Saturday, December 24, 2011

Viral Santa

My goodness, this Santa thing has really caught on.
The man is crazy popular; he's all over the place. For some reason everybody loves their Santa. I know I do. I love Santa and Christmas and magic and the idea of believing. I love it all.
However, my editor/husband is Mr. Science Pants and apparently his Vulcan mind has no capacity for embracing the magic of Santa Claus. He is leery of the Santa story and worries about lying to the kids. "Come on" I say - "Is it lying to believe there really is a Sesame Street? Is it lying to believe the kids are really ballerina when they put on their tutus, or superheroes when they put on a cape?" Yet my editor/husband remains unconvinced. He goes along with it somewhat quietly, but only because he loves me and wants to keep me happy . But I think there is something else. Even though he doesn't understand it, he loves my magical thinking and finds it fascinating. [Editor's note: I do]
Santa is super popular because he is special - he is an entity who exists almost exclusively for children. Along with flawless skin and super-white teeth, the ability to wholeheartedly believe in Santa disappears with time. As adults, we love seeing our children's ability to be all-in. Their innocence is so different from our normal way. And so beautiful.
This year in our house we told the "fab-four" older kids (ages 9 through 13) that Santa is simply a story told to illustrate the spirit of giving, to inspire good behavior, and to make the season special. We told them in part because external forces are claiming that Bible stories are meant to be taken 100% literally and these same forces are encouraging limited and judgmental thinking. This terrifies both Mr. Science Pants and I, as we are desperate to help the kids see that stories are often told for reasons, and sometimes those reasons involve manipulating the listener. Kids may not be so naughty when toys are on the line, and blind unquestioning belief may be the result if a fiery eternity in Hell awaits the skeptic.
So we came clean on the tooth fairy too. This story marks a right of passage - the loss of a tooth. The fairy ritual makes it special and that is magical enough.
Stories are stories. Think for yourself. Santa would want it that way.
Merry Christmas!
More from Karen:
Penis Mom
A Little Neglect Goes a Long Way
Why your kids make you a better person

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Penis Mom


When I was little I wanted to be a lot of things: Johnny Carson's replacement; A Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader so good I was the only one on the team; an artist with my own wing at the Boston Museum of Fine Art - you know, normal stuff. I wanted to be a lot of things, but I never- I PROMISE you - ever wanted to grow up to be someone known a The Penis Mom.

But here I am.

It all started way back in early November, when my 13-year-old's teacher sent an email to parents saying they were doing a little Pumpkin Chunkin’ – this is a very cool physics project where the kids launch pumpkins with a trébuchet. Awesome. Except the email asked for help setting up the trébuchet. Help from dads. That's right, dads. Are there any strong dads who can help? So if you know me, you know I’m cautious. I sat down at my computer to check the facts, first looking at the calendar to see what year we were in - yep, still 2011. So with time-travel ruled out, we were only left with the possibility that we had somehow slipped into an alternate universe, one where teachers have giant balls. Balls clearly big enough to toss such gender-biased questions out into the wind without concern for where they might land. And thus began my verbal rant. I am uncertain how long it lasted, however when I finally came up for air my husband/editor had made dinner, cleaned up, and put the kids to bed.

At that point, I sat down to respond to the email.

Dear teachers and parents:

     Are you guys seriously only asking for Dads?

     Is lifting done with a penis?

Thoughtfully yours,

- Karen

Simple and to the point, right? But, before I hit send I remember that email goes to all parents and sometimes people reach this interesting conclusion that I am a little too edgy. So, I decide to get a second opinion from the voice of reason. I go into my editor/husband and read my response. Now, if you know my editor/husband you know how completely insane this is [Editor’s note: What?! Insane?]. It is like a Stegosaurus asking a T-Rex if she appears too aggressive. Wait, some of you may not have toddlers; let me try that again. It is like a gentle breeze asking a hurricane if he should ease up a bit on the blowing. If I am edgy, my editor husband is flying off the edge, not even realizing there was one. If I am a little over the top, he is bouncing off the top as high as he can reach. He is not the man to ask for help when you need to know how the norm will react.

And yet I do.

"Is the penis thing too much?" I ask.

"Too much? It’s insufficient. Why don't you ask if it needs to be dads because there’s going to be some cocking on the unit? Tell them I’ll bring my friends Dick Johnson, Peter Hard-on and Chubby E. Rekshun to help..." And so it went on this way. As he continued on and on, it got quiet in my head. My hands reached for the mouse, moved the cursor over my email, and I clicked Send, thinking "Well, at least I am not him."

This is not the first time this rationalization has gotten me into trouble.

Within hours my penis-lifting comment had apparently bunched more than a few panties.

Parents were horrified. Who knew this might happen? Not us. OK, we probably knew - but seriously? Asking exclusively for dads to help is offensive on so many levels to me. I am freakishly strong and could mount a trébuchet with the best of them [Editor’s note: Um, honey, you don’t actually mount a trébuchet]. As someone who was a single mom for a good long time, I take issue with the assumption that every home has a dad to contribute. But most of all, I resent the message we are giving to our daughters that because of their gender, they are unwelcome to participate in physical tasks - that they are not strong enough and that only a man qualifies. I resent the message to all our children that we judge the value of contribution based on sex and not competence. What the hell year is this? I better double-check that.

Still 2011.

So, I received a slap-on-the-wrist email about how correspondence should be g-rated because some of the students are on the email list. I was slightly confused by this because, in my mind, “penis” is g-rated. Honestly, I would love to have been more colorful - but that would have been inappropriate. I was also slightly confused because it seemed perfectly OK with everyone to send socially regressive requests out that diminish our girl's sense of worth - but they are now circling the wagons because I used the word penis? To thirteen year-olds? Really?

To further complicate and add humor to this situation, I signed the note Karen. Now I did this mostly because my name is Karen. However, that also happens to be the name of the school principal. This caused quite stir because everyone thought the principal sent the penis note. Tee hee hee. I didn't plan it that way, but I love a good farcical mix up.

Karen the principal sent out a note of clarification, reminding us that emails must be "all Disney all the time." Tee hee hee. That part made me laugh – however the next part did not:

"For the record I'm not a fan of lifting things though, and I don't really like the mud "

This is what the principal said in response to the email protesting asking for only dads. Hmm,,,interesting. So, don't rock the boat about gender discrimination because we girls don't like getting all dirty and doing hard work.

This does not make me feel better.

Ladies, this is not a situation of the men holding us back - we are holding ourselves back because we don't want to step forward if it is icky and muddy. If you want equal pay - guess what? It comes with equal obligation to show up for Pumpkin Chunkin.

Asking for strong parents is smart. Asking for only the ones with a penis is inefficient and a little too Mad Men for 2011.

When I showed the email thread to my thirteen year old boy, I was a little worried he would be embarrassed and ask me why I can't be more like normal moms. But he didn't. Instead he offered "Screw them - that is cool."

Now, I could focus on the fact that my boy just said "Screw them" and how wildly inappropriate that is - or I could just be happy knowing I am doing something right with that boy and embrace the fact that I am now known at school functions and throughout the land as "The Penis Mom."

More from Karen:

It is a VAGINA, People

Kick in the Aspergers

Sometimes Your House Burns Down

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The life you lead everyday

KissyWissyWissyWooMy littlest baby is almost one and a half and we are nearing the end of his nursing days. This is making me a little sad, because when I no longer nurse my sweet baby I could spend hours a day just cuddling him and looking into that little angel face, reflecting upon what a miracle he is and how lucky I am to have him….

But I won't.

Now that I don't live in town I could just drive there and go get a coffee while I take a walk and look into store windows, inspired by artistic displays, getting a pulse on what people are interested in, breathing in the busy life that is happening around me….

But I don't.

Through technology I could be just as close with all my besties I used to see everyday, but now live far from. We could Skype and text and do everything but meet up for a drink or go to yoga together, but somehow that just doesn't happen….

Why? Why don't I do these things that make me so happy? Why don't I keep up with those people I love so deeply? Because I am awfully caught up in the life I lead everyday. We all are. Think about it - who in your life do you know best right now? Chances are you know more about the UPS guy or your kid's teacher than you know about your family or friends that live far away. They may have a place in your heart, but the UPS guy has a place in your day [Editor’s note: Um, that’s twice in one paragraph you’ve mentioned the UPS guy – is there something going on?], and that matters.

You may think you are the kind of person who enjoys long walks on the beach or going to the opera - but unless you actually do those things regularly, that is not really who you are. It would be more honest if you said "I am the kind of person who can't get off Facebook and reads People cover-to-cover each week because I secretly think the Kardashians are cool." If that is what your days are made up of, that is who you really are. It's OK. In fact I love how Facebook makes a place for people I love in my everyday. But it is good to be mindful of how we spend each day, and if you don't like who you are when you are honest about how you spend your days, it’s okay to give yourself a mindful change-up.

The best way to make the life you want is to create it. And I mean this literally. Create a plan made up of the things you want to include in your life. I want to constantly strive to be a better person and to contemplate issues of social justice, so I structure going to the Unitarian church into my weekly routine. I want to have a strong body and a long life, so I make going to the gym part of my schedule. I want to be close and connected to my kids, so we have cuddle time every night. I want to always be as in love with my editor/husband as I am right now, so I date him whenever I can and make time everyday to appreciate him out loud [Editor’s note: Suck on that, UPS guy!].

I want more of this mindful living in my life. Weekly classes or monthly book clubs are great for this; you stay consistently connected while exploring shared interests and defining who you are. It is so much better than the old “plodding along through life, tuning out and just managing to make it to the end of each day” routine.

I want to have Sunday dinners where all the people I love are welcome and will come just hangout and connect. Build it into my schedule so everyone knows they are welcome every Sunday night. The problem is, I have people I love on both sides of the country- and this country is very big. Too big for everyone to make it to Sunday dinner. Boo.

This is a problem that will may take some creative problem solving. I may just have to explore bi-coastiality. How to live the life I want to live everyday? Hmmm.

I will put my mind to it. I want to be the kind of person who writes hand-written thank you notes - or notes of appreciation when someone touches me [Editor’s note: Better not be the UPS guy!], and who gets up early to take my dog on a three-mile hike through the woods. I want to be the type of person who keeps up on baby books and scrap books and who visits small stores each day so I can shop only locally and from family farms. I want to be the type of person who takes time each day to meditate and read the world news, and also spends time each day keeping my house incredibly clean. So, that is the kind of person I want to be...but upon reflection I may need to temper my expectations a bit, choosing carefully the things that are the most important for the person I want to be.
More from Karen:
Fitting It In
Calling It Out
Don’t Do It Yourself

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why your kids make you a better person

I haven't blogged in a few months, and I have really missed it. There has been so much going on here, and I have been sad about not having all my kids under one roof. It is tough, really tough. But I just had a conversation with Boo, my 35-year-old trapped in the body of a 9 year-old daughter and she told me that just because it is tough, that does not mean I should stop living life and writing my blog. True that.
BooSimplyThis is the same daughter who was there when I was giving birth to my son. Now, THAT was tough. We were nearing his arrival after 10 hours of labor, and I was beyond exhausted. "I just want to meet him" I cried as I was sprawled out on the bed. My nine-year-old pointed at me from across the room and shouted "Well, if you want to meet him, make it happen. You are the one in control here. If you want it, do it."
My son was born moments later.
There is another reason I have taken some time off my blog. I have been concentrating all effort into a different writing project, fiction I would like to get produced. It is my dream and I am making it happen. What is prompting me to kick this into high gear? My son. The boy is 13 years old and wants to be a singer (he has an amazing voice, by the way, that so overwhelms with its sincerity and beauty you’ll want to cry). The boy doesn't just dream it; he is it. And he hasn't even seen Rocky Horror. He started over the summer producing YouTube videos, and made 25 in four weeks. He continues to put himself out there with a constant stream of videos. I am so crazy proud I can't even stand it.
I took Spencer, my 13-year-old singer, to Los Angeles this fall and told him I would invest in him because he was investing in himself and I would take him to agencies in L.A.. So, we got some headshots done, which he paid to have printed, he wrote his own resume and off we went to agencies. He walked into each office alone, told them he wanted representation, and asked to meet with someone. He made follow-up visits and wrote follow-up emails. Did I mention the boy wrote his own resume? We haven't heard back from any agencies yet, but from my perspective - it doesn't matter. The boy is 13 years old and walked into major agencies in L.A. and put himself out there. He produces videos where he pours his soul into each song and opens himself up to criticism with the kind of chutzpah most 13-year-olds only ever see in movies. God, if I were that fabulous at 13, where would I be now?
We have a lot to learn from our kids.
My other girl is 10 and quite possibly the sweetest person I have ever met. She is kind and considerate in the most genuine way possible. She takes the demanding and often aggressive nature of her siblings in stride and meets them wherever they are with earnest and friendly concern from her heart. When all hell is breaking loose, which in our house is the norm, while my editor husband and I are running around putting out fires and Karate-chopping ninjas dropping from the ceiling [Editor’s note: We seriously have to close down those ninja ventilation shafts], we must make sure to pause to notice and thank Cheyenne. She is usually sitting serenely at the table, drawing heartwarming pictures of us holding hands.
Cheyenne in a pumpkin patch
When Cheyenne is helping us out, which is always, and getting the little ones dressed she exhibits patience and empathy way beyond the point where I would leave the room shouting "Fine, wear your bathing suit and Minnie Mouse ears to school - I don't care!" I watch Cheyenne calmly explain that sometimes even Minnie Mouse can get cold in a bathing suit when it is forty degrees outside and I think "I so want to be her when grow up."
I want to be like all of them. They inspire me and push me to be a better person every day. Sometimes when we have children we think of it as the end of our dreams, the giving up being "The Great... whatever"- but I would challenge us to think of it differently. Challenge us to think of it as the beginning of making our dreams come true, because we now not only answer to ourselves, but also to these incredible spirits we bring into our world.
How can we ask them to be their very best selves when we are not doing the same? When we have children, we have such beautiful hopes and dreams for them, we see that there is an amazing world in front of them and there is nothing stopping them from grabbing life by the balls [Editor’s note: Did you seriously just say that?], that anything is possible for them. Well, guess what? That same amazing world is also in front of you. Life's balls are also there for you to grab [Editor’s note: Life seems to have enough balls to go around for everyone]. Stop saying your kid is going to grow up and be a doctor – get yourself to med school and become a doctor, for the love of God! I have a friend who started med school at 40. Do the math, it makes sense. She still has a long career as a doctor ahead of her. It is never too late. I don't have to start talking about Grandma Moses, David Mamet or David Seidler or all the others who found great success late in life here, do I?
If you want your kids to think nothing can stop them, don't let anything stop you. We have to be the kind of people we want them to be, or we at least need to be working towards that. Be as great as your kids already think you are, and strive to be as amazing and wonderful as they are.

More from Karen:

Hello 40. Now Get Off My Face!
Five Easy Steps to Misery and Unhappiness
No One Loves You Like Your Mother