Monday, April 8, 2019

Bonus Material! The Nostalgia of Children's TV Theme Songs

In the weeks leading up to Mama, Mama, Only Mama's release, I am going to share some of my beloved chapters that didn't make the final book.  Here's the first:

The Nostalgia of Children’s Theme Songs 
Before I had children, I kept the television on for company any time I was home, mostly tuned to CNN or Law and Order. If I was cleaning the house, I turned on all the TV’s in the house to the same channel so I could move between rooms and not miss much. After Big Pants was born, I couldn’t stand to watch anything with any violence in it at all—my hands shook, my heart beat rapidly as I pictured all the mothers of the victims. Yet, I still couldn’t stomach silence, so I switched over to children’s programing during the day, and watched America’s Funniest Home Videos at night. The baby woke so frequently that I couldn’t follow a series from one week to the next. 

Big Pants watched the Boobahs as I got ready for work, and if for some reason they weren’t on, our day went to hell.  I had mocked my friends who let their babies watch TV before I had children, but I quickly learned that if I wanted to shower, the Boobahs were my best friends.  After I quit my job—he took his first steps when he was nine months old and I was at work, and I never went back to the office—our mornings were spent with Dora the Explorer, and Go, Diego, Go! (I once had a sexy dream about Murray on The Wiggles, as he was one of the only men to appear in my living room, albeit only on the screen.) I was fond of The Wonder Pets and the bizarre Yo, Gabba Gabba.  After we moved out, though, cable was the first thing I cut from the budget. Instead of the DVR and 8,000 channels Daddy Pants had, I paid $25 a month for the most basic of basic TV.  

            “Mama, can you pause this? I have to go potty,” Big Pants asked.
            “Mama’s TV doesn’t pause,” I replied. He was dumbstruck. How could a TV not pause? 

Daddy’s TV paused, and the DVR allowed him to watch whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it.  The idea that shows only came on at a certain time was incredibly frustrating to my three-year-old. Eventually, he adjusted, and managed to figure out the difference between DVDs, which did pause, and regular TV that didn’t. Luckily, our PBS station ran children’s shows all day long, though after Sesame Street at 5:30, they switched to grown up programing because they obviously didn’t care about our happiness. 

I don’t want you to think that all we did was watch TV, rather it was just always on. Mostly I sat on the floor and played Thomas the Tank Engine. Now, even though I had always considered myself a creative person, I was out of the habit of pretending. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the trains, so I mostly assembled the track and left the trains to Big Pants. Playdoh I was better at, but I didn’t get to really play with it, because it turns out that playdoh is very hard to get out of carpeting and babies are both quick and sneaky. But even though our playdoh time was spent in the dining room, the living room television sang to us: Sid the Science Kid, Super Why, and the dinging bells of Thomas, of course. Because our television shows changed with the divorce, their theme songs became triggers of wistfulness.   

When I now hear Dora, Dora, Dora the Explora! It brings me back to the time when I was married, just like The Red Hot Chili Peppers can flash me back to college. The theme song has become nostalgic, but loaded. I remember the clean carpeting of our house, and the hope I once had for our life there.  Also, though, it reminds me of the night that I knew I had to leave.  I had been clicking away at the computer in the corner of the playroom, ignoring Big Pants as he ran in circles around his play table. When I looked down, Tiny Pants had fallen asleep on a blanket on the floor.  It was the first time he had not fallen asleep in my arms. On the one hand, I was glad that he was an easy sleeper, but on the other, I knew that although I was physically present that evening, I might as well have been across town for all the attention I was paying to my children.  This wasn’t the type of mother I wanted to be.  I needed to stop obsessing about what to do about my marriage and just do something, otherwise my children would grow up while my face was turned towards computer screen. I couldn’t afford to live in the online world when my children needed me in the real one.  

Even now, ten plus years later, the cheery tunes of Go, Diego Go! send up a yearning, a feeling of trapped hopelessness in stark contrast to the cartoonish voices. Divorce is just weird sometimes.  Perhaps in ten more years it will be the theme from MythBusters or Young Sheldon that will return me to the past, but those memories will be of laughing with my children around the table, not of the angst of knowing it was time to go. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tiny Pants' First Birthday

Eleven years ago I had just given birth to a long, skinny, little baby with peach fuzz on his head and a finely tuned set of vocal cords. 

Ten years ago I was a newly-single mama who needed to somehow pull off a 1st Birthday party. I was overwhelmed. I was exhausted. I figured the best thing to do was just go to a MacDonald’s or something. My friend Kimberly, who had two babies nearly the same ages as mine—our youngest kiddos were born just a few weeks apart—insisted that I could do a more than adequate job at home.  

When you don’t have any family in town, you have to lean on your friends a little harder. Kim knew this, as she was the wife of a Marine and didn’t have family in town, either. 

She cooked pasta and stayed to clean it up after everyone left. My friend Amanda ordered, picked up, and paid for the Backyardigans birthday cake.

The only photos I have of that day were the ones she took. All my friends from church came. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I didn’t have a lot of space to fill up, either.   A small house becomes a large party fairly quickly. 

No, I didn't drop the baby. Probably. 

When I left my ex-husband, I had two kids in diapers and faith that we’d be better off in two houses, but not much of a plan. I had a brand new job and a happy little house, gas in my minivan and not much else. I leapt into the abyss and trusted the universe to catch me, and it did. Over and over. My friends held me up. My neighbors shoved my walk. My boss didn’t fire me when my kids threw up and I missed work.  Everything wasn’t perfect or easy, but I was incredibly blessed. 

My mother always said, “God looks out for fools and drunks.” I think God has an eye out for single parents as well. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Tiaras Are Wasted on the Young

I love me a good tiara. You know—the whole Disney princess type of tiara. The problem is that we aren’t allowed to wear them anymore unless we are brides. Even then, there will always be a Snark Cadre whispering, “does she think she’s a princess?” a little too loudly as you walk down the aisle. 

The problem is that I don’t want to be a bride. I just want to wear a tiara. Is that too much to ask for? Sure, there’s the whole birthday, New Year’s Eve and/or bachelorette tiara, but those are cheap plastic and although I will admit to enjoying them it’s not quite the same. I want jewels or at least rhinestones. Something that require me to lift my chin and hold my head at the proper angle so it doesn’t fall off. 

Let’s face it, there are absolutely zero reasons for a forty-five-year-old woman who isn’t in the market to get married to wear a tiara in public, and I think that’s a shame. I’ve missed my window for prom queen (I didn’t peak until 40) and while we’re at it, why don’t grown-ups get to wear prom dresses either?

As a child I daydreamed of this beautiful life filled with elegant cocktail parties and fine dining. The last time I was at a fine dining establishment the people sitting next to me were in jeans and hoodies. Look, I love my yoga pants and hate freezing for fashion, too. I get it. But in my opinion we have become an overly casual society.  I love to buy pretty dresses, but there’s really nowhere to wear them to anymore. 

I’m not saying we need rigid dress codes. I’d just like an occasional Ball for regular people. A chance to dress up with a (fake) fur stole, gorgeous dress (tux if you prefer) and a mother f-ing tiara on my head. 

I will admit that my hair is generally sort of tragic and a tiara would solve a lot of problems for me. But more than that, I’ve never felt more deserving of a tiara. I mean, I’ve hit middle age. I’ve finally done some shit I’m proud of. Besides, I’m raising children. I don’t have a whole heck of a lot of glamour going on right now. Know what I do have? A sore back from sitting at the ice rink all winter and baseball fields all summer. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going to the games. I have made a whole surrogate family of sports moms. But I feel once one reaches 45 a tiara is an earned right. 

Who do we crown now? Teenagers voted queen of something or other by the majority of their peers or judges at pageants. Young women promising their lives to someone in marriage. That’s about it. Why are those roles the only crown-wearing achievements?  

How about get a college degree, wear a tiara for a month. Got a promotion, did an art installation, wrote a book, acted on stage…all crown worthy in my opinion. Have a kid? Tiara. Bought my first home? Crown me.  Learned to ride a horse or a motorcycle or a jet ski...built a deck or plunged a toilet…there are so many accomplishments that merit recognition. Heck, sometimes just surviving another trip around the sun is an accomplishment greater than anything else. 

I could form a committee. We could go around with a pile of tiaras and award them to deserving women. And of course, we’d wear our own as well. We could start a trend. Who’s with me? 

Friday, November 16, 2018

How To Make Bird Seed Ornaments

As a parent, I both love and loathe doing crafts with my children. I want them to make stuff. I just don’t have anywhere left to put the stuff they make, and my kids don’t want to get rid of anything, ever.  This conundrum was solved with the Birdseed Ornament we made with our moms year after year. 

Bonus: doing something for backyard wildlife is a nice way to introduce some kindness into a season filled with grabby hands and dreams of material objects. Plus, making something that hangs outdoors is an excellent way to keep your house from getting cluttered with one more holiday craft. Winning. 

How to Make Birdseed Ornaments

1. Obtain an assortment of decent-sized pinecones.

Send your children into the wilds of your neighborhood and task them with finding pinecones. Any kind of pinecone will work, but the bigger the better. Sure, you can always buy pinecones, but we’re trying to teach kids something about not buying everything. The money you save by collecting your own pinecones can be spent on something more valuable, like secret Mama chocolate hidden on top of the fridge and only eaten when the kids aren’t looking. 

While the beloved children are collecting the pinecones you can take a nap. Winning! Conversely, you could accompany the children on their quest and “help” them collect pinecones, but we all know this means Mama will collect all the pinecones while the beloved children throw pinecones at each other, find the only spot of mud in the neighborhood and roll in it, or collapse on the sidewalk in a heap while they insist that their legs are too tired to go any farther. 

If you choose to give up and buy pinecones at this point, not only will I not judge you but I promise not to tell anyone, ever. 

2. You will need birdseed.
Preferably the assorted kind that has both sunflower seeds and those teeny-tiny round seeds that will get stuck in the cracks of the floorboards and make rattley noises when you vacuum them out of the carpet, since If you have carpet, it’s a sure bet that birdseed will wind up in it. Birdseed is like glitter—it multiplies and sticks to everything. It’s also slightly less delightful than glitter but healthier for birds. 

3. Also, peanut butter. 
 If you are wondering if birds can eat peanut butter, they can. I googled it for you before I wrote this article, because it turns out a lot of things we did in the 1970s turned out to be not the best ideas. I’m looking at you, Lawn Jarts. 

I’d recommend buying a new jar for this. Or using your current jar for the craft and have a new jar handy for your personal peanut butter needs, because the seeds will get in the peanut butter no matter how loudly you yell about cleaning off the knife. If you are buying peanut butter just for birds, it can be either crunchy or creamy, but it’s probably better to get the organic, less additive-more-natural kind. We don’t want the birds pecking at your window looking for their next fix of high fructose corn syrup. 

4. Some sort of containers.
Like maybe a shallow pan to pour birdseed into, and then dump on their sibling’s head. 

5. Children. I assume you already have those.
Let’s be honest, they aren’t actually necessary or even helpful, but since they are roaming around the house anyway, you might as well put them to work. 

6. Also, string, yarn, or maybe twist ties.
At some point you will hang these in the yard. If you have read this far and now can’t bear the idea of finding one more thing, just tuck the finished product amongst the branches or set them on a big rock or something. Hooky-type-things are not mandatory.  


Hint: You would be wise to tie the string/yarn/twisty on the top of the pinecone before rolling it in peanut butter. If you somehow missed this step, see #6, above.

Step One:  Apply the peanut butter to the pinecone. You can use a butter knife, spatula, spoon, whatever. You can also roll the pinecone in peanut butter. Let’s be honest, the kids are going to use their fingers anyway because they are kids and fingers are way more efficient than utensils at a certain age. 

Step Two: Roll in birdseed. Or drizzle birdseed over the peanut-buttered pinecone. It’s your vision, I’m not going to boss you. 

Step ThreeFour: I just realized that the helpful hint about the string was actually step one, so that means this is really step four, not three. Hang on a tree/bush outside.

Step Five: Spend the rest of the day cleaning up spilled birdseed and cursing this blog for even suggesting you tackle such a thing.  Or blissfully watch the birds out the window while hugging your child in a Norman Rockwell moment. Up to you.  

Note: It seems like probably a good idea to hang the birdseed ornaments out of reach of your toddlers, if you don’t want them to grab them off the tree and run around the yard with them. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Cry Valve

There’s a mechanism in your throat I call the cry-valve. It’s that thing that swells and chokes your words even when you’ve successfully convinced your eyes not to release tears. I don’t know about you, but mine broke back in pregnancy and has never formed a tight seal ever since.

It started with little things, back when I had a baby in my womb. Once there was a commercial for a security system. During the ad a woman and her children were home while a burglar attempted to break in. “She must have been so scared!” I tried to say, but my cry-valve was stuck open and so my words came out garbled.

After my kids were born, it didn’t get any better. The world hurts differently once you have children. In my opinion, eye wetness can be excused with allergies or hidden behind sunglasses, but it’s that leaky throat cry-valve that is a dead giveaway every single time.

When my eldest son took to the stage for a School of Rock performance I knew to seal my lips tightly. I cried when he first took the stage. I cried when the high school singer did her solo, even though I have no idea who she was. And I cried when a very good drummer took the spotlight, although I had never seen him before, either. But it was dark, and as long as I didn’t try to talk, I was able to hide it from my youngest child who sat beside me.

When my boys were little, I didn’t dare cry in front of them. I was their whole world, and if I crumbled, the entire foundation of our family might’ve fallen. Nothing made me more frantic and afraid then when my own mother cried when I was little.  But my kids are 10 and 13 now. Why do I still want to hide my emotions from them?

Maybe it’s because I tear up over every dang thing. Parades. Little League. A kid landing a jump at figure skating practice. Any event that showcases kids trying really hard causes my cry-value to swell up.

The world is a harsh place, and we have many conversations about it. Most of the time, my cry-valve stays tight for these. It’s when I try to take Mr. Rogers’ advice and “look for the helpers” that I lose it. Stories of bravery and kindness do me in every time. You might think it would be better to just cry in front of them and explain why I’m crying, but I cry way too often. I am—I’ll admit it—an over-crier.

Do I want them to grow indifferent to tears, numbed by their frequency? Or worse, think their mother is emotionally fragile and therefore veer away from me? Plus, I don’t want to open the door to teenage eye rolls and “mom’s crying again” distain. There’s an assumption that parents of teens must refrain from showing any weakness.

But maybe that’s just an excuse. Perhaps my two boys would benefit from knowing that sometimes people cry both when they are sad and when they aren’t, and that’s OK.

There’s a part of me that thinks crying in front of them might make them more sensitive to all the other over-criers out there. Maybe it’s time I try to make space for sadness, emotion, things other than happiness and smiling faces. Are parents not the first people to teach our children to smile when they aren’t happy?  Isn’t that really just asking them to hide who they are to reassure ourselves? Is that how I really want to parent?

Next time, I’ll try to trust my children a little bit more. I’ll try out brave new words like, “crying just means I’m overflowing with pride/love/something meaningful.”
Who am I fooling? I can’t make it through a Disney soundtrack let alone movie without needing to go blow my nose and wipe my eyes from “allergies.” I’m afraid if I open the cry-valve completely, I might never get it shut again. 

First appeared on

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

7 Tips to Teach Kids About Gender Equality

This post first appeared on Modern Parents Messy Kids 

I feel teaching gender equality is essential, even though I have boys, not girls. Yet, I’m historically awkward when it comes to large and important discussions on character development. However, I’ve had a lot of success with guerilla tactics—deploying relevant snippets of conversation in everyday situations. 

Here are 7 tips to teach kids about gender equality.

1. Banish all gender-based put-downsaround your child. You throw like a girlis a prime example. Of course, I don’t have control over other adults, like coaches and ex-husbands, but I call it out when I see it—not to the adult, of course. I’m not that brave. But I will say to my kids, something along the lines of: 

I don’t like how the coach said that only girls cheer for their teammates. Everyone needs encouragement and it implies that being a girl isn’t as good as being a boy. 

2.Get rid of the notion that toys/colors are gender specific.

No Grandma, pink bunny sleeping bags aren’t for girls. They are for anyone who likes bunnies. Who doesn’t like bunnies? 

Boys still get more flak from playing with dolls than girls do for playing with trucks, because society still equates femaleness with weakness. But in this day and age we expect our husbands to participate in child-rearing.My sons’ father changed diapers and fed the baby. Why wouldn’t my son want to play with dolls and model that behavior? 

Give toddlers a wide array of toys to choose from.I’m a hoarder, so I still had some dolls and a few plastic My Little Ponys from my own youth. These went in the playroom along with the trucks and crayons and everything else. An old nightgown got thrown in the costume box so they had another option in case they—or a friend coming over—wanted to be a princess, or a wizard, or a ghost, or anything else that required long flowy fabric.

3. Ifyou have a husband, tell him he has to vacuum for the sake of the children.If you don’t have a husband, any brother, father, or other male-type person will do.  I jest—most people have gotten the memo that cleaning is everyone’s job, but we often fold the laundry or run the dishwasher when the kids are in bed and there are no witnesses.  I get it—it’s faster to get things done without the help of small people. But seriously, let them see it happen on occasion. 

4.  If you were hoping #3 meant you get to lie on the couch and eat bon-bons while honey-muffin vacuums, I have some bad news. Lawn care is everyone’s job as well, so make sure the little darlings witness you mowing, shoveling, or taking out the trash as well.  If you have a traditional break down of roles in your house, you don’t have to mix it up all the time—every once in a while is adequate. 

5. Don’t worry, everyone can lie on the coach for the next tip: Watch TV with your children and interrupt their viewing with running commentary.  My feminist mother banished all TV shows that had an overtly misogynistic message—well, she tried, but it was close to impossible in the 1980s. But her ban only made me want to watch the shows moreand resent feminists for taking away my television. (I never claimed to be a sweet natured child.)Instead, I watch TV with my kids, and we discuss the characters. 

For example, my kids love Phineas and Ferb. There’s some cool stuff going on (blended family, building stuff, platypuses), but my sons know how I feel about Candace, who is just as smart as her brothers but she spends the majority of her time chasing Jeremy instead of doing cool stuff of her own.  When the remake of Richie Rich comes on, they get a double lecture on materialism and the impracticality of Irona’s black French maid outfit.  

6.  Point out gender inequality when you see it.I have sons, not daughters, but I still get involved when I see gender inequality in their school. For example, at their old school, girls got more uniform violations than boys. We talked about the boys they knew who wore sweat pants on non-gym days with no repercussions and the girls who got written up for  skirts that were an inch too short or untucked shirts. Train their eyes to see injustice even when it benefits them. 

7. Be aware of what messages the kids overhear in your household. For example, my workout DVD touts the value of “sleek, sexy arms” or a “nice firm booty.”  Now, I love my exercise video and I’m not going to stop using it, but since my kids are often in the room when I exercise, I make sure to tell them that, 

I don’t exercise to look sexy. I exercise so I’m strong enough to do a pull-up at the playground.

And then when we go to the playground, I do that pull-up and show them that I am strong—strong as a mother.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

7 Things Your Kids Say You're Getting Wrong About YouTube

This post first appeared on Modern Parents Messy Kids

My kids only watch TV at the kitchen table. They get their entertainment from YouTube, and they aren’t the only ones. DubbedThe YouTube Generation, one estimate puts them in league with over one hundred trillionother young people who feel the same way. 

On a family trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park this summer, the park broadcast YouTube compilations to entertain people who were waiting in line for rides.  This was my view of YouTube—funny fail videos and cat compilations. I was wrong. 

1. YouTubersaren’t just unknown jokesters—they are the new celebrities, admired just as much as Hollywood stars by young people. In some ways, the self-made aspect of their success makes them more appealing. And, in case you didn’t know, You Tube is making movies and other original contentthat competes with Netflix or Amazon Prime. Like all stars, kids look up to them and want to emulate their behavior.  

Earlier this year, I happened to catch a brief news story about a YouTuber named Logan Paul who posted a video posing with a suicide victim. Logan Paul is 22. My youngest son is 10—so I was shocked to learn that my son not only knew who he was, but was a fan.That was when I started paying closer attention to what exactly he was watching. 

Unlike with traditional celebrities, though, I’m unlikely to catch wind of YouTuber controversies through the traditional news sources I use. After Logan Paul, I started asking my kid who their favorites were, and I follow them on Instagram so I can get a glimpse into who these people are and what exactly their appeal is without having to watch every video they post.

2. YouTuberand Gamerare real careers—at least as much as “Movie Star” or “Rock Star” are actual career paths.  My friend taught ESL in an elementary school, and she confided to me that the kids all wanted to be YouTubers when they grew up, and she felt bad that “they didn’t even know that wasn’t a real career.” But she was wrong. 

The likelihood of becoming a famous YouTuber and actually making money off of it may be small, but some people actually do it, and the kids know it. Not only are YouTubers paid for ad views, but also from selling merchandise and tickets to events to meet them in person. 

My youngest son has asked for the same brand shoes as his favorite YouTuber wears. His favorite car is the same model the same YouTuber drives. I don’t know if this particular person is being paid for product placement, but many are.  

When we tell them being a YouTuber (or gamer) is not a real thing, kids roll their eyes, because they know we are wrong. And then they stop listening to everything else we say about YouTube, since they’ve already proven that we know less about it than they do.

3. They discover new content mainly through auto-playand recommendations from friends.Many kids have phones now, and they are constantly showing each other the funniest/most amazing you tube clips. Even my Amish neighbor who has no cell phone at all was hip to the latest YouTube sensations from working on a construction site. In other words, not having a phone is not protection.

4. It’s not all doom-and-gloom though. Sometimes kids use YouTube to voluntarily learn things. YouTube has taught my kids how to:

  • ·     play the guitar
  • ·     solve a Rubik’s Cube
  • ·     play online games better
  • ·     improve pitching/batting
  • ·     put on makeup
  • ·     perform magic tricks
  • ·     ollie on a skateboard

It turns out that watching clips over and over may have quantitative value. Earlier this year the Wall Street Journal credited watching YouTube clips with improving basketball players’ performance

5. YouTube videos are laden with advertising.  I used to hang around the beginning of a video to help my child skip the commercial, then went back to whatever else I was doing. It’s no longer so simple. Ads no longer play just at the beginning of the video—I was watching one of my son’s favorite YouTubers attempt a back flip, and just as his feet left the ground—at the pinnacle of tension—an ad starting playing.

In fact, in April 2018, Google came under firefor collecting data about kids in order to better advertise to them. And unless you pay for YouTube Premium, you can no longer skip ads. As my twelve-ear-old explained to me, 

“if the video is ten minutes long, it will most likely have three ads in it.” 

What are these ads for? Some content seems to be tailored to their interests specifically— but a lot of ads are geared towards adults. In the words of my 10-year-old, “this week, there’s a lot of Advil.” It seems that the same two or three ads run on any video they watch for about a week, then they change. The only frightening or questionable ads my kids have seen are a for movies, all PG-13 or R, which younger kids might find frightening.

6. Content filters actually do work—as long as your kid doesn’t turn them off.I asked my 12-year-old—who actually does not want to see inappropriate content—how often the auto play or search feature returns an inappropriate video. “Never,” he told me, “as long as you enable restricted mode.”
However, I’m quite sure he has a savvy friend who knows how to subvert it if he really wanted to. My kids are not allowed to watch YouTube in their rooms or on their phones, although “everyone” watches clips on the school bus.

7. If your children are in elementary school or older, they most likely have at least one friend who has their own YouTube channel. Kids are posting videos both with and without the assistance of parents, so if you don’t want your kid on the internet, you might want to ask about it before dropping your kid off for a playdate.