Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are You THAT Parent???

The Today Show was playing on my television set, as usual, while I made my bed this morning.  Also as usual, I paid only a bit of attention to it, here and there, as I was starting my day.  I turned to watch it when I heard Matt Lauer announce a segment about parents obsessing over their kids’ happiness.  This piqued my interest since I have kids and, of course, want them to be happy.  One of the guests was Lori Gottlieb, author of a very provocative article in The Atlantic entitled. “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.”  

In a nutshell, Gottlieb suggests that “by protecting our children from unhappiness as kids, we are depriving them of happiness as adults.”  An interesting premise, indeed.  Gottlieb presents an interesting argument, backed with logical and convincing support.  This got me thinking.... am I THAT parent? 
You know the kind I’m talking about, the parent who constantly praises their kid - even for the most ridiculous things (“I love the way you’re holding that book”), the one who signs their kid up for EVERY activity your school and/or community offer - regardless of the kid’s interest or ability, the one who defends their eight year old to the teacher who reports a fairly benign classroom incident, and states, “It seems to me that you just don’t like my son/daughter.”  This is the same parent who repeatedly “helps” their kid with important school projects (translation: completes the assignment for them), which can be confirmed by said kid bragging about such to classmates.  This boggles my mind.  Why do parents do this?  It just seems so crazy to me.  Do parents really want to save their kids from the unhappiness that would occur from failing? Or, do parents see their kids for as extensions of themselves and   are, therefore, unable to admit the faults of their kids because to do so would mean that they themselves are flawed? And, consequently, to have their kids experience unhappiness and disappointment results in their own unhappiness and disappointment.
immediately I thought of Janet Chiauzzi, the mother from Long Island who was recently arrested on stalking charges for threatening the coach of her son’s Little League team (and his wife and daughter) when her son failed to make the travel team.  Was she going WAY overboard in trying to prevent her eleven year old son from a little disappointment and unhappiness?  Could she be a mother with the best of intentions for her son, but clearly with a misguided sense of appropriate behavior? Or is she maybe she is just unable to admit that her son is not that good at baseball because to do so would be to admit that she herself is flawed in some way.  Clearly she’ll get no argument there.

As a high school English teacher I can confirm that most kids are not receptive to constructive criticism.  Many panic and “freak out” if their grade is not above a 90 on any assignment.  They complain that they don’t understand why they received the grade assigned, even when it is laid out for them in a grading rubric.  But the reaction of the parents is often worse than that of the student.  In fact, in my first year teaching, I had a student who was, shall we say, less than stellar.  She performed well when she put forth the effort, which was about 50% of the time.  Her mother “blew a gasket” when the grades coming home were less than she expected.  At parent-teacher conference night she confronted me, asking that I explain my grading process.  I pulled out several of her daughter’s pop quizzes.  These quizzes were designed to check if the student was completing the required reading assignments in that they asked only basic plot questions - no analysis.  Her daughter routinely scored a 1 out 5 on these quizzes.  This was meaningless to mom.  She insisted that her daughter was reading.  This mother was so upset with her daughter’s progress in my class that she call my assistant principal almost daily to complain about me.  I threw my hands in the air, baffled.
My very favorite story about a parent’s misguided defense of their kid comes from a retired college professor.  This professor assigned a research term paper to her freshman class.  Since this was back before the proliferation of the home computer and the internet (late 1980’s), she handed out a completed paper for the students to use as a sample of what she was looking for.  One of her students actually submitted THE SAME EXACT PAPER, retyped, as their own.  When the professor assigned a failing grade to the assignment, the student’s father called the professor to complain. The professor explained the situation (the fact that the student had copied the paper the professor handed out - CHEATED), Dad simply argued that he felt his son had gotten enough out of the assignment simply by reading and retyping the paper.  I kid you not, as the professor in this case is my mother.
I like to think that I’m not this kind of parent.  Sure, I tell my kids they do a good job when they tie their shoes, but only when they are first learning to tie them, not when they’re in high school.  Do I run to my kids when they fall? Of course I do.  I’m human.  However, I am well aware of what my kids are good at and what they’re not.  I don’t force activities that I prefer just because I like them.  I also don’t condone quitting midway through.  Case in point: when my daughter decided halfway through basketball season that she no longer enjoyed playing, she played through the end of the season, as her step-father and I reminded her that she made a commitment to the team and needed to to honor it.  We discussed it.  And to us, that is really the most important part.  We didn’t “make” her continue with basketball per say.  We did “strongly suggest” it, and we explained why.  She told us what she was upset and concerned about.  We discussed ways to deal with those feelings (not avoid them).  She understood why we felt it was important to honor her commitment and agreed.  The rest, as they say, is history.  

A wise friend once told me that it’s okay to feel a feeling; and just because you feel it doesn’t mean that you become it.  You may feel like a disappointment to your parents (and yourself), but that doesn’t make you an actual disappointment.  The feeling will pass, you will survive, and the world will not end.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Golden Girls Wisdom

This father's day made me think of these quotes from the Golden Girls, both uttered by the late Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak:
"Being a mother isn't easy.  If it were, father's would do it."
"That's what fathers do.....they yell and they barbecue.  That's what separates them from the apes." 
Happy Father's Day to all!

Friday, June 10, 2011

My (Failed) Clutter Experiment

I’ll admit it, I have a clutter problem - i HATE clutter.  But here’s the problem: I have a husband and three kids.  My youngest is just 16 months, so she gets a “pass” on being part of the problem.  Hubby and the older two, well there’s no nice way to say this, they are SLOBS.  The result is we are all often miserable.  Them, because I am constantly on them to pick up AND put away their belongings.  Me, because I am constantly running around my house picking up after everyone else, which is frustrating and time-consuming.

Why am I so obsessed with clutter? A few reasons.  First, I hate the way it looks.  As soon as a guest walks into my house, I begin to see my home through their eyes.  Piles of papers that seemed to blend into the background before, suddenly become a major focal point - and source of embarrassment for me. I like to see clean surfaces.  Second, clutter-free surfaces make me feel good.  A clear kitchen counter actually makes me happy.  It says “come be creative here,” or “why don’t you make an amazing meal for you family here,” to me. It’s inviting, it calls me to use it.  When my counter is covered with “crap,” it says, “don’t bother - just order in,” to me.  Third, clutter makes me feel stressed out.  It’s like a looming “to do” list.  Seeing piles of stuff everywhere reminds me of everything I have to do (like pay bills).  Finally, I learned that everything that I innately feel about clutter has roots in Feng Shui.

I found a simple definition for feng shui on about.com’s “Feng Shui 101” page: “an ancient art and science developed over 3,000 years ago in China.  It is a complex body of knowledge that reveals how to balance the energies of any given space to assure the health and good fortune of people inhabiting it.”  My husband is of the opinion that this is all BS, but I feel differently.  
About two years ago I enlisted the help of a professional Feng Shui consultant - Ann Bingley Gallops of Open Spaces Feng Shui.  Ann revealed to me that there is good reason for me to be so stressed out by clutter.  Clutter can make you feel stuck because it prevents the flow of “chi,” or energy. Together, Ann and I went over my space (home) in detail and discussed some of the nuances of Feng Shui and how they applied to my home and life.  Clearing clutter was a critical part of her suggestions, and not just paper clutter.  For example, in the soffit above my kitchen cabinets I had an extensive collection of wicker baskets.  Ann suggest I remove them.  Since they are made of wood they are easily burned by the fire element that is so strong in a kitchen.  I did remove them and the space instantly felt “lighter.”  Other suggestions Ann made included wall color selections (reds in our “fame and reputation area), removing books from the master bedroom (too much stimulation for what is supposed to be a serene and intimate sanctuary), and ways to disguise a staircase that runs through the center of the house (affects the health and finances of the family).

Anyway, clutter is a never-ending battle when you have kids (and a husband).  I am the one who constantly runs around picking up after everyone, trying to keep the clutter in check.  So as an experiment, I decided to stop picking up after everyone else, with the exception of the baby.  For three days, I picked up only my own things and those of the little munchkin and let everyone else’s clutter accumulate.  This was no small task.  It took every ounce of strength I had to fight the urge to “tidy up.”  My kitchen countertops became inundated with papers - school stuff, mail, junk.  I often had to leave the room in order to regain my composure and prevent myself from hyperventilating.  
After three days, I declared my experiment a complete and total failure.  Why? Because NO ONE noticed that I had stopped cleaning up.  Not one member of my household commented that things were looking out of control.  No one even tried to pick up their accumulated junk to get it out of the way.  72 hours was my maximum threshold for clutter accumulation - and probably also for my elevated blood pressure.  When I announced to my family that I had been conducting this experiment they looked at me, puzzled.  My eleven year old said, “Well, now I have room to do my homework in the kitchen again.”  Gee, thanks.....

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Who's More Foolish.....

.....the fool, or the fool who follows him?  This is one of my favorite movie quotes. In Star Wars: Episode IV, Han Solo calls Obi-wan Kenobi a “damn fool” and Obi-wan retorts with the quote, above.  This quote came to mind when I was thinking about this blog post simply because I am not sure which one I am - the fool or the fool who follows him.  The “him” in this case is Gary, of Gary’s Gutter Service in Congers, NY.

How did I come to know of Gary?  Here’s the first cable television commercial I saw:

My husband and I were hooked when we saw this.  First, we couldn’t help but notice the “homage” this spot gives to the sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Gary uses a similar font and similar style of rap.  Second, while we both literally “lol”ed, we also felt embarrassed for him, and as my daughter was quick to point out, his kids (if he has any).  Who came up with this “theme” for the commercial?  Probably the same guy who came up with this one:

What’s with the sitcom theme, Gary???

I wonder what the statistics are on new customer generation from these types of ads.  I can tell you that my HVAC contractor here on Staten Island had a commercial on cable (no singing or dancing - very respectable) and his secretary told me that they did not get a single new customer from it.  She said that many established customers called to say they saw it and how much they liked it, but no new customers. Maybe they would have gotten new customers if they followed Gary's lead.

These commercials remind me of the reason I watch American Idol: to see people make fools of themselves.  I rarely watch Idol to the end of the season.  I only enjoy watching the embarrassing lack of talent slowly eating up their fifteen minutes of fame.  I'm just wondering, though, what possesses people to do such things?  Is Gary's BFF sitting at his computer, watching these commercials and saying "Dude, these are awesome!  You are gonna get a ton of business from this!"  If so, Gary, you need to find different friends!  Maybe Gary is a guy with a sense of humor, the kinda guy who doesn't mind making a fool of himself.  Maybe he made these commercials DESPITE his wife and kids and BFF begging him not to expose them like that on television.  If so, then more power to you Gary! But either way, please keep these gems coming!