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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

good news about an apparently benign Internet site

I'm delighted to report that I've -- or rather my kids, who are usually several steps ahead of me -- discovered an Internet site that not only isn't appalling, but actually seems like a fun learning experience. It's called Club Penguin, and from what I can Google, it was launched just last month by parents who wanted a safe place for their kids to surf. It's more than that -- you've got cute and friendly cartoon characters who instead of mangling each other are socializing (you get kicked off the site for swearing or "being mean"!) and playing age-appropriate and yet compelling games. My first-grader has been inspired to use the keyboard to send messages, and my fifth-grader is meeting friends of his on-line, and both are ready to do chores, read or play their music for great lengths of time for the privilege to spend time in the Club.
The site is free, although my younger son chose to use part of his allowance to join an elite penguin faction where you can use penguin money to buy special clothes and home furnishings. The consumerist emphasis is the only thing so far that puts me off, but on the whole, I'm so grateful that someone had the sense to invent this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Got philanthropy?

For Thanksgiving, I'm taking kids and spouse to our usual annual event, a catered meal at the home of one of my parents' friends. And feeling very guilty about it. Other friends of mine are taking their families to soup kitchens to help out, which I think is a wonderful idea, so I started calling around to see if we might do it too. Turns out the kids are still so young they'd be getting in the way, but more important, everywhere around here is booked with volunteers. Which is great news...although there is that issue about showing up just once a year... This is another thing my generation's parents didn't worry so much about. I bring my kids along when I deliver meals to a homeless place throughout the year, but, again, there are so many volunteers that that's fairly infrequent. I've also brought Joey, 10, to plant sedges in salmon habitat, which was a fine experience, but I'm wondering if anyone reading this has a regular thing they do with their children, something you can work in to a fairly harried suburban existence where you want to help but not condescend...
Got any good ideas?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Well Baby

At the Professional Businesswomen of California conference in Sacramento Tuesday, I spoke on a two-woman panel with Jacqueline Marcell, author of "Elder Rage." (She has great advice for those taking care of aging parents; her talk was fascinating.) During q&a, a woman in a business suit took the mike and asked me, "Since studies show that too much multi-tasking is not good for your brain, how are we supposed to juggle all that we have to do?"
She was right; there are studies to that effect, and of course there are more pressures on moms and others these days to multitask beyond our limits. While my book is primarily about how motherhood changes your brain, not the juggling issue per se, I tried to give some advice which I hope to state more succinctly here. This is all with the understanding that whatever we do individually, we have every right and reason to lobby for government support in terms of decent childcare and flexible jobs. That said:
Planning your family is first on the list -- making sure, before you have kids, that you're in a position where you have the support you need, chiefly including a helpful spouse. Then you use your negotiating skills, soon to be honed by dealing with toddlers, with that spouse to make sure you get enough sleep and no more than a fair share of domestic drudgery. Next you need to prioritize -- getting the kids through the day alive would be good for the number one spot, then keeping your job; after that it's mostly gravy. Which leads to the next point: letting go of absolutely all that can be let go. (As Barbara Ehrenreich sagely said, "Stop ironing the diapers!"
This is all no doubt stuff you've all heard, but it all bears repeating. As does the need to remember how fleeting it all is. I had my six-week post-op checkup today (the doc referred to it as the Well Baby appointment) and found out that the little sore-ish bump on my head is actually the top of a titanium screw. It makes me weirdly happy, because other than the fact that I can now truthfully say I've got a screw loose, it's a constant reminder of the finite-ness of life -- a walking reality check, much like my kids.

Monday, November 14, 2005

suburban schoolhouse blues

I was talking to another mom, a fellow professional writer, at swim practice last week and she told me she had taken a job rewriting a high-schooler's college admission essay. The parents were paying her $1,000.
"Wow, that sounds kind of...unethical!" I said.
She told me the parents told her everyone else was doing it, and that, moreover, the word is that colleges assume it's common practice "in certain zipcodes."
So what this means is your child will be penalized, if you're from one of those zipcodes and DON'T pay the premium.
It sort of stinks, doesn't it?
I wonder if parents weren't so generally isolated and could communicate more, if these practices would go away, or if they'd in fact increase. It does seem to me that if more of this stuff were out in the open, the public-shame factor might kick in. One positive development along these lines is a new parent networking web site School Parent Net attempting to connect parents starting at the classroom level and eventually -- the hope is -- branching out to schools across California and the nation.

A note on the Happy Tree Friends story -- I'm following up for the newsletter of a great parents' group, Parents Action for Children, founded by the actor/director Rob Reiner. I'll be calling Kaiser again, for instance, just to see if they've changed their policy. I'll of course include anything I discover on this site.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

when the going gets tough, the tough make coffee....

So ABC World News Tonight called at 9 a.m. today saying they wanted to send a camera crew over -- the same afternoon -- to film for a story on The Mommy Brain (supposedly scheduled for this Thursday at 6:30.) I stared at my living room, which looked like Baghdad, and then at myself, in sweat pants and having a Bad Hair Month. What to do first? Buy clothes? Borrow a house? I called my friend Elizabeth and started to complain about having to clean out the rat cage, again. "You don't want to go there in this conversation," she said. Then I called my mom, who told me not to worry. I hope she was right about that last part. I worry in particular that on TV or in a quick interview, nuance and complexity gets shoved aside. Take my frantically cleaning my house. It's not my reality: having a clean home is fairly low on my list of priorities, as there are so many more important things to do. And the fuschia shirt is definitely more dressed up than I usually get to pick my kids up from school. But I made a couple concessions to TV today because while I certainly believe we shouldn't get obsessive about housework or clothes, I don't want anyone to get distracted by a torn t-shirt or a trashed living room. Okay, and I'm also vain.