Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fantasy Football

Sometimes, things just work out. And, isn't it nice when they do?

For the past few weeks, my teenage daughter and more than 100 of her closest friends (or at least, classmates) have been putting in serious hours practicing football. Yes, football. Most evenings, some weekends, for two or three hours at a time. This is on top of schoolwork, her job at the stable, training with her horse, and focusing on college applications. My daughter is one tired young lady.

As of Saturday, she's also a champion.

Yes, she and her team soundly beat the town — and arch-rival team — next door. All I can say is ... "Thank goodness."

Actually, there is much to be grateful for as we head toward the Thanksgiving holiday later this week. First of all, she got through the entire experience without an injury. (All I could think about was that after riding and jumping horses for the past twelve years, she'd wind up with a concussion from Powder Puff Football.) My worries weren't completely unfounded. There were some casualties during practice and I did see at least two girls limp off the field in Saturday's game.

The annual event may be named after something soft and harmless, but these women meant business, believe me.

With so many girls participating, many didn't see much action. But, my daughter did get to play, several times, and even snatched two of the other team's flags, including the very first one of the game.

Apparently, this is a good thing. (So I was told.)

Even before the big game itself, we had plenty of serendipity and luck. From finding cleats on sale to pulling together all the required outfits for "Spirit Week." (Somehow a pair of camouflage pants from freshman year, two sizes smaller than her current jeans, still fit. It was like our own personal Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.) At the last minute (what else is new?), my daughter realized that she really wanted a new dress for the post-game "progressive dinner." I time-shifted some of my own commitments so we could make a mad dash to the mall. We found the very thing she was looking for at the very last store we visited and 30% off! — before racing back so she could get to her final scrimmage.

When all was said and done, the camaraderie and school spirit we saw on Saturday was really something to behold. I've rolled my eyes countless times through this process, but I confess, I'm a believer now. Never exactly a sports fan (man, that is the understatement of the year), I was perfectly happy to be there, to cheer when I was supposed to (even though I didn't really have a clue why we were all cheering), to congratulate the victors and celebrate with other proud parents afterwards. 

My daughter's Powder Puff game was actually the first football game I ever went to. So, I'm particularly happy that it had a happy ending.

You see ... chances are, it will be my last football game as well.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.   

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Daughter, The Jock?

Several days ago, I was in a coffee shop in Boston's trendy South End with my two business partners. We were celebrating their birthdays and brainstorming ideas for a new campaign for one of our clients. I realized it was after 2:30 and excused myself to call my teenage daughter.

"Your mouth guard is in a zip-lock on the patio next to your cleats," I told her.

I hung up and noticed that both of my colleagues had their mouths open. Over the years, they've suffered through all of my stable mom updates: trailer fees and vet bills, early Sunday morning events, ribbons won (or not and why). But, this was something new and different. I could almost hear them wondering, "Waitaminute, she only has the one kid, right?"

"Powder Puff Football," I explained, then gave them the Cliff Notes version of this time-honored tradition. "And, they take it seriously," I finished up, "Very seriously."

A handsome young man at the next table who had overheard my explanation concurred. "I'm from the rival town," he admitted sheepishly. We laughed and let him get back to his work. Suffice it to say, he was fortunate that it was me and not my daughter and her cohorts in that café. He's probably blissfully unaware that for the last three weeks, he and his fellow townspeople have become public enemies number one.

This will be my daughter's second Powder Puff; as a junior, she was a cheerleader. But, it's the first time (and will be the only time) that she's actually playing. And, getting ready for her moment of gridiron glory has been a lot more complicated than I would have expected.

First of all, there's the practice. 2-3 hours a night, Monday through Thursday. This is on top of riding lessons and training, homework and college applications. All of the girls in my daughter's class are feeling stressed, but that didn't stop 100 (of 140) of them from joining in.

Then, there's the gear. As parents of an equestrienne, my husband and I know from gear (and our bank account has the scars to show for it). But, this was virgin territory. "Can you pick up some cleats for me?" my daughter asked a couple of weeks ago, casually in passing. 

"Say what?"

Turns out, she needed the aforementioned cleats and mouthguard for practice and she needed them (What else is new?) "Um ... this afternoon." Okay, I'm comfortable in a bookstore, in a museum shop, an antiques store or boutique. But, I've rarely (if ever) been in a Sports Authority. "Where would I find a mouthguard?" I asked a helpful associate. She pointed the way, but didn't warn me that there were about fifty different options available. I chose one that was in the mid-price range and red (one of my daughter's school colors). As far as cleats were concerned, I snagged a pair on a sale table. Alas, they didn't fit. But, my husband exchanged them on his lunch break the next day. Ugly (some might even say, "Fugly") neon green, but he promised to spray them black before the big day.

We are now in the final countdown and the excitement is nearly overwhelming. My daughter was assigned "inside linebacker," at first. But last night, she practiced as "defensive end." Despite the best efforts of more than one ex-boyfriend in my past, I have no idea what any of that means.

Maybe I'll find out on Saturday. "Go team!"

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.   

Monday, November 16, 2015

Je Me Souviens

This weekend's horrific attacks on Paris left us all reeling. We watched the news, read survivor stories, and when the French government retaliated with air strikes on assumed ISIS targets, we wrung our hands (or applauded, depending on whether we believe that a violent reaction to violence can ever lead to peace).

For those of us who have had the privilege and pleasure of visiting Paris, we were flooded with memories.

I took French for most of my school years, starting in second grade with the glamorous Madame Cipriani (who also taught Spanish, despite her Italianate surname). Whenever she took vacations abroad, she would bring back souvenirs which we could win in pop oral quizzes. Two such items, a small enamel tray that looked like a Parisian street sign and a brochure from the S.S. France, were among my prized possessions.

I dreamed of visiting Paris and finally got to when I was 25. I spent two weeks traveling through France and Switzerland with a coworker. But, after a night in Geneva, I decided I'd had enough of the Alps and took a train by myself back to the city of lights. The few days I spent there alone were une très grande aventure.

More visits followed. I've been to Paris twice with my husband. The first time, we were still dating and we almost (sort of, kind of, well not really) got engaged there. He did actually pop the question later on the same trip, in Grenoble. The second time was many years later when we were able to add on a few days to a business meeting ... a wonderful way to travel and one that I highly recommend if you have the bonne chance.

My sister and I took our mother to Paris about fifteen years ago. We stayed in a pretty hotel across from a little park in the city's garment district. We ate more pastry than the law should allow. It was a lovely trip and also a bit sobering. I had to face the fact that my sister's French was beacoup mieux than mine. (Sorry, Madame Cipriani. Je suis désolé.)

Of course, the trip that stands out for me now is my most recent one with my teenage daughter. We were in London for a friend's bat mitzvah and took the Eurostar to Paris. It was just the two of us; her dad's work situation didn't allow him to come. We spent five glorious days there, filling each one with museums and sights and yes, pastry. Together we set off to find the city's best soupe à l'oignon, a quest that my daughter took very seriously, trying at least one and sometimes two a day. We visited Versailles, had crepes in the shadow of Sacré-Cœur, took a late night tour of the Seine aboard a bateau mouche, climbed la Tour Eiffel, and stood on line for two hours to explore les catacombes.

I don't know when we've had such a good time together. There was nothing to do, yet so much to see. No alarms to set (wonder of wonders, she woke early each morning — without any prodding whatsoever — because there was simply so much to do), no homework, no laundry, no client calls. We were there to enjoy it all in a place that seemed designed purely for that purpose.

I think that's what Paris means to all of us — and why this comes as such a blow.

That's what this weekend's terrorists were attacking, a place where celebrating life has evolved to an art form. One of my business partners went there earlier this fall, and it's hitting him very hard. As he explained to me this morning, the fact that the gunmen targeted café patrons and people enjoying music feels particularly obscene.

Much has been made in more liberal social media about the bias and ethnocentricity demonstrated by major news outlets. Why, people are asking (rightly) does a terrorist attack in France warrant so much attention, as well as national symbols of sympathy and solidarity? What about terrorist attacks in Baghdad, Beirut and Garissa University — some of which resulted in even more victims? I agree and I'm ashamed that we don't pay more attention to the atrocities in non-Western countries. We are all human beings and a life in the Middle East or Africa is every bit as valuable as one on the Champs-Élysées.

I am so grateful for the time I spent in Paris with my daughter. (Truly, I'm grateful for the time we've spent together anywhere.) Most of all, I'm grateful — profoundly grateful — to have her safe and sound when so many mothers, all over the world, are mourning today.

I wish I knew the answer, but I don't. 

Mon dieu, I hope we find it someday soon.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.   

Friday, November 13, 2015

Pass the (Microwave) Popcorn: Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1

Next week, the final installment of The Hunger Games will be released in movie theatres nationwide. 


I'm hoping that my teenage daughter will deign to attend this major cinema event with me. Not because I'm particularly looking forward to it. (I'm not.) Not because I enjoyed the last book in the series more than (or even as much as) the other two. (I didn't.) Not because I give a rat's you-know-what about what happens to Katniss, Peeta or Gale. (I don't.)

I want to go to Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2 with my daughter because (a) she rarely wants to go to movies, and (b) she even more rarely wants to go to them with me. In truth, I'd happily go to pretty much any movie she suggested, pull out the credit card and pay ridiculous sums for seats and popcorn. Yes, I'm a shameless-opportunist-movie-going-ho and I'll be the first to admit it. My darling daughter who used to love going places with her doting mama is too busy these days. And if it takes a big budget dystopian sequel to bring us together for an afternoon ... so be it.

Four years ago, while she was still in middle school, my daughter insisted that I read the books by Suzanne Collins before she would permit me to see the first movie. By the time the two of us sat down in the local multiplex together, she had already seen it twice.

A year later, we saw the second movie. Again, it was a repeat performance for my daughter who managed to see it, not once, not twice, but three times during its opening week — all supported by my credit card, oddly enough. Still, we enjoyed the time together, and I had to admit that the two films stayed true to the books and gave my daughter a fearless — and female — hero to root for.
So, fast forward another two years and to prepare for our next outing (not yet confirmed, btw), I recently watched Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 on Amazon Prime. I can't recall who my daughter saw it with when it was released last year, but suffice it to say, 'tweren't me.

The third movie picks up where the second left off. Our gal Katniss (the all-around wonderful Jennifer Laurence) has now survived two Hunger Games and despite a lot of PTSD, she has to stand up and become the symbol of the revolution. The districts have finally had enough (about time!) and they are going to fight until they're free. President Snow (a thoroughly evil Donald Sutherland) will stop at nothing to punish the rebels. Meanwhile, President Coin (Julianne Moore in believable bitch-queen mode) has her own agenda and is happy to use Katniss (and anyone else) to promote it. As for the love triangle from the earlier films, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is finally in his element as an heroic freedom fighter, while Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), brainwashed in the Capitol, has gone bat-sh*t crazy.

Did I leave anyone out? Oh yeah, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is fashioning fashion out of trash bags; Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson in a part he probably paid to play) still acts like a boozer whether there's booze or not; Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, my favorite) is still prancing about on air; and Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) remains the steady voice of reason whether he was working for Snow (he wasn't really ... shhhhh) or masterminding the resistance.

If nothing else, we have to give Collins kudos for the names of the characters! They're delightful.

So, I paid my dues, sat through the sequels, and now I'm ready for the fourth and final installment. Katniss and company, here I come.

Assuming that my daughter doesn't have any other plans, of course. 

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.   

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Starbucks Cup: What Would Jesus Drink?

As the parent of a teen, I spend a lot of time trying to help my daughter look at the big picture. "Rather than focus on all you don't have, think about all that you do." It's not just a matter of adopting a "cup half-full" attitude. It's recognizing that as middle-class girls in the United States in 2015, my daughter and her peers have it pretty good.

When was the last time a bomb fell on our house? Or, she was forbidden to attend school because of her gender? When has she ever been hungry, truly hungry? (I'm not counting discretionary snacks and cravings ... "Mo-o-om, there's no cookie dough!") Her day-to-day concerns are most definitely "first-world problems."

Perspective. It's not an easy concept for the teen brain. (Or, let's face it, for the adult brain sometimes.) But, practicing perspective is important if you want to have a content, satisfied, happy life.

So, I think that one of my jobs is helping my daughter look beyond the latest designer boots, front-row concert tickets or text fights with friends. And, I try to set a good example in the way I spend my time, my money and — most important — my emotions. She knows what I care about (I'm from a theatrical family; heart is firmly planted on sleeve more often than not) and, consequently, she knows what I value.

Now the holidays are coming, and there are a lot of grownups setting a bad example. 

Yesterday, as I was packing my daughter's lunchbox (Hmmm ... would she prefer Oreos or Chips Ahoy today? Like I said, "first world problems."), I heard a story on the news that made me shake my head in wonder. Apparently, Starbucks has unveiled its holiday cup and — gasp! — it's a plain red cup with a green logo.

The outrage was loud and immediate. "Where are the snowflakes?" "Where are the pine trees?" "Where are the ornaments?"

"Starbucks has declared war on Christmas!"

The last I checked, the colors red and green are visual shorthand for ... you guessed it ... Christmas. One look and we're opening our wallets and humming "Jingle Bells." In fact, running an ad agency, I have often had to advise clients not to use those two colors together unless they want to give their audience that warm holiday feeling.

And, with that in mind, it isn't as though Starbucks has decorated their cups with anything other than Christmas. I see no dreidel, no star of David, no Kwanzaa kinara, no symbols of Islam, Wicca, Buddhism, Hinduism, the Force or even Hogwarts.

Plus, since when did Jesus, Mary or Joseph mention anything about coffee cups? It isn't as though some angel told the Magi to bring frankincense and myrrh and a venti decaf non-fat caramel macchiato to the manger. Sheesh!

Rather than be upset about the designer cup that your designer coffee is being poured into, maybe you should be grateful that you can afford a $5 cup of coffee. I repeat ... Sheesh!

So, as the holidays approach, let's think about what really matters. Would Jesus care if you drank your Pike's Place Roast out of a plain red cup? Would he care if you defected to Dunkin' Donuts? I doubt it. But, if you really want to celebrate his birth or his life, there are ways to do it. Give to the poor, help the hungry, warm the cold, comfort the bereft.

That $5 coffee could go a long way.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Car Sick

You know when you get a new car and you become incredibly fastidiously perfectionistically nervous about it? Chips and pings and minor scratches that you can only see in a certain light (from a certain angle)? These are suddenly the stuff of nightmares. You basically hold your breath for six months — or until you get a teensy tiny dent — whichever comes first.

Being the mother of a new driver is pretty much the same thing.

We used to have a hard and fast rule that my daughter had to text me when she left place A and again when she reached place B. These succinct missives ("leaving," "here") assured that my panic attacks were as brief as possible. I can tell you exactly how many minutes it takes to get to the stable from our house. 32. At the half-hour mark, I start watching the back gate.

I've relaxed a bit in the 18+ months that she's been driving. I still watch the clock sometimes, but I stay pretty cool. 

On the outside at least.

Here in Massachusetts, teen drivers aren't allowed to use their mobile phones while they're operating a vehicle. This is meant to keep them (and others) safer. It also means that any call that comes in while she's supposed to be behind the wheel is probably not good news. We had one such call last year. She was driving home through the neighboring town and — after pulling over, good girl — called to say the car was making a terrible noise. Luckily, I was home and able to rescue her. 'Turns out she had been driving on a flat tire. By the time she parked and I arrived, it was shredded beyond repair.

"I'm soooo sorry," she moaned when I showed her the source of the mystery noise.

Not a big deal, I assured her. "It's a thing, not a person." Her father replaced the tire on his way home from work and with only a minor hassle of car-juggling, it was back and on the road (with new tires) in short order.

After that first call, I actually breathed a sigh of relief. If she was going to have an on-road crisis — and we all have them sooner or later — this was a fairly benign one, right?

Fast-forward a year or so, and I was in the kitchen starting dinner when I got a text from her. "Leaving," she wrote. I smiled and didn't think much of it. Until about ten minutes later when the phone rang and caller ID told me who the caller was.

"I'm at Endicott," she told me (that's a local college). "I got rear-ended."

Breathe, I reminded myself. She's obviously alive and conscious and must still have at least one or two of her fingers or she couldn't have hit "Mom" on the speed dial.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes, but the car is really bad."

"Okay, but you're all right. Is the other driver all right?"

"Yes, she's here. She's very nice."

"Okay, there are things you have to do now. You have to exchange licenses and registration and insurance and ... here's your father." I gave the phone to my husband, my hand shaking, grateful he was there to take over.

My daughter was right, the other driver was very nice. When she called a few minutes later to talk to us, she explained that it was "only a tap." But, given that my daughter was driving a Miata (my Miata, my first car, my bright red baby, 24-years-old and perfectly maintained) and the other driver was in a bigger, heavier vehicle, well ... there's no such thing as a "tap." The rear of my adorable sportscar was crumpled like an accordion.

"I'm sooooooo sorry," my daughter moaned about a half an hour later when she and what was left of the Miata arrived home. We could tell she'd been crying.

"It's a thing, not a person," I told her, hugging her tight. "It's okay. It's totally okay."

'Turns out it was totally totaled. In the face-off between damage and book value, 24-year-old cars don't usually win. 

But, my enterprising husband has a plan. He's found pristine Miatas like ours listed at higher-than-book-value prices. He's found secondary market parts and body panels. He's found a mechanic a few towns over who is an expert in "antique" Miatas. My bright red baby will ride again. It may just be a while.

And, I'm all right with that. Because I have my real baby. 

And she's totally okay.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fame: Fleeting, Fake and In Your Face

Before today, had you ever heard of Essena O'Neill?

Me neither.

Well, apparently we're a little behind the times. 

Essena, a 19-year old Australian model and social media personality, has hundreds of thousands of followers on the likes of YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr. (She also seems to have a number of Facebook pages, but since the 'book of face' is quickly becoming more of a midlife community, her numbers there aren't quite as staggering.)

For the past few years, Essena has spent countless hours posing and posting. Blonde with a preternaturally tiny waist, she's perfected the swimsuit selfie. You know, that pose that says "Just puttin' myself out there because I'm so hot. So hot. You know I'm so hot. But yo, if you don't know, well now you know."

Her online popularity has led to a modeling contract with a major ("the biggest") agency down under, as well as advertising revenue and product endorsements.

By her own account, she is a product of — and addicted to — social media. When she was 12, she began posting and thought she was worthless because she had no likes or followers. For years, she perfected her pretty pouts, sometimes shooting an image 100 times before it was deemed attractive enough to get the reaction she was looking for. Now, at the wise old age of 18 (and after 3 years of pretty much living online), she knows better. "Validation from numbers? It means nothing," she insists.

Recently, Essena stunned the interwebcyberdigisphere by publicly resigning. She explained why she's not going to post anymore in a video (that she posted, of course). "I don't agree with social media as it currently is. It's so detrimental to human health and human abilities."

Wow. Profoundy.

To add cred to her cause, she made the video without makeup ("Gasp!"), a fancy blow-out ("Oh my!") or even a bikini ("Say it ain't so!"). 

She's challenging her fans to swear off social media for a week. If they do, she promises they can have life-altering (she really uses that phrase) experiences just like she has. For example, she's spent her newfound offline time "Looking at trees." And, "Listening to people."

With due respect to Kafka, Essena is clearly going through a metamorphosis. And, she's going to share it with us. In fact, she'll be posting about her life post-posting 3 times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. ("Australia-time.") She'll talk about books she's reading, what she's doing, "game-changing projects and plans." Her focus won't be on how she looks but how she feels "insiiiiiiide." She caresses the word with a sense of wonder, as though she were the first to coin the concept.

So, Essena has launched a new "Game Changers" blog where she is — through the use of social media — encouraging people to turn away from social media. "Let's talk about real stuff!" After a couple of days of jubilant observations and tearful gratitude, she realized that her new venture, as noble as it was, wouldn't pay her rent. So she posted a video asking for donations and added a "Support" tab to the site where you can demonstrate said support with a major credit card. This was picked up by the media and opened her to a veritable hailstorm of cynics and detractors. (The plea has since been taken down.) 

But, crowdsourcing aside, she insists that her new venture is "Not about likes; not about money."

In fact, she boasts in her initial video, "I almost took this off YouTube." 

But ya didn't. Did ya? 
If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Stranger Danger

From the time our babies arrive to the time we watch them head off for college, we imagine all sorts of bright futures for them. But, when we're not envisioning fame and fortune and happily ever afters, we're thinking — sometimes obsessing — about all the things that could go wrong. Terribly wrong. Like drowning in the bath, choking on grapes, contracting the plague. Most of all, we fear "bad guys:" strangers at bus stops, professional kidnappers and, as our kids get older, perverts stalking them on the Internet.

Consequently, we have to be all-vigilant, all-the-time. We make excuses for helicoptering, smothering our children in the name of protecting them. They're over-scheduled and rarely left to their own devices. Of course, we can't possibly give them the autonomy we had. What kind of parents would we be?

Common wisdom says that the world is a darker and more dangerous place these days. That thinking is certainly common, but it isn't exactly wisdom. According to an extensively researched feature in New York magazine earlier this year, we should all take an enormous chill pill. Reinforced by stories in the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, the numbers would tell us that our kids aren't just "all right." They're safer than they've been in decades.

Here are some highlights:

• Since 1992, sexual abuse of children has fallen by 64% and physical abuse has fallen by 55%.

• Since 1997 (the year my daughter was born), abductions of children by strangers has fallen by 51%.

• Since 1994, incidents of violent crime against children has also fallen by 59%.

• And, since 1997, reports of missing children have fallen by 40%.

In our minds (fueled by constant and sensationalized headlines and news stories), our children are at constant risk. And, if we catch ourselves over-parenting and protecting them more than our own parents did for us, we justify it. "Well, they didn't know any better. They weren't aware of what might happen."

That's not exactly true. Here's a 10-minute so-called "educational" video from 1961(the year before I was born, btw), warning teenage girls about exactly what might happen. Comprising several cautionary tales (spoiler: only one of the girls gets out unscathed), Girls Beware doesn't offer much in the way of positive, empowering advice. Essentially, the world is full of bad guys and if you're careless, greedy, vain or stupid ... well, you're pretty much going to get what you deserve. (My favorite is the last tale about a girl who doesn't tell her parents about her older boyfriend until she's "in trouble" and "it's too late." She's taken out of school and "placed under the guidance of juvenile authorities. "Holy Magdalene Sisters, Batman!" Welcome to America.)

You can watch it here. Better yet, grab a teenage girl and watch it with her. She'll thank you for it.



If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at www.lovinthealien.com.