Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Back by Popular Demand: Halloween Hookers, Hoochies and Ho's

For your Halloween reading pleasure, here is one of my all-time most popular Alien posts. Enjoy!

"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.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lovin' the Zombies

I don't get it.

Werewolves are furry. Vampires are sexy. Witches have a whole woman power thing going. "We are Wiccan, hear us roar." But, zombies?

I don't get it.

Mindless, shuffling, decaying corpses. Glassy eyes, open wounds. A predilection for juicy encephalic tissue. Ugh.

Yet, zombies (like sexy bloodsuckers before them) are hot right now. Here are just a few examples:

The Walking Dead — I was mindlessly (uh-oh!) zapping through our 1400 cable channels the other night and landed on AMC's acclaimed series. Curious, I stayed for a few minutes. There was a deserted farmhouse. There was a ton of zombies. There was a small band of living, breathing humans trying to escape. There was mayhem and there was blood and there was brain-eating. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out if there was actually a plot, but the overall decimation was strangely hypnotic. I broke away and changed the channel. Probably just in time.

Zombie Apocalypse Vodka — Yes, really. As they say in their new marketing campaign, "Get it before they get you." You can see the chilling online ad for it HERE. Or visit the website HERE. I think we can assume that the hangover must be brutal.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — Big Jane Austen fan here. I tried this book. The author (who is now a New York Times bestseller) basically published a mashup of Austen's nineteenth century manuscript and the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. The Bennet sisters are ninja zombie hunters and there is plenty of, as the author put it, "gore and senseless violence." Why? I have no idea. (Why didn't I think of it first? I have no idea ... but I wish I had.)

Real News Stories — This past summer, there was a rash of news stories about people eating each other. It appears that a certain new synthetic drug cocktail, known as "bath salts," can lead to superhuman strength and a cannibalistic appetite. Ugh. A very good reason to "Just say no."

Red Cross Zombie Preparedness Website — With the Mayan calendar predicting end of days in just a couple of months, the Red Cross of Massachusetts is taking no chances. “We all think preparedness is a big deal. We don’t know what the future holds. It could be flooding, it could be zombies — we don’t know. But we want everyone to be prepared and this is about everyone being prepared,” said Kat Powers, director of communications at the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts. Take a look HERE.

Zombies as a Marketing Tool — There are brains to be eaten; there is money to be made. Whatever the future may hold, you can be sure that a trend as powerful as zombitization will not go unnoticed by Wall Street or Madison Avenue. You can read the blogpost HERE.

Zombies Running for Public Office — Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) warns that "Money is only so much paper to the undead," and that a vote for Romney is, indeed, a vote for hastening the zombie apocalypse. "They'll be out there. And, they'll need brains." Watch his video HERE.

No question, zombies are out there. Then again, just how alien are zombies anyway? Anyone who has ever had to rouse their teenager early in the morning — or observed them glued to their mobile phone — will understand the phrase "the walking dead."

And, as for eating brains? My daughter devoured mine years ago.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

You've Come A Long Way, Baby

Fifteen and a half years ago, I was very pregnant (as opposed to "a little pregnant?"). I was also an expectant mother of, as my obstetrician's office coyly phrased it, "advanced maternal age." This meant lots of tests: ultrasounds and amniocentesis. The technicians knew the gender of my baby. The nurses knew the gender of my baby. The doctors knew the gender of my baby. Basically everyone knew the gender of my baby except my husband and me. 

We wanted to wait.

Of course, this meant that our friends and family had to wait as well. So, when my mother and sister came up from New York to co-host my baby shower with a good friend, I received gender-neutral gifts. Big important items (I think at one point I had opened three Diaper Genies) and a slew of cute little clothes in yellow and green.

Of course, as soon as my daughter was born, it was a different story. Pink, pink, pink ... as far as the eye could see. And, once she was old enough to (a) have an opinion and (b) communicate said opinion to us, my daughter demanded only the frilliest outfits and accessories. Favorite color? Pink, pink, pink! There were a couple of years in preschool when we were all pink, all the time.

Today, my teenage daughter rarely if ever wears pastels. She prefers bright and bold to soft and sweet. The more casual the better. In fact, most days you can find her in dungarees and a sweatshirt mucking a horse stall. It's still a bit of a struggle to get her to dress up for family functions or an evening at the Nutcracker.

What's the mother of a tomboy teen to do? Take heart! She may not dress like a girly-girl, but with a quick trip to Staples, I can make sure she writes like one.

Introducing Bic "for Her" pens.

They are the Virginia Slims of writing instruments, apparently. In fact, Bic could license the cigarette's jingle and use it with just a couple of words changed:

You've come a long way, baby
To get where you've got to today
You've got your own Bic pen now, baby
You've come a long, long way

Clearly this is a marketing ploy, and I can only imagine not a very successful one. I'm fifty. I'm a professional writer and a long-time journal-keeper. I've used pens for — oh — forty-five years maybe. Little did I know they were men's pens. Bic "for Him," I guess. The horror!

If the whole thing weren't so ridiculous (and vaguely insulting), it would be funny. 

In fact, it is funny.

So, if you have a few minutes, I invite you to put down your pen with its "elegant design" and a "thin barrel to fit a woman's hand" and watch an hilarious clip from the Ellen show. The best part is the commercial near the end, a touching slice-of-life spot in which a loving mother helps her adolescent daughter feel good about becoming a woman.  

You'll also enjoy this listing on Amazon. Scroll down and sample some of the 725 (!) customer reviews. Then, add your own.

That is, add your own if you can. I don't think they've released the "Keyboard for Her" yet.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gangnam Style Mom

Remember when we were teenagers and we'd listen to our favorite records? (Remember records?) Invariably, our parents would bang on the door and tell us to turn down the volume on our stereos. (Remember stereos?) The noun used most often for our beloved popular music was "noise." As in, "Turn down that noise!"

At the time, of course, we couldn't imagine being so square, so old, so completely out of it that we would confuse music with noise.

Well, what goes around, comes around. My teen daughter and I may share many things, but our musical tastes are ... um ... different. I hate to confess it, but I just don't get a lot of today's hits.

Thank goodness for Zumba. Really. If it weren't for my Zumba classes, I would be even more in the dark about contemporary tunes than I am. You see, 2-3 times a week (4, if I'm being particularly good), I not only hear the latest songs, I dance to them.

This past week, two of my instructors added "Gangnam Style" by South Korean rapper Psy to our class. It must have been hysterical to watch a room filled with mainly middle-aged women gyrating and galloping in a sorry attempt to imitate PSY's signature move. (I'm sure any flies on the wall were laughing themselves to death.)

"Hey, sexy lady" indeed. 

By anyone's measure, "Gangnam Style" is a worldwide phenomenon. With nearly 530 million (yes, million!) hits on YouTube, the video has been parodied by everyone from the British Prime Minister to the United States Naval Academy. It has provided the catchy soundtrack to countless flash mobs. And, it has been praised as a "force for world peace" by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. 

Say what?

This morning, a friend had posted a video meme of the song on Facebook. I absentmindedly hit play as I was packing my daughter's lunch. The song's ubiquitous techno beat opening started up.

"Ohmigod! What are you doing?" my daughter called out in utter disgust.

"I'm just looking at a "Gangnam Style" video," I explained.

"Ohmigod," she repeated. "That's just wrong on so many levels!"

I didn't ask her to elaborate. I mean, how many levels of wrong can one mom take? Instead, I shut it off quickly and decided to wait until she was safely out of the house on her way to high school before attempting to watch it again.

It made me wonder, however, what other teens may be thinking about "Gangman Style." Is it cool? Is it stupid? Or, perhaps more to the point, was it cool and now it's stupid because so many moms are trying to dance to it at Zumba? 

Mystery solved. Here's a take on it directly from the teens themselves: 

"I do! I just like it so much!"

"The way you feel about it is just like awesome."

"This is the randomest video I've ever seen. But, it's the best video."

That last one, my friends, is my favoritest quote.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

From Hair to Eternity

Many of my liberal feminist friends have encouraged me to write about "Binders of women" this week. But, I think it's been covered.

Instead, I'm going to write about a more serious topic, one that is near and dear to the hearts of teenage girls like my daughter. Hair.

My husband's been away at a business meeting all week, so last night, my daughter and I went out for Chinese food. Afterwards, we stopped at Orange Leaf, the new self-serve frozen yogurt place in our town. After wonton soup, crab rangoons and shrimp lo mein, I have no idea where she found the extra room for dessert. But, life is full of mysteries when one is a parent.

At any rate, after my daughter created her sundae (cake batter yogurt with crushed Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, cookie dough bites, maraschino cherries and whipped cream — really), we quickly headed out. She still needed to read a chapter of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Right by the door though, there was a tiny toddler enjoying a much smaller and less decadent dish of yogurt. She had blonde bangs and two little pigtails sticking up on either side of her head. My daughter and I stopped and sighed in unison, "Awwww ..."

"That's exactly how you used to look," I told her. She too had bangs and fine, straight, blonde hair, and there was nothing she liked more than a "hairdo." Each morning, before I dropped her off at preschool, she would art direct while I brushed and combed and arranged to her exacting specifics.

"How many pigtails today?" I would ask.

"Six," she might say. Or seven ... or eight ... or twelve. Really. Often, she arrived at school with an asymmetrical assortment of little pony tails and braids all over her head. Her teacher would laugh. There was my daughter, looking like a Dr. Seuss interpretation of Rapunzel. And, there would be me, having clearly not had a chance to even comb my own hair, much less apply makeup. In my defense, I had a long commute into Boston each morning, with lots of time to get my act together. (And no, I didn't do it while I was driving. There were plenty of red lights, stop signs and complete stand-still bottle-necked traffic jams to makeup an entire drag queen act.)

These days, my daughter is not quite as bold with her 'dos. But, she does try different things. This morning, she left with a low pony tail on the side and a thin strip of hair wrapped around the elastic so it looked like there was no elastic involved at all. Very cool. Thank goodness for the step-by-step instructions in Seventeen, because I wouldn't begin to know how to achieve that effect.

Her hair has gotten darker as she's gotten older. On a vacation a couple of years ago, I encouraged her to try Sun-In. In my experience, it's a fairly harmless diversion. But, I didn't think about the fact that while I can cut out the highlights after just a couple of months because I keep my hair super short, she would have to live that way for a while. My bad. To this day, I still have to hear about it. Of course, I and everyone I know think she looks fine. Try telling that to her.

My daughter's hair is poker straight, and various attempts at curls and waves over the years have not been successful. We invested in a curling iron last summer and, after some initial trial and error, I was able to make ringlets for the elegant bar mitzvah we attended in London. I tried to ignore the smell of burning hair which followed us the rest of the trip despite numerous showers.

And, speaking of showers, I'm surprised the East Coast isn't in the middle of a drought thanks to my girl. Showers around here are seemingly endless affairs. And expensive too; we go through shampoo and conditioner at quite a clip. She's donated to "Locks of Love" twice, but her hair is still more than halfway down her back. It takes a long, long time to care for that long, long hair.

Oprah's grandmother used to tell her that a woman's hair is her "Crowning glory." Since my daughter is a bit of a tomboy (she hasn't been a girly-girl for over a decade now), I'm happy to see her take an interest in her appearance. But, I'll try to help her keep it all in moderation as she grows up and grows older. Not just because of the world's fresh water supply (or our endless trips to the haircare aisle of CVS). But, because beauty is only skin deep and there are more important things than what's on top of your head.

Frankly, I'm more interested in what's inside her head.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pass the Popcorn: Pitch Perfect

On Sunday, my teen daughter was supposed to compete in an equestrian event called a Hunter Trial. This meant that we would spend most of the day out in the fields, trying to catch a glimpse of her riding through the woods. I'm not complaining, really. This is how we spend pretty much every weekend.

And, then something happened. It rained.

A quick text from the show's organizer and we had a whole unexpected free day in front of us. Hooray.

After my daughter got over her initial disappointment, she settled in on the couch to watch one of her favorite shows on our iPad. The idea of her wasting an entire day got to me. So, I suggested I take her and some friends to the movies.

Now before you tell me that I simply traded one screen for another, let me explain. Meeting friends, actually traveling to a theatre (in our case, that's about 25 minutes in the car), shopping for junk food, gossiping before the movie, comparing notes after ... I think it's a much more active afternoon than simply staring at video on a tablet. Should I have suggested a museum instead? Probably. But, somehow I don't think that would have been met with much enthusiasm.

Anyway, the movie I suggested was Pitch Perfect. A BFF had already seen it and said it was great. Apparently, it was about a girls' singing group and the teasers we had seen looked funny. It reminded me of an edgier Glee!

Usually, I drive my daughter and her friends to the theatre, then they go to one movie and I go to another. That way, they have their privacy as well as their chauffeur. This time though, the other options were limited. When I warned my daughter that I was going to see Pitch Perfect too, she was less than thrilled. I reassured her that I would sit far away from her and her friends and pretend I didn't know them. This was but a small consolation. However, she didn't have much of a choice.

We arrived early and I went to the box office while the girls raided the discount store Below 5 for candy. Once inside, they headed up into the stadium seating while I settled into a seat in the third row. I have always liked my movies up close and personal.

After too many ads, too many previews and too many warnings about shutting off our cell phones, the film started. As expected, it centered around a college a capella group, called the Barden Belles. With the bulk of their prissy team graduating, they have to recruit an array of misfit singers, who don't really fit the mold. There's a "lezzie" and a "fatty" and a sexpot and an angry edgy girl — all stereotypes, but fun. Eventually they embrace everyone's unique talents and personalities. Of course, they win Nationals. Yay. 

Pitch Perfect was pitch perfectly what I expected except for one technicolor plot element. The leader of the group, a pretty blonde named Aubrey, blows under pressure. I mean, she really blows. As in, blows chunks.


This charming twist happened not once but twice (three times, actually, if you count an onscreen replay via YouTube). It was as though the movie had miraculously morphed from Glee! into Bridesmaids. Or The Hangover. And, in case the actual vomiting wasn't gross enough (trust me, it was, I think they used baked beans, lots and lots of baked beans), one fairly vacant member of the Belles falls into a pool of puke and proceeds to make a snow angel.

I repeat ... eeeeeeeeew!

Not the sort of girl power movie I was hoping for. (When did chick flicks become upchuck flicks?)

Nevertheless, my girls seemed to enjoy it. On the way home, they gave the movie high marks and relived some of the funnier moments. They agreed that the ending was satisfying — predictable, but satisfying. No one said anything about the you-know-what.

Stomach troubles aside, it was a nice afternoon all around. It will just be a while before I serve baked beans again.

Friday, October 12, 2012


We all dream of the moments of truth when the world — and our teenagers, especially our teenagers — will see us for the heroes we truly are. We will know exactly what to say and do. We will inspire the artist, mend the broken heart, lift the wrecked car off the child pinned underneath.

Well, I just missed one of those opportunities. All right, it was nothing quite so dramatic. But, it was a test of sorts.

Compliments of Columbus Day and teacher training, my teen daughter recently enjoyed a four-day weekend. Here are some of the things she did: 

• Had dinner with friends visiting from out of town
• Competed in a 3-phase equestrian event
• Rode at the stable not once, not twice, but three times
• Went to see Perks of a Wallflower
• Had frozen yogurt at Orange Leaf
• Hung out at a friend's house
• Attended a formal bar mitzvah bash
• Watched back episodes of Switched at Birth on our old iPad
• Played videogames on her new iPhone

Here's what she did not do:

• Study for her World Cultures test

While her sainted mother was aware (and more or less approved) of all the items on the first list, she was blissfully ignorant of the single item on the second. I learned about the exam the night before the exam. Late, in fact, on the night before the exam.

It wasn't pretty.

We were warned that high school was going to be a tough transition. No more recess. No more hand-holding. No more easy A's racked up by my daughter and her classmates in middle school. Until last night, I thought my daughter and I were on the same page. Her schedule includes two study halls, which are to be used for homework and ... well ... study. (Duh.) Her schoolwork has to come first, then she can ride and compete and shovel manure to her heart's content.

When queried over the long weekend, my daughter kept repeating, "My homework's done." And, if we are going to be literal, she was telling the truth. The homework due the day after the break was, indeed, done. Preparing for the test, however, was not. In fact, it was being thoroughly ignored.

News flash, my dearest daughter: if the teacher gives you a week or ten days notice about a big test, chances are he thinks you need ... oh ... a week or ten days to prepare. I'm just guessing here.

I knew we were in trouble when she came up to my office to complain that the school's website was down. I shrugged it off. After all, if the site was down the teacher would understand and give kids an extra day, right? Wrong. It turns out that the material my daughter was trying to download was the study guide for the test. It would hardly behoove us for her instructor to find out that she hadn't looked at it until the last day.

But, if there's anything that teenagers are adept at, it's work-arounds. She texted a number of classmates and found one who could email the worksheets to her. Problem solved? Not exactly. 

More like problem exposed.

The short-lived panic about the website opened up an issue my daughter was clearly trying to avoid (just like she was trying to avoid studying in the first place). The jig was up. Mommy Dearest now knew that (a) there was a test, and (b) her little scholar had not held up her end of the bargain. 

The evening will not be remembered fondly. My daughter crammed for her test (on top of having to read two chapters of Lord of the Flies — for the record, one of the most miserable novels ever written). My husband and I fumed and marched about spewing what must have sounded like we were completely out-of-touch and Monday-morning-quarterbacking. "You got yourself into this mess ..." "You were not responsible ..." "It's up to you to know how much work you have to do and pace yourself ..." Blah, blah, blah.

Not that we were wrong. No, we were right. It's just that our timing was not very effective. We finally went to bed and I heard my daughter give it up about an hour later. 

This morning, my daughter was clearly worse for wear. She took a long long long shower, which prompted more parental badgering. As I heard her finally coming downstairs, I vowed to wait and discuss the situation after school. I would just say one quick insightful thing and let it go until later. I imagined my best self, offering firm but compassionate and blessedly brief words of wisdom.

And, I may have. But, she shrugged me off with that look of utter disdain (the look that all mothers of teens know and loathe). And, I lost it. So much for brevity or moderation. I launched into a fairly verbose recitative of all her failings, complete with extravagant threats that we both know will never be carried through. I definitely didn't sound like my best self. 

She sneered and left. At least for the moment, we had a common enemy. Me. I flunked this particular test.

Let's just hope my daughter does better on hers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chips Ahoy, Kids

When my now teen daughter was little, we often took "discovery walks" around our historic town. We played a version of "I Spy" and found all sorts of things. Sometimes, we would spot a sad, hand-made sign alerting us to the fact that someone's beloved dog or cat was lost.

Missing: Fluffy Poo-Kitty
White Persian with Blue Eyes
Last Seen on Clifton Street
Reward Offered

This would, of course, seem like a tragedy to my daughter and I would reassure her that chances were, Fluffy Poo-Kitty was either on an exciting adventure with her feline friends or more likely already safe and sound at home again.

(I think I've already made my position on stretching the absolute truth clear in a previous post.)

About this time, my ad agency did some creative work for a chain of veterinary clinics. Did you know that one of the most profitable products they can sell their patients' families is microchipping? This simple process involves inserting a minuscule microchip under the dog or cat's skin. If the animal is found by the police, it can be traced back to its owners. Happy ending all around.

Well, teenagers are neither dogs nor cats, my friends. And, I was disturbed to read about a program currently being implemented in Texas, called the "Student Locator Project." No, kids are not being surgically microchipped (at least not yet), but they are being forced to wear new student ID's that have RFID, radio-frequency identification, devices built-in. This technology will track the location of each student. Like a GPS system or a homing missile.


Apparently, the state has an enormous truancy problem. Also (apparently), the state has been less than successful dealing with said problem. So instead of cracking down on the offenders, they are now planning to track all students, all the time. In some schools, students who select not to wear the new devices are not allowed to vote for Prom King and Queen. In others, they are being threatened with expulsion.

I repeat ... Yikes!

Many students, parents and community leaders have issues with this new policy — and for good reason. Isn't 1984 required reading anymore? Sure, Lindsay Lohan had to wear a tracking device. But only after she broke the law multiple times. Whatever happened to privacy? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

My daughter came home from her first week of high school, astounded by the lack of supervision. "It would be so easy to ditch!" she told me. After two years of virtual lock-down in middle school, the freedom was intoxicating. However, she isn't cutting classes. She and her peers are young adults and they are choosing to pursue their education. Besides, I believe that if their goal really was to skip school, no newfangled "smart chip" ID would hold them back. Meanwhile, they are being treated with respect and afforded the same degree of privacy and free will that this country guarantees its law-abiding citizens.

Okay, so if individuals' rights are not your concern, let's consider the logistics for a minute. The policy means providing hundreds of thousands of students with state-of-the-art technology. In the San Antonio school district alone, the program is anticipated to cost $526,065 the first year and another $136,005 per year thereafter. You can't tell me that there aren't better uses for these funds.

Here's an idea. What if that money was invested in enrichment or counseling programs for at-risk students — y'know, the same students who end up truants. Wouldn't the results be better all around?

Yesterday afternoon, my daughter went to the movies with some friends and afterwards hung out with them, at another girl's house and then at a frozen yogurt place. She "forgot" to call and tell me. As much as I would like to know where she is at any given time, I'm not going to put a GPS tracker on her mobile phone. And, the last time I checked, microchipping a human being is still the stuff of science fiction. My daughter is not my property. Those teenagers in Texas are not the property of the state.

High school should be a place where you get to practice being a responsible citizen. Not where you are treated like a convicted criminal.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pass the (Microwave) Popcorn: Glee!

My teen daughter and I are loyal "gleeks." Unlike many critics and fans alike, we have stayed with the show through unnecessary celebrity guests, forced theme episodes and preachy story lines that taught important lessons at the price of entertainment. Let's see, we've learned about teen pregnancy, gay rights, OCD, bullying, mental and physical disabilities, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, teen suicide and not texting while driving (those last two in the same 60-minute show!). Yes, these are important topics. Yes, Glee! is a big popular forum. But, sometimes you just want to enjoy the ups and downs of the characters.

That's what we got this week. Emphasis on the downs rather than ups, I'm afraid. But, it felt like the old Glee! with less gimmicks and more heart.

This is where I warn you that there are spoilers ahead ...

Guys, there are spoilers ahead.

If you haven't seen "The Break-up," and you're planning to (which, btw, my daughter and I both recommend), stop reading. Go to your cable TV's video on demand or online after October 12th, and watch it. Then, come back and read this post.

Fox had promoted this episode heavily. "The Break-Up" promised to revolve around the show's main couples each of whom has merged into a short-hand combo-name: Finn + Rachel = Finchel; Kurt + Blaine = Klaine; Brittany + Santana = Brittana; Will+ Emma = Wemma. "Who will break-up?" the teasers prompted, promising that not all of the relationships would survive in tact.

But, we also assumed that some of the couples would stay together.

The biggest challenge the wildly successful show's creators had this year was to keep us hooked with most of the glee club's members graduating and making their way in the world.  This is often the death knell for shows about high school students. I mean, how long could the sweat hogs really welcome back Mr. Kotter? Two of Glee!'s main characters (and arguably two of its most talented performers) moved to New York. Rachel is studying at the fictitious NYADA, New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, where faculty include a shamanic Whoopi Goldberg and satanic Kate Hudson. Kurt has taken his porcelain features to, where (not to be outdone by his former rival, now friend), he is being mentored by Sarah Jessica Parker.

Somehow, the scenes at NYADA, at and in their amazing loft work. They don't feel separate from life at McKinley High. They feel like a very natural extension of the talented oddballs we watched grow up.

A quick aside from a native New Yorker though ... I don't care how sketchy the neighborhood is, there is simply no way that two broke student/interns could possible afford that loft. No way. No how. Okay, I'm done.

So, in "The Break-Up," Finn arrives in the city after a brief stint in the army and four months of radio silence. Shortly thereafter, Blaine arrives as well. Although both couples are still in love, they are in different places. Finn doesn't belong in New York with Rachel. Blaine can't handle the long distance between him and Kurt. The acting (and singing — this is Glee! after all) was heartbreaking. And the plot was sadly realistic. How many high school sweethearts actually weather life in the real world? Not too many anymore.

Meanwhile, Santana broke up with Brittany as gently as she could. Through song, naturally. And, Emma decided to let Will go off to Washington while respecting her own mission by not accompanying him. The episode ended with all eight characters onstage as they face their now single futures.

My daughter and I rarely watch TV together anymore. In fact, I can count the shows we share on one hand (and still have more than half the fingers left over). So, while I am very sorry for our favorite characters — I confess I teared up more than once the other night — I'm still very grateful for Glee! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The iPhone 5: A Tale of Two Mothers

Liberté, égalité, technologé. My daughter is now the smug owner of a shiny new iPhone 5. But, the road to her new mobile device was not smooth. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." And — at times — I wondered whether she had one mother or two. Apparently, I am a veritable Dr. Jekyll and Mama Hyde.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself (and alluding to too many classic novels).

A few months ago, my daughter started having issues with her iPhone 3G. First the home button started sticking. Then, the touchscreen stopped responding. She could still use the phone if she called herself from another number to unlock it. (Yeah, that was convenient ... not!) Finally, there was the calamitous incident at the stable involving slippery fingers and a bucket of water. Bottom line, even her awkward work-arounds stopped working.

She needed a new phone. Stat.

We did what any modern family would do in such dire circumstances. We made an appointment at the Apple Store Genius Bar. As we expected, the phone was toast. However, after more than two years with it, she qualified for an upgrade. She could fix the phone for $100, get a new 3G for $100 or upgrade to a 4S for $199. My mother, who was visiting, offered to purchase the better phone for my daughter's birthday. So, it seemed as if everything would be fine. N'est-ce pas?

Mais non! You see, rumor had it that Apple was getting ready to announce the release of the iPhone 5. So, I offered my daughter a difficult decision. She could get the 4S now or the 5 in about six weeks. She made a surprisingly mature choice: she would wait.

And this is where my split personality comes in:

Good Mom: On the fateful day decreed by the house that Jobs built, I got up at 5:00 am to pre-order her phone.

Bad Mom: Apparently 20 million people stayed up until 12:00 am the night before to pre-order theirs. The iPhone 5 was — gasp! — sold out! We would have to wait two whole weeks. Mon dieu!

Good Mom: I tracked the package from ZhengZhou, China to Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong, to Anchorage, Alaska, to Louisville, Kentucky, to Chelmsford, Manchester, Lynnfield and ...

Bad Mom: I went to yoga and, of course, the UPS guy showed up while I was out. Of course.

Good Mom: I went online to and live chatted with some faceless person, begging for a solution that wouldn't mean waiting another day. They said I could pick it up at the UPS center several towns away at 9 pm.

Bad Mom: I thought, "No way." (Actually, I'm not only a bad mom; I'm a profane one. My word-for-word thought was, shall we say, a little more colorful.)

Good Mom: I pushed back. "Isn't the driver still in town? Can't he make another delivery? Can I meet him somewhere? Anywhere?" Success! 

Bad Mom: My daughter raced home after school. "Is my phone here???" "No."

Good Mom: "BUT, we're meeting the UPS guy at 4:30 and you'll have it then!"

Bad Mom: Despite my daughter's incomparable iPhone IQ, she couldn't get the new phone to work. (How this is my fault is beyond me, but ...)

Good Mom: I went online and live chatted with AT&T.

Bad Mom: After about 30 minutes of diagnostics, it appeared that the phone was damaged in transit. (Again, and this is my fault how?)

Good Mom: It was 6:30, homework was done, my client calls had ended. "Get your shoes," I told my daughter, "We're going to the Apple Store."

"Really?" Really.

Our experience was, as always, very positive. A wonderful genius named Max took care of us. When he determined that the Nano Sim card was damaged (yes, I actually know what that means now), he walked with us down to another part of the mall and the AT&T store. After a brief wait, the card was replaced and — VOILA! — my daughter was with phone once more.

And, the beauty of all of this was that she APPRECIATED me. She THANKED me. She SMILED at me. She even asked Siri "Who is the best mother in the world?"

Siri, in her typical humorless fashion, responded, "Would you like me to search the web for 'Who is the best mother in the world?'" Uh ... never mind.

We had a quick, late dinner at a Mexican place and called it a night.

So, you would think that yours truly, after my epic niceness, would still be in favor? Alas, mes amis, non.

Bad Mom: After allowing my daughter virtually unlimited time on her new phone, I finally insisted that she shower, read a little and go to bed. The drama was over. And what a roller coaster it had been. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

She would rise to another melodramatic day of school, equipped — at last — with her revolutionary new phone. Vive la 5!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Teens Are People Too

Here's a quick question. What do you think of when you hear these nonsensical lyrics? "Wacka-doo, wacka-doo, wacka-doo." If you were a youngster in one of Metromedia's five markets in the 60s or 70s, you probably remember Bob McAllister singing "Kids Are People Too." The show was Wonderama and it was on every Sunday morning.

My dad had contacts on the Wonderama crew, so my sister and I were on the show twice. (My mother and little brother, who were waiting in the green room with other parents, were also chosen to be on the show.) One year, my sister and I competed in a "Name that Tune" sort of game. They played a snippet of music or a sound effect and we had to run down the length of the studio, grab a balloon, run back, pop it by sitting on it and announce the name of the sound or song. The one that I had was "Like a Yo-Yo" by the Osmonds. Since the only music my family listened to was showtunes and opera, I didn't recognize it. But, I still won a prize. I think it was a Talking Viewmaster Gift Pack. Or maybe it was a Super Spirograph. Cool!

The games changed each week. Sometimes there were guest stars. But, there was one thing you could count on. At the end of every episode, McAllister sang that song again.

"We may be young and not full-grown,
But we've got problems of our own.
Kids are people too.
Wacka-doo, wacka-doo, wacka-doo."

Very empowering song. You see, society needed that reminder back then; the world didn't revolve around kids quite like it does today. We wore what our parents bought for us. We did what our teachers told us to do. We weren't "wired." We didn't have millions of dollars of marketing being spent to lure us to specific mall stores, websites or movie premieres. Well, not as many millions at any rate.

Today's kids — and especially, today's teens — don't question whether or not they're "people too." They may feel victimized or marginalized at times, but they are not lacking in their sense of self. Or self-righteous entitlement. As parents we bend over backwards to give them whatever they need. (And, believe you me, the line between need and want is rather fuzzy at best.) My teen daughter and her friends are aware of the world; they're opinionated and outspoken. They believe they have the right to protest. And ... they do. Mainly to their loving mothers.

The schedule in my two-career household doesn't revolve around my husband's business trips or my clients' deadlines. It is driven by my daughter's riding lessons, homework and media preferences.

You may think that my husband and I are particularly challenged when it comes to establishing and maintaining authority. You'd be right. But, the situation is the same in the homes of pretty much all of our peers. We are all exhausted all the time and none of us has even the slightest illusion that we are in charge. 

So, for all my friends who remember Wonderama — and find themselves constantly wondering at all the drama —  I'd like to offer this little rewrite:

"We may be old and going grey 
We're just so stressed out every day,
Parents are people too.
Wacka-doo, wacka-doo, wacka-doo.
We'd be in such a better mood,
If you could ditch that attitude.
Parents are people too. 

Wacka-doo, wacka-doo, wacka-doo.
It isn't easy going all day ...
Driving you and your peeps to the games that you play
Helping with homework, carpooling at school
And trying so hard not to lose our cool.
And so we hope you'll cut us some slack
Please oh please stop talking back,
Parents are people,
Parents are people,
Parents are people too.
We're really really people too."