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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I’ll listen to author Anne Lamott talk about anything. Here’s an interview with her at the New York Times Motherlode blog where, among other things, she discusses her views on adulthood. Bliss.

2. Simon Doonan’s random meditation on why we really get tattoos over on Slate is hilarious.

3. Here’s a gorgeous graphic comparison of New York and Paris at The Guardian.

4. I really can’t say for sure why I was mesmerized by the Children Medieval Band performing a song about overdosing on drugs, other than my no longer latent obsession with Game of Thrones. Check out that drummer – wow!

5. Strangling My Muse had some terrific suggestions for how to mark World Creativity and Innovation week. I’m personally a big fan of the community story idea.

6. Via The Huffington Post’s Lisa Belkin, I’ve just discovered The Bloggess. Boy, does she look like fun…

Have a great weekend!

 

 

New (School) Year’s Resolution: Do Less For Your Kids

Well, I’m back from my ten-day vacation in the U.S., where – despite landing about 18 hours before Hurricane Irene kicked in – we managed to have a mostly bright and sunny family holiday filled with lots of swimming and relaxation.

Re-entry? Not so relaxing.

Within the first 24 hours of landing (on a red-eye), we viewed two flats for potential purchase, got caught in a torrential downpour which soaked all four pairs of Wellies (boots) worn in our family and began the migraine-inducing, spread-sheet requiring coordination nightmare that is planning the after-school activity calendar.

I’ve written before about how best to manage re-entry after a vacation and sadly, I did not really take my own advice this time around. (Addendum to this list: do not write checks when you have only slept for 1.5 hours.)

But I did one thing right, which was to resolve to tackle one “big” thing on my endless To-Do list: having my kids take more responsibility for themselves.

I’d been thinking about this before I went away and – per an earlier post on life skills for ten-year-olds – had already begun to put them in charge of things like cutting their own food and tying their own shoes. (Yeah, I know…pathetic. But better late than never.) They are also both required to do a chore: my son is in charge of the recycling and my daughter sets the table every night.

But as summer wore on, I realized how very much I do for both of them  – things like laying out my son’s school uniform in the morning and clearing all of the dirty plates from the table – the very sorts of things that no one did for me when I was ten years old.

While in the States, I also spent some time with my brothers’ six (!) kids and noticed how all of them – even the 6 and 8 year 0ld – do a lot for themselves.

And then, upon my return, I happened to read this fabulous post on the New York Times Motherlode blog entitled A Traveling Parent’s List. In it, legal scholar Lisa McElroy shares the lengthy and detailed To-Do list she left for her husband when departing on a recent two-week business trip. It includes things ranging from asking him to buy their daughter a sparkly (but not crop-topped) leotard  to telling him how to prepare home-made tomato sauce to requesting that he obtain more food for their pet frog.

I’m sure that this post was written tongue-in-cheek. But even if McElroy is making fun of her own control-freak tendencies, I’m guessing that there’s more than a hint of truth in there.

Lord knows she’s not alone. I just pulled up a document from my own computer, plucked from a week-long trip I took a few years back. On it, in addition to the sorts of normal things you might remind a spouse to do – like giving my son his asthma medicine and being sure that the kids bathe every so often (!) – there were also things like (original formatting included):

 

–please open Isaac’s book bag and take out any relevant slips/sheets etc, and save the weekly newsletter for me when I return; also clear out sandwiches/snacks/water etc as he wont have school for 10 days

remember to wash Isaac with Green soap and for allie use 3 capfuls of white Oilatum stuff in the water

–after they’re done, coat her body with white lotion (and hydrocortisone as necessary)

REMEMBER TO LOOK IN HIS LUNCH BOX FOR HALF EATEN SANDWICH-SAVE FOR TOMORROW AND DITTO FOR FRUIT LEATHER ETC;

 

When I look at this list now, I cringe. And I know – in a way I perhaps didn’t realize even a few years back – that as with so many things involving our kids, this list is so much more about me than it is about them. My children don’t really need me to micro-manage their lives. They are both, in fact, quite independent. And my husband is more than capable of making sure that they get to school on time and eat their sandwiches.

Rather, *I* need to micro-manage their lives because it helps me to feel…in control. I’m not proud of that. But it’s true.

But that needs to change. Among other things, I’m hoping to go back to work full time (more on that later) so I will – per force – have to let go. My kids are also demanding more independence for themselves. My ten-year old wants to walk to school on his own. And if he does that, he’ll need a cell phone. (Both ideas terrify me.)

So, it’s time to cut some chords. As of about a month ago, they are both now in charge of making their own breakfasts. And last night I insisted that both of them clear their dirty plates from the table. I also let my son figure out when his violin lesson is happening this week, rather than looking into it for him.

These are small steps, I realize. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Nor is adulthood.

 

Image: 324/365 Lists by Vinnie123 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I’ll pretty much read anything Michael Lewis writes, because it’s always *that* good. In his current Vanity Fair feature on the Greek economic crisis, he does not disappoint. What a great writer.

2. Loved this funny and insightful Salon interview with comedian/author/actress Kristen Schaal of The Daily Show fame.

3. Here’s a nice essay by Liza Mundy on the New York Times Motherlode blog about what it’s like when Moms take a business trip.

4. And speaking of moms, I’ve long been a fan of Literary Mama (Tagline: “For The Maternally Inclined.”) Have a look at this honest and moving essay by Kate Brandt as she contemplates divorce and what it might mean for her child.

5. Over at the Lovely Thoughts blog, I really liked this 19-year-old’s take on signs that you are growing up. (BTW? Totally with you on the curtains…)

6. While I’m at it, let me give a shout-out to Jane Friedman’s fabulous There Are No Rules blog at Writer’s Digest. It’s a terrific source of advice and information about the publishing industry. I’m an especially big fan of her “Best Tweets For Writers” series every Sunday night.

7. Finally, here’s an absolutely devastating piece of fiction from Paul Murray in the New York Times entitled “Back to School” about parenting, marriage and silence.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Avoid Over-Parenting

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, so much for the end of over-parenting.

After a year’s hiatus from that dreaded term – “helicopter parenting” – now you can’t pick up a magazine or go Online without being bombarded by more stories about over-involved parents. They’re monitoring what their kids eat…how they do their homework…even who their friends are.

And what’s worse, over-parenting, we now learn,  isn’t just bad for the kids. It also makes adults unhappy. They set too high a standard for themselves and end up disappointed. They’re not just exhausted, but lonely.

As someone who’s prone to worry about, well, everything, I’m also naturally prone to over-parenting. And yet, I also know that this isn’t the person I want to be.

Here are five ways to help yourself curb the over-parenting impulse:

1. Find somewhere else to put your energy. I think that one of the reasons that people over-parent is that they don’t have any other place to put that energy. This is a criticism often levied at SAHM’s, who are criticized, rightly or wrongly, for making parenting a career. But I know plenty of working parents for whom it’s equally true. They come home from the office and channel all the adrenaline that goes into supervising staff and hitting deadlines into over-monitoring their kids. The trick – whether you work inside or outside of the home – is to have a hobby or some other activity that can sap up some of that extra energy. It might be volunteering at a local homeless shelter. Or joining the PTA. Or becoming a board member at a local charity. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that you’ve got a focus outside your kids.

2. Consult an expert. This may sound counter-intuitive, since one part of over-parenting – in America, at least – is to over-pathologize every single aspect of your children’s behavior in an endless struggle to perfect their shortcomings. Having said that, sometimes seeing an expert can also correct that tendency to do so. I recently took my daughter to see a speech therapist to re-evaluate her lisp. During the course of the evaluation it became painfully obvious that a. my daughter’s lisp is slight b. she herself has no problem with it and c. the therapist didn’t think it warranted any further therapy. Without coming out and saying so (the speech therapist was, after all, English), she basically let me know that this was really my problem, not my daughter’s. And that by insisting that my daughter’s speech could be clearer, I was actually making things worse. Lesson learned. Mouth zipped. Next?

3. Take The Long View. I’ve posted before about how all of my conflicts with my husband can be reduced to one single dimension: I go too fast, he goes too slow. But there’s a corollary to this dynamic which is actually quite useful for confronting over-parenting within…OK, one of us. Which is that precisely because I often gallop through life at breakneck speed, I’m often very focused on the short run. And so with any “flaw” that I detect in my children – i.e., they’re not reading enough, they’re reading too much, they’re not social enough, they’re too social, etc. – I tend to magnify its short-run effects. My husband is really good at reminding me that what matters is the long run. If my son is being silly and goofing off in class, my husband will ask me if I really think that he’ll go through life like that? And when he frames it that way, I realize that I don’t. It puts whatever behavior is troubling me at present in perspective and I can take a huge, much-needed breath.

4. Recognize that there’s only so much you can do. As an acknowledged control freak, I’m often loathe to throw up my hands and accept that I’m not God. I always think that if I just put in a bit more effort in dotting every i and crossing every t, I really can fix everything around me. Which is, of course, conducive to terrible parenting. Wherever you stand on the whole nature vs. nurture debate, one of the most startling – and relieving – aspects of being a parent is that you wake up one day and realize that your kids aren’t you. They have their own interests, their own personalities, their own rhythms. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about that. (Thank Goodness!)

5. Move to Europe. One of the most insightful things I’ve read on this whole helicopter parenting debate was on the Motherlode blog at the New York Times. It was a comment by a reader from Europe who opined that perhaps the reason American parents are so over-anxious about their children is that they have too many choices and there is too much variance within those choices. In Europe, the commenter argued – and largely because of different public policies – child care, education and even toys tend to be much more homogeneous. And because there are fewer choices and those that exist are of similar quality, parents obsess less over getting “the very best.” This may be a bit of a stereotype, but I suspect that it contains a grain of truth. So if you’re really throwing up your hands right now and just don’t know what to do, remember: You’ll always have Paris.

*****

For those who are interested, I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign finance scandal.

Image: With Mom by MJIphotos via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. As someone who’s been pondering middle age quite a bit lately (here and here), I was quite taken with this post by Raina Kelley at Newsweek where she lays out some mid-life crisis rules to live by. (Note to self: No naked skyping!)

2. If you’re a mom, a wife or both, be sure to check out this CafeMom quiz that lets you rank yourself as a parent and a spouse. (Hat tip: Motherlode)

3. I laughed out loud at his essay in McSweeneys where the author writes from the perspective of life as a comic sans font. Hilarious! (Hat tip: Writer Abroad) Also in McSweeneys, Eloise (of story book fame) turns 23. (Hat tip: Communicatrix)

4. Writers will wince in recognition at this arch  blog by a literary agent entitled SlushPileHell, where the agent lists – and then disses – the kinds of claims authors make in their cover letters. Ouch! (Hat tip: Lisa Romeo Writes)

5. A new (to me) blog on creativity which a thoughtful reader pointed me towards: Strangling My Muse.

6. Finally, I really enjoyed this essay in the Brown Alumni Monthly by Jamie Metzl on the perils of wikipedia fame.

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Volunteerism, Fundraising And The New Politics Of The PTA

While reading the New York Times Motherlode blog the other day, I was struck by a piece about current trends in American education. Apparently, many public school districts in the United States are increasingly turning to parents in order to cover budgetary shortfalls.

In some cases, it’s the parent-teacher associations that are spearheading the movement to make up for things like teacher’s salaries and supplies when school boards can’t. In other cases, schools are making direct appeals to parents for monetary contributions, sometimes making them mandatory.

There’s a lot to say about this trend toward parent-funded public education in the United States: Is it appropriate? Is it enough? And — as many commenters on the Times post wondered aloud — what do you do in school districts where parents can’t afford or don’t have time for this sort of fundraising?

But as an American parent who’s lived abroad for nearly four years with two school-age children, what most caught my eye about this story is how utterly inconceivable it would be in the U.K., where I reside. I’ve done a ton of fundraising for my daughter’s school over the past four years. And it’s been an incredible eye-opener for me about the depths of cross-cultural differences between the U.S. and the U.K. on this front.
Read the rest of this story at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: 207/365 by ladybugbkt via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. If you have been following the ups and downs of the British elections over the past week, you will laugh out loud at this spoof in The Guardian of what ensued during the early hours post-election. (Note: This is part of an ongoing series in the paper based on last year’s political farce, In The Loop, about the run-up to the Iraq War. If you haven’t seen In The Loop, run, don’t walk to your nearest video store.)

2. And speaking of the British elections, here’s my take on Day One of the new political marriage between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.

3. While we’re on the topic of marriage, I was fascinated by this interview in Salon with Tara Parker-Pope, author of For Better: The Science of A Good Marriage. Among other things – and in light of the heavy traffic my assertion that “monogamy isn’t natural” drew on this blog – I was pleased to see my basic point vindicated: monogamy isn’t natural but it can be achieved.

4. Regardless of your views on monogamy, you definitely don’t want to contemplate happy marriage without first considering this marriage-saving blanket (also courtesy of Salon.) Here’s an interview with its inventor, Frank Bibbo. Priceless!

5. This is a terrific piece from the New York Times’ Motherlode blog by Ross Kenneth Urkin on what happens when parents re-marry. It’s also an excellent example of a fine young writer at work.

6. Finally, I absolutely adored this new (to me) list of the 50 best author-vs.-author put downs of all time over at Michelle Kerns’ Book Examiner blog at Examiner.com. (Hat tip: Lisa Romeo Writes.)

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. In light of my upcoming move, I was eerily fascinated by this recent interview in Salon about the psychology of hoarding.

2. I’m always in awe of people who make bold, creative moves with their careers, especially writers. So I loved learning about Henriette Lazardis Powers’ new innovation: a literary magazine that’s performed out loud called The Drum. Brilliant!

3. And while we’re on the subject of writers, you will laugh out loud at Nicola Morgan’s brilliant recounting of what it’s like when your taxi driver asks you what you do for a living.

4. On a more serious note, this true story by my colleague Sarah Wildman over at Politics Daily of what it’s like to have a baby without health insurance will – as my father used to say – “curl your hair.”

5. I’m no stranger to that most odious of rodents: the rat. So I was delighted when a friend sent me this story by Michelle Ephraim in Errant Parent about what it’s like when a rat invades your car – and your visions of motherhood.

6. If you’ve ever had to have “that talk” with your son or daughter, you’ll relate to this essay by Sierra Black on the New York Times Motherlode blog aptly titled Naked Barbies.

7. Finally, a lovely meditation by Philip Graham on why we all read. (Hat tip: Writer Abroad.)

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Many of our lives were dominated over the past week by the cloud of volcanic ash hanging over Europe. Here are some amazing photos of the volcano when it first erupted in Iceland from The Guardian.

2. People aren’t the only ones who go through life stages. So do social movements. Here’s a great walk down memory lane of Earth Day “growing up” on the blog Change Marketing. (Remember that “Crying Indian” ad? Priceless!)

3. I love to think about names and why we choose them. In that vein, here are two terrific posts from the past week on naming: one by my colleague Joann Weiner at Politics Daily talking about why women do (or do not) take their husband’s last name and one over at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy talking about naming people and cities.

4. I was really touched by this blog post about what a daughter learned from her mother over at Pre-Middle Age. My favorite lesson: There are no shortcuts.

5. I’m not even remotely rural in my sensibilities but I loved this essay about finally getting what you want in life at Cold Antler Farm. (Hat tip: Sarah Fain Has Starfish Envy.)

6. My essay about identity and motherhood earlier this week on the Motherlode blog at the New York Times drew a lot of comments, some supportive and some scathing. But I felt better when I read this article – also in the New York Times – about anonymous internet bullying.

7. I also felt better because amid those many and varied comments, I met the amazing Cecilia of Only You. Read her post on why she’s a writer-blogger. One of the great things about blogging is that you make new friends. Yay for that!

And speaking of friends, please do follow me on Twitter!

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

This Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I’ve long been a fan of Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News. So when the popular NPR news quiz Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me came to New York City last week and invited Williams on the show, I knew it would be a gem. It was. If you’ve got 15 minutes to spare, do listen to the entire Williams segment as he plays a game called “Not My Job.”

2. On a much more sober note (no pun intended), here’s an essay from the NYT.com’s Motherlode blog by a stay-at-home Dad – Mike Adamic – who explains why it isn’t cool to drink in front of your children.

3. This is a laugh-out-loud list of 50 office-speak phrases that really grate from the BBC News Magazine. (Hat Tip: @gretchenrubin.)

4. Finally, for those of you still wondering what Twitter is, here’s a clever essay by my old pal C.M. Mayo.

Enjoy!

Oh yes, and if you enjoy these reading tips, please follow me on Twitter.

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