Archive | March, 2011

With Friends Like These

28 Mar

When I was a teenager, I fell in with a bad crowd. Cognizant that some of my loyal readers were friends of mine when I was a teenager, I should immediately state, “I’m not talking about you.” It is most likely that none of the bad crowd with which I fell in are regular readers of Snide Reply. I suspect one or two may not be regular readers of anything, but that is neither here nor there. My parents felt it their duty to point out that I had fallen in with said crowd and to do all they could to discourage further falling.

Though I don’t necessarily believe it, apparently the crowds children fall into these days are even badder—in the bad sense of bad—than those I encountered. There was binge drinking when I was a teen, there was sex when I was a teen, there were drugs when I was a teen. (Again, my high school buddies, I am not talking about you. Oh, OK, I am but I’m not telling who did what or with whom.) The drinking, the drugs and the sex are all bad enough and I’ve worried about my kids doing them since probably a day or two after they started kindergarten. I don’t need to think about worse vices my children may be pressured to try.

Now that I own a teenager, my parental friend radar has been tuned to high gear. It’s a wonder my son hasn’t noticed the brain hum in the background. Every time a new name is mentioned, my “who the hell is that” button gets switched. I try to be nonchalant as I grill my son.

“Fred?” I’ll say, “I don’t think I’ve heard you mention a ‘Fred’ before.”

“He’s a friend,” my son will say.

“Well, duh!” I think.

“Well, duh,” I say. “Where did you meet him? Is he in one of your classes? Does he drink, do drugs or have unprotected sex? Is he a member of a weird religious cult?” Well, maybe I don’t say that last bit, but it’s only because I know that’s not an appropriate thing for a parent to say outside of her head.

As if worrying about new friends weren’t enough, I’ve discovered old friends can go bad.

We moved to Naperville just as our son was entering fourth grade. He spent his entire first year here friendless. Oh, we made sure he saw his Oak Park friends and installed a phone line in his room so he could call them whenever he liked. Still, fourth grade was tough. In fifth grade, he made friends with a very nice boy. So, he had a friend. One friend.

Middle school started out miserably, friend-wise. Our son was placed into the gifted program; his one friend wasn’t. Friend ground zero all over again. But, having found his tribe, he started making friends more easily. Eventually, he had a bunch of friends.

All of his friends, at least all that I’ve met and I’ve met quite a few, appeared to be fine young people. I might have written, “appear to be fine young people” but recent events necessitate a change in verb tense. One of those fine young people has turned out to be quite a . . .hm. . . what’s the word . . .well, it rhymes with “spit head.”

Spit Head has twice, in the last month, hurt my son’s feelings deeply. The first time, Spit Head convinced my son that he was over-reacting. I wanted to give Spit Head a good talking to, but held my tongue. If my son wanted to remain friends with Spit Head, then I needed to let him do it, I reasoned.

The second time Spit Head hurt my son, Spit Head’s mother got involved. Now, before you think that she was telling Spit Head he was behaving badly, stop yourself. Spit Head’s mother was proving the old apple falling from the tree thing. Surprisingly, my son has dealt with Spit Head’s latest antic much more calmly than me. “He’s a douche,” he said. “He’s a douche,” one of his other friends agreed. Then, they moved on.

Me? I never want to see the kid again. And I if I ever see his mother? Well, let’s just say Naperville is gonna look a little bit more like the Jersey Shore that day.

My daughter is having friend troubles but it wasn’t her feelings that were being hurt. Instead, my daughter is the grand prize in a battle for affections that is largely waged by a gang of siblings we’ll call “The Delightful Children” with all due credit to “Code Name: Kids Next Door.”

The Delightful Children include two brothers and their younger sister. She adores my daughter, who I’m sure she sees as a big sister substitute. Problem? The Delightful Children seem intent on breaking my daughter’s considerable bond to her Best Friend.

My daughter plays with Best Friend nearly every day. They can play together for hours on end. In the winter months, things are fairly quiet on the friend front. The Delightful Children are, for some reason, not allowed to play in other people’s houses. So my daughter and Best Friend trash, I mean, “play” in our house. Sometimes they “play” in Best Friend’s house.

In the summer, the wars begin. The Delightful Children have one of those redwood things with a playhouse on top. The monstrosity is nestled in the branches of willow tree so the playhouse is hidden from sight. I believe the tree may be a Whomping Willow because, invariably, Best Friend rushes home from the playhouse in tears. It being illegal to water board children, we’ll probably never know the details of what ensues in the Playhouse of Pain but it seems to involve harsh words from The Delightful Children toward Best Friend.

My daughter recently wailed, “It’s like I’m being forced to choose between hurting my Best Friend and hurting a little girl!” My little girl being the one getting hurt, I decided to lay down a law. No playing with Best Friend and The Delightful children together. My husband reports the law is being respected with unexpected results. Recently, Best Friend and The Delightful children played together while my daughter practiced gymnastics in the family room.

I figured we were finished with friend issues for a while until my son started a conversation like this, “Well, I was talking with one of my pothead friends . . .”

A Shameless Mom

21 Mar

Lately, my son and I have been watching the Showtime series, “Shameless,” together. He’s not a very demonstrative kid. He hasn’t kissed me since he was eight and has to be coerced into giving me a hug. So, when he voluntarily bonds with me over something, I welcome the opportunity. We’re having a good time watching the show together, talking about the characters, loving the songs and downloading our favorites. The problem is, deep inside, I feel like I’m a bad mother for letting my son watch what is clearly a series for adults.

I’m sure other parents wouldn’t allow their teenage children to watch “Shameless.” It’s loaded with graphic sex. The characters smoke pot. The father is an unrepentant alcoholic and a con artist. The children do whatever they need to get by, including stealing an entire truckload of meat. There is, in short, everything to which a child should not be exposed. I remind myself that my son has the digital version of girly magazines and that he regularly locks his bedroom door to, I’m sure, avail himself of them. Still, every time my son and I watch “Shameless,” I feel I’m a bad influence on my own child.

Certain of my son’s friends’ parents would agree. I’m thinking, in particular of the parents of one of my son’s closest friends. His parents are fine, upstanding people. They would never let their children watch “Shameless.” On the contrary, I’m sure they only watch wholesome family shows. They probably have a boxed set of “The Waltons.” I’ll bet they don’t allow girly magazines, digital or otherwise, in their house. I’m pretty sure they are a little intimidating to their son. Hell, they intimidate me.

My husband thinks I’m insane when I tell him I’m a bad influence on our son. He points out that our son has similar values to ours. We happen to think our values are pretty good ones, though they are rather to the left of many of our neighbors. Our son’s friends were amazed to hear that he sometimes—ok, often—uses the “F” word at home but he is not allowed, under any circumstances to use the “G” word. Recently, a friend of his posted, “Are you gay?” on his Facebook wall in response to something our son posted as his status. Our son responded, “Why, yes, I’m pretty happy right now.” My husband and I were pleased. His friend was confused.

I worry about different influences with my daughter. She’s become quite sassy lately and has developed what my parents called a “smart mouth.” I never really understood that phrase. Wasn’t very smart of me to use it. It always got me in trouble.

I’ve been trolling other mommy blogs, scoping out the competition, particularly those who’ve managed to turn their rambles into cash. On one such blog, I found moms complaining about their own children’s smart mouths. They attributed the phenomenon to “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and its sequel, “The Suite Life on Deck.”

As in many shows targeting children, the characters in the “Suite Life” series sass talk the largely incompetent adults. It never occurred to me that the show might be a bad influence other than to convince my daughter we should be living on a cruise ship.

I started tracking her behavior following episodes. Damned if her mouth didn’t get smarter almost immediately after viewing a half hour of the show. I decided to follow the blog moms’ prescription and encourage exposure to a different sweet life.

The remedy was The Food Network. According to the blogosphere, kids eat up cooking shows. So we tried Food Network for a while. My children have never watched a television show that I didn’t watch with them the first time. This means I’ve suffered through Telly Tubbies, SpongeBob, Dora, Bob the Builder, Imagination Movers and some strange thing called “Bobobo-bo Bobo-bo.” I’ve pulled the plug on a number of requested programs but what I saw on Food Network was truly frightening.

I try to eat a healthy diet and encourage my children to as well. I buy lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, low-fat milk, yogurts. My son routinely spits them out then buys the junk he prefers with his allowance. I’ve pointed out to him that he is literally crapping his money away, but it doesn’t faze him. He won’t walk his dog, but he’ll walk ten minutes to the local Walgreen’s when he’s jonesing for a Mint Milano.

I’m particularly interested in teaching my daughter the importance of healthy food choices. She’s got more holes in her teeth than a block of baby Swiss and a sugar habit that’ll keep Willy Wonka in top hats for the next ten years. But thanks to Food Network she now has recipes for pink lemonade layer cake, corn chowder chock full of heavy cream and brownies the size of The Hulk’s fist.

I should have known better than to flip the channel to Food Network. I once witnessed Paula Deen cook a juicy hamburger, top it with cheese and a fried egg then place the whole works between Krispy Kreme donuts. Paula says she doesn’t eat that way every day, but geez, eating that way once is bad enough.

Paula’s not the only bad influence on FN. The Neely’s lay on the sugar and fat in ways that make their corpulence make sense. And have you seen Ina Garten lately? I’m loath to say it, but she is morbidly obese. I’m loath to say it for two reasons. First, I realize obesity is a complex problem. Second, Ina is apparently a very nice lady and has lots of fans that flame anyone who criticizes her weight. But Ina’s health and temperament are not my concern. My daughter is back to watching “The Suite Life on Deck.”

I feel a little bit better about my parenting lately. My son’s friend had dinner at our house. The dinner conversation ranged wildly from my son’s condom sandwich caper at school to the shows the boys watched when they were younger. The friend was gob smacked to learn that I not only knew the names of the shows my son watched, but I actually watched them. When I said, “What was up with the hair on that Bobobo guy?” his friend said, “Wow. My parents never watched anything I watched.”

“Woooo hoooo,” I thought and gave myself a mental pat on the back. Finally, something I can be parentally smug about. My son may make sandwiches with condoms in them. My daughter may clap her hands together and say, “Breakfast! Now!” But I’ve approved every bit of media they’ve consumed. It is definitely something to feel gay about.

 

Puh-leeeeze Read My Post About Whining

14 Mar

I like to watch brain surgery. Really. I’m not being sarcastic. I am leading up to something, but, seriously, I like to watch brain surgery. My favorite brain surgery to watch is the kind where the top of the patient’s head has been taken off and the surgeon is rummaging around in the brain looking for a particular section that will elicit a particular response from the patient. The surgeon calls for the patient to be wakened. Then he (OK, or she) prods the identified brain section with his brain prodding thingy and the patient starts talking about some long forgotten incident. I’ve seen it lots of times and I still think, “Cool!”

I want a brain surgeon to open my head and look for a particular spot and then sever its neural pathways. The one I want him to find is the one that causes my entire body to convulse when triggered by that parental nightmare: the whine.

Whining slices straight through me. My entire body contracts, my eyes squinch, my brain crackles. I will do anything to make the noise cease. Some people can’t stand fingernails on a chalkboard. Some can’t stand ringing telephones. I can’t stand to hear the sound of whining children. This is a problem. I have children.

I don’t recall whining being a huge problem with my son. He wasn’t a particularly whiny kid but all kids have something they do that is completely and utterly obnoxious. My son’s obnoxiousness was physical. He liked to hang on people. Literally. We knew it was annoying, but we never tried to stop him. The then-current parenting fad was logical consequences. The logical consequence of our son hanging on people was that they would be annoyed with him and tell him so. They did. He didn’t care. The logical consequence of our attempts at logical parenting was that lots of people thought we were indulgent parents afraid to discipline our child. Who? Us?

Our daughter is the one who makes me want a lobotomy. Like many an eight-year-old, she is a charming child. She is beautiful and delicate. She is bashful around strangers. Her teachers report that she is popular, helpful, considerate and kind.

These people have never denied her a thing. I know the monster that lurks within her. I have told her, “No.” I know the keening banshee that lies beneath her placid exterior, the one who comes out to play when the Empress is thwarted.

A typical exchange might happen at breakfast. My daughter will say, “I know you’re going to say ‘no’, but can I have sugar cookies?” I will ask, “Have you had something healthy?” “No,” she will say, “but you said I could have them yesterday and I didn’t eat them then.” I will remind her that yesterday she asked to eat the cookies after she had eaten something healthy.

“You can have the cookies after you eat your bagel and cream cheese.”

“But I don’t want the bagel and cream cheese.”

“You asked for a bagel and cream cheese. You will have to get your own breakfast if you don’t want what I made you.”

“Ok. I’ll eat the cookies.”

“No, you may not eat the cookies until you’ve eaten the bagel and cream cheese.” By now, the pre-whine tone has entered her voice. I can feel the tension building in my toes.

“But I don’t want the bagel and cream cheese.”

“Then get your self something else that’s healthy.”

“You’re supposed to make my breakfast! I’m just a little girl!” She is now in full-on whine. I am resolved to remain tough. She is my little Zen master and I will not rise to her call to chaos.

“You know the rule. If you don’t eat what Mommy makes, you make your own breakfast.”

“Fine! I’m having the coo. . .” Before she can say “. . .kies,” I say, “No, we talked about this. You may not have the cookies. You must eat something healthy first.” I can feel myself slipping. The knife-edge of her whine has sliced my brain in two.

“You interruuuuuuuuuuupted MEEEEEEEEEEE,” she wails. “I’m trying to talk and you interrupted meeeeeeee!  You always do that! I’m trying and trying to explain to you and you interuuuuupt meeeeeee!”

And she has me. I cave.

“Fine! Eat the cookies!” I say, thinking I would probably let her eat glass at this point if she would just stop whining.

I don’t always cave in. Sometimes I hang tough. I remember that she is acting, that she can turn the tantrum off at will and that I have proof.

Our children do nothing together but bicker. We spend lots of money on therapy so that they will learn how to do something other than bicker. After two years, they are able to tolerate playing video games together for about 20 minutes, in the therapist’s office. Progress.

One night at dinner, our son was lobbying hard for some electronic or musical hundred-dollar-plus gizmo. Probably a Les Paul, but maybe a 40,000-gigabyte iPod Touch. Whatever it was, he was pushing with all his considerable negotiating talent. His father and I were resisting mightily. We were winning. Then, our daughter started whining. The whine turned to a wail. She was sobbing, tears were falling down her cheeks. All conversation stopped. We turned to her. “Sweetie,” her father said. “What’s wrong?” When she had all of our attention, she abruptly stopped wailing, looked at us and said, “Now will you give him what he wants?”

We did not give him what he wants. But, while condemning her methods, we applauded her solidarity with her brother.

There’s not much evidence that our daughter will leave the League of Fine Whiners any time soon. Why would she? It’s the most effective weapon in her arsenal. She may even be recruiting her brother. He has begun using whining as a tool to achieve his desires. So far, he does it playfully and it’s really rather amusing to see him smoosh his very teen-aged, semi-bearded face into childish pleading. He even holds his hands clasped together and gives me puppy dog eyes, while saying, “Pweeze, Mommy.” It’s ridiculously endearing. The first sign of serious whinery, though and I’m headed for the nearest neurosurgeon.

Of Bacon, Breasts and BPD

7 Mar

When I started this blogging thing, I had two goals. I needed something to occupy the time between caring for children and filling out job applications. I also thought I’d keep digital dinosaur status at bay by learning some of the new fangled social media. Apparently, I am under-ambitious. People are making money at this blogging thing.

In fact, people are making freaking boatloads of money at this blogging thing. Heather Armstrong, according to the New York Times, is the queen of the “mommy bloggers,” those women who blog about their kids, their husbands, their tract houses. Sound familiar? What doesn’t sound familiar is that Heather is on the Forbes list of the most influential women in media. Heather’s blog brings in as much as $50,000 per month. I, on the other hand, make about $80 a week tutoring.

I may be under-ambitious, but I am not stupid. Though I didn’t start blogging thinking I would make money at it, I also didn’t become a teacher thinking I wouldn’t. The blogging thing is going better than the teaching thing, so why not look into making money blogging, I thought.

I did some research. I’ve discovered that you can make money blogging if you are willing to be infamous or odd, reveal intimate details of the misfortunes in your life or endorse products. For what I hope are obvious reasons, I explored endorsing products first.

I use lots of products. I use products all over my house. Problem is, the products I use don’t really excite me. Except for bacon. I love bacon. Bacon is like a kiss on a boo-boo. It won’t fix anything, but it makes me feel better just thinking about it. Endorsing bacon is a problem, though. I don’t have a favorite bacon brand. It’s bacon, for crying out loud. All bacon is good. Bacon is the little black dress of the food world. Doesn’t matter who made it, it goes with everything.

So bacon’s out. I used to endorse the hell out of Prescriptives makeup. They folded. I loved the restaurant, L’Escargot. It went. Finding products to endorse was starting to make me feel very old and very out of touch. Then I remembered mayonnaise. I could live without dark chocolate. I cannot live without mayonnaise, specifically Hellman’s. My love of Hellman’s comes from being raised by a Southern woman. As a child, I believed that all sandwiches were made with Hellman’s, just as I believed that anyone who wasn’t Catholic or Republican would go to hell.

My mother put Hellman’s on every sandwich she ever made. Once, at our house, my dad’s mother was making him a sandwich. She buttered the bread. “Ewwww!” I thought. “Grandma, Dad likes his sandwiches with mayonnaise,” I said. “Oh, no, he likes them with butter,” she said confidently. Now, at this point in my life, my father had been eating sandwiches with mayonnaise for nearly 30 years. “Hey, Dad,” I said, “do you like your sandwiches with butter or mayonnaise?” My grandmother was generally a humble person, but I could have sworn I saw a smug little smile cross her lips as he said, “Butter.” My father’s sandwich lunacy aside, I can say without pause that I thoroughly and heartily endorse Hellman’s Mayonnaise. I also endorse therapy to resolve conflict avoidance issues, but my dad is making his own sandwiches these days so it’s a little late for that.

Unfortunately for me, endorsing Hellman’s is only going to pay off if I have more than a handful of visitors every day. Heather, the Mom Blog Queen, gets about 100,000 every day. Clearly, I’ve got some subscriber base building to do. That’s where being infamous or odd or willing to reveal intimate details of your life come in.

Heather built her base through infamy. She, famously, was fired for doing a very naughty thing: posting rotten things about the people she works with on her personal blog. The story went viral. (That’s what the kids call it when something gets very popular on the Internet and millions of people are clicking on it, sharing it, posting it. Going viral is not to be confused with going postal.) With no co-workers to malign, Heather turned to blogging the intimate details of her life. When Heather got pregnant, her subscriber base soared. I hope she didn’t blog the details of how she got pregnant. Now, Heather blogs about everything that happens to her, including getting her washer fixed.

My appliances all seem to be in working order. The motherboard on the dishwasher went wacky a few weeks ago, but so far my biggest dishwasher problem is worry that the dog is too heavy to stand on the open door while he licks the plates clean. If he climbs in and accidentally gets washed, then I’ll probably have to call the appliance repair guy. But I’ll be able to cancel the grooming appointment.

Unlike Heather, I feel my everyday life is just a little boring. I could do odd, I thought. There is a woman who calls herself “Pioneer Woman.” She got picked up by a cowboy in a bar, they got married and she traded her “high heels for cowboy boots.” Now she blogs about her life as a city slicker on the ranch with four kids and a cowboy.

I thought about being odd for a while. Oh, OK, I thought about being more odd. Yes, I could be more odd, so shut up! Problem here is that you have to be really odd to cut through the clutter. So, I decided that it would be really odd to blog about having a third breast installed. I could write about my struggles to find a doctor who would install said breast. I could blog about where on my body I would put said breast. Would it go in the middle? To the side of one of the existing girls? If so, which side? There are so many possible tangents to the third breast avenue. Of course, the problem with writing about installing a third breast is actually having to go through with it. Maybe if I learn Photoshop®, I’ll start the “and booby makes three” blog. Until then, I’ll be buying my bras off the rack.

So, I’m left with sharing intimate details of the misfortunes in my life. There are women who’ve built loyal followings writing about deaths of husbands and children, about battles with cancer, about living with mental health issues. My husband isn’t dead and I’m not planning on killing him this week. If one of my children dies, I don’t think I’ll be in a writing mood. I could write about living with bipolar disorder, which I do on a daily basis—the living with it part, not the writing about it part. The thing about writing about my chemically imbalanced life is that then I’m “the bipolar blogging mom” when really, I’m just a mommy blogger who happens to be bipolar. Did I mention that generic lamotrigine is really crappy? If you can, get Lamictal® brand. Otherwise, take the generic stuff with bacon.

Copyright© 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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