Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Seriously, kid?

A few days ago my four-year-old—my FOUR-year-old—requested a cell phone. Her complete confidence in her need for a cell phone, and in the fact that I would surely agree with her and rush out to get one, was both admirable and unsettling. The conversation began while I was bent over the bathtub, washing her sister’s hair. It went like this:

Her: “Mom, I need a real phone.”

Me: “Like a play phone? You have one of those.”

Her: “No, mom.” (Clearly exasperated by her hopelessly slow mommy.) “Play phones are dead.”

Me: (Incredulous.) “You mean a real phone? Like dad and I have?”

Her: “Yes, a real phone. But for me. Bianca.”

And I just sat there, blinking.

For real? Does the cell-phone begging really begin at four? Wow, we are in trouble. And it doesn’t end there. It seems that she’s gone into consumer mode all of the sudden, and she’s been compiling a list of things she absolutely cannot live without.

Here are the other things she’s started asking for:

Pierced ears.


High heels.

Baby Alive.

Polly Pocket.

A guinea pig.

A chameleon. (Most days, the first words out of her mouth when she wakes up are “Mom, I really want a chameleon!” No, “Good morning, Mom!” or “Can we make pancakes?” Her brain is tuned to the lizard channel.)

I suppose I get the pet begging, and I do understand the toy requests. I’m one of those mean mommies who doesn’t think should kids have too many toys, and I hate clutter, so I understand that she might feel understocked in the toy department. But the grown-up stuff like cell phones and pierced ears throws me for a loop. Steve and I are hardly tech junkies. And she sees me wearing high heels and earrings so rarely, I can’t believe they’re even on her radar.

I’m not trying to raise a little consumer, but it looks as though I am. And it looks like we’re in for many long years of begging, because she is NOT getting a cell phone. Until she’s at least six.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fingerpainting (and other things that seem like a good idea)

Oh yes, they did.

At first glance, fingerpainting seems harmless enough. After all, it’s a fun, creative, old-timey kid pastime. Buying those brightly-colored pots of paint may seem like a smart decision—your little ones will be happily occupied while you get a few things done. Brilliant!

Of course, if you fall for the fingerpainting hype (like I did), you might find that you spend way more time cleaning the paint off everyone and everything in your household than you ever gained by having the kids occupied for a few minutes. Repeat after me: So not worth it.

When it comes to entertaining kids, lots of things that seem like a good idea are really just disasters waiting to happen. I seem to keep learning these lessons over and over again. Here are a few examples, gleaned from my vast personal experience on the topic:

  • Involving your child in a complicated, from-scratch cupcake recipe when they would have been just as happy with an eighty-nine-cent cake mix. (Kids don’t need you to be Martha Stewart. They just want food.)
  • Stopping for a treat after a long day at the zoo, because you just have to add one more fun thing to the day’s agenda. (Hello, fun overload.)
  • RSVPing yes for two birthday parties in the same day, to avoid disappointing anyone. (Overdosing on birthday cake and soda is never a good idea.)
  • Infusing homemade Play-Doh with a yummy scent that smells good enough to eat. (Because kids will!).
  • Taking your preschooler shopping for school clothes so they can “pick out what they like.” (Unfortunately, princess dresses and elbow-length gloves aren’t school attire.)
  • Moon Sand. (This stuff may be fun, but scraping the damp, clumpy “sand” granules out of your carpet isn’t.)
  • Taking your cranky kids to the grocery store at 6 p.m. in search of ice cream. (There will be meltdowns. And I’m not talking about the ice cream.)
  • Dragging your child to library storytime after they’ve declared that they do NOT want to go. (Any activity that begins with “Well, let’s just try it anyway,” probably won’t end well.)

Writing about this topic has also made me think about the flipside, things that don’t seem like a good idea, but are. Parenting: the surprises never end! Food for thought, and possibly a future blog post.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

So, How Does She Do it?

I Don’t Know How She Does It, the movie-version of Allison Pearson’s bestselling novel about the working-mom juggle, hits the big screen tomorrow. As a mama who’s lived several versions of the working-mama-drama (full-time, full-on working mom of an infant; part-time working mom in charge of a department; harried work-at-home mom of two) I’m looking forward to seeing it. I hope the movie is every bit as honest about the struggles of working motherhood as the book is.

When I first read the book, I was a childless working girl climbing the professional ladder. I enjoyed Pearson’s writing but I was disappointed by the book’s portrayal of the difficulties of balancing work and family. In fact, by the end, I practically threw it down in disgust. I was raised by a working mom and planned on being a working mom, and the book’s realities were just a little too real for me. And I was disappointed by the ending. I felt it gave a negative view of working motherhood with the ultimate message that women just can’t have it all. Not what I wanted to hear as an idealistic 20-something.

A few years later, when I was living the working-mom thing, I picked it up again, and read it with entirely new eyes. This time, the book’s message didn’t seem overly negative at all. It was simply the truth. Finally, I got it. Nearly five years after reading the book, some of the lines and anecdotes still dance in my head. I can’t say that about very many books.

I don’t want to give away too much about the book, so I'll just say this: if you’re a working mom or planning on being one, read it. Read it now. On second thought, maybe wait until you’ve got a year or so of working motherhood under your belt. Only then will you truly appreciate Pearson's wisdom and wit.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Where were you?

I’ve been thinking about time and place—and how powerfully our surroundings can influence our experiences and memories. Collectively, the country is getting ready to reflect on memories of September 11, 2001, a day that will forever be etched in our shared history. But each of us will have our own experience to look back on, based on where we were (both physically and in our lives) when the tragedy struck.

On September 11, 2001, I was a freshly-minted college graduate and newlywed living in a tiny apartment in West Los Angeles, working as a sales manager at a hotel in Beverly Hills. That morning, I had a full schedule: a meeting in downtown LA followed by a client lunch. I drove to work at 7:45 a.m. (about two hours after the first plane struck the North Tower) under strangely quiet skies, listening to a CD. I was completely unaware that the entire world was riveted on the World Trade Center until I arrived at work and stepped into chaos. My meetings, of course, were canceled.

Nestled among plastic surgery clinics, a stone’s throw from Rodeo Drive and across the street from a strictly kosher Ralph’s Thriftway, our hotel sat on a cultural and economic dividing line between the superficial glitz of Beverly Hills and the quiet Jewish neighborhoods south of Pico Boulevard. An extended-stay hotel catering to corporate travelers, it was regularly filled with businesspeople from around the world. It would not be uncommon to see an orthodox Jewish rabbi, an Asian business executive, and a preppy fleece-clad VP from The North Face munching on chips and salsa at the complimentary hospitality hour.

A hotel is a strange place to experience a national crisis. Though every person at the hotel came from different countries for different reasons, they all had one thing in common: they were far from home at a time when the world was filled with fear. Air travel was suspended, and the hotel’s operations were effectively frozen. Scheduled arrivals weren’t coming in, and those who were supposed to fly out were stuck. Telephone lines and cell signals were jammed as people frantically tried to reach relatives and co-workers in New York.

As the morning wore on, hundreds of hotel guests from around the world piled into the hotel’s lobby to watch the television. Hotel staff produced cookies and coffee from the kitchen. Cups and water bottles were passed around as we sat, riveted to the spot, starting at the television. Everyone had a television in their room, of course, but the lobby felt safer somehow. Being surrounded by strangers was better than being alone.

That day, my happy young-adult bubble of invincibility burst wide open. There are moments in life when we’re thrust (sometimes unwillingly) toward adulthood. These moments don’t happen at happy, predictable intervals—graduations, weddings—but at times of crisis and tragedy. I remember feeling, for the first time, the hatred that some people feel toward Americans. Suddenly, I felt a tiny piece of what it’s like to be loathed for something you can’t control. I felt powerless and small.

Sadly, that day of supreme ugliness and hate would be followed by more of the same—racial profiling, finger pointing, and fear-mongering. But on that day, travelers from around the world huddled together in a hotel lobby in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, comforting one another in hushed tones, offering cell phones, and sharing their shock, fear, and disbelief. There was no “us versus them.” We were just people, sharing a day that none of us would ever forget. The world was ripped apart by fear, but during that long day, we were united. If there was a good place to experience a national tragedy, that was it.

Where were you on that day?