Sunday, December 18, 2011

Click on Your Brain

From the Dallas Morning News, Dec. 17, 2011

Paul refused to stand up in the sand. He tipped sideways. Tumbled forward. Fluttered backwards.

My second-graders groused as they tried to prop their homemade paper figures of the Christian missionary atop sloping “islands” — boards we covered with shifting white grain and shells.

There was a great flicking of sand. An “I quit!” Some made pleas for rescue.

Of the dozen or so children who attended my Sunday school class that day, not one — including my own 7-year-old twins — could figure out how to make tiny Paul stand tall.

I eventually provided a strategy — dig Paul a hole and glue him in — and we moved on with our craft. That morning, however, a seed of worry planted itself in my mind.

My Sunday school class is made up of incredibly bright, wonderful children raised gingerly by middle-class, well-educated parents in Flower Mound, Highland Village and Lewisville. They attend some of the premier elementary schools in the Lewisville Independent School District. A few have been deemed so accelerated, they are plucked from their general education classes weekly to take part in LISD’s gifted and talented program.

Yet, when I asked this group of leaders to do critical thinking, they not only failed, they balked at even trying.

So when I received a survey from my neighborhood elementary school a few weeks ago essentially asking if I thought it was a good idea to provide my very young children and their classmates with in-school access to technology — iPads, iPhones, iTouches and the like — to do “research,” a red flag went up.

Simply put, I worry that kids will supplant critical thinking with quick clicking in a day and age in which creative, agile minds are necessary to compete globally.

Already similar concerns are swirling around LISD as the Bring Your Own Technology program is phased into the district’s 42 elementary schools over the next few months.

The initiative, installed in high schools last year, aims to “unleash personal technology” but remains optional so that families don’t feel burdened, said LISD Public Information Officer Karen Permetti. The hope is that teachers will engage students in new and different ways, she said.

“The kids love it,” Permetti said. “They say they learn best with technology … and they want more of it.”

Still, I find the issues ominous — and mind you, I’m not an anti-tech ogre.

My children get a kick out of practicing their numbers on Fast Math, a district-endorsed educational website that drills little ones on basic addition and subtraction. And, which is used by LISD in part to teach history, helped inspire my son’s Halloween costume of the Greek God Perseus.

But technology offers only one type of learning. It doesn’t require kids engage their physical bodies or spiritual selves. They don’t have to negotiate with others or even interact with them.

Moreover, in my experience, programs designed for the very young place limits on their creativity and dominates playtime.

In fact, controlling technology was such a problem in our house that my husband and I eliminated the use of every type — including television — during the school week. None of my three kids wanted to play a board game, make-believe or even go outside when the option of technology and its instant gratification was available.

I can only imagine teaching a classroom full of small kids with hand-held gadgets: You’d have to be on fire to get their attention.

As a mother, a veteran K-12 education reporter, a liberal arts graduate and a taxpayer, I respectfully suggest that technology is a distraction to the real learning that needs to take place in our schools.

I’ll do my part by pushing my precious Sunday school students to think critically. Because I want Paul — and every single one of my church children — to stand strong on their own two feet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rain Gutter Regatta

By William Riekse

On Sunday I went to the rain gutter regatta. Rain gutter regatta is a boat race. But you can only use blowing power to get your boat down the gutter. At first I was scared. But then when I got there I felt a little bit better. My whole cub scout den was there to cheer for me. JD, Hayden, Collin, Jason, Brandon, and Chris were there. First we checked in my boat. My boat was a Texas Rangers boat. Then we played for a little while. Then the cub master told us the rules of rain gutter regatta. He told us to hold a pipe behind your back and hold on to it while you are blowing your boat down the gutter. Then it was time to start. I was up first. I was racing Jason. The guy that told us to start said READY SET GO!! I blew and blew and blew and I was so close to the gutter when I heard a pink! And I saw that my boat had made it to the end of the gutter! I won 2 out of 4 heats! At the end of regatta we got rewards! I got a patch! I want to go to rain gutter regatta next year!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dude, that's my babysitter

In seven years of hiring babysitters, I've had one of nearly every kind.
There have been grannies and nannies, sweet middle schoolers and lovely co-eds, cheerleaders who are flirts and quirky actresses in maxi-length tie-dye skirts.
They've zoomed through our lives with their foam crafts and finger paints and pop-up books. They've played tag and baked cookies and watched Disney, women and girls who all truly care about the well-being of my brood.
But my new favorite caregiver is all that and more.
At six feet six inches, our new babysitter has a machine gun laugh, a wicked dodge ball serve and biceps bigger than my head.
My new babysitter is a 17-year-old dude.
I first hired Guy as a lifeguard.
He came to Grandma's house in September to monitor the big kids as they swam while the toddlers and their parents played out front.
Turns out, he lead a series of games for three hours then told me he had "the best time!"
Intrigued, I hired Guy again to lead backyard sports with my second-grade Sunday school class.
He was a complete prince, gently keeping the peace while constructively engaging the entire lot.
I was further sold when he suggested his little brother--a guest at the party--enjoy a bottled water instead of slurping up another sugary Capri Sun.
Guy didn't text.
He didn't talk on the phone.
He plans to attend college in the fall and has already shadowed local fireman and paramedics to get a taste of what those careers might be like.
I was downright smitten when I called him last week to offer up another job.
Still, my cultural bias interfered.
"Would you like to, um, come over to practice sports with my twins?" I asked.
I knew the statement was downright ridicious, especially coming from me, a woman so worried about gender constraints that I carefully provided my son with his own lookalike brunette doll and a pink stroller to push it in.
But my decision to tread softly comes with some knowledge of Texas men.
Unlike the guys I know out East and in the Midwest, the cowboys I'm acquainted with down here are happy to be modern guys--so long as you keep that fact quiet. Sure, they'll play with the kids in the cul-de-sac, switch out the laundry then start the dinner--so long as you don't bring up what they're doing. They'll moonily take their girls to a Daddy and Daughter Dance--albeit in their pickups--or sit down for a school conference--while glancing down the hall to see if other men are around.
I met one man at Kroger in Flower Mound who was eagerly reading the label on the back of jar of baby food.
"Ma'am, can you help me with this?" he politely whispered, eyebrows furrowed. "Does the 'organic' part really matter all that much? I want to do what's right."
Many studies claim that Americans have eradicated gender roles--research that includes Texans. They say men and women share the burden of earning income equally. Child care is evenly split. So, too, is the amount of time spent doing chores.
Still, it seems the guys I know down here like to keep a line of manly demarcation. They'll wear the apron--so long as they can keep their dusty boots and a Stetson in the closet.
Like many Texans before them, they want to forge their own path in their own way.
Meanwhile, I'll never know if Guy would have been offended had I used the term "babysitter."
And guess what? I'm not going to ask him anytime soon.
As long as Guy can outlast my kids in a game of baseball then reheat the mac-and-cheese, I'll thankfully call him "Dude."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hot Colors for Hot Mamas

My gal pal Marilee bought her first Orgasm this week.
The cheek color with the cheeky name, that is.
The sparkly, peachy blusher continues to be one of Nars' best sellers and, in my book at least, it remains one of the best named beauty products of all time.
Orgasm has humor, edge and is probably outrageously descriptive if you're a lights-on type of girl.
Consider this litmus test: It made Marilee and I titter in a well-lit Sephora at noon on a weekday. Given that we are middle-aged moms with a couple decades worth of marriage and five children between us, that's saying a lot.
Now, I'd like to offer the creative team at Nars a few additional mom-centric ideas. After all, we're a brand-loyal lot when it comes to cosmetics. If we came of age wearing Orgasm, many of us are still wearing it and will likely try other options if correctly marketed to our demographic.
If you liked Orgasm in your 20s, you'll probably enjoy the following in your 30s:
Overcommitted: This deep plum gives a nod to the time you realized you agreed to host both your husband's work barbeque and the end-of-year swim team party on the same night.
Lost: A glisten-y, bright pink similar to the one that appears when you're running 23 minutes behind for your son's first baseball game and unable to find the ballpark despite the fact that your husband told your there were "clear road markers."
Bedraggled: A simple pale matte with undertones of gray. This is found in nature following family camping trips, Girl Scout cookie sales and Christmas Eve wrap-a-thons.
Verclempt: The perfect little-girl pink. An ultimate selection for piano recitals, the reading of child-authored Valentine's Day cards and high school proms.
Poop: This year-round neutral is flattering for all skin tones but not in an port-a-potty kind of way. Think breastfed baby.
Syrup: Get sun-kissed in seconds with color inspired by everyone's favorite mac-n-cheese dip.
PlayDoh: A new neon that morphs from blue to green to purple when paired with a tempra-stained cardi.
Leftovers: This pinkish-redish-orangeish shade goes with everything and will leave them guessing.
Flu: Let your inner punk rock girl shine with an indie shade that offers blue undertones.
Panic: One swipe of this rust and you'll achieve that I-just-called-911 look.
Late: Sure, it looks red in the compact, but this color actually disappears when applied to the apple of the cheek. Peeking through will be a glimmer of hope and fear.
If the staff at Nars needs further suggestions, they can give me a call. I'll be at home wearing a little homemade blend I call Exhausted.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

To Love, Honor and Gift with Cards

Eleven years into holy matrimony and there’s one thing I know for sure: You need to present an anniversary card.
It must be funny.
It must be given at breakfast on the exact day of your marriage.
It must accompany a review of the blissful event for your children that includes but is not limited to the retelling of one wedding attendant’s accidental plunge into a nearby lake.
While my rendition of The Soaked Groomsman is always met with cackles, I am utterly failing in the funny card department.
This year on August 12, the best I could do was to present my very worthy husband with a humorous birthday card edited by me in black Sharpie to read “Happy Anniversary.”
Believe me, I had tried hard to find just the right anniversary sentiment, but it appears the greeting card industry no longer values the institution of marriage.
Instead, you’ll find a focus on the Big Five life stages: Birth/Birthdays, Graduation, Weddings, Illness and Death.
The options for birthdays alone are nearly endless.
Consider that for $7.50, you can purchase a card complete with a computer chip that allows a watercolor ostrich to belt out Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” in honor of your step-niece’s sweet sixteen.
Or if you’re on a budget but need something special for your neighbor’s cat who is celebrating a decade’s worth of nine lives, you can spend $.99 on a puffy, glitter-enhanced goldfish card.
There are pictures of cartoon canines for your dog walker’s big day, talking wine bottles to celebrate a member of the Vinophile Club, half-naked models pumping iron to inspire your personal trainer on her 40th.
Recently, I spied a birthday card for “that special nurse as she turns 28.”
Meanwhile, there are few offerings for those of us who have, year after year—often for decades---loved, honored and cherished our spouses through sickness and health.
Those that do celebrate wedding anniversaries are limited. They showcase pastel birds carrying what appear to be tablecloths in their beaks. The saying is always something like “You’re my one true love…I’m glad we share the same nest.”
Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and find a card featuring a photo of two octogenarians drinking coffee at a kitchen table. The tag line might read “I’m so glad we can share our morning rituals together.”
If these are analogies for modern-day marriage, it’s no wonder that American society is seeing a decline in the number of couples who officially declare their commitment at the altar.
The truth is, many marriages are delightful—and delightfully funny. That’s why “Modern Family” won so many Emmys.
There are dozens of themes that emerge over the course of one year alone that could inspire the authors of greeting cards.
If there is a card for the owner of a deceased parakeet, there most certainly should be one that under the heading of “anniversary” that conveys “Thanks for taking that really expensive cruise with my mother and her obnoxious boyfriend.”
Or, how about a 3-D picture of a pack of frozen peas along with the saying “It was so thoughtful of you to pick up that extra bottle of Valium before the vasectomy reversal.”
Hallmark could take a real photo of a couple surrounded by their four small kids showcasing a gloved husband picking lice out of his wife’s hair with a three-inch comb. The message inside could declare, “No matter how many nits you have, I will always want to run my fingers through your hair.”
Even community obligations could take a rather romantic turn.
Just picture a middle-aged couple wearing matching church choir robes with the message “Under this polyester, I am hot for God…and for you. Happy anniversary, Honey.”
Even the inevitable catastrophes that bind married couples to one another are cause for celebration.
I’d suggest a caricature artist draw up a frazzled-looking husband and wife holding up broken pipes in an attic, a waterfall pouring through the roof behind them. The accompanying message could read “Even when it’s all gone to Hell, there’s no one I’d rather live in my SUV with than you, Dear! Happy Anniversary!”
Greeting card companies, take note: While weddings are important, making it to your anniversary every year is even more cause for celebration.
Just ask any couple that’s had a band of noisy squirrels roost in their chimney before their newborn’s bris.

Monday, October 3, 2011

There Should Be an App for That

My new smart phone was supposed to be, well, smart.
Sure, I can download an app to translate whatever I'm reading into Gaelic.
And it's awfully handy to monitor the earthquake threat in neighboring states.
I furthermore find it interesting that I can track the load of bananas bound for my grocer as it moves North from Central America in an 18-wheeler driven by an illegal immigrant.
But if I were designing apps, I would do something practical--Momma practical.
Consider Cleat Finder.
Tap your smart phone once and a red beam would emerge, scanning each room for said sports gear. Upon locating it, the smart phone would beep then automatically dock your kid's allowance. (After all, why am I the one using my phone to find their stuff? Shouldn't they be held responsible?)
For an extra $5 per month, the app would convert to seek out missing Cub Scout socks, Brownie vests, ballet slippers and wayward lovies. Simply categorize your stuff with a quick snapshot and the phone would keep track of its whereabouts.
I'd pay a pretty penny for Snack Sargent, too.
This app would offer the sound of a rumbling belly 48 hours prior to any event to which I am scheduled to bring snacks. It would categorize the nutritional content of each item in my pantry, calibrate to consider how many and what type of food allergies were present in the group I'm feeding then suggest the most nutritious but least expensive option.
If you buy Snack Sargent, you'd get Consensus Chef for free.
This app would allow you to plug in your brood's culinary likes and dislikes then spit out menus every single child in your home would find palatable. It would further send you coupons for the necessary ingredients. And recipes.
Next on my list would be Pants on Fire.
When my kids get into an inevitable he-said-she-said, I could scan their lips with my phone. Immediately, it would alert me to the child who started whatever it was so I could fairly discipline the offender.
I think Lice Locator would also be a hit.
The moment your second grade teacher sends home news of an infestation, simply hold your phone up to your offspring's mop and scan away with the provided blacklight. Should your phone find critters, a pop-up will notify you of nearby pharmacies that have medications in stock. It will also flash a photo of the neighborhood kid that should no longer sleep over.
Many mothers of toddlers would appreciate Pee-Pee Princess.
This app would tell you with the sound of raindrops when your baby has to go. That means you could get into the proper potty position before you miss the Moment of Realization.
I might even splurge on Daily Dishwasher.
This app would keep track of which spouse last scrubbed the pots and pans. It would alleviate any arguments over whose turn it is to scrape the nasty scrambled eggs off the cast iron skillet.
The guys at the apps store sure have a lot of work to do.
Until then, my smart phone will remain in my back pocket. I'd turn it on, but I'm too busy looking for lost cleats.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Where are all the mommas?

From the Dallas Morning News, September 17, 2011

Julie Blair: Where are all the mommas? At Target, of course.
Photo: Evans Caglage / Staff Photographer

The stranger in aisle E31 had definite opinions about the size of my family. After surveying my three kids, she suggested I try for a fourth child. Doing so would eliminate the odd-man-out syndrome and “complete the set.” Even numbers are key for family harmony, she explained.

While I might have felt such a discussion was intrusive had it taken place at, say, a dinner party or a church function, this was Target. And it was Hot Momma Hour. So instead of being offended, I gave her take serious consideration.

These types of intimate conversations can be heard throughout the store between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Go on any day during this time slot and you’ll find dozens of mommas with their broods who’ve made the pilgrimage to the big box. They go not only for groceries but also in search of something more important: community.

The Target at FM2499 and Chin Chapel Road in Flower Mound has become a de facto country club for those of us staying at home with our children. It’s a place to find exactly what we need between the often lonely rituals of laundry duty and dishes. You can stock up on opinions about preschools, swim instructors and dance companies.

If you need to kvetch about nap schedules — or the lack thereof — you can do that, too. All you have to do is make eye contact with another woman who looks equally exhausted.

Moreover, you can go early: The store opens at 8 a.m., which feels like the middle of the day for those of us who’ve been awake since 5 a.m.

“I go to Target to find people like me,” said my gal pal Christine who lives in Flower Mound and often totes her twins to the store. “When my girls were little, I went in the early morning because I knew I’d always find other stay-at-home moms.”

While our town has a gorgeous, well-used community center and neighborhoods packed with young families with whom to play, Target offers an alternative.

The climate is a steady 73 degrees and fully shaded — you can’t say that for even the most engaging subdivisions.

Moreover, there is no need to clean up the playroom for company or even to brew a pot of coffee — you can get your fix at the Target Starbucks cafe.

My girlfriend Holly, also from Flower Mound, has gone so far as to take her husband and three boys to Target for a weekly play date on Sundays. There’s always something new for them to do in the toy aisle and friends to chat with, she said.

“It’s like religion,” Holly said, “except Target.”

If I were a glass-half-empty type, I would condemn the Target scene as evidence of a culture of consumption, a sad commentary on soulless suburbs designed for cars rather than connection.

Instead, I see the Hot Momma Hour as refreshing: It is a showcase of the strength and ingenuity of the human spirit in an age of technology.

Despite Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, despite drive-throughs and takeout, despite snarling highways and the absence of parks that keep us from one another, we remain committed to honest-to-God human contact.

We will still seek out and find the community we crave.

That, and a good deal on paper towels.

Julie Blair of Flower Mound is a freelance journalist and a Community Voices volunteer columnist. Her address is

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


My dear friend Christina and I haven't spoken a full sentence to one another in ages.
In fact, now that I think about it, I'm not sure we've ever rendered a full conversation during the entire course of our wonderful three-year-long friendship.
It isn't that we don't have anything to discuss. We've got six children ages seven and under between us, so there's a lot of mention. Yet, the kids are the crux of the communication problem: Someone always needs something so we're constantly interrupted.
Lucky for us, our language skills have evolved as our kids have grown.
Just as those who text or tweet have developed emoticons and shorthand, Christina and I--like millions of Hot Mommas across the world--dispense with traditional language and lapse into MommaSpeak when we're together.
For example, instead of verbally greeting one another, one of us hands the other a Diet Coke.(Light ice, preferably 32 cold ounces but a warm can discovered rolling around the wheel well of the car will do.)
There is no need to inquire as to how the other's afternoon has gone. I can eyeball the number of bags in Christina's hand and tell if the day has been calm or zany. (One baby bag and clasped purse means that everyone slept well the previous night; multiple Target disposables brimming over with stuff, an errant beach towel wrapped around the neck, two pairs of sunglasses perched on her head means otherwise; an unescorted preschooler holding a Mastercard and car keys assures things are dire.)
With small talk taken care of, we jump right in to important issues.
We speak at the exact same time and in fragments for brevity.
Christina: "...mother-in-law dyed her hair pink which she says accentuate her new tattoo..."
Me: "...decided to build a beach in the baby's bedroom complete with sand..."
Christina: "..ended up roller skating through all that puke..."
Me: "...left for a job in Vietman for six weeks and has no internet access..."
Christina: "...stood on top of the ladder balancing four cans of mushroom soup..."
Me: "...found two albino hamsters running through the pipes in the kitchen..."
Christina: " the toaster in an attempt to curl Barbie's hair..."
Me: "...fed the neighbor's retriever the whole box of enemas..."
The diaglogue is dispensed with such speed that no U.S. military decoder could decipher it.
Christina: "...gottheearplugsstuckinsidethetoilet!"
Me: "...putthecarinreverseinsteadofdrive..."
Furthermore, our discussions are often yelled to one another. That's because we're often not in the same room at the same time and/or we need to be heard over the din.
In addition, our dialogues are interspearsed with the disciplining of a brood member.
Christina: "...locked himself in the cupboard...Mattie, please put the scissors down...before the physician could get into the room..."
Me: "...said she didn't want to do the math problem...William do not put underwear on the baby's head...before she ate the paste."
Our conversations, like most MommaSpeak, usually has an abrupt ending.
Sometimes we say goodbye. Other times, we just chase a child to the potty/car/dangerous precipice.
With the rules of MommaSpeak in play, it's all understood.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dinner at the Duck Pond

The Duck Pond could be anyone's Happy Place: Its banks are lush, the waves ripple prettily, the fish bite.
But if you're a toddler who happens to like ducks, well, there's really no better place on Earth.
The Duck Pond has a menagerie that would make most zookeepers envious. There are gaggles of mismatched mallards, half a dozen exotics with Dalmatian-colored feathers, mysterious turkey-like swans, fifteen or so grackles that think they're ducks and two actual giant white ducks that were perhaps released from Easter baskets.
The ducks seem to frequent this pond for one reason: the toddlers.
The symbiotic relationship between the diapered and the feathered has likely been going on for generations: The babies bring bread, the ducks become junkies.
They all waddle about chasing one another with squawks of joy.
Occasionally, one of the aforementioned falls into the pond.
On our last visit to the Duck Pond, however, Charlotte was uncharacteristically disinterested in the fauna.
Instead, she wanted their bread.
"Ooh, food!" she yammered, bending down on stubby legs to finger a piece buried in the grass.
"Ducky bread," I suggested, making my ickiest face.
"Dirrrrrty," Charlotte breathed in her best Christina Aguilara voice.
Then, she popped the bread into her mouth.
As a recovering germaphobe, I choked back words.
"She is immunizing herself," I thought.
I pointed out the goslings to Charlotte in hopes of distracting her.
Charlotte responded by digging through the grass to find another chunk of bread.
Victorious, she pulled forth an usually large mound and jammed it between her cheeks chipmunk-style.
"Blah! Blah!" I said, sticking my tongue out.
I mentally began cataloging the germs that ducks might contain.
"Is Duck Itch food borne?," I thought. "What about Duck Death? How do you get that?"
Charlotte smiled like an angel sent down from Heaven.
Then, she turned on her heel and sprinted towards a pile of rocks. She plunged her chubby fist into a crack, pulled up moldy crust and rammed it into her mouth.
"Mmmmmm!" she said, chewing.
Then suddenly, I was noticing the duck poop.
It was everywhere--the grass, the mulch and probably the bread my child just consumed. Slimy white-green goo coated huge swaths of the grassy landing like icing atop a birthday cake.
Anxiety's heavy hand was pushing down on me.
"How about your crackers," I pleaded. "You have nice, clean fishy crackers in the backpack. Let's go get them."
Charlotte blinked and pulled herself up tall.
"No," she stamped. "Bwead."
"How about the bread we have at home?" I suggested. "I can make you a yummy peanut butter and jelly."
After raising three children, I knew that reasoning with a 20-month-old baby was no smarter than reasoning with, well, a duck.
I changed tactics.
I would offer limited choices that would not include toxic duck bread.
"Do you want cheese or oranges?" I asked.
Charlotte trotted off.
"Bwead, bwead, bwead," she sang.
In the great tradition of the Duck Pond, I waddled after her.
I was still squawking.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I am a big fan of the two-by-two playdate.
Noah, after all, had great results with this on his ark. And as the mother of twins, it works for me, as well: You get a girl for your girl and a boy for your boy and everyone--including the Mommas--are happy for two to three hours.
I have recently learned, however, that I should up my game and screen for children who have been fed large, protein-based snacks prior to playdates to eliminate any latent hunger.
"Hey, are there going to be hot dogs at this playdate?" one six-year-old boy asked me recently after hopping off our school bus with his sister. "Because my mom said there would be hot dogs."
I produced pretzels, cookies and apples along with the promise of hot dogs at 5 p.m., our dinner hour. When everyone seemed finished, I shooed the children up to the playroom and started the dishes.
Twenty-five minutes later, Superman was back in the kitchen.
"So, how about those hot dogs?" he asked.
I offered up the unfinished plate of fruit and reiterated my plan for dinner.
Twenty-five minutes later, our guest returned to pull on my apron strings.
"It must be time for hot dogs!" he said.
"Not yet," I said.
Then, I gave my charge a brief lesson on how to tell time without the use of a digital clock.
Thirty-two seconds later, he poked his head in the door.
"I'm totally ready!" he said. "You must be ready, too!"
I still had lunch and snack dishes to do, five phone calls to make and three loads of laundry on my agenda, but my reserve was faltering.
"How about hot dogs in five minutes?" I asked.
"Great," Blondie said. "I'll time you."
And darn if the little imp didn't come into the kitchen with a sand timer from some long-ago forgotten board game.
"I'll have to flip this five whole times to make five minutes," he said. "I'll turn it over. There. Now, gooooooo!"
What this boy didn't know is that anyone who breathes down my neck and/or whines while I'm making dinner has to help me make it.
"Alrighty, Einstein, I'm drafting you into service," I said, pulling an apron over his brush cut. "Now go outside into the garage and find the outside refridgerator, move the ladder that's holding the crummy door shut, pull out the extra Diet Coke boxes and find the apple juice boxes. Then, grab five and put them on the table. After you do that, go into the pantry and get the ketchup. You'll have to move the rice cooker and the mixer but it's back there. Then, place that on the table. Next, you'll need to get silverware for everyone--that's a knife, fork and spoon for all of us--plus napkins. These can be found in the drawer to your left. After that, you can get everyone to stop playing, wash their hands--make sure they use bubbles while singing "Happy Birthday" as a sanitary precaution--and get them to sit down at the table.
The boy looked at me thunderstruck.
"You can do this," I told him. "I know you're in the gifted and talened program."
"Buuuuttt..." he exclaimed.
"Now move it," I said, a polite smile on my face. "I'm timing you."

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Case Against Justice

One-shouldered tank tops, sequined bikinis and push-up bras have no place in the closet of a six-year-old.
Yet all three items are marketed--and sized--to young children at "Justice," a strip-mall staple.
The store, which also offers strawberry-scented pajamas, glittery plush animals and key chains for kids who are years away from driving--was initially designed as a gateway to "The Limited" and "Limited Express." These two moderately-priced dress shops seem to be geared for 20-somethings who work in polyester blazers then party in pleather.
It is unclear to me whether the girls who shop at Justice end up at the aforementioned stores, but one thing's certain: Justice clothing has become important in my first grader's daily culture.
"Mom," said my six-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, one day after school, "I know where Justice is."
Mind you, I had never spoken a word about the store. Yet somehow, Elizabeth knew inherently there was something slightly dangerous about it.
And it became cool--fast.
Thus, Elizabeth began building her case.
"Trisha wears things from Justice," Elizabeth pointed out. "So do Tabby and McKenzie."
"Yes," I wanted to tell her, "And such clothing has turned nice children into the likes of pole dancers."
(Of course, then I'd have to explain what a pole dancer is and that would make shopping at Justice look like Disney World, so I simply shut my trap.)
"Mmmm?" I mustered, in what I hoped was a neutral tone.
Mind you, I have--and have always had--a love for a little bling.
My own closet includes hot pink patent leather loafers, a fake 4-carat yellow diamond, dalmation flares. And since I live in Texas, these accessorites are trotted out routinely for daytime wear.
Still, my style can best be described as "polished preppy." My hemlines are modest. My jewelry most days includes my wedding set and small diamond studs. I wear tankinis poolside.
All this means that I have enduldged Elizabeth with a bottle of blue nailpolish. I have agreed to zebra-striped headbands. And when she finally remembers to water the plants consistently, I will take her to get her ears pierced so long as she wears discreet small gold earrings.
I am not foolish enough to think that I can stop Elizabeth and her sister Charlotte from fashion mistakes. There will probably be plunging necklines, ugly shoes, too-sprayed hair. But if these are the only mistakes they make as teenagers, I'll be one happy mom.
But I do draw the line at the sexualization of little girls.
They do not have breasts, therefore, they do not need push-up bras.
Hopefully, no men are glancing at their bottoms, therefore, they do not need low-rise undies to keep from peeking out of low-rise jeans.
They should be strong swimmers, therefore, they should wear full-bodied suits with two straps that hold up under madcap freestyle stokes.
While mothers and daughters have long had disagreements about what's appropriate, I think we've taken a more dangerous step in 2011: We've intentionally taken away sweet innoncence before Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy have even been unmasked.
Instead of allowing our little girls to occassionally try on the concept of being "big" through healthy play in the costume box, we're pushing them into full-time roles that are not developmentally appropriate.
It is an aside that we're taking away part of the fun of being a grown-up: If I had dalmation flares at age six, would I want revel in them at 37?
I can, of course, choose not to shop with or for my child at Justice.
Regardless, my daughter will still be submerged in a culture where such clothing and the roles it perpetuates is both tolerated and encouraged.
I will have to do my best then, to remind my little girl that she's little.
Because you're only six for 12 short months.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Report Cards

Everyone in my family got a report card this week except for me.
The elementary school sent home very formal critiques of my twins' progress along with a letter from the state describing achievements made by the entire student body; my husband participated in one of those scary 360-degree reviews at the corporation where he's employed. Even the baby's pediatrician handed me a checklist of "achievements" at her 16-month visit.
As a stay-at-home mom, I've gotten my fill of lovely Mother's Day cards and pats on the back from various shoppers at malls, grocery stores and gas stations.
But really, I'd like to know how I'm doing. Right now. Before there are any expensive psychologists to pay.
So, I asked my six-year-olds to develop a rubric to assess my work, then grade me on my efforts.
What, I asked my children, are mothers supposed to do?
"Well, they're supposed to take care of the kids," Elizabeth said.
"And the baby," added William.
According to my first graders, mothers should be held accountable for planning great birthday parties, making sure everyone eats vegetables, reading bedtime stories, cleaning up and doing laundry.
(Noone mentioned the development of spiritual, emotional or intellectual selves but that might be added to the list next year. I am further hopeful that my progeny will also think to include the installment of manners and the ability to obliterate lice.)
Next, it came time to do the grading. I took a deep breath.
I got a perfect score on taking care of the baby. (Did anyone notice that I lost her once today?)
I also took the cake when it came to the birthday parties. My Spontaneous Easter Egg Hunt for 50 children last April was mentioned, albeit not technically a birthday celebration.
"Though you should have gotten us skateboard last year for our birthday," Will added.
I also pulled it out in the nourishment category, which was a complete surprise to me given the loud moans displayed at nearly every meal.
"But you should still make Will eat more vegetables," Elizabeth reported.
On the defense, I quickly told her I make an effort to present them every night. I cannot, however, force him to consume them save inserting an IV drip line.
According to the kids, I am furthermore a wonderful story reader. I was given credit for doing interesting charachter voices even when it is late at night and I'm really cranky.
Moreover, both children interpret the house to be clean. This means I will cancel my naptime dusting tomorrow in lieu of browsing the web.
Then they informed me that I am not perfect.
It would seem there is a significant problem with my laundry skills.
"Mom," said Elizabeth, "We need to talk about this sock problem."
Sock problem?
"You only match about 40 percent of the socks," she said.
I cannot deny this fact: Most people in my family wear mismatched socks on most days in my house. In fact, every bedroom in the house includes a display atop dressers of lonely singelton socks waiting for their mates.
Well, I tell them, I will work on that.
Right after I plan the next birthday party, that is.