Monday, July 29, 2013

Pass the Popcorn: The Way Way Back

I am always happy to go to the movies. Pretty much any movie, any time, with anyone. But, don't offer to go with me unless you're willing to (a) let me have my own bucket of popcorn (I'm happy to treat you to yours, I just don't like sharing — which makes the titles of these posts a little misleading doesn't it?). And (b) willing to get there in time to see the coming attractions.

What can I say? Often, they're the best part! Too often, in fact, the two minutes of great entertainment in the trailer are the only two minutes of great entertainment in the whole two-hour movie. Some trailers are mini masterpieces.

As far back as I can remember, I have always always always loved movie trailers. In the mid-80s (gasp!), I had personal access to all of them. It was early in my copywriting career with the in-house agency of Continental Cablevision. Every month, each of the pay channels would send a promotional cassette with previews of all of its upcoming programming. Prior to writing our bill insert "Cable Highlights," I would close myself up in a conference room and watch the trailers to my heart's content.

It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

Today, I no longer make a living writing about movies (sigh), but I now have a 24/7 link to trailers. The iTunes Movie Trailers page. It's my favorite way to procrastinate. In between writing a couple of ads? Waiting for feedback on a brochure? Stuck on a headline? I treat myself (or avoid the problem) with a movie trailer.

Weeks if not months ago, I watched the trailer for The Way Way Back. And, I've watched it several times since. It just looked smart and thoughtful. Even though it's set in contemporary times, there is an air of nostalgia to it. It promised to capture the sheer misery of teenage awkwardness (and the unrelenting stupidity of adults). It also promised to be something I could enjoy with my teenage daughter and the exchange student who's staying with us for a couple of weeks. So, as soon as it opened at the tiny new cinema in our (tiny old) town, I went online for tickets. Bottom line?

The Way Way Back is way way good!

What a treat! This is one time that an entertaining trailer didn't oversell a mediocre movie. It is a perfect little picture, with an endearing hero, colorful secondary characters, a very clever script, some bittersweet humor, and a wonderful redemptive ending.

Funny man Steve Carrell is playing a bad guy for a change. And, I do mean b-a-d, bad! Dating a divorcee (the appealing if a little blind to her surroundings Toni Collette), this creep — and, oy, he is such a creep! — brings her and her fourteen year old son to his beach house where there is non-stop boozing, bed-hopping, and other immature behavior all perpetuated by the grownups.

The son, Duncan, is targeted by local, cooler teens and picked on mercilessly by Carrell's stepfather figure. Riding off on a humiliatingly pink and princessy bike (the only one in the garage), Duncan finds solace in unlikely places: among a rag-tag group of water park slackers, and through a budding friendship with a pretty neighbor, Susanna (The Carrie Diaries' AnnaSophia Robb). 

The whole movie is just so watchable and enjoyable. You really root for Duncan. (Real-life 16-year old Liam James — what a cutie! And so talented!) You really want his mother to wake up already and dump the loser who's torturing her son. You really want to go to a water park (it helped that we saw the movie during an unforgiving heat wave). And, you really want to believe that your own teenagers never see you the way that Duncan and Susanna view theirs. (Believe me that's what you really really really want!)

Thing is, there's a truthiness to the whole thing. And that's what we all enjoyed most. 

Watch the trailer. See the movie.

Just get your own popcorn.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Blue Man? Or Big Brother?

My teenage daughter has a special guest here for the next two weeks. The young lady is from Barcelona, and they have been Facebook friends for a couple of years. That's the cyberland equivalent of pen-pals, I guess.

I briefly had a pen pal from Norway when I was in junior high. Her name was Veronika and I think we corresponded a few times before it fizzled out. I had high hopes at the beginning however. Having been only as far away as Missouri for visits to my grandmother, the allure of international friends (and travel!) was very strong. 

These days, our kids — at least those from wired middle-class homes — are growing up in a global village, connected to like-minded teens all over the world. Let's face it, Facebook is way cooler than writing a letter. And a lot faster. And a lot easier to use. Just post a picture or quick message; no messy stamps (or proofreading, apparently) required.

My daughter and her temporary housemate dreamed this visit up many months ago. They were encouraged by our visitor's English teacher, a dear old friend of mine from elementary school. Plans include a couple of horse shows (like my daughter, our young guest is an equestrienne), and four days in New York City. With several beaches and pools nearby, we figured we could easily fill any other time.

What we didn't figure was that a nearly four-week heat wave would be followed by 60-degree days and freezing rain. 


Quick! Suddenly, I have to find some fun indoor things to do in and around Boston. We're going to visit Harvard, go shopping (the international language of teen), and take a Duck Tour. We'll see a Broadway show in New York, but I thought some local theatre would also be fun. I landed on Blue Man Group. It's a spectacular and innovative work of performance art, and most of it is done without any dialogue or soundtrack. (I figured our guest might enjoy an evening that didn't require so much English — although, I have to say that she speaks our language beautifully. Us, hers? Not so much. "Bienvenido" and "Mi casa es su casa" was pretty much the extent of it.) 

Blue Man Group it was.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Ever since I visited Blue Man's website, I'm being cyber-stalked. Constantly. Everywhere I go. No matter what website I visit, I'm being served up ads for Blue Man Group.

It's my own fault. I searched Blue Man Group on Google. I visited the Blue Man Group Boston website. Then (sneaky me), I found discounted tickets elsewhere. The thing is, the official Blue Man marketers only know that I researched and abandoned — they don't know I've already purchased. So, my cyber world now belongs to Blue Man

Of course, this happens all the time (and, in my day job as a direct and digital marketer, I understand the how's and why's of "cookies"). But, somehow, this feels different, spooky. The ads I'm seeing aren't for shoes or bathing suits or a new printer (all of which I've been served up lately, based on my browsing activity). No matter what website I'm visiting or what search engine I'm using, there he is ... the Blue Man. (I read somewhere that even when there's three of them, it's politically correct to refer to them as a single "man.") There's his shiny head. There are his piercing eyes. It's a little un-nerving actually.

I've seen the show three times (twice here and once in New York). And, I highly highly recommend it. Take your husband. Take your kids. We're looking forward to taking our new Spanish friend.

Just don't spend too much time searching for Blue Man online. Or you may have the blues too.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's Only Rock and Roll

July 24th; it's finally here. Finally, finally. My teenage daughter has been counting the days. 

I mean, really, she's been counting them. 

You see, her iPhone has a countdown app and months ago, she put today's date into it. While she finished up freshman year, studied for finals, wrote her last term papers, she would check it over and over. And over and over. As though time would somehow fast-forward more quickly if she obsessively stared at that little screen.

What is it they say about a "watched pot?" No matter, today's finally the day ...

Imagine. Dragons. In. Concert.


This is the second time my daughter will see them live. (She is a very dedicated fan.) And, I don't mind this particular pastime. Not as expert as my offspring by any stretch, I have to say that I like the Imagine Dragons lyrics I do know ...

It's time to begin, isn't it?
I get a little bit bigger, but then I'll admit
I'm just the same as I was
Now don't you understand
That I'm never changing who I am

We could do worse.

Yesterday, I had back-to-back-to-back meetings in Boston. When I finally got home, I found my daughter and one of her besties knee-deep in poster boards, markers and cut paper. They were making "fan art." If you're about my age, you may remember attending concerts and bringing (or seeing) large banners that praised the band or made some sort of pun based on one of their songs or simply said "I love you, Jon Bon Jovi!" (In my case, it was Elton John — now that was a realistic crush!)

The idea, I guess, was that the rockstar in question would see your banner, realize that you were the love of his life, find you, marry you, take you on the road. (Then, he'd drop acid with you, drop out, drop into rehab, drop you for a younger groupie ... you get the idea.)

Well fan art today is totally like that. Except it's totally different.

Today's concert audience creates fan art and posts it online rather than off the first row of the balcony blue seats at Madison Square Garden. You create something brilliant, send it out into the cyberinternetosphere and hope that a member of the band will "Like" it or "Tweet" it, link it, re-post it or share it.

Despite millions of fans posting millions of examples of fan art, the chance of getting noticed is actually much higher today than it was for us. My daughter is Facebook friends with some of the members of Imagine Dragons. This may not mean they actually know each other, of course, at least not in the analog world. But she's a lot closer to her idols than I was with my $16 ticket in 1975.

And what better way to get their attention than through art? It's been a lot of years since my daughter chose a craft project over a YouTube video. Can't say that I mind this particular pastime one bit.

The girls worked hard on their fan art, took a quick break for dinner, and continued on their masterpiece long after yours truly went to bed. This morning, my daughter brought her phone to show me ...

"They didn't re-post it," she pouted with a tiny gleam in her eye. "But, look at this!"

There, on her wall, was a comment from one of the Dragons himself. "lol love it"


Was it really him? Was it an assistant? A roadie? Some girl he picked up two shows ago? Who cares! It was good. 

Sometimes, when you're almost sixteen, life can be very good indeed.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dear Kate

News flash! Expectant royals Kate and Will have left her parents' country home for London and, presumably, a looming engagement at the Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital. Kate is reportedly overdue now and the world is waiting.

Here's my first word of advice. Let them wait.

This time is about you, your husband and your new baby. So what if your imminent offspring will be the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom? So what if there are countless paparazzi hoping to fund their children's college tuition with the perfect shot? So what if you yourself have inherited your mother-in-law's honor (burden) as most photographed woman in the world? 

Let them wait. Just breathe.

Every mother I know can still recall how their privacy went right out the window when their baby was born. Doctors and nurses and interns and aids. Basically, you're there in all your glory and there's a virtual revolving door of hospital personnel. coming through. How much worse it must be for the princess! 

The process is neither pleasant nor quick (usually). It's hard work and fairly gory. Or, as Kate's pregnancy guru Christine Hill puts it, "No one prepares you for the true ghastliness of birth." 

I had never heard of a pregnancy guru before. In my business (advertising and marketing), the word "guru" is overused. People are "direct mail gurus," "email gurus," "social media gurus." I've always rolled my eyes; what we're doing ain't religion, people. But, real experts in pregnancy and birth probably deserve a spiritual title. Birth is probably as close to God as we get.

At any rate, it sounds like Kate is in good hands.

Even though she hasn't thanked me yet for my morning sickness advice (she's been rather busy), I thought I'd offer up some additional guidance for the weeks to come. My own baby is almost sixteen now, but I still remember those early days (not so much labor itself, gratefully). 

Here's my countdown of tips for my dear friend, Kate:

5. Don't worry about how you look.
From everything we've seen, Kate is a bit of a perfectionist. In this, she reminds me of myself (except that she's younger, prettier, richer, and married to a prince ... er, nevermind). She always looks neat and trim, pressed and polished. Dear Kate, it's okay to relax your standards just a little bit for just a little while. Try sweats and one of William's shirts.

4. Never wake a sleeping baby.
This was invaluable advice from my college roommate when she came to visit me two weeks after I had my daughter. She had finally fallen asleep in her swinging chair thingy (the baby, not the roommate). I was about to relax when I noticed the time and limped up off the couch to wake her.

"What are you doing???" shrieked my friend.

"I have to wake her up and feed her again," I groaned.

"Never wake a sleeping baby!"

Ah. Apparently I had a been a bit too quick to comply with the La Leche League. We had had some trouble with "latching on" that required a trip back to the hospital. The La Leche ladies were helpful, but in exchange I was expected to agree to some very strict instructions. Dead tired, I didn't bother to do the math. Enter my old friend (thank goodness) who helped me realize that if I nursed for forty minutes every two hours, I would only ever have an hour and twenty minutes to sleep. No wonder I was so tired.

3. Forget your "To Do" list.

Your only job is to take care of your baby and yourself. Thank you notes will keep. So will household chores (do princesses have any?). And working out. And reading. As long as the baby is fed and clean and safe and sound, everything else can go to you-know-where. If you've ever wondered what it's like to simply veg, this is the time to find out.

At this point, I should probably explain that I am no "guru." My advice is based on my own experience. I myself didn't veg out  at all. Every afternoon, I took a one-hour walk with my new baby snuggled in the Snugli. The result? I lost the baby weight. Good. BUT, I was perpetually tired and my daughter never learned to nap in her crib. Not good.

Chillax, Kate, chillax.

2. Remember, this is not a competition.

Very soon you and your baby will start hanging out with other new families. And, very very soon you will start comparing notes. Which baby rolls over first? Sleeps through the night first? Eats a Cheerio, smiles or gurgles a word first? Blah blah blah.

Bear in mind that babies develop at different speeds. This is not a race. And if some other mother's bragging becomes completely insufferable, just smile. Given your little prince or princess' future plans, it's probably better if he or she doesn't peak too soon.

And my final, most important bit of advice?

1. Hold on to every precious moment.

Even with all the support in the world, you're about to experience a rocky road of fatigue and emotion. Just hold your baby tight. You will eventually get a good night's sleep. You will eventually get that pretty figure back. You will eventually have a life that doesn't revolve around bottles and diapers and baby wipes.

But, you'll never get these sweet early days again. Enjoy them. I tell most moms to take lots of pictures, but you won't have to.

The world will take them for you.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pass the (Microwave) Popcorn: Sharknado

What happens when you go to an extraordinary little lab school in New York City in the seventies? 

You get a kick-ass education, of course. But, 33 years later, you get something else too.

Classmate envy.

Okay, I'm no slouch. I've had a good career, built a business, won some awards. I'm a published author. My yoga's improving. I'm happily married and have a teenage daughter of whom I am immensely proud (and justifiably so, if I do say it myself). 

But, just take a look at some of the people I have to compare myself to:

- Two (not one, two) Tony-winning playwright/lyricist/composers
- A (multiple) Emmy-winning actress
- A world-class opera singer
- Countless journalists, authors and educators
- An Olympic athlete
- Doctors and lawyers
- Executives and philanthropists
- More than one rap star
- A U.S. Supreme Court Justice

And now? I've just learned that the brains behind a stunning new film also went to my school. I'm talking about one Thunder Levin, the writer of ...


(How can I possibly compete with this? Might as well hang it up right now.) 

Sharknado, produced for the Syfy Channel, is bloody brilliant. Really bloody, that is. I mean really bloody bloody. But, also brilliant. The title itself is such a quiet little gem of creativity. The English language simply wasn't complete without a word for a tornado made of sharks. Enter Thunder. Shark + Tornado = Sharknado. (As Sarah Palin will be the first to tell you, "Shakespeare made up words too.")

Last night, my daughter and I were sprawled on our family room couch. It was too hot to eat, too hot to move. Too hot, period. She was texting (surprise, surprise) and I was absent-mindedly zapping through our 57,000 channels ("and nothing on"). I had narrowed it down to Bull Durham and Ever After, both of which were halfway over, when I suddenly saw an enormous funnel cloud, off the coast of Los Angeles, with what looked like little black bits of confetti, squirming round and round. Gasp! They were sharks. Gasp, gasp! It was a ...


So much for Kevin Costner and Drew Barrymore. How could I resist? 

The premise of Sharknado is deceptively simple (from what I could tell — the movie was halfway through, alas alack, when I tuned in). A bizarre extreme burst of weather apparently floods L.A. This results in massive man-eating sharks circling school buses filled with desperate over-acting children. Secondary characters losing limbs. Geriatrics hobbling out of shark-filled swimming pools. Plus, the usual assortment of aerial rescues, stolen helicopters, pyrotechnics, car chases. Not to mention a budding romance and a father and daughter reconciliation.

But wait ... there's more.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water (so to speak), the extreme weather becomes even more extreme.  A number of funnel clouds build over the water and — for lack of a more meteorologicalish* term — sucks up all these humongous killer sharks, spins them around to thoroughly piss them off, and then hurls them down onto the city in a ...


So what, you may be asking, was my daughter doing through all of this? She was texting. Sometimes, she would look up, look at the TV, look at me, look back at her phone. Every once in a while she would comment, supportively. (Oh, did I say "supportively?" I meant to say "disdainfully.")

"Why are you watching this?"

or more often

"I can't believe you're watching this."

But, I did. And, as I've already asserted, it was bloody brilliant. Best line? "We're gonna need a bigger chopper." (Sorry if you don't understand why that's funny. My daughter didn't so I explained it to her, and got a lovely eye roll for the effort.) Best death by airborn shark? The guy who got his arm bitten off and even while it was spewing blood all over the place got his leg bitten off too. Best use of dramatic irony? The weaselly school bus driver who escapes the sharks only to be crushed by some big concrete thingy on a bridge (I think I was getting a Diet Pepsi during that scene because it didn't make a lot of sense). Best use of dramatic foreshadowing-coming-full-circle-stuff? Tough girl who survived a shark attack as a child and must now face her demons, quite literally, because she's riding shotgun and hurling bombs into the funnel clouds. (Don't ask.)

And, last but not least ... best unlikely happy ending ever? 

Spoiler alert! Stop now if you don't want to know.

Okay, I warned you. Picture this: huge great white shark falling from sky, mouth wide open, rows of teeth gleaming. Rugged man person pushes estranged daughter out of the way, raises his chainsaw and allows the shark to swallow him whole. Friends of rugged man are understandably bummed. But wait! Rugged man chainsaws himself out of the belly of the shark (because, I guess, there hadn't been enough blood already), then reaches in and pulls out tough girl who is unconscious but not yet digested. Lots of bloody kissing. The end.

Until ... bum, bum, bum, bum, bum bum, bum, bum ... Sharknado II.

* See? I can make up words. #ClassmateEnvyRedemption

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

R.I.P. Finn Hudson

The other morning, I couldn't sleep. I was tossing and turning, stressing out about work and I finally figured that it would be better to get up and get some of that work done. So, I went to my office and turned on my computer. As per usual, I went to Facebook. The first thing that came up in my newsfeed was a post about Cory Monteith. He had been found dead in a hotel room in Canada. He was 31.

"No," I quietly said. But, I knew it was true. And, sadly, it wasn't really that unusual. Promising young Hollywood star, history of drug abuse. I didn't know him personally. I didn't even know much about his personal life. But, it made me so sad.

Because he was Finn Hudson.

My now teenage daughter and I were Glee fans (or "gleeks") since the beginning. Not only did we follow the show religiously, but we bought all the music and went to see the cast perform live, twice — once at Radio City Music Hall and again at the Boston Garden (oh, sorry, the TD Bank North Garden, or whatever it's now called). Together, we cheered (and sometimes cringed) as McKinley High's "New Directions" show choir beat the odds to become national champions. They were a motley crew of misfits, enormously talented, embarrassingly adolescent. It was impossible not to root for them.

Monteith's character, Finn, was the star quarterback, handsome, cool, dating the head cheerleader. At the same time, he was a bit of a dim bulb (okay, a very dim bulb) and ... well, to be honest ... a big doofus. He wasn't perfect; he slipped up sometimes. In a couple of Glee's preachier scenes, he used the words "faggy" and "retarded." At one point, he thought he saw Christ's image on some toasted bread and spent the better part of an episode praying to "Grilled Cheesus."

But, flawed as he was, Finn was the moral compass of the group. He really tried to figure out the right thing to do and then do it. And, when he finally (barely) graduated from McKinley and chose to go into the army, it was one of the show's truest notes. This idealistic boy really would have done that. His decision was all the more poignant because the smarter, fairly liberal audience knew what real life in the military might do to him.

Monteith was older than the other actors playing high school students on Glee. He didn't have much professional experience when he was cast. And, he was arguably the weakest link in terms of vocal ability. But, he was pitch perfect as Finn. You really believed in this earnest young man. You really wanted the world to be a better place for him.

The only things I knew about the actor were that he was from Canada, that he was dating his co-star Lea Michele, and that he had struggled with drug addiction since he was thirteen. 


After dropping out of high school, Monteith worked odd jobs and continued to have substance abuse issues until he finally ended up in Hollywood. Landing the role of Finn was a fluke — he didn't sing or dance, and for his audition tape, he did a drum solo on an odd lot of Tupperware containers. But, Glee's creative team saw something in him. And soon 7.5 million fans did as well.

In interviews, Monteith always stressed that he was not Finn. He was open about his past and last Spring, when he checked into rehab (not for the first time), he was very public about it.

"If I can, through my experience, shed light on the way out of a difficult situation, that I know many kids are experiencing, just like I did when I was a teenager, that's, that's huge."

I don't know ... he sounds a lot like Finn to me.

While my daughter and I are both sorry about Monteith's untimely death, I think I'm more so. My daughter has started to outgrow Glee. And maybe 31 doesn't seem so young to her. It seems awfully young to me.

Cory Monteith's real-life was not a sit-com or a musical. And, now, sadly, we know it didn't have a happy ending.

Good-night, sweet prince. Don't stop believing.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lost and Found ... ?

Last night, I spent my time taking apart my teenage daughter's room. This was a bit of a change for me. Usually I spend my time putting her room together (making the bed, straightening the desk, stacking books, closing drawers). Why the shift in my routine? I was on the hunt for ...

Her flip flops.

As my husband so frequently points out, my daughter has never been denied much of anything. She doesn't own one pair of flip flops, she owns several — at least three of the nice ones with the cushy foam soles and thick grosgrain ribbon straps, and a couple more of the cheap and colorful rubber ones from Target. Or so I think. Or so I thought.

Because they are all missing.

Strike that. Not quite all. There is one lone, partner-less flip flop sitting on her bathroom floor. The other nine or so individual shoes are gone. As in gone, baby, gone.

I hate this feeling. We were always very lucky about losing things — or rather, happily, not losing things — when my daughter was little. Let's see, there was the time she lost her constant companion, "Cissy-Sandy-Pinky." Cissy-Sandy-Pinky was a gorgeous 18-inch Madame Alexander doll. She was purported to be a "Collector's Edition," a theme doll meant to commemorate John Lennon. Really. She came in neat blond braids, wearing a dress imprinted with his famous sketches, ankle socks and patent mary janes. Around her neck was a diminutive gold necklace that said "Imagine." By the time she went missing, her hair stood straight up (the better to be carried around by, my dear) and she was dressed most hideously as a patchwork princess with nary a shoe or sock in sight. Suffice it to say, she wasn't exactly "Mint in the Box."

One fateful day, Cissy-Sandy-Pinky was left in the babysitting room at the Y, and by the time we realized she was there, the facility had closed. We feared the worst and spent an anxious night, distracting the child and bargaining with higher powers for a miraculous recovery.

Lo and behold! The next day, as soon as the Y reopened, our daughter's babysitter found her. The doll, not my daughter. Crisis averted.

Another near miss befell us during my daughter's all-encompassing infatuation with Webkinz. Among her collection of two dozen or so, she had a pink poodle whose dog-eared (pun intended) bedraggledness bespoke its place of honor as her favorite. One afternoon it disappeared somewhere between our house and a shopping excursion two towns over. We retraced our steps, made some phone calls, and sure enough the pooch had been found and left at the register by a concerned shopper. My husband drove there on his way home from work to get it.

File this under the "You know he really loves her when ..." category. Crisis averted.

The most terrifying close call we ever had was about an hour before sunrise in a chauffered van. My daughter was eighteen months old, and we were flying down to St. Croix for a week with her grandparents. Our luggage was in the back of the van, and her car seat was safely locked in. About halfway to the airport I realized that "Lamby" was missing. 

This was a disaster! Lamby was my daughter's (much cuter than a) security blanket; she went everywhere with him and (as far as we knew) needed him to fall and stay asleep. We were doomed! 

I mouthed the bad news to my husband and tried to come up with a solution. We were changing planes in Atlanta and Puerto Rico, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, there would be a gift shop with a similar Lamby available. A long shot, but I was grasping at straws. As luck would have it, when we unloaded the van, who should we find (a little smushed with a decided dent on his face) but ... Lamby! Turns out he was under the car seat all along.

Crisis averted.

Of course, we did once lose a Lamby, I'm sorry to say. The babysitter had the day off and I took my then infant daughter into work with me, where she was enormously popular and entirely effective at distracting every one from their job. As far as I can tell, Lamby must have fallen out of the carriage somewhere between my parked car and my office building. That particular Lamby was never seen again, but fear not! I have a wise friend with older children who advised me to buy multiple Lambys and put them away for just such an occasion. Crisis averted.

So, let's flip back to the flops. Alas, my quest was not successful. What had become of them?

My daughter swears that she did not leave any up in Vermont. That she has, in fact, worn them since. She also assures me that she didn't leave them at the beach or lend them to anyone. She believes that someone stole them. And, I have to admit, we have had several houseguests in recent weeks, as well as a couple of people doing work here. So, she may have a point.

After all, if you were going to commit a theft, wouldn't you pass up the iPad, iPhones, laptops, cash and jewelry in lieu of ... flip flops? I thought so.

Please leave the flip flops on our front porch in a plain brown paper bag at your earliest opportunity. No questions will be asked.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Your Money at Work

We went through three years of dance school and, consequently, three years of dance recitals. Yes, like loving mothers everywhere, I had the ubiquitous photos on the fridge. (I think we still have at least one of them there: our little angel tarted up in feathers and lamé looking like nothing so much as a toddler in a tiara.) 

My very first round as a dance mom, I attended the dress rehearsal. My now teenage daughter was five, and her group was supposed to be fairies. They wore green and pink stretchy velvet dresses, flower wreaths and gauzy wings (the costumes were sluttier in subsequent years; these were actually pretty sweet). The choreography included flitting about and tumbling. Their fifteen minutes of fame was compressed into about three.

Another mother sitting behind me in the auditorium tapped me on the shoulder. "Your money at work," she said, gesturing to the stage.

These days, dance school is but a distant sequined memory. Our daughter is all about the horses and the entire household must follow suit. For three years, she attended equestrian camps ("your money at work"). This year, she went away to a renowned horsemanship clinic in Vermont. It was only ten days but there was much expense entailed: trailering the pony up and back, the program fees, new equipment, room and board with a host family, a weekend at a B&B for my husband and me at the end.

We dropped her off the last Saturday in June. As always when my daughter is away, I missed her terribly. But, the week went by pretty quickly with work and the 4th of July. Before we knew it, we were driving back up. We visited the facility on Saturday for a three-phase event (dressage, stadium jumping, cross-country), did some sightseeing Sunday, and Monday, picked her up and brought her home.

Since cell phone service was sketchy at best (and my daughter had more fun things to do than call us when it did work), we had a lot of catching up to do. Here's a quick rundown of her experience:

• 1 sixth place ribbon
• 2 intensive riding lessons each day
• 6 hours of barn chores each day
• 3 demerits for not cleaning her saddle well enough
• 1 rope swing into the Ottauquechee river
• 7 nighttime bike rides (without a helmet)
• 5 new BFFs
• 4 chicken caesar wraps
• 2 sunburns
• 10 mosquito bites
• 1 spider bite (we think)
• .5 showers per day (don't ask)
• 0 letters home
• 13 horse-crazy roommates
• 56 ounces of Starburst candies

"Your money at work."

The equine experience of a lifetime? I have no idea what we spent, but suffice it to say, it was not inconsequential.

Having my daughter home again, happy and in one piece? Priceless.

Friday, July 5, 2013

FOMO, Facebook and Feeling Fabulous

When asked to comment about how much the advertising and fashion industries retouch photography, supersmart supermodel Cindy Crawford once joked "I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford." In other words, even someone that close to perfection had been artificially enhanced. A lot.

These days, I think many of us are artificially — or I should say, digitally — enhancing not just our looks but our lives. Or, to paraphrase Cindy ...

"I wish my life looked like my Facebook page."

Here's what I post on Facebook on a regular basis:

- Pretty pictures of the beach from my morning walks
- Blooming flowers from our garden
- Vacation scenes from weekends away
- My teenage daughter the way she looks at a horse show, pressed and dressed
- Drinks and dinners with friends from out of town
- Thin, youthful, flattering pictures of myself

Here's what I don't post:

- Photos of the massive construction project I walk through to get to the beach
- Our withered impatiens which all died from something called "downy mildew"
- Everyday scenes from weekends of household chores and grocery shopping
- My daughter the way she looks at the stable, caked in mud and manure
- Microwaved leftovers, eaten standing in the kitchen 
- Any pictures in which I look like the love child of Dame Edna and Eraserhead 

Yeah, I wish my life looked like my Facebook page. Everyone is fabulous there.

There is an inherent showing-off-ish-ness to the whole social media experience. Would I post a picture of my daughter's A+ English paper? Sure! Would I post one of her B-? Probably not. (Actually, I wouldn't post either, but I know moms who do.) On Facebook, we tend to emphasize (overemphasize) the very good rather than the just normal. Through our posts, we turn up the volume on the minority of life's extraordinary moments, and turn it way down on the majority of the ordinary.

Do we look as good as we do on Facebook? No. Are our lives as interesting as they are on Facebook? No. Are we as funny, smart, happy or popular as we are on Facebook? No, no, no, no.

Chances are, if we're on Facebook, we're living a little bit of a lie. And since we're all doing it, we're all suffering from the same thing: FOMO.

FOMO is the fear of missing out. It's not a new idea, but it's changing. When I was a teenager, I might have been aware that I had been excluded from a party, but aside from some jealousy, I could distract myself and move on. Today, if my teen daughter is left out of a gathering, she can be there virtually. She can go on Facebook (or myriad other social sites) and vicariously participate. Oh look, there's the birthday girl blowing out her candles! Oh look, there's my crush with his arm around another girl! Oh look, there are five of my closest BFFs having a blast and not giving my absence a second thought! 

With Facebook, you're a digital fly on the wall. 24/7. Kinda creepy, isn't it?

Even the most popular teens (and moms) worry that they might be missing something. So, they (we) check Facebook incessantly. And — guess what? — we're always going to be missing something. Someone will always have a better job, a bigger house. And all that envy is exhausting. So, we weave better, bigger versions of ourselves. If we're going to suffer from FOMO, we're going to make damn sure that other people do too. And so the vicious circle continues.

Here's what I propose. Let's take the phrase (oxymoronic as it may be) "Truth in advertising" and flip it to "Factual on Facebook." Let's declare one day when everyone agrees to make their Facebook pages exaggeration-free, when we post the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." 

Instead of saying "Home with my honey. Still my best friend after 21 years. So happy," we say "Long day at work, no energy to go out. Spouse is in the other room watching baseball. So bored."

Or instead of "Wow. Really proud of my teenage son. Varsity next year. Can't wait," we'll say "Damn. Really hoped he wouldn't make the team. Can't believe I'll be driving to games three times a week. Where's the pinot?"

Factual on Facebook, that's the ticket. And, I'll start. Soon. Really.

But, first I have to go on Facebook and see what I've missed while writing this.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Independence Day

The 4th of July. Independence.

These days, we all bemoan that our children grow up too fast. Whether we're talking about consumption of digital technology or sexification by way of slutty clothes and push-up bras for the underaged. And, it's not just all the stuff. Our offspring more often than not call the shots for the entire household.

Just like consumers have taken over marketing, kids seem to have taken over their families.

As a focus group of one, I spend an inordinate amount of my time doing what my teenage daughter wants to do, driving where she needs to go, picking up whatever she's missing for her school projects or equine competitions. Every time I catch myself complaining, I remind myself that I only have one. Most families we know juggle two, three and more. Their activity level boggles the mind. Yes, my teen has an expensive and time-consuming extracurricular. But, what about our friends who have a daughter who goes into Boston for dance five days a week, a son whose hockey team has ice time at 4 am, and a third child with a private pitching coach working toward a college baseball scholarship?

Dancing and hockey and baseball ... oh my! I'm reminded of my all-time favorite Dunkin' Donuts ad.

It's not just the stuff or the running around. Kids assume that they have an equal say in decisions. Whatever happened to children being "seen and not heard?" Whatever happened to the family meetings in the Brady household? (Did you ever notice that the kids all call Mike "sir?" Ha. In what alternate universe would that happen now?) Dreaming of my utopian parental paradise (y'know back when I wasn't yet a parent), I pledged that I would never say "Because I said so!" Well, guess what? I do say it. And, guess what? It doesn't work. Not. One. Bit.

So with these independent-minded young people asserting their equality and autonomy all around us, I'm often surprised by how dependent they are as they get older. I couldn't wait to go away to college and be separate, be independent

From my dorm at Tufts University, I called home once a week, on Sundays when the long distance rates were cheaper. But, it wasn't just to save money. I was eagerly living my own life for the first time. A weekly update was sufficient. Today, kids Skype and videochat home all the time. They text and send pictures. Parents get real-time information about real-time issues. (By the time Sundays came around, a million years ago when I was in school, I had already dealt with and resolved mine.)

As an observer, I really think there's much too much connection. Cut the cord already, folks! But, as a mother, I really (really really) understand the allure. 

My daughter's up in Vermont this week with her horse at an intensive equestrian clinic. Despite being warned that there was no mobile signal available, we've managed to communicate every day. She has cell service at the home where she's staying, and the facility where she's training has a youth center with WiFi.

So, I'm torn.

Would this be a more valuable experience if she and I weren't in touch for ten days. Probably. Would it be harder for me to get through those ten days though?