Monday, August 26, 2013

After School Specials

  I recently learned that Linda Ronstadt has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.  Among the songs I liked a lot that she sang was one called "When Will I Be Loved".  It was from an ABC after school special. 

It got me thinking about those after school movie specials and how we really do not have anything like them anymore.  There is a point in adolescences or slightly before where some subjects become necessary to discuss with someone who actually can provide you with guidance and factual information yet they still need to be seen as a "cool" source.  Your friends may have it but most likely they have it wrong.  Those movies were great because they dealt with subjects that were top of mind but rarely made it to a parental discussion for many of us. 

The topic the song Linda sang about was rarely discussed back then.  It dealt with a girl, who was known to be free with giving up her body, that is taken by her boyfriend after they drink (don't remember them doing much else) to his or his friends' van and then even though she protests she is gang raped by them with him around while treating her as though she was willing.  The girl was played by Maureen McCormick of Marsha Brady fame.  Her life falls apart quickly after this and I remember being really touched by the movie.  How choices about what we do and with whom we do them have consequences.  

There is another with Scott Baio, who I so loved at the time, about a boy who drinks too much.  It also was not preachy and I could remember thinking that it had a good point and that there were already people I knew who were going down the path he was.  

In a world where we seem to be ok flashing and showing everything somehow we no longer have programming that deals with these topics in a way that kids can relate to.  I am pretty open with my sons and will continue to keep a dialogue open especially about drugs, cigarettes, sex and choices.  However, sometimes a good movie maybe opens up a thought for them differently than just a parent can.  We have started hiding our discussions with eliminations of sex education courses as if that is going to somehow take us back to a time when they were not having sex... not sure if that ever existed but hey someone out there seems to think there was.   

These are all serious matters and though we giggled and laughed at these movies they stayed with us.  Maybe they did not shape our ultimate choices but they were in our consciousness.  They dealt with anorexia, bullying and a host of other issues that have not changed from then to now.  Talking to kids in ways that makes them listen whether it be via music, movies, books about how to treat their bodies with respect (and that applies for sex, drugs, alcohol and a host of other things) and that the consequences for not doing that could carry in so many negative ways is something we owe our children.  

I say rather than shock value Miley I would rather have "Hannah Montana" deal with talking to a counselor about birth control options, including abstinence.  Instead of the Kardashians let's see a short movie on a cyber-bullying with an actor kids relate to. There is so much for our children out there that often drags them into behaviors that are way advanced for their mental and physical ages ... yet we chose to no longer have some balance by showing anything that does anything other glamorize the behaviors.  

Ostrich head in sand parenting and societies do not stop these things from becoming problems they just tell kids how to hide and hide until there is a storm.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

To allow screen time or not to allow to screen time?!

  We have an ongoing debate in our, we being my husband and I, house about electronics.  I am self-admitted tech geek since an early age I wanted a good stereo (got this from my Dad who also had to have an 8 track in his car, remote control tv and beta tape player), then a good boom box, onto a walkman, to a cd walkman, to first gen ipod to current i device madness.  I love the idea of what you can do with these devices - the information I can look up at my fingertips, movies I can watch on the train (more on that in a bit), books have gone electronic for me and music... there is so much music.  I take pics with my phone, connect via my phone -- oddly enough do not blog via my i devices and only because it does not work well. Of course I play some apps with my phone.. that Candy Crush, Plants v Zombies, Angry Birds bug has gotten me. 

So having said all of that I live with someone who still requires my assistance to scan items.  He has no interest in any of the above except for the ipad which he uses fairly frequently - for wine, restaurant and sports reviews mostly.  Screen time is not important to him.  He did not play video games like I did, in a candy store and then on Atari with a square ball at home. 

Put these 2 adults together with children who are surrounded by devices and their siren call, tons of literature that can induce guilt at not having them ready for the future world where devices will be the norm competing with tons of literature that assures me I have once again failed as a parent by letting them go near these for more than a glimpse.  The games are educational and the games are violent.  They don't play enough outside, they have less concentration, they are informed, they are exposed to too much too early, they are tech savvy... AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

My husband thinks they need very little screen time.  I say that I do not believe they should spend all day playing on their devices, by the way said devices are our old iphones and a X-box, but I also understand that like me my youngest child is easily attracted to and intrigued by these devices and their capabilities.  I want to let them grow up knowing how to interact with their peers beyond virtual space and I need them to understand that virtual space is not only a place for fun but a place where bullying and worse can happen.  

I monitor the games they play, the movies they want to watch much more than setting a timer for their screen time.  I watch them play with their friends and realize they have a common language with the apps and games they play much like we had a common language with what was new back in our childhood days.  A language about music that was different and things we found fun that our own parents did not approve of or understand often.  I differ from my husband in trying to get them to do the things I did while insisting they at least try some of the things I had fun doing - playing board games comes to mind and they like it.  

As a parent it is always a balancing act - to understand how times change and how your child needs to change with them - to never forget to teach and set rules while making sure those rules are fair.  My boys have days without screen time and car rides with lots of it.  They are comfortable with technology in a way that previous generations were not - as just part of the things they have at their disposal.  If I could pass along one thing that I have always found it is that I like the devices but I love what I get from them more - the music, the reading, the knowledge.  Those are the things that enable me to have the social and personal connections that are important to my life.  I respect the developers of all of these for their vision in all of these inventions but never forget to do that they needed imagination which they found not in an app but by stopping, thinking, exploring, discussing and then launching it.  

So to screen or not to screen... not sure either fits at all times. On that note I went to watch a movie that I rented on my commute.  I rented "Lovelace"..yeah that one about Linda Lovelace.  It is rated R and overall pretty mild, especially considering the topic and the movie the real Ms. Lovelace made.  However, I found myself at a couple of times looking over my shoulder making sure no one was watching me watching screen or not to screen even us adults sometimes have to figure that out.  Oh I did finish watching it on the train because it's my screen and I'll watch if I want to..... 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sleep away camp

  Oh the summer is almost over and among the many things that our friends' kids did this summer was experience their first sleep away camp.

There are so many articles written about this - about women who run toward the camp with unashamed happiness even in their perilous Manolo's to hug and love that child that they missed more than ever.  About women (yeah I know the Dads get a pass on both the running or not) who may not have time in their lives for the camp visits because after all they sent the little darlings there to not have to parent.  There are articles about the origins of so many Jewish immigrants cramped in sweaty tenement apartments starting the tradition of sending their kids to the fresh air of the Catskills.

For me sleep away camp was not something that anyone I knew did, sure people were sometimes sent to families in Europe for the summer, but actual sleep away camp nope maybe due to immigrant economics, maybe immigrant (non-Jewish) social norms of keeping kids home or even just the we take vacations as a family mentality made it a non-discussion in my neighborhood.  My first taste of it came with movies - like "Little Darlings" - where I too wanted to make out with Matt Dillon, but hey if you were young when he was almost movie he was in you probably wanted to make out with him.  It looked so daring, so foreign to my city girl experience, to the fact that no one I knew actually went to camp so maybe this was an "American" thing that I was missing out on.

I  also knew that I am not the "outdoors" girl.  The idea of sleeping outside in a sleeping bag on the ground, or going to the bathroom in the woods, well that brought heebie bug jeebies and every horror movie that I so loved to go to mind.  No tree was going to get this girl like it did in "Evil Dead".  I did a stint at a sleep away camp as an 18 year old counselor.  No Matt Dillon, though there was a cute boy, lots of rules - did I mention LOTS of rules - and ginormous mosquito bites,  sleeping in a cot (am convinced it had been bought from some sort of detention facility to make it as uncomfortable as possible),  that were bigger than the big hair I was sporting along with my black rubber bracelets and leggings under flouncy skirts.  We were Madonna that year.  I pretty much hated most of the time there and only made it through because I had my 1) boom box and mixed tapes 2) 4 little girls who really needed me and who I grew to love while I took care of 3) one trouble teen who I was assigned to accompany to an abandoned bunk so she could smoke.  I don't hate it as much in retrospect, I learned I could survive in the outdoors but prefer hotels, I learned to turn over a canoe should I flip with it and most of all I learned that I would probably never want to go to camp again.

So fast forward almost 30 years and my sons' friends are starting to go away to sleep away camp.  I miss my kids when I am not with them for a night or two so a few weeks .. yeah not comfortable.  I think of all that can go wrong in those places - pedophile comes to mind, bullies, just plain simple loneliness, not fitting in, not knowing how to do things no their own - the list is endless.  It is my list though and as with anything in motherhood you have to separate your list of fears out from things that just stop your children from being the best they can be.  So with a heavy heart I asked my eldest if he too wanted to try sleep away camp - next year of course (I need at least a year to pretend I am comfortable with it) - and he, who is his mother's son in so many ways, responded " umm have you seen the bunks? those beds look uncomfortable and there is no a.c. oh and you shower in the same place as other people...yeah no thanks".  Phew I thought but then as I always do I did present a more balanced picture one of the good things I heard and saw for myself at camp. A special bond that forms among these campers without their parents around, the independence they gain, the songs and games they play and remember even as adults and most of all a taste of what it is like to be without mom and dad.  Don't go I thought but presented these in a calm way and he still said no thanks.

Who knows my second child of the "i do by self" when he was a little over 1 to now may be that more independent spirit - for now he too has no real interest.  Maybe in a few years when they are older they may want a few weeks among their peers to try things that are different.  Or they may not - they may want to keep vacationing with us until they can vacation away with their friends like I did.

Either way sleep away camp is a big decision for many.  I have realized that while I saw it as something bit cold to send your children away it actually( for the women who I call friends) is a heart-wrenching, encouraging face on, write letters daily and look at the camp website for glimpses at the I hope she/he is happy and missing me and growing up too fast and I hope they love it moments.  It is when they run to the camp with love and do that thing that mothers do so well - encourage something that you kid wants but is not easy for you. I commend you mothers who have kids who loved this, who comforted kids who didn't and helped mothers like me understand the whole camp thing is not leaving me but moving forward. 

Oh and I still want to make out with Matt Dillon 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

3 Women 4 Girls

Last weekend I got together with my friends who I have been friends with for 38 years.  We live scattered in New Jersey, New York, Mass, Romania but we are somehow never quite far apart from one another.  Our friendship has had it's many, many good times as well as the times when we needed to be our own people and with other people.  In the end this is my family, along with my 2 best friends, in a way that I could only hope all people could be lucky enough to have people in their lives.  We have been kids together and now enjoy our the kids we have when we could get together.  These get togethers require planning of a White House Chief of Staff level and we gladly do it because the hours we can spend together just add to the wonderful memories we still laugh and cry at when we do see each other.  

This time our friend Mary gave us a gift that I cannot thank her enough for.  She made us Mac photo books that spanned our lives together.  We laughed at the hairstyles, though acknowledged they were "in" then or so we will allow ourselves to believe, and the memories captured in those pictures.  She had pictures of our families and our growing children, there are 9 children and woof that is a lot when they are present.  I am pretty sure they are still bit amazed at how loud and how much their moms' laugh when they get together. They noticed we seemed also to tend to their needs but our need to be in the moment with each other was something they needed to give us.  

In the photo album cover is the picture you see here.  It got me thinking these 3 women, our mothers, are the reason for our friendship.  These 3 women are so much more than the mothers we love. These 3 are so amazing that thinking of writing this blog humbled me.  They have been "the mothers" often said with an eye roll, sometimes said with as a warning that they were about to bust us but mostly said with the affection we have for them.   However, looking at this picture these 3 women are more than the 4 girls their daughters are. 

They were probably younger than us in this picture, though I bet we thought of them as older or that 40s should be older than we are now.  These 3 women had the courage to leave their country behind.  Two of them escaped to immigrant camps in Vienna and waited, waited, anxiously waited to find a country that would approve their status to move there.  One of them was smuggled out in the false trunk of a car.  They all risked prison or worse for these actions.  They left their support system, lives that they had made as comfortable as possible and their families behind.  These 3 women followed men who convinced them of the dream that they could do better in the US and that they needed to leave to be free.  These 3 women were often stronger than those men, crying more for all they left behind (especially my mother who had left her child behind) and for the uncertainty that awaited them.  They did not know the language, they did not have a support system and they sure did not have any money as a safety net.  These 3 women started over in their late twenties and early thirties and reinvented themselves, different careers, friends here.  They would have not been friends in Romania as they lived in different cities and yet they were in New York and often all they had was each other.

Their friendship was the foundation for our friendship. They needed each other in many ways because they did not have anyone else.  They had each other to learn about schools from, to navigate customs in this country.  We saw them as our moms who were like some of the other immigrant moms and usually nothing like the few "American" moms we saw on TV or around us.  They shouted and spanked instead of "time-outs", they parented us together, they loved us as the 4 of us as their own, they took us on trips and made sure our Sundays and holidays were filled with homes that had all of us, lots of food and music and laughter even when they could sometimes only afford the laughter.  These 3 women never put themselves first and even when they struggled financially we did not really know it because we never went without - without the latest jeans that "mom please I need those Jordache, Gloria Vanderbilt, Sassons", without walkmen and those gold charms that one of us as Be Fri and the other had St End to make Best Friend, without private schools, without movies and a host of other things.  They worked hard and instilled in us a need to do the same.  They pushed when we thought we had nothing left. They believed in us but were brutally honest when we did not know we needed it. They listened to us yell at them "nobody else's mother makes them do...." and struggled to navigate growing teenage girls in a foreign land in a time that was different from the one they were teenage girls in. 

These women had this strength and gave that to us in abundance.  They showed us that women get hurt by the men they marry, that the 2 that divorced those two men were still bound to them by the children they loved so much even when they did not even like their fathers.  These 3 women were the mothers who never understood us and knew more about what we were really like than we ever acknowledged.  They did not let us pity ourselves, they used tough love a lot and the held us in warm embraces when they needed to.  All with only each other and no other family around.  

I looked at that picture of the 3 women and was happy to be part of the 4 girls who are friends forever.  In that moment that's captured when they were not only our mothers but these beautiful, sexy, sophisticated women who laughed at what may have been an off color joke, through what may have been a tough time earlier, at being with one another or even at something one of the 4 of us had done.  One of these women fought a battle against cancer when she was still young and lost.  The other 2 mourned her then and I am sure think of her now.  She taught us that there is nothing you can't fight and even if you lose you have to try and kick some butt.  I am not sure as kids we saw these women beyond our mothers but as adults I am really grateful for having them all in my life.  

3 women who found in each other much of what they had left behind.  3 women who raised 4 girls to be independent, self-sustaining, funny, cultured and to love life for all the times they could not have as much as they wanted.  3 women who will never be seen in history books or on the covers of magazines but who are women of the year and women who made a difference as much as Gloria Steinem or any leader of a feminist movement.  They did not burn their bras but instead helped us pick out ours.  This blog is long and barely touches all they accomplished and did. This blog is for our 9 kids who need to know the 3 women who are the unsung heroes their mothers were lucky enough to have. 

Did I ever tell you you're my hero ? You're everything I wish I could be 
I could fly higher than an eagle because you are the wind beneath my wings....Bette Midler 
(yes you are Olga, Rodica and Elena)