Thursday, January 29, 2009

Artistic Endeavors

Anyone who has kids has received them: scribblings, ashtrays, flowerpots with glued-on buttons, construction paper designs, self-portraits of the artist. From the time our children are old enough to hold a crayon and wise enough not to chew on it, they are creating. It's a beautiful concept--give their growing minds free reign and endless mediums in which to express them and the possibilities are endless. But it also creates a conundrum for parents with small houses. What to save and what to chuck?

The question makes me sound like an insensitive, culture-starved jerk. I realize this. But truly, is there an answer? How do we decide which art projects should become part of posterity versus the trash heap? Take the above sculpture for example. I'm pretty sure Jacob made it, but since it has no date, I don't know when. My husband found it in a drawer recently, mixed in with a lint roller, cough drops, plant hooks, old Father's Day cards and the manual to a cell phone he no longer owns. It took me several minutes of spinning it around and studying it to figure out what it is supposed to be. A telephone? A bridge? The letter M? A giant ear? Eventually I found an angle that made it look like a bird and declared it a cardinal. It's sort of red; the pointy end sort of looks like tail feathers; isn't that an eye? Great! We have a verdict. Now what?

I am not an organized person. I don't have a "craft room" though I have many craft materials and project ideas. I do not have a "library" although I own a lot of books (my husband would say too many. How can you have too many books?). We do not have an "art table" although my kids love to paint and draw. My husband doesn't have a "workshop" although he owns many tools (I might say too many. You know what he would say). The point is, with many interests in a family of four, storage is an issue.

Of course, once something is tossed, it is soon forgotten. My kids don't remember every project they've ever made, and I encourage this form of amnesia. But the ones that I do hang up and save, they look at all the time. They comment on them, point things out to me about them, show them off to visitors when they come. Often they are then inspired and pull out the art supplies to create something new. How can I squelch that?

I came across an idea in a magazine once (because I save lots of those too) that suggested taking pictures of all the favorite art projects, then making a collage of the collected photos, framing it and hanging it up. I thought that sounded great! Of course it means I'll need to pull all the projects together, photograph them, shrink and collage them, print and frame them. Did I mention I am not an organized person? Without a craft room, it's not likely to happen soon. So if anyone else has ideas about this, chime in! I'm all ears. Real ones. I'm sure of it.

Friday, January 23, 2009


I hate it when people talk about how Becoming A Parent Is Such A Humbling Experience like it's a good thing. What they really mean is that having kids takes you down about 10 notches on the coolness scale, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

After having a child, for example, the illusion of competence vanishes. This child will cry and scream, moan and wail, and your Master's, Ph.D., high salary and stellar resume will mean nothing to him. You will cuddle and coo and rock and walk him and it will not be enough. You will sing and whistle, take long drives with him and consult the doctor and it will help and it will make you feel as if you are improving, but you will actually remain incompetent.

All of those old insecurities, from which you were paroled after being released from high school, return in force. Only now, the more your child goes out into public, the more ridiculous you become. As they grow, you will go from being the-most-super-amazing-wonderful-magnificent-person-on-the-planet to a know-it-all. You will do it wrong, not understand, be old fashioned, be impossible, be an embarrassment, be controlling and ruin his life, in that order.

Newly married, we are cool and chic, in love and on top of the world. So to perpetuate our hipness, we create a life and then nag it until it flees the nest in a flurry of pierced rebellion. It's the American Dream, only because none of us realize what we've done until we've done it. Then it becomes a plan that perhaps we should have thought through a little more carefully.

In reality, the birth of children and the emptying of the nest are the prideful parentheses of an otherwise challenging experience. Even as we become less and less cool, we love them more and more. They push us away and we hug them closer. They criticize, and we stand our ground. They leave and we let them. It all sounds very black and white, but in reality it's hard. It's really, really hard.

Someone once said that when you have children, the days are long but the years are short. And we don't really think about this until we are standing on the quad hugging and crying and not caring that we're embarrassing them in front of these people who aren't yet their friends. But it's true.

The challenge, once you've had a child, is to put your ego in a box on a high shelf somewhere. Once they've moved out, there will be plenty of room to take it down and put it back on. Just don't count the days until it happens. And don't expect it to fit quite the same way when you do. But it will still look really cool. You just won't care as much as you used to.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Jig Is Up

Although Inauguration Day was an awe-inspiring, much anticipated and monumental day for the world, it was a crappy day in my house. Not because of the new president, but because all afternoon, my children behaved like escaped zoo animals in search of raw meat. And all the while, I kept trying to get them to sit down and do homework.

Suffice it to say, I failed. Yelling didn't work. I was being ignored, and I knew I needed a new approach. But I just didn't have it in me to get creative.

By the time dinner was served, DS privileges and television viewing time had been revoked. Dessert had also been taken away for the night, but I decided to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies anyway, for reasons including--but not limited to--the following:

--To give me something to do besides listen to them fight;

--To fill the house with yummy smells instead of noisy yells;

--So I'd have something to enjoy with my tea after everyone had gone to bed.

--To have desserts for the kids' lunches the next day.

After the cookies were done and cooling on racks, my sons ventured over to longingly stare, sniff and drool over them. Then my nine-year-old spoke.

"Mom, tomorrow can we have chocolate chip cookies for dessert in our lunches?"

"Well, we'll see how everyone behaves in the morning. That is why I baked them, after all."

And my son looked at me, raised one eyebrow and said, in a knowing voice,

"To torture us?"

Damn. They're on to me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Dangers of Self-Improvement

OK, so cutting down on caffeine may not fall under the heading of "self-improvement" for some, but it's a big deal to me, a daily drinker. The last time I gave up caffeine was 10 years ago, and I went cold turkey. Not because I'm a masochist, but because I was young and spry, optimistic and pregnant. I wanted the best for my little punkin, so I evaluated my diet, upped the produce and cut the coffee.

I like to think that this is why my firstborn was, and remains, such a great sleeper. This is also why I can forgive him for causing me a month-long headache and unending fatigue, the likes of which I've never experienced before or since.

It should be noted here that I love coffee. I drink it for the flavor, the warmth and the perk. I start my day with it. In summer, I drink it iced, frozen and spiked. In winter, I often drink it twice a day. But caffeine has a tendency to build up in the system over time, and lately I've been having trouble sleeping. So I started thinking that, despite the single-digit thermometer readings, I was in need of a purge.

This time, I decided to start slowly: one-third caffeinated grounds to two-thirds decaf. I'll wean myself, I thought. Eliminate headaches and still get a little eye-opener in the morning.

What happened was this: I made my coffee at the same time as my eggs. I dragged the sugar bowl over near the dishes and pulled the milk and salsa out of the fridge when everything was brewed and cooked. I proceeded to put salsa in my coffee.

This, to me, is not only wasteful, it's depressing. Had I been in a more alert state of mind, perhaps not getting lost in the rich, deep color of my coffee swirling and steaming in my mug, this would not have happened. I just thank goodness it wasn't a $4 cup of Starbucks.

What's worse, I'm not the only one to suffer from my addiction withdrawal. (I know, it's only the first day; bear with me here. I'm trying to make a point.) When I went to walk the dog this morning, I clipped the wrong ring on his collar, and he magaged to break free and get himself stuck in a bramble after chasing a squirrel that he was lucky enough to be able to follow. I contributed to the warming globe (no, it was not done selfishly or on purpose) by using an extra 1/2 gallon of gas to go back to the store when I forgot to get the one thing I had set out to buy there.

Finally, my first grader came off the bus and immediately pointed out that I had put two different shoes on him before sending him to school. At least they weren't on the wrong feet.

Some might be so discouraged by the blatant incompetence brought on by this mild shift in diet that they would throw up their hands, say, 'forget it. I cannot operate without coffee' and go back to their old ways. Personally, I think that sounds like a great idea. But I'm going to wait. I'm going to try to get a better night's sleep tonight, and maybe even try the partly-decaf route again tomorrow. But if the kitchen catches fire, the goldfish ends up in the refrigerator or my kid comes home in a bathing suit, I'm giving up. I may be addicted, but I'm not stupid.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hell Is So Cold

I don't know why it's taken me over 40 years to realize that I hate the cold. I'm relatively smart; you'd think I would have figured this out years ago and moved to California before setting down roots, but no. It occurred to me last night, as I was walking the dog in six degree temperatures, while wearing four layers of clothes and feeling my nose hairs freezing before I got to the end of my driveway. Winter is my version of hell.

In order to be warm I must wear several shirts and pairs of pants at once. This leads to exponential amounts of laundry, so it's like having an adult-sized newborn in the house. Normally this would not be a problem, as I have no desire to leave the house between January and March, so could spend all of my time washing clothes in my nice, warm house and therefore never fall behind.

But I have children. And it snows in winter. So I MUST leave the house in order to take them sleigh riding and snowball fighting and snowman building. Not only do I have to leave the house, I have to stay outdoors in the cold weather. As if this wasn't bad enough, I must also somehow convey a positive attitude and actually feign enthusiasm for being outside. It helps if I am smiling when I leave the house, as the smile freezes there within moments of stepping outside.

My hatred of being outside in winter leads to my attempts to stay indoors as much as possible doing fun things. I build fires in the fireplace, rent movies, do crafts and bake. But then I get stir crazy, and the only way to remedy that is to go out. But I don't want to go out because it's so very flippin' cold. So I'm trapped. Damned if I do, damned if I don't.

Finally, winter is dark. A lot. It's dark in the morning and it's dark after school, so I always feel like I'm in a cave. The way I see it, if I'm going to feel like I'm trapped in a cave all winter, I'd be better off hibernating. If I stayed in bed until spring, my family wouldn't have to deal with my crankiness and I wouldn't have to deal with winter. It's a win-win situation.

Since my children are already entrenched in school, activities, and community involvement, I figure this will be much easier than uprooting them and moving to someplace warm. So I just need to make up a meal schedule for them to follow from now until spring, hire a cleaning lady, and turn on my electric blanket. It's my only viable way out of this hell.

Wake me when it's over.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Food Police

The morning after my son's first sleepover at a friend's house, the phone rang. Expecting a report of how little sleep they got or a suggested time for picking him up, I was greeted instead with an accusatory tone:

"What are you doing to your son??"


"What? Why?!?"

"I just offered your son chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and he said to me, 'no thank you. I'm not allowed to have candy for breakfast.' What are you teaching him? You are depriving this poor child of his childhood!"

Oops. Of course, her accusation was said in jest, though I could absolutely see Jacob giving that answer and asking for a bagel instead. And I understand why he made the leap from 'no candy for breakfast' to 'no pancakes with candy in them for breakfast.' But what if my friend was right? What if I was being maniacal about the food thing, to the detriment of my son's childhood joy?

It's probably worth mentioning here that I also don't let my kids eat raw cookie dough. I know, I know, it's amazingly, wonderfully delicious and some would even say a necessary part of childhood. But the raw eggs! E. Coli! My little brain has tremendous trouble justifying the risk. Isn't it better to just let them have an extra, baked cookie when they're done?

The most ridiculous part of all of this is that I grew up watching my father eat a raw egg every day (for health), and I personally consumed countless pounds of raw, ground lamb as a child. This was a standard appetizer in my house, just as it had been a regular dish in my grandparents' homeland. Thankfully, I never got sick. I grew up, learned how to read scientific information that taught me the dangers of such "foolhardy behavior" (read: previously normal behavior), and changed my ways. If my kids were going to get violently ill with nausea, fever, diarrhea and vomiting, it wasn't going to be because of me.

Granted, ignorance is bliss. My kids were very happy even before knowing about chocolate chip pancakes. But at the same time, I still remember going to a friend's house as a middle-schooler and eating bagels with lox and cream cheese. In my Armenian/Irish/English household, this was something that had never graced our table. (I'm pretty sure my Jewish friend had never eaten raw lamb either, come to think of it.) I went home and asked my mother if she would buy some bagels and lox. She didn't even know what it was, let alone where to get it. Needless to say, it was never served in my house. Instead, I was forced to get over my disappointment and befriend more Jews so I could get my fix at their houses.

The point is, just like in real life, our culinary lives are a journey. Start here. Travel there. Land somewhere in between. Just because we've never done things a certain way doesn't make it bad, and it doesn't mean we shouldn't give it a try to see how we like it.

Once I got past my bruised ego, I was OK with the chocolate chip pancake thing. In fact, I felt so magnanimous one day that I offered to make them for my son.

"No thanks," he replied. "They're too sweet."

In the end, things may work themselves out after all.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Censory Input

In the New York Times today, Lisa Belkin, whose writing I love and have followed for years, wrote about fairy tales and whether they are too scary to be read to children. I laughed out loud, but not because I found the topic ridiculous. On the contrary, I actually blogged about it over eight years ago when my oldest son was less than a year old.*

Since then, we've seen more horrors than we could have imagined: 9/11 and Columbine are the first that leap to mind. In light of this, a conversation about fairy tales seems almost trite. There are those who may think that such child-focused discussions and debates are silly or unnecessary, but in fact we are shaping the future. And when it comes to parenting, it's the little things that really make a difference.

Someone once said that perception is reality. To a child, this is especially true. Figuring out the best way to raise healthy, happy children is a difficult job that will ultimately impact (and hopefully benefit) all of society. So to those who laugh, I say, don't mock it 'til you try it.

*Posted 8/15/2000
As a writer, I truly embrace the right to freedom of speech every day. But as a parent, I also practice the art of censorship when it comes to my son. Not that I ever considered doing this. One day we were singing songs, and it just sort of...happened.

"Rock-a-bye baby in the treetop, when the wind blows the cradle will rock."

OK, I'm fine with all of that (though I wouldn't be putting MY kid up in a tree, but whatever. It's Fantasyland, let's go with it).

"When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall and down will come baby, cradle and all."

All right, let's stop right there. Since this clearly illustrates why we wouldn't be putting baby in a tree in the first place, Fantasyland is now out the window. And if we're going to be doing reality-based baby songs, what's the harm in a little censorship?

"When the moon shines, then baby will know that mommy and daddy love him so."

There. Isn't that nice? Wouldn't that be more appropriate for singing baby to sleep? For pity's sake, it took the kid three months to start sleeping through the night, and now with teething, he's got enough problems. Why give him nightmares to boot?

Now let's talk about other forms of entertainment, say television for example. As a worrisome, first-time parent, I've read plenty about the evil affects of television on babies under two years old. And let's face it: kids aren't born loving Barney. They're TAUGHT. So by not letting Jacob watch television at all, right there, I've managed to eliminate some evil, at least from MY life.

I've seen all the baby videos, Baby Chopin and the like, and read the marketing that 'Mozart boosts baby's brain synapses.' We even received a Baby Mozart video as a gift when Jacob was born, but I vowed he wouldn't know what a television was until he was at least two year old. BZZZZZZZZZT!! Wrongo, Mama, but thanks for playing.

Take a day, an ordinary Tuesday, when the laundry needs to be done, the house needs to be vacuumed, the library books are overdue and you're in charge of dinner. Then factor your baby in. Then cut his two 2-hour naps down to 35 minutes each, and sprinkle in a little baby constipation. You see where I'm going with this? I was a convert in the making. And the good news is, Jacob loved Baby Mozart. He won't be seeing it every day to be sure, but it's nice to know I have a little box of sanity-saver in the house, no prescription necessary.

Finally, there are the bedtime stories. Pick a classic. Any classic. Hansel and Gretel? Eaten by a witch. Goldilocks? Eaten by bears. Three little pigs? Eaten by a wolf. Who are the child-hating authors who came up with these stories? "Don't go into the woods. EVER." Unless this was the lesson they were going for, holy cow they should have been stopped by their editors way before print time and referred for counseling.

I've seen the Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, and while I understand the spirit behind them, I'm still a fan of Prince Charming, so I won't go editing those stories (at least not for Jacob. What parent wouldn't want to raise a prince? Ask me about them again when I have a daughter).

But the violence, well that's another story. The way I see it, there is so much violence out there today on television, on the Internet, in the schools, in the streets, and in the music, that I want to make Jacob's inevitably short childhood last as long as I possibly can. And if that means telling only sweet fairy tales, baking cookies and changing some of the classic old songs along the way, well then that's what I'm going to do. I can't control the future, but I can sure create a warm, happy past for him to remember fondly when he's grown. At least then maybe he'll call once in a while.

Photo credit: Fairy Tales by Mary L. Gow, English artist born 1851 - died 1929

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Trust Me

Over the last few months, I realized something about how my family eats. We have the designated 'picky eater' (number one son); we have the 'good eater' (number two son); the chef (my husband), and the culinarily open-minded one (no, not the dog. Me. The dog is not discerning at all.). And among us non-chefs, I have decided that our openness (or not) to food is not about tastes: it's about trust.

Bear with me here. I think I might be on to something.

When I offer prince number one any food that is new, non-starchy, named in a foreign language or presented in a form different from what he is used to, he gets suspicious.

"What's in it?"

"It comes from a cow, just like steak."

"What does it taste like?"

"It doesn't really have a taste. It takes on the flavor of the sauce."

"What kind of texture does it have?"

"Soft and firm, like a noodle with ridges." I say all these things honestly, trying to take away the scary newness factor to get him to take a bite. This happens with every new food.

In the end, after much poking and examining of the new food, he will likely decide the insides look like brains, the color looks like poop or it smells funky, and politely decline while reaching for the rice.

Prince number two, on the other hand, will look at a dish of tripe in front of his father and say, "hey Dad, can I have some?" Indeed, when he was first learning to talk, he would climb up on his father's knee and say, "What's dat? I EAT DAT!" Similarly, if my husband is cooking (or eating) something I've never seen before, I'll take the offered taste without question.

This does not happen when I cook. That's because it's common knowledge that I'm not very good at it. Oh, I haven't ruined anything, really, but when it comes to putting together flavors and textures that complement each other in a dish, my husband is the king in this family. My children know this. They love me, but as young as they are, they are wary of my cooking.

My husband exudes a confidence in the kitchen, even as he rushes around shooing everyone out, that makes us exhale with relief. We don't know what's coming, but we know it will be good. We know the flavors will work, and we will likely enjoy it. We trust him.

It is because of this trust that my sons and I have tried tripe, snails, and a variety of other things that would never have been uttered in the same sentence with the word 'food', in my opinion. And they were good. We trusted my husband to lead us into tempting dining scenarios, and we were rewarded with expanded palates.

Like any relationship, one with food must be built on trust. We must be open-minded, and count on those we love to help us broaden our horizons. I think it was Julia Child who said, "'Tis better to have tasted and spat then never to have tasted at all."* Or maybe it was Auguste Gusteau from the Disney/Pixar movie, Ratatouille? Either way, it's true. Be daring. Open wide. Cheers!

*With apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I Prefer A Nine Iron

I have never considered myself the homemaker type. The few memories I have of "cooking" when I was younger involve heating cans of Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup and toasting bagel bites. When I moved into my first apartment, my roommate, conveniently, was a foodie and a cook. That was when I was exposed to such things as crepe pans, udon noodles, stir fry and sushi (OK, I know you don't cook sushi, but you get the idea. I learned that there was, gastronomically, more to life than Campbell's soup).

Years later, the first time I wanted to cook for my then-boyfriend-now-husband, I called my mom. What's a good way to cook chicken pieces? What kind of seasoning and how much? What temperature and for how long? Noodles or rice? I figured I just had to get past this first hurdle and then my (also conveniently) foodie boyfriend would teach me the finer points of cooking.

Much to my children's chagrin, this has yet to happen. Now that I am the at-home parent, I cook most of the meals. And I use the term 'cook' loosely. Today, for example, I decided to give our brand new waffle iron a try. Its non-stick, one-dial construction made it very non-threatening and the kids were hungry, so I was psyched to be breakfast hero on a snow day. Mix Bisquick batter. Check. Read manual. Check. Pour batter. Check. Close waffle iron. Uh oh.

First came the oozing: batter ran down the sides of the waffle iron and all over the counter. Mental note: pour less batter. Next came the smoke. Well, not really smoke; in retrospect, I realize it was steam, but there was a lot of it. Even the dog seemed to be panicking. I decided to wait it out and hope for the best.

After a few minutes, the iron's little light went off, indicating the waffles were done. Open waffle iron (or try). That was my first warning that something was still wrong. Lo and behold, batter stuck to the top of the iron grill, batter stuck to the bottom of the grill, lots of fluffy stuff remained in between. Sigh.

As the kids reached for the cereal boxes and I scraped stuck waffle remnants from the grill, I told them not to be so hasty, and offered to make pancakes instead. They were sweet and forgiving--more so than usual--and gave me another chance. For round two I put cooking oil on the grill first, and used less batter. Suffice it to say everyone got waffles before lunchtime.

This whole incident actually comes as no surprise to my family, as they still enjoy reminding me about the time I broiled a cake, having set the oven for "broil" instead of "bake" (hey, they both start with 'b'). The cake took twice as long as the instructions said it should, and was black on top, but once it was frosted, it tasted fine. I wrote and thanked the company for their idiot-proof product.

OK, so I'm not Martha Stewart, that I'll concede. But give me a nine iron and I'll show you what I'm really worth. Just make sure you eat first.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

That 70s Life

When I woke up this morning, I didn't suspect that the day would end with a rite of passage for me. While listening to a radio program about the 1970s (yes, almost a half century ago), my nine-year-old perked up his ears when he heard the term 'Pet Rock.' I laughed and said, "Wow, the 70s! I was a kid in the 70s!"

"You WERE??" my son asked, incredulous.


"Did you have a pet rock?"

"Yeah, actually, I did," I smirked.

"Oh my god, THAT IS SO LAME!" he managed to squeak out between peals of laughter.

And in that one instant, I officially became an old fart in my child's eyes.

"What did you DO with it??" he asked, now an eager little rubbernecker to the obviously pitiful car wreck that was my childhood definition of 'fun.'

"Well, I seem to recall it came with a leash..."

More screams of laughter.

"And I would pour water on it and then take it out for a walk. Er, a drag."

I had to stop there and let him catch his breath. The poor kid, owner of a newly minted Nintendo DS Lite and shiny iPod Nano, was now turning a lovely shade of blue for lack of oxygen. Indeed, how could he wrap his new-millennium-brain around the concept of a pet rock?

"Did you ever trip on your pet rock and rip your bell-bottoms?"

"Eh, no, but that would indeed have been a drag."

"Yeah, you would have had to figure out what else you could wear to the disco! Haaaa ha ha ha!!"

Now realizing I was being blatantly mocked, I assured him that his children would one day have a field day over his growing up in a house with "wires" and listening to "FM radio" with "commercials" on it. Taking what was left of my dignity, I kissed him and slipped out of the room, humming the theme song from an old t.v. show:

Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out.

Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about....

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Finding What Matters

When I first became a mother, my own mom, who lives a 12-hour car ride away, asked me to take a new picture of the baby for her each month. Each month? Are you kidding me? I thought she was nuts, both for thinking there would be any blatantly visible changes in the baby each month, and for imagining that I'd remember to do it when I was overwhelmed by new motherhood and completely sleep deprived. But I did my best, and so we have a handful of pictures from my firstborn's first year. As for the second child, well, let's just say we have enough pictures from his infancy for him to know that he wasn't adopted at age 3. Barely.

Of course in hindsight, we are all former fools. Looking back (was it really 10 years ago??), it is easy to see what was important and what wasn't, what we should have held onto (longer baby bath times, naps with a snoozing infant on your chest, babbly conversations) and what we could have let go (laundry piles, vacuuming, dust). Wouldn't it be grand if putting the past into perspective helped us to do the same with the present? Well, maybe it can.

Thinking about when my boys were very little, the best times were the ones I spent reading to them, making play-doh creations, singing, walking, talking and laughing with them. It didn't have anything to do with what developmental stage they were in, where we were or who else was there. The best times were the times I spent engaged, playing and being with them.

Life today is chaotic. There is school and homework. There are music lessons, sports and work, scouts and pets and play dates. Someone always 'needs' me for something, and I find myself shouting orders, instructions and reprimands down the stairs, down the hall and into other rooms at least once a day. "Clean your room!" "Get in the shower!" "Leave him alone!" "Time for dinner!"

But over our vacation this past week, my kids and I baked, laughed at movies, played games and sang together. Some stuff that had to get done got done, some didn't. But we had a great vacation: we enjoyed each other's company, we were involved in things together, and we had fun. Just like the old days.

The games may change, the stages of development will be new, but some things always remain the same. Kids don't just need our love, discipline and guidance. They need our time, interest and attention. Life's demands make it easier to tune out, to focus on getting tasks off our list. But tuning into our kids is not only fun, it shows them we respect and care about them. And that will almost guarantee that they'll tune into us and respect us when we need them to. Like in another 10 short years...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Half Full, Silver-Lined, Rose Colored Glasses

January first is one of my favorite days of the year. A universal tabula rasa, it gives every person on the planet a fresh start, an opportunity to begin anew. Being an overly optimistic person, to the point that some of my more reality-based friends and family find utterly annoying, this day brings an ultimate high: it's like a holiday designed for me.

I don't really do resolutions, because I'm terrible at following through on personal goals. Rather than focus on specifics--get fit, sell 10 essays, organize my house--I prefer to go for the amorphous goal of being a better person. Don't gossip. Be kind. Help without being asked. Return shopping carts to the store. Talk less. Listen more. These are like mini-projects, opportunities that will present themselves to me on any given day that can be tackled easily and quickly, without a nagging conscience or monthly dues. The way I see it, if it makes a positive difference in the lives of others, it's not a resolution cop-out.

The perk of it is that when my children see me doing these things, they learn that treating others well and doing good deeds is the way to live your life. Let's face it: when the novelty of new parenthood wears off and the role takes on the drudgery of cubicle-job routine, it's hard to remember to do it with passion. I've uttered the words "because I said so" more than I care to admit this past year, and while it may get the task done, it's not really a valid reason all the time. I'd much prefer to get my kids to do as I do, not just as I say.

So here we are in 2009. The economy is in the toilet. My friends are divorcing, unemployed and depressed. Our country has more problems than it has had in decades. There is bitterness, skepticism, resentment and despair everywhere. I lost four beautiful people from my life in 2008. From where I sit, there's no room for anything but optimism at this point: the world needs it in spades.

The best part about today is that anything is possible. We have a new administration coming into office. We have more global awareness than ever before. And I have children. The future is in my hands, and I have the power to make it better than the past. We all do.

Maybe I'll organize my closets, and maybe I'll start exercising this year. If I do, those will be personal perks. But my hope is that my real efforts will help improve the lives of others, making them want to do the same. Just imagine the difference we could make if such an idea caught on.

Happy New Year all.