“It’s Appropriate”

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Has this ever happened to you? One of your children is watching something on a screen that seems questionable to you. You ask if it is appropriate for them. They assure you that, yes, it is appropriate.

“Oh. Okay,” you say.

You know they say this because they want you to go away and leave them in peace. You want the same thing, so you choose to believe them because sometimes you don’t feel like taking the time to investigate if it’s truly appropriate. Sure – I can count on my child to know what’s appropriate and what’s not, can’t I? The kids and I would agree on certain things that are clearly not appropriate, such as highly sexual content or gory violence – they wouldn’t want to watch these things anyway (not yet, at least.) It’s all the other things (like bad language, mature themes, silly reality shows) where the line is not always so clear.

Sometimes things are inappropriate but in the opposite direction – not mature enough. Take for instance my 16-year-old son with special needs. He has a penchant for watching shows that some might say are too young for him. I used to tell him he is too old to watch these shows.

“But I like them,” he told me.

Sigh. He likes them. Who am I to force him to watch shows that he doesn’t really get or enjoy, just because they are more age appropriate? For me, there’s a fine line between expecting him to act his age and allowing him to be how God made him. Where is the perfect balance? I’m always looking for it.

My daughter recently reported that this brother was watching “Family Guy.” Oh good, my husband and I thought – that’s semi-appropriate for a teenage boy. Then she told us that it was really a cover for him to watch a children’s show on the computer – he too clearly understands the whole “It’s Appropriate” game. Too bad this cognitive ability doesn’t actually transfer to age-appropriate television for him, but oh well. He did participate in a recent “Simpsons”-fest with his cousins, keeping him somewhat in the adolescent TV loop.

My daughter chastised me for allowing her brother to watch “baby” shows.

“Really? Do I need a critique of my parenting from you?” I asked.

Let me just say that she loves “Dance Moms” and God-knows what other shows that some may say are inappropriate for an 11-year-old girl. It’s amusing to me that my youngest thinks she is the maven of appropriate material. When she was nine she picked the song “Mean” by Taylor Swift to sing in a recital. It’s a great song. We both thought the tune was catchy but neither of us paid much attention to the words. I just thought she was so adorable. As I sat there watching her, I realized the song is about an abusive relationship and my stomach dropped to my toes.

Maybe not my best call in this grey area we call parenting, but the world didn’t come to an end. The video of her singing still makes me smile to this day. Is that really so inappropriate?

 

 

 

Good Ol’ Teddy

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We recently trolled for treasure at my in-laws house so our kids could pick out some keepsakes. My husband came across his childhood teddy bear, which he decided to bring home with us. I was a little hesitant as Teddy had definitely seen better days. He has black ears, arms and legs and apparently had a white body but most of the fur is gone from so much loving and cuddling. My husband’s grandmother performed a surgical repair to replace his chest and tummy with white fabric. Teddy has reddish eyes with black pupils but almost no nose or mouth to speak of.

Who knew that resuscitating this bear could once again give its owner such joy? Teddy has brought us innumerable laughs. It’s surprisingly been a mischievous break from the daily grind.

On Teddy’s first night in our house, I tucked him into my  husband’s side of the bed so he greeted him when he came to bed. It made hubby smile. We chuckled that Teddy may feel a little awkward having to share my husband’s affection with me. The next night I came to bed to find Teddy perched atop our headboard, lording over the marital bed, my husband joked. I confessed that I thought Teddy was creepy and scary-looking and flung him to the floor.

I have gotten enormous pleasure from surprising my husband by posing Teddy in varying and amusing attire. Part of the rush for me is that I forget about Teddy until I go up to bed, when hubby is generally not far behind – I often have only a few moments, wildly looking around the room for inspiration and humor.  First I tied a bandanna around his head, so he looked sort of like Bruce Springsteen, of whom my husband is a big fan. The biggest laughs so far came when I had him sitting in a chair in our bedroom with my reading glasses on and “reading” on husband’s kindle. It made us both laugh so hard, we cried. The silliness of it tickled our funny-bones – go figure.

If our kids are around, they share in the fun. Otherwise it’s just one of those silly things that keeps life light and fun in the midst of the harder times of being adults.

Apparently teddy bears aren’t just for kids anymore. Or we’re just kids in the body of adults…old and weathered like Teddy.

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Cave-Woman

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Many people begin the parenting experience by making grand proclamations about how they will raise their offspring. Things like, “my child will only watch educational television,” or “my child will only eat healthy foods.”

Then life happens and those strong feelings get tempered, those little babies become people who speak and have opinions, and parents learn to juggle their wants and desires with those of their children.

Sometimes we get beaten down and cave to their incessant demands. In my house, this has played out recently in the form of an iPhone. My husband and I were so proud of ourselves for holding out and not buying an iPhone for our oldest child until he was seventeen, which was last year. “What does he need it for?” we asked. “He has a perfectly good phone. And an iTouch.” Being the dutiful firstborn, he accepted his fate and didn’t press too hard on the subject. So we eventually relented, telling ourselves that he’ll be in college soon.

Ah, but it’s a slippery slope. Now our 13-year-old is lobbying hard. I find that I just don’t feel as strongly this time as I did with our eldest. Maybe because smartphones have become the norm. Maybe because he never seems to have his plain, old phone charged or with him when I need to reach him.

“If we get him an iPhone, it will no doubt be attached to his body and fully charged and therefore he would be reachable, right?” I asked my friend, who also has a 13-year-old boy.

“Absolutely,” she said, “My son’s phone is never dead. I could be dead, but his phone – never,” she chuckled.

Yep, I see an iPhone in the future for this son, once I negotiate this with my husband. Poor guy, he recently attempted to use his legal prowess with our daughter on the very serious subject of her birthday present. He called me one day after dropping her off at school.

“I caved,” he said.

“Oh? On what?” I asked.

“A trampoline. For her birthday,” he announced, defeated.

I’m happy when my husband occasionally caves. Since I spend more time with the kids, I am the recipient of most of the asking, whining, and begging so of course I cave more than he does. I was glad to see my daughter go for his weak spot – it’s a good skill for her to learn. In his defense, he held out for well over a year before caving.

So the trampoline will grace our backyard, where the dog roams too. I’m the one who caved on the dog. I guess we’re even, for now.

Have we lost control or do the things we care about change over time? Once we were rigid about bedtime – now it’s only the eleven-year-old who’s asleep before us. I was talking with a friend about this.

“I’ve lost control of that, among many other things,” she said and went on to tell me that her neighbor has noticed over the years that the lights in their house stay on later and later. The whole world apparently notices our loss of control. What’s the neighbor doing up so late anyway?

I like to tell myself that I don’t cave on the things that I really care about like being a good person and having good manners. Oh, and being a good student – although I confess that I leave the schoolwork to the kids and their teachers. I assume they are doing well if I don’t hear anything negative from the school. I guess I’ve sort of caved on that too.

Ultimately my children will be the captain of their ships and will have to do their own navigating. In the meantime, I’m just trying to have smooth sailing.

 

My Own American Werewolf

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I used to have a darling third child. He was born six weeks premature but quickly exploded into a blonde dumpling – an anomaly in my house of brunettes. He was an adorable child – fun, funny with a delightful disposition. He was a pleaser and very affectionate, so much so that my husband and I nicknamed him “The Drape” because he would hang on us at any opportunity. A touch smothering but basically adorable.

Now he’s thirteen. His mood generally morose, he is most often found with his head attached to headphones and watching television shows on the computer screen. I have to remind him to do the things he’s supposed to do –  homework, shower, eating, etc. In all of our interactions he’s either snippy, spacey, or both.

“Huh?” seems to be his bewildered response to every inquiry.

I know this is the norm for an adolescent. What sets this child apart in our household is the rapid transformation from adored child to exasperating teenager.

It is my experience that when a child irks one parent, the other parent is able to swoop in and valiantly play defense attorney for the young offender – the champion of the poor, misunderstood child. I think that’s part of evolution, so we don’t kill our young.

For me, adolescence can be summed up by the 1980’s movie, An American Werewolf in London, where the main character, an adorably boyish looking twenty-something, periodically morphs into a terrifying werewolf. Our children, once so pure and pristine suddenly begin “the change” into adulthood. Their faces temporarily appear out of proportion, they get acne, their limbs are gangly, their hormones surge, until they become a creature that we hardly recognize. Oh, how I long for my cute little boy.

I am fairly confident that he will come out okay on the other side of adolescence, if I don’t kill him first. I see little glimmers of hope from time to time – watching him laughing with friends or playing charmingly with little kids. Deep down the sweet little boy is still there. Even werewolves must love their mothers, right?

It is clear to me now that my experience of adolescence as a parent to three boys has all been one giant preview to the main event that awaits me in the near future. My daughter turns eleven next month.

Pray for me.

The Secret to a Good Marriage

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We have all read the standard advice about how to have a good marriage. Strong communication, scheduling date nights, and not going to bed mad are some of the most frequently cited. I agree that these are excellent ideas. However, I have recently discovered what can be described as the purest display of love and devotion, an act that says, “I really care about you.” This pearl of wisdom, this key to marital harmony – leaving a spare toilet paper roll on the back of the toilet when the current one is perilously low. It’s really that simple.

I don’t know when this paying the roll forward started in my house. We didn’t discuss it. We just quietly started doing it. Nineteen years into our marriage and we’ve figured it out. A small act of kindness goes a long way. We’ve all experienced being stranded without a roll. It’s a horrible feeling of helplessness and extreme vulnerability. That spare roll is saying, hey, I’ve got your back – both literally and figuratively.

I was discussing our acts of bathroom kindness with my sister.

She said, “Yes, that is what that Love Languages theory is all about. You feel loved by acts of kindness. So do I. It must be in the genes.”

Gary Chapman, a marriage counselor, came up with this theory. He says each person has a primary love language that we must learn to speak if we want that person to feel loved. They are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. My sister proceeded to tell me that her husband has been doing the dishes lately, a task that she usually took care of. When she asked him why he was so eager to do the dishes, he told her that he knows it makes her happy when he does things around the house without being asked. Flowers and perfume aren’t her thing. Hence, he shows her his love by doing the dishes. What an interesting concept.

So many people routinely test their spouse to see if they remember the right occasions, buy the right gift, say the right things. This is a set-up for failure and disappointment all around. Everyone wants to be a good spouse. Maybe it’s as simple as stating what makes you happy, and meaning it. No hidden agenda or test.

I read an article by Sally Quinn several years ago that stuck with me. She was talking about seating at dinner parties. She suggests that you seat partners apart from each other. It allows each spouse to have a conversation with someone else, to learn something new, which makes for interesting conversation on the ride home. More importantly, it allows you to watch your spouse across a room, engaged in conversation with other people. Perhaps it reminds you why you liked him/her in the first place. We get caught up and focused on the things that irritate us about our spouse. We forget to look at our partner as we first knew them – adorable, witty, funny, personable. Or whatever traits drew you to the person in the first place.

Years of marriage build a bond that can’t always be seen. A look passed between you can speak volumes. You can read each other’s minds.

It’s the small gestures that help build big relationships. One roll at a time.

The Closet of Many Sizes

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The Jewish holidays are upon us once again. How to make them meaningful? Who to invite over?  What will my menu be? And the most difficult question…what will I wear? Not in the fashion sense-who’s looking at me way. But in the what- will-fit or what-size-am-I-this-year way?

Thank goodness for the closet of many sizes.

My weight, like many people, fluctuates. Some may view me as chubby, others might see me as thin-ish. What really matters is how I see myself. I can accept growing older and my changing body. I can try to hide the lumps and bumps that come with my life experiences. Four c-sections and nursing babies came with a price to my body. But I don’t need to give in to food and give up on keeping my weight at a place that’s comfortable for me.

Sure it’s difficult.  I love food. The challenge is finding the balance of enjoying food but not letting it get the better of me. How can I drop that extra 10 pounds? Here it is – the secret to losing weight…eat less and get off your tush. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much.

The dieting world is a multi-billion dollar industry for a reason – people want to look good and be healthy.  My favorite weight loss program was Weight Watchers, which helped me get a handle on my weight a few years ago. But then I got lax and whoop, there it is – the weight creeps back up. We all have heard the reasons why people overeat – because we’re happy or sad or lonely or bored. We eat because we’re hungry or because food’s delicious – whatevs. No matter the reasons, we’re alive therefore we eat.

I learned about healthy eating from my mother. She was so darn healthy, it was annoying at times.  She was very aware of what she ate but not in an eating-disorder kind of way. She always kept her weight in check, generally looking better than I did. She truly could have a bite of something delicious, or just one cookie – that is not in my genetic code.  I admired her healthy eating and emulated her as much as I could, but unfortunately I am more of a textbook glutton.

I hate my closet of many sizes, yet love it all the same. The jeans from when I was my skinniest hide in the corner, mocking me and daring me to ever fit into them again. Then there are my “fat jeans,” my reliable, comfortable old friends – I hate fitting into them but am grateful they are there to welcome the larger me . I can’t bear to shop for a bigger size.

I will mentally set my brain to “lock-down,” and try to control my excess eating and exercise more. My food strategy can be compared to the mullet – business during the week and a party on the weekend. It takes some will-power and determination. And a touch of vanity. I make no grand proclamations and take it a day at a time.

Starting tomorrow of course, after a last supper of Peppermint Patties and Chardonnay.

 

 

 

Sultry Housewife

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Lauren Bacall died recently. The NY Times banner that came over my phone read – Lauren Bacall, Sultry Movie Star dies at 89.

Sultry, I thought, what an awesome word. Then I thought, what are the chances that I would be remembered as “sultry?” Sultry housewife? Sultry blogger? Unlikely. A girl can dream though.  If I’m not sultry, how will I be remembered? And no, nothing is wrong with my health. I’m just speculating, something a blog allows me to do.

Funny? I’d like that. Authentic? Yes. Earnest? Definitely not. Kind? Most of the time. Smart? About some things. Outgoing? Most certainly. I never married a Humphrey Bogart-ish celebrity but I did marry Brad Stillman – a legend in his own right. Yes, he proofread this and allowed it to stand as is. He too has a sense of humor and is very humble about his greatness. He thinks I would definitely be remembered for having excellent taste in men.

People don’t use the word sultry often. I think it’s a great word. It’s sexy, but in a classy way. It also makes me think of another word not frequently used – slatternly. Sultry means “attractive in a way that suggests or causes feelings of sexual desire.” Slatternly, on the other hand means “untidy and dirty through habitual neglect” or “of, relating to, or characteristic of a slut or prostitute.” The line between sultry and slatternly…where is that line? I just hope I end up on the right side of it.

Don’t worry, I’m not in danger of sliding to the dark side.  Been there, done that, in my younger days. No, like Lauren Bacall, I’m deep down just a nice Jewish girl.  While “sultry” may be the word most associated with Lauren Bacall, her friend Sally Quinn also described her as “funny, razor sharp, mischievous, iconoclastic, self-deprecating and openly vulnerable. She shared her life with her friends and radiated a feeling of trust that was always returned.” Wow, she sounds like the kind of person I would like to hang out with.

Does sultry housewife have to be an oxymoron? Must these words be mutually exclusive? I don’t think so. I recently heard a lecture on relationships. The speaker talked about how women (and men) put their best self forward whenever they go “out.”  Out to work and out with friends. Yet often we wear our least attractive, most comfortable clothes when we are in our homes.  What a novel idea – to look as nice in the house as you do when you go out?  Put your best self forward for your spouse or partner. Not in a June Cleaver, pearls and formal dress kind of way, but in a way that says I’m in this relationship and care about nurturing it and keeping it fresh. I can get with that notion.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ll hang on to my sweatpants. I’m not crazy. But I will wear them sparingly.  Just like Lauren Bacall probably did.