Expert help for a problem that doesn’t exist

March 28, 2010 2 comments

So, several of my mom friends have recently, and for a variety of reasons, seen child experts. Someone who came in and observed their child and then offered a dispassionate, professional, and considered opinion on various aspect of the child.

Now, in each case, it’s because there was something…. different about the child in question. Not necessarily bad or wrong, just different. One is hearing impaired, one is exceptionally introverted, one is on the autism spectrum, etc. etc. And listening to the advice that they got from the experts I have decided that I want an expert consultation, too.

Not because there is anything wrong with The Child or even different. She’s very big and somewhat bright for her age, but well within normal parameters.

But I’d still like someone with a background in this stuff to come out and say to me, “After observing your child, I think that these strategies would help her. I think you ought to do these things and this is a way of thinking that will help you understand where she is coming from.”

Maybe that’s why I’m suddenly on a mom-book kick. But those are general books for general kids (and a fearful maternal audience). I want something specific, tailored to The Child.

I know it’s silly. And I’m not sure why I want it, frankly. And I won’t go get it because most experts are trained to look for problems and to solve them. We don’t have a problem and I don’t want someone coming in and telling us that The Child has a problem. I think Americans have a tendency to pathologize anything that’s outside of the norm and I think it’s a stupid tendency.

And, of course, then there’s the fact that “experts” always come with their own baggage. They subscribe to this or that theory, they believe in this or that educational or parenting method.

But I still think I am entering a new phase of motherhood and would like some sort of touchstone to help me understand things. Maybe that’s why I’m craving this.

Categories: education, motherhood

Motherhood, the reading list

March 26, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been contemplating a lot of the aspects of motherhood and parenthood and modern American parenting and school choice and all that crap this week.

One of the preschool moms is wrestling with getting her daughter into school right now. She (the mom) is smart but young, not particularly well educated, and married to a flaming ass hat. She (the daughter) was recently diagnosed as mostly deaf and is working on dealing with hearing aids and speech therapy. They are moving and the little girl got rejected from the private schools they applied to. One of the schools suggested “keeping her back.”

The mom freaked the hell out. It took me a while to figure out that this mom had never heard of redshirting and thought that this was a big deal, when, in fact, something like 50 percent of private school kids are redshirted.

Now, since this little girl is clearly in need of some extra time to catch up — she’s only been able to hear properly for a few months — this isn’t really redshirting, it’s doing what’s best. But the mom, basically acting alone since her ass hat husband doesn’t give a flying fuck, is doing what any good and smart mom would do in that case. She’s reading every damned book she can get her hands on.

Books about deafness, books about parenting, books about the culture of private schools, books on all-girls schools, you name, she’s getting it out from the library. She’s talking to friends but she doesn’t have a lot of close mom friends (she’s moved around a lot with the ass hat), so she’s relying on books.

And I started thinking, seeing her toting around all those tomes, that I haven’t’ done a lot of mom reading lately. Partly because I have a few fantastic mom friends and we can talk each other through things, partly because I just have felt lazy, and partly because I did TONS of reading when The Child was two and I got burned out on mom books.

But she’s four now and parenting is getting more complicated. So… I think I need to start reading again. The problem is, as ever, the problem of choice. The field is enormous. (There’s another post there, on how the various ideas reflect either the wide diversity of parenting styles or the massive anxiety about parenting in America. Probably both. In fact, the post is probably about how the lack of a single standard has lead to a massive sense of anxiety….)

So I’m looking for recommendations. What parenting books have you found useful? Which ones have been awful? I’m open to everything except how to parent babies, since I don’t have a baby any more. Bring it on.

Categories: books, motherhood

That Cabin in the Woods sounds better and better

March 25, 2010 6 comments

Slate and NPR have latched onto a “trend” — which means, of course, that it’s totally passe now — called “Hauls.”

Apparenlty, teen girls go shopping and then come home and as they take all of thier stuff out of their bags, they record it and post it on You Tube, with commentary. I heard about this on NPR first and nearly ran off the road because I was staring at the radio, mouth agape, in disbeliefe. At first I thought I’d missed a month and it was April Fool’s Day.

As I’ve been following the financial crisis, one of the things that’s struck me, again and agian, is the fact that the US economy is driven by consumer spending. In fact, it makes up more than 70 percent of our economy. It took me a while and some really long afternoons listening to NPR’s Planet Money Team before I figured out what “consumer spending” means.

I figured it was the stuff we consume: food, fuel, etc.

No, I finaly figured out that it’s what I’ve started to call Peir Barn Crap. You know what I’m talking about — the random and useless and expensive things that they sell at Pottery Barn and Pier One and all those catalogs that we get in the mail. The catalogs that encourage us to “decorate” our homes, and redo them every few years to keep up with the trends. The catalogs that want to sell us oversized things to hang on our walls, like ten foot pencils or paper flower chandeliers for $80.

That crap is the vast bulk of our economy? I was boggled. But then i started looking around.

There are several stores in Davis Sq. that sell… crap. Cute, neat, vintage, unqiue, artsy… crap. Almost everything we get from my mother is crap. The vast majority of stuff at a toy store is crap (what’s more, it’s plastic crap). Hell, even at my beloved Starbucks, the walls are lined with special seasonal stuffed animals and branded doohickeys that are, in the end, irreducably, crap.

And now we have teen girls who are buying crap and then posting about it. And other people are watching it! (I have not watched, I need to admit to that right now. I heard the story and read the article but that’s it.) Our entire culture, especially the so-called girls culture, is directed at the consumption and disposal of crap.

Now, I will be the first to admit that when I flip through Pottery Barn, I say “crap crap crap… .OOOH! I want one!” I don’t object to ALL decorative or useless things. Art is essentially useless, in a purely practical sense, but it’s vital for our soul.

But … it’s meant to be a grace note, a small touch, a sweet treat at the end of a hearty meal. But America’s diet of consuption and our diet of food has switched to mostly sweet crap and not enough real stuff.

This is all pretty obvious, of course, to anyone who spends time thinking about this stuff. But increasingly, as I have less and less control over what The Child encounters in the world, I worry about how to counteract this sickness in our society. I’m explicit about it all the time — “What’s that mommy?” “A catalog of stuff we don’t need.”

But she’s four. And perfectly willng to say, casually, “If we don’t have one, why don’t we just go buy one?”

I’ve talked to her about money and about how it impacts the environement. But it’s hard when you’re surrounded by people for whom chocolate milk is the only milk their children drink, a trio of grandmothers with credit cards and a strong desire to spoil their only granddaughter, and a coffee shop where there is a wall of constantly changing seasonal stuffed toys, right at eye level.

My major concern is that I’m not doing enough. The culture is so awful, the whole society is so saturated in this disgusting brand of consumerism, that it’s hard to escape. As a general rule, I try not to buy things we don’t need. I buy used stuff when I can. I try to limit my art to actual art, made by a person and not mass manufactured. I dont go to malls or big box stores if I can help it. (Books are the exception to all these rules, though.) But I also know that I consume way more stuff than I need, that I can be lured in by something shiny and new and want it and sometimes buy it. How do I keep those walls for her when I can’t hold them for myself?

The solution would be to go somewhere that this culture is seen as awful as it really is. But where is that? Outside of starting our own commune (SO not going to happen), I don’t know where to go.

Categories: motherhood, philosophy, Starbucks Tags:

Dreams… diluted, deferred, demented

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

When I was in High School, I wanted to be famous. I would be beautiful and have a penthouse in Manhattan, a flat in London, a pied de terre in Paris and a job that let me pay for them all and jet set around the world. I wanted to have three simply gorgeous boyfriends — one in each city — and very short hair.

When I was in college, I wanted to get a good job, one that paid well and let me use my creative side. I was going to have a boyfriend who was tall and handsome and a doctor who drove vintage cars. I wanted a beautiful flat.

After college, I wanted a job and an apartment that didn’t have rats.

Once I got a job, I wanted a job that didn’t stink of cigars and an apartment that didn’t have rats or cockroaches.

In my 20s, I wanted a kind and smart husband who was good in bed.

Once I was married, I wanted a dishwasher and a parking space to call my own.

Now that I’m a mom, I just want to go to the bathroom without getting interrupted.

Categories: motherhood

“Parenthood” and what’s wrong with it

March 19, 2010 2 comments

There’s a new series on NBC: Parenthood, based on the 1989 movie of the same name. The movie has one of my favorite lines of all time, uttered by a then-barely known actor named Keanu Reeves:

You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.

Based on the strength of this line, the fact that Lauren Graham starred, and for another reason I’ll get to in a minute, I decided one day to watch the show. I’ve seen three episodes now and I think I’m done.

Now, the third reason that I decided to watch it: Because I don’t know what normal parents are like.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy making a place for myself, as a person and as a parent, where I am surrounded by supportive and loving people who don’t tell me constantly that I’m a weird freak side-show who doesn’t think like everyone else. Mostly this is a personal bubble I’ve created, but partly it’s the community I’ve chosen. Cambridge, Mass., is NOT the median average for any damned thing in the country.

This is, for the most part, incredible and good, especially since I was lucky (smart?) enough to get people who will tell me if I’m being stupid. Constant and unthinking agreement is good for no one.

But it also means that I’m pretty well isolated from what I think of as “mainstream” American parenting. I honestly get baffled about things that clearly everyone else thinks are normal and usual. And, more importantly, I get blindsided by attacks form people — mostly my family — who think I’m being “weird” in some instance where I thought I was right in tune with normal practices. (Honestly, I didn’t think anyone thought of Teddy Grahams as a healthy snack on par with a piece of fruit. They are cookies, right?)

Since every preview seemed to make the show out to be the Greatest Hits of American Parenting Anxiety, it seemed like a good place to go to find out what other, normal, parents think.

And wow was I right. It lined up all the big issues in the first episode: single moms, deadbeat dads, money concerns, a child with Asperger’s/Autism, not becoming your father, teens acting out, parental competitiveness, the working mom dilemma, etc. etc. I was slightly irritated by the heavy handed script, but stuck to it for three episodes. It was an interesting view on what people thought about parenting — or at least, what Hollywood thought people thought about parenting.

For example, The Husband spent a lot of time yelling at Peter Krause for his crappy reaction to his son’s diagnosis with Aspergers. I thought, while he was jerky, he was actually less jerky than most dads seem to actually be in a similar situation. (I have had two moms recently tell me that when their kids got diagnosed with some problem, their husbands reacted with violent denial and refusal to admit the problem.)

Then, in the third episode, came something that made me want to scream. The Asperger’s kid gets kicked out of school, which is silly but a plot point so I’ll forgive it, and Peter Krause and his wife decide to get him into “the best private school” for Asperger’s kids. They pull strings and camp out in people’s offices and finally talk to the head of the school and she says that there are no spots this year, but come back in September.

The parents then spend four or five minutes demanding that this woman “just spend five minutes with Max! Just five minutes and you’ll see how special he is!” They badger and beg and bully until she agrees and spends five minutes with Max and calls in the final minutes of the episode to say that YES, Max gets in! It was the emotional high point of the episode, the triumphant end that had everyone in the family cheering, was supposed to make the audience cheer, too!

It made me so angry I wanted to spit.

What about all the people who followed the rules and waited on the waiting list so that they could get their kid in? What about all the parents who paid the ungodly tuition with the knowledge that the 3d grade class would have a 5-to-1 ration and now, because they squeezed Max in, it will be 6-to-1? Is Max really that special special special of a snowflake that they will bend the rules? Or is it just that these parents were bullies and jerks?

This is what’s wrong with Parenthood and parenthood. The rules don’t apply to MY kid. MY kid is special. MY kid deserves to have the rules bent, broken, ignored, just this once, just for MY kid. All the other kids need to conform, but you need to make an exception, just this once, for MY kid.

And I’ll bet you that at some point there will be an episode where Max’s parents go to the mat with the school to fight for small class sizes because too many kids are getting in.

I know that it’s vital for parents to advocate for their kids. But bullying your way into a school just because it’s the best school, the one with the best status and reputation, and not thinking of the larger issues, not thinking about other kids, not considering how a wider advocacy will actually help more kids and be better for your kid in the long run….. that’s what is wrong.

To camp or not to camp, that is the question

March 4, 2010 2 comments

The Summer Camp issue has started popping up in my Mom Circles.

I have mixed feelings about the issue. First, I believe that we are way too structured in the way we treat our children. I think kids need more free form play and more time to just free associate. Summer is a great time for that — you can go outside, the kids can run around, there are fewer deadlines. One of the moms in the preschool insists that she doesn’t do camp for her kids until they are in kindergarten because that was you have more time for spontaneous adventures.

But part of me is exhausted by the idea of dreaming up and orchestrating spontaneous adventures for a precocious four year old all summer. (And, of course, let us not forget the parenting advice that those adventures need to be fit into the flexible parts of a regular schedule without disrupting aforementioned schedule.) There is only so much time I can spend at the local parks, only so many play dates I can plan.

And, frankly, I need some alone time. That’s sort of the big theme of my motherhood, I think. Alone time and the lack thereof.

The summer that The Child was 2, we had a good routine. Get up, walk to ‘Bucks, play at the park, maybe shop for groceries, home, lunch, nap, play inside (too hot to go outside), and then dinner and bed. But last summer this didn’t work so well. She was bored with the parks because, frankly, most of the kids there are two and the older kids all … go to camp.

And, of course, there’s the money thing. We’re paying two tuitions — The Child’s and The Husband’s — on one salary. The summer camps I’ve been checking out are $300/week or so. I don’t know if we can afford that, frankly. Things are tight.

I’m thinking I may do one week-long camp and one once-a-week class. I’m also going to try harder to try to do some of those spontaneous adventures. Last summer I got really homebody. This year, i’m all about driving to a wildlife sanctuary and going outside all day.

At least in theory. In reality, I’m likely to stay a homebody. Except for those days when she’s at summer camp and I can drink iced tea and read trashy novels!

Categories: motherhood, preschool Tags:

Let’s hear it for misdirection!

March 2, 2010 Leave a comment

The Parking Lot group tried, very hard, to get into it this morning. Conversations would start with, “Are you going to the meeting?” (There’s apparently going to be a meeting today.) “No, I have to read a book at my older son’s school.”

And I could see two or three moms opening their mouths to jump in. And I would access my inner Jersey Girl and talk really fast to say, “Oh, really? What are you going to read?”

I did this six or seven times.

Occasionally, two moms would break off and their voices would get really low and they would dart glances at P. (L wasn’t there yet). And I’d drag them, rather suddenly, into our conversation about pancake breakfasts.

The meeting will happen while I’m here, pretending to work. There will be a policy statement and that will be it.

I hope.

It bothers me that I spend this much time and energy on the group politics of a bunch of women whose names I sometimes forget. I mentally mock, just a little bit, the women who spend so much energy worrying that a pedophile might see their son’s picture online, but I just spent almost the same amount of energy worrying about the high-school politics of the situation. Who’s nuts here? I know they are… and I’m almost certain that I am, too.

And why are moms all attacking each other instead of… I don’t know? Attacking pedophiles? That doesn’t make any sense. But I feel like a whole lotta energy and effort — mine, L’s, P’s, everyone’s — just got expended upon something useless, pointless, and divisive, where upon it could have been spent on something constructive. Why is modern motherhood all about attacking women who do it differently than I do it? Do men do this — as parents or in any other field?

I’m developing a theory, slowly, about how society can no longer use fear of sex/getting pregnant to control women, so instead, its shifted to using fear about motherhood to control women. It’s hazy, still, but I’m thinking about it. Thoughts?

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