of time.

It's like that old Jim Croce song: "If I could put time in a bottle." And, if I could, I probably wouldn't spend it nagging.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Underage, Underweight — No Longer in Vogue?

I watch my tween daughter devour her Seventeen magazines and I shake my head. I would so much rather she was reading Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë or Charles Dickens. Of course, reading anything is still better than trolling through YouTube, but still ...

Then again, who am I to judge? I'm already looking forward to a certain personal ritual come August. Each year, I play hooky from my life for one glorious afternoon. I lie out on our patio with a tall iced coffee and leisurely thumb my way through the entire September issue of Vogue.

My husband chuckles as he refills my drink and tiptoes around me doing yard work. He clearly understands that this particular private party is not one to which he is invited.

I started my love affair with the September issue back in college. Since then, it's been a tradition of mine. Even years when I couldn't afford an annual subscription, I still scrimped up the money for that mother-of-all-issues. (Honestly, the thing is 900 pages and must weigh five pounds!) But, this year I may just feel a little less guilty about my guilty little pleasure. Because Vogue is finally, finally (finally, finally) taking a stand on a major issue that the esteemed publication helped create.

The utterly impossible ideal of the hipless, breastless woman.

In the world of fashion publishing, what Vogue says goes. It's either their way or the highway. So, when they feature emaciated pre-adolescent models, all the other magazines follow suit. Last year, Vogue Paris was criticized for sexing up and shooting a ten-year old model (not just here, but in larger, louder publications). 

Guess what? Heroin chic is not so chic. Real women have boobs and butts. And, you'd think with all the money those models were making, they could afford a Big Mac once in a while.

This month,Vogue publicly announced that it would no longer promote the use of sexless, skeletal models. It's a move that all moms of tween and teen girls should be supporting. Anorexia nervosa, a serious, often permanent mental illness and the leading killer of young women ages 15-24, is absolutely linked to our culture's never ending pressure to be thin.

Here is what Vogue has vowed:

1. We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder. We will work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image.

2. We will ask agents not to knowingly send us underage girls and casting directors to check IDs when casting shoots, shows and campaigns.

3. We will help to structure mentoring programs where more mature models are able to give advice and guidance to younger girls, and we will help to raise industry-wide awareness through education, as has been integral to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Health Initiative.

4. We will encourage producers to create healthy backstage working conditions, including healthy food options and a respect for privacy. We will encourage casting agents not to keep models unreasonably late.

5. We encourage designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models.

6. We will be ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.


Not sure exactly how the good folks at Vogue are going to achieve number five without putting major pressure on the fashion industry. If the sample sizes are zeros, the models have to be that big (or rather that tiny) too. Just try stuffing any well-fed adult into those clothes!

Will Vogue stand by their new stand? After all, past issues that promised fashion for "any body" have been laughably lacking in largesse. I applaud the gesture, but I'll have to wait and see if the editors and art directors really follow through.

It ain't over 'till the fat lady poses.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Beautiful Words

"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who wanted to go to a ball ..." 

So start countless fairy tales. Oh sure, in more modern ones, the princess is often really smart or really talented or really kind as well. But, you very rarely hear a story that begins with, "Once upon a time, there was a princess who had frizzy hair, thick glasses and acne, and the day before the ball, her orthodontist installed top and bottom braces that she would have to wear for the next eighteen months." 

When you're a little girl, it's all about being pretty. Just count the Disney princesses at any preschool Halloween party. When you're wrapping up middle school, you still want to be pretty. But by then, it feels more like wishful thinking. Most fourteen-year-old girls have an acute sense of their own flaws. Too thin, too fat, too tall, too short. The wrong color hair, the wrong color eyes. Life was a lot easier when a long dress and tiara was all it took to feel beautiful.

I wish I could tell every tween and teen that looks don't matter. But, sadly they do. And these girls don't just know it; they live it. Instead, I'm going to try to give equal time (at least in Lovin' the Alien) to all the other beautiful things girls can be. Smart and generous and strong and honest.

For our girls, here are some words of wisdom from some very beautiful ladies:

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
— Eleanor Roosevelt

"It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength."
— Maya Angelou

"Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical."
— Sophia Loren

"The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows.
— Audrey Hepburn

"I didn't have any confidence in my beauty when I was young. I felt like a character actress, and I still do."
— Meryl Streep

"The ideal beauty is a fugitive which is never found."
— Joan Rivers

"I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside."
— Whitney Houston

"People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within."
— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"A mode of conduct, a standard of courage, discipline, fortitude, and integrity can do a great deal to make a woman beautiful."
— Jacqueline Bisset

"Beauty is not just physical."
— Halle Berry

"Sometimes the beauty is easy. Sometimes you don't have to try at all."
— Ani DiFranco

And, one last contribution. (Or should I say reality check?)

"If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?"
— Lily Tomlin

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pride & Parenting

According to Garrison Keillor, in Lake Wobegone "all the children are above average."

Apparently, they are in my town too.

My tween daughter is about to graduate from middle school, and the pending move to ninth grade has everyone — parents and students alike — a little stressed out. The high school is a big scary place, with four times as many students, some of whom are as old as eighteen or nineteen! There are electives and AP courses and varsity teams. And, from the moment you walk in, colleges are watching you. Yep, from here on in, everything counts. 


The other morning, I received an email inviting me to a meeting with high school peer mentors. These fine, upstanding students would enlighten eighth grade parents on the social and academic transition we were about to embark upon. This was the good news. The bad news was that the meeting was that very evening, giving us in essence nine hours notice. (Really, this is so very par for the course that I don't even know why I'm surprised anymore. Just when you think you have things under control, you know where you need to be and when — bang! — they sideswipe you with an "important" meeting. But, I digress.)

Although I had some work to wrap up and was looking forward to a quieter than usual night at home, I rallied and got to the high school library about ten minutes before the session was scheduled to start.

We were split into discussion groups with twelve or so parents assigned to a team of six sophomore and junior students. I was so impressed with our young leaders! They were well-spoken, thoughtful, and self-possessed. They seemed to have an innate (or very well-rehearsed) sense of what was appropriate to discuss as a group and what warranted a respectful suggestion that parents schedule a private conversation with a guidance counselor or the school's social worker.

The parents in the group? Not so much.

As usual, the attendees were mostly mothers. And, despite the fact that the students had notes prepared and a prescribed agenda, the moms quickly took over the meeting. Here are just a few of the types of "questions" they asked ...

"How much is too much? My daughter was placed in all honors. Y'know, Honors Bio, Honors Geometry, Honors World History, Honors English, Honors Spanish."

(Let me guess, she's a smart kid?)

"My son is already playing varsity soccer. How can I make sure he's on the traveling team and not stuck with the other freshmen?"

(Your son is quite the athlete, eh?)

"We're coming from Prestige Elite Prep Academy. I'm concerned that my daughter will not be challenged enough. What should I do?"

(I get it, your kid has already been doing high school level work. Oh, and now I know you have a bit of money. Thanks.)

Notice how these comments were phrased as questions, but really came across as proud pronouncements? The issues may be legitimate ones for each of these well-meaning moms. But really, couldn't they wait and speak about their oh-so-unique offspring's oh-so-unique situation later? Later and in private? 

Is this what I have to look forward to for the next four years? Ugh.

I'm proud of my daughter too, but I don't crow about it at meetings. Instead, I do what any respectable modern mom does: I blog about it. For the record, she also qualified for high school honors courses. 

I'll spare you how many and which ones. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bye Bye Bake Sales

We live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the oldest and most patriotic of these United States. Y'know ... the Freedom Trail, the shot heard 'round the world, the cradle of liberty, etc. etc. etc.

Well, last week, this fine state threatened to take away one of our cherished traditions: the right to bake sales. Holy home-baked brownies, Batman!

Fortunately, the public outcry was intense enough to dissuade Governor Partick. "Nobody is interested in banning bake sales," he assured reporters. "We are interested in student nutrition."

My childhood was full of baked goods — wonderful homemade goodies sent to school for birthdays and holidays and, yes, bake sales. My mother was known for her gorgeous cupcakes (this, by the way, was decades before cupcakes became the trendy over-priced urban phenomenon we know today). For birthdays, multicolored frosting, each with a candle tucked into a holder made of two life savers. Christmas, each cupcake had a small candy cane standing in snowy frosting like a miniature North Pole. And, Easter, little nests sculpted from tinted coconut held tiny jelly bean eggs.

I think I made cupcakes for my own daughter once or twice. But early on in our elementary school years, homemade sweets were banned because of peanut allergies.

My first encounter with an allergy situation was during my daughter's fairy birthday party when she turned four. A friend from daycare came and her mother wouldn't allow her to eat any of the nut-less sandwiches (turkey, bologna and cheese) because they were on platters with the dreaded peanut butter and jelly. I felt terrible. The girls were working up quite an appetite, flitting about the park in their fairy wings and tiaras.

Another year, my daughter had a classmate with an extremely severe nut allergy. A separate nut-free table wouldn't be sufficient protection for this boy, so we were all forbidden to pack anything that had nuts or was made in a plant that processed them. Let me tell you, it is very difficult to find snack foods that are guaranteed free of peanuts. But, whenever I thought about the inconvenience, I quickly stopped myself by thinking about how stressful it must be for the poor boy's mother. The world is a frightening enough place when you have healthy offspring. Imagine what it must be like to walk around worrying that your child will go into anaphylactic shock.

So, when I learned about the proposed ban on bake sales, I assumed it was to protect kids from allergens. In addition to nuts, there are children with sensitivities to dairy, soy and gluten. An eleven-year old friend of my daughter's is already vegan.

It turns out, the focus was not on individual ingredients, per se. The focus was on too much of a good thing. This was meant to help prevent childhood obesity. I, for one, am glad that the state backed down.

Is childhood obesity a growing problem (no pun intended)? Yes. But, is "the big bad" really bake sales? I don't think so. Lack of exercise, too much screen time, 24/7 junk food. A sweet treat to help raise money for the school band is not going to push an otherwise lean child into the abyss of the forever overweight. The whole thing is pretty silly, if you ask me.

We have become so politically correct, so scared to offend anyone, so afraid of potential lawsuits, that we have really turned a mole hill into a mountain. Or, perhaps a better analogy would be a tiny little homemade cupcake into a seven-tiered wedding extravaganza complete with spun sugar swans, white chocolate-dipped almonds and poofs of meringue.

But take it from someone who has been serially dieting since she was fourteen (sometimes successfully and sometimes ... er ... not): demonizing food will not work. Guess what happens if you forbid a young person to eat a particular item? They will crave it all the more. Not only that, they will stuff themselves with it when you aren't looking. Ever heard the phrase "forbidden fruit?" 

Here's a compromise then. Don't have a bake sale every day. But, do allow them at reasonable intervals (once a week? every two weeks?). Limit each kid to a couple of items or a specific dollar amount. To be on the safe side, encourage moms (or dads) to label their offerings. Educate people about food allergies and ask them to be considerate. If your child has a very severe allergy, coach him or her about what they can and cannot purchase. Or, send a special — safe — treat that they can enjoy while their friends buy the contraband.

The ideal is moderation. Offer more opportunities to exercise. Serve healthy choices at the school cafeteria most of the time with a sweet treat now and then. Those young waistlines might decrease.

And bake sale sales might be better too.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Taking the Grups to Court

What do you do when — despite intelligent argument, reason, logic, science, common sense — you can't see eye-to-eye?

In this country, you sue.

I read a fascinating story this week about a group of teenagers who are basically suing the United States because of the country's inaction on the issue of climate change. As reported in The Atlantic, the suit Alec L. et. al vs. Lisa P. Jackson et. al demands that the Environmental Protection Agency reduce carbon dioxide emissions by six percent per year going forward. The plaintiffs (five high school students) argue that under "the public trust doctrine," the government should be forced to step up, accept responsibility and affect change.

There are several "progressive" adults involved in the case as well, including a former congressman and co-founder of Earth Day and the founder of an organization called Our Children's Trust. And, an international precedent was set in the Philippines in the 1990s, when 43 children demanded (and won) the cessation of logging in an ancestral forest.

This week, a federal judge will determine whether or not the current U.S. case moves forward. As you can imagine, there are plenty of business interests that would like to see it to go quietly away.

What I love about this is the idea that young people might have the right to preemptively accept stewardship of a resource or way of life that their parents' generation is essentially "pissing away." After all, there are so many decisions being made on our children's behalf; many of them may result in dire consequences. There are enormous expenses — outlays of money, diminished health and happiness — today's tweens and teens will have to absorb. 

Isn't it wonderful material for the old Twilight Zone TV series (not to be confused with today's Twilight Saga books, although Bella should certainly consider suing Edward for sucking out her personality)? Imagine citizens of the future traveling back in time to prosecute politicians, corrupt business executives and war criminals. To hold them accountable for the repercussions of their actions.

What, for example, might my daughter someday think of the Wall Street barons who created today's crippled economy?

How will her peers feel about the mounting national debt they will inherit?

Does the exorbitant cost of healthcare equate to shorter, less healthy lives for our future generations?

And, will the current attack on women's reproductive rights spill over into other freedoms and equalities earned over time by disenfranchised groups?

There has been an acknowledged generation gap for more than half a century. Maybe it's time that our younger citizens seize some power. Or, at least, exercise their First Amendment right to petition.

I'm reminded of another TV series from the 1960s, Star Trek. Did you ever see the episode in which the Enterprise crew lands on a planet inhabited by children? These teens and tweens and kids despise and fear those they call "Grups." Captain Kirk and company quickly realize that Grups are actually grownups. The adult population has died out (after going mad with the help of some serious stage make-up) because of a virus that attacks when a person reaches adolescence. Luckily, dewey-eyed teen Miri (Kim Darby), like so many female characters before and after, has fallen for Captain Kirk. She helps him convince the others that they must be vaccinated. The children are saved! (Although the not-so-totally-happy ending includes the reintroduction of adult authority and the return to school for the planet's truants, but that's another story.)

So I ask you. Conservative or Liberal, Democrat or Republican ... what is the legacy we are leaving our children? Debate doesn't seem to work. Neither does scientific evidence or statistical projections. Sure, the Grups have a lot of excuses for inaction. 

But, this week, a group of kids are saying, "Yeah, yeah. Tell it to the judge." 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bad Mood Mom

My daughter has been going through the "terrible tweens" for some time now. (In fact, it feels as though we came here directly from the "terrible twos." Do not pass go; do not collect $200.) She is often testy, sour, looking at the world as a glass half-empty. And, most of the time, I just let her be that way. 

Oh sure, I try to help her put things in perspective ...

"You don't really hate school," I tell her.
"Your hair doesn't really look that bad," I tell her.
"Our rules about your iPhone aren't really so unfair," I tell her.

Now, however, I have something else to tell her. "Watch out, kiddo, because mommy's in a bad mood!"

As a mother and a wife and a business owner and an association board member and a writer and a sister, friend and daughter, it's part of my job to be optimistic and capable and responsible. Right? Not today.

I'm in a bad mood!

Despite my best Monty Pythonish efforts to "always look on the bright side of life," there comes a day when nothing is going to make me feel better. Today's the day. I'm in a bad mood.

It started when the frrrrrrrrkin' alarm clock went off at 6:00 am. I was in the middle of a surreal dream that somehow melded the sets from Gone With the Wind, the singing and dancing of Glee and the shoes from Sex and the City. I was definitely supposed to be Scarlet O'Hara, but I think I was about to become the President of France too. I'm not sure. And, there was this contest going on that was kinda like The Hunger Games but sorta like The Voice. It may sound over-the-top, but I was enjoying it. Until I wasn't anymore. Now, I'm in a bad mood.

It was the same old, same old getting my daughter ready for school. She was her usual friendly, affectionate self ... NOT. Most mornings, I let her surliness roll right off me, but this morning, I took it to heart. The last straw was catching her try to sneak her cell phone up to the bathroom when she went to brush her teeth. So, I was still in a bad mood.

As soon as she was out the door, I went for a walk. It was wet and grey, but — "supposedly" — the rain was south of us. "Supposedly," we wouldn't get any until late-morning. "Supposedly?" Yeah, right. Exactly two miles from my house (that would be exactly half of my one-hour walk and exactly the farthest distance from home), the heavens opened. I returned home, wet and (you guessed it) in a bad mood.

'Figured I might as well get my mind off of it by diving into work. And, how wonderful! It was only 8:30 and there were already 47 emails waiting for me. Fires to put out, last-minute changes, layouts to proofread, misunderstandings, requests for proposals. Plenty to keep me busy, but my bad mood will remain the same. 

At lunchtime, I'll go to yoga. However, after years of mood-mellowing asanas, I now have to worry about someone I think of as ... Amazonian Yogini. Yes, there's a new woman in my yoga class and no matter how zen I try to be about it, she bugs the crap out of me. She is at least 6 foot two inches, and weighs about 125 pounds. No exaggeration. If she was on America's Next Top Model, Tyra would kick her off because she's too tall and too thin. She's very young and she's very pretty. None of this is her fault, of course; it's beyond her control. What is in her control, though, is her decision to do her own thing no matter what the teacher and the rest of the class are doing. So, for example, if I'm feeling a little too proud of my crow pose, all I have to do is glance over at Amazonian Yogini for a big bite of humble. She's already moved through that posture, into peacock. (If you're not familiar with these, you can Google them. The hunched over posture? That's me. The elegant gravity-defying one? That's her.) Buddha teaches us, "Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind." N'amaste, but being shown up in yoga does not make a bad mood any better.

As per usual, my 90 minutes of yoga will result in at least 90 minutes of frantically catching up on everything that went down while I was away from my desk. (Have I mentioned, my bad mood?)

But wait, there's more. I can also look forward to leaving work early so I can drive my daughter to a dressage clinic. A dressage clinic is when you pay extra fees on top of the already astronomical costs of keeping a horse so you can watch a renowned dressage expert instruct your daughter on how to move incredibly precisely and incredibly slowly around the ring. Meanwhile, you sip lousy coffee and stress about all the things you should be doing. I can already predict that I will be in a bad mood.

Once home, there will be lots of requests for homework help and likely leftovers for dinner. I've already watched everything I dvr'd earlier in the week and I'm reading a book that came highly recommended but is, I'm sorry to report, highly disappointing. It is doubtful that any of these evening options will alleviate my bad mood.

Okay, I give up. I am in a bad mood and that makes me a rotten moody mother.

Wait-a-minute though, I think once in a while I'm entitled. I'm going to allow myself this one 24-hour period of growling, scowling, pissed-off 'tude. Then I'll try to be in a good mood tomorrow.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tweens and Tiaras

For someone who is running a business, writing a blog, trying to stay fit and trying even harder to keep up with a tween, I spend an inordinate amount of time shopping. 

I'm not a "shopaholic;" it's not even "retail therapy." Nothing fun like that. It's because no matter how hard I try to plan ahead, there is always "one more thing" that is needed for school or riding or dinner.

"I need a poster board and markers."
"I need new show gloves for Saturday."
"I need more conditioner."
"I need gym shorts."
"I need a pint of Ben & Jerry's S'Mores ice cream."

(If you are not the mother of a tween, please note the use of the word "need" in all of the statements above. If you are the mother of a tween, you need not note it; I'm quite sure you hear it all the time yourself.)

Last Friday, I had to leave my desk for an hour because my daughter needed a tiara. Actually, it was multiple tiaras. And popcorn. And candy. My daughter and her friends had decided to have a movie night at our house. It was to be a double feature of Princess Diaries and Princess Diaries 2. I think it was the result of some convoluted private joke. Typically, they are far more interested in racier fare, like Twilight or The Hunger Games. Regardless, they were looking forward to it. 

And, honestly, I was thrilled. So thrilled, in fact, that I did something I hardly ever do. I took a lunch break and raced all over in my quest for appropriate headwear and refreshments.

First, an odd lot store in the next town over. One of those "go in with an open mind and you could come out with a treasure" sort of places. In visits past, I have found fantastic bargains on things I hadn't realized I required. Wrapping paper and curling ribbon. Scented candles and soaps. Halloween decorations. Magic baby stretch gloves. But, I had no time to linger; I was a mother on a mission. Within ten minutes, I had swooped in and found a variety of movie theatre candy (you know, the slightly oversized boxes that sell for significantly oversized prices at the theatre). M&Ms, Whoppers, Mike & Ike, Junior Mints, Reese's Pieces, and Hot Tamales. 98 cents a box!

Next, I dashed over to the nearest supermarket. Our usual (lightly salted, in other words, healthy) popcorn wasn't going to cut it for this shindig. My daughter had requested Orville Redenbacher's "Movie Theater Butter." I found an 8-pack box, paid and was back on the road in a flash.

My third and final stop was Target, another retail location that can eat up hours (and dollars). Despite the promise that you can "Expect more, pay less," I usually find myself "Buying more ... than I need." But, again, I was focused. I went straight to the party supply aisle and found tiaras. Three with purple jewels, three with pink. Mission accomplished.

There were only a few other accommodations to be made. My husband picked up a pizza once all of the wannabe princesses arrived. He and I settled in front of the comparatively tiny TV hidden in our living room, leaving its widescreen high-def relative to my daughter and her crew. Eventually, eyes strained from trying to watch the smaller set, I headed upstairs to read. But, I could still hear peals of laughter every few minutes. At a little after ten, my husband (who certainly wins a good sport award for this one) drove all the guests home. 

The party was last-minute. It was silly. It was inconvenient. It was anything but nutritious (and whatever junk food they did not ingest ended up ground into our family room carpet). So, why did I agree to it? Why did I leave my work and jeopardize my career and reputation for it? (Not really, of course, but I feel very self-righteous saying so.) Simple. For the first eleven years of my daughter's life, we were all about theme parties. Fairies, American Girl Doll, Mermaids, Brady Bunch. And, yes, Princesses.

To have a little taste of that after all this time (even if it was all based on some big joke that no one bothered to share with me) was worth it. My daughter really and truly (really and truly!) seemed to appreciate everything I had done. 

For that evening I was, again, the beloved Queen Mum.

Friday, May 4, 2012


The cowardly lion said it best, "I do believe in ghosts. I do believe in ghosts. I do, I do, I do believe in ghosts."

So do I. Well, not so much in ghosts, per se. Not gauzy figures in shrouds that come back from the beyond to seek revenge (or simply haunt their old haunts). But, I do believe that there is unearthly energy that can make things happen.

My sister and brother are both psychic and have had many supernatural encounters over the years. I happily was spared this particular talent. Even when I was a teenager, despite an awful lot of slumber parties with an awful lot of Ouija boards, I remained gratefully ghoul-free. 

So it was a surprise when I had my first spirit-ish experience. Several years ago, my husband and I went to a realtor's "Open House" at an antique home in our neighborhood. It was a wonderful place, with good-sized rooms, a generous backyard, a private deck and an updated addition that I could have used as an office. But, from the moment we went in, I just knew there was something (or someone) else in the house. I just knew I wouldn't want to live there. 

Recently, I learned that the mother of one of my daughter's best friends grew up in the house. She confirmed that it was — indeed — haunted.

Spooky, right?

You have to figure that a town like ours, established in the 1600's and with plenty of colorful history (drowned sailors, an abandoned fort, pirate attacks), would have its share of ghostly residents. But, I never felt anything in our current house — despite its nearly two hundred year-history. Until now.

Now, I think we have a ... poltergeist.

Poltergeists (from the German poltern "to make noises" and geist "ghost") are typically mischievous incarnations who hide things, break things, and generally go bump in the night. They aren't technically the spirits of the dead. But, they do tend to "haunt" preteen and teen girls. Many believe that the unexplained events are actually caused by the adolescent girls themselves, all that angst and energy manifesting itself in mysterious ways. Paranormal psychologists even have a technical term for the phenomenon: RSPK or recurring spontaneous psychokinesis.

We have a (sometimes terrifying) fourteen-year old girl; she certainly has angst and energy to spare. And now, I firmly believe, we have a poltergeist. To quote a different movie, "They're he-ee-re."

It started earlier this week. I was going through my usual morning routine, putting on sweats and a tee shirt for my daily walk. I pulled out the three earrings, two (faux-bulous) diamond studs and a tiny gold hoop, that I always wear. (Between my extremely short hair and no make-up, I feel a bit too butch when I workout without some jewelry.) Then, I went up to my office to print my daughter's English essay. Then, I went back downstairs to the kitchen to make her lunch. Then, I noticed that the earrings ...

... had disappeared!

I traced and retraced my steps. (As a confirmed control freak, losing things drives me crazy.) No earrings! I went off on my walk anyway. About thirty minutes later, my husband called my cell to say that he had found them on his night table. Did I leave them there accidentally? Am I becoming absent-minded now that I've hit my fifth decade? Or, do we have a poltergeist? I think the latter explanation is much more interesting, so I'm sticking with it.

Then, yesterday, I had to get dressed up for a meeting with a client in Boston. I pulled on a pair of black rayon trousers and a funky African jacket. Some chunky jewelry, a spritz of perfume, and I was all set. Until, I realized that my shoes ...

... had disappeared!

Coincidence? I think not. Poltergeist? Probablement, mes amis.

In a famous ghost story, Ebenezer Scrooge asked Jacob Marley, "Why do spirits walk the Earth?" I don't know. But, why would a ghost want to hang around a teenager? I think I can answer that one. 

Maybe they are naturally attracted to the only thing scarier than themselves. Think about it.

And, one more thing ... my shoes are still missing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Control Freak. Who Moi?

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” 

This quote from author and educator Elizabeth Stone is one of my all-time favorites. It rings so true to me. For the past fourteen years, I have been less than whole. My very center lives in the next bedroom over.

This was fine when she was always accessible. I could hold her, hug her, kiss her to my heart's delight. Alas, those days are over. My daughter is her own person and she is not one to suffer foolish mothers gladly.

Most of the time, I walk around dazed and confused. The love of my life has moved on (not literally, of course, but attitudinally) and I am bereft. Once in a while, though, I am able to see the world through her eyes. This morning, for example, I had a moment of clarity and here is what I observed ...

My daughter's mother is a control freak.

Really, it's true. This mother's dressing room is right outside my daughter's door, and she waits there, listening for the alarm clock to go off. Once it does, she can't just finish getting dressed and mind her own business. Oh no, she has to loiter and say inane things like, "Good morning, sweetie. Did you sleep well?"

I'm not quite sure who this ridiculous person is. But, she looks a lot like me.

For the next thirty minutes or so, this overbearing mother feels compelled to nag my daughter about pretty much everything. Here are just some of the incessant questions and directions that come out of her maternal mouth:

"Make your bed."
"Put your pajamas in the hamper."
"Can you bring that bowl with you when you come downstairs?"
"Do you have your English homework?"
"Do you have your Math homework?"
"Do you have your Social Studies homework?"
"Do you have your gym clothes?"
"Take your vitamin."
"Finish those strawberries."
"Put your phone away."
"Do you want me to call your Music teacher about that assignment?"
"Don't wipe your fingers on your jeans."
"Your hair is tangled."
"What time will you be home?"
"Eat your bagel."
"Wear a hat and scarf."
"Go brush your teeth."
"Hug, please."
"Bye honey. Have a great day."

OMG! Who is this person and when did I become her? 

When I stop and listen to myself, I have to give my daughter props (credit) for putting up with me at all. Her answers may be monosyllabic (and there is certainly some eye-rolling going on), but she isn't completely making fun of me. Well, not to my face.

Seriously, though, is this who she thinks I am? Because I am really much more interesting, independent and just plain cool than my breakfast banter would lead one to believe. So how did we get here?

My daughter's at an age when mornings are unpleasant have-to-haves. Her approach is to get through them in silence. 

Ay, there's the rub. To this mother's ears, her silence is deafening. It is a preview of the years to come when she won't be here anymore. So, my instinctive reaction is to fill that silence. But, I think I'll try and embrace the quiet next time. Maybe we can be together in it. 

Whenever my daughter is particularly ornery or moody, I remind myself that she is going through a perfectly normal developmental stage. She is stretched between her past as a little girl and her future as a woman. She is struggling with all of the changes in her body and her world. And, I try to understand and empathize, shrug it off.

My dear daughter, I'm also struggling with these changes. More than you will ever understand — until, that is, you have a daughter of your own. So, the next time I start nagging, you have my permission to shrug it off too.