Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I don't hate the South

Lots of the big-lies-I-tell-myself-to-make-life-easier (but which actually make my life harder) have been busted wide open lately. For example:
1. I am not an adult (yet).
2. I can’t help being busy.
3. I don’t have time to clean more /write more/return phone calls faster/pay bills when they are due.
4. I’ll eventually get around to copying the text from the 40+ journals I have lying around the house into word docs so I can throw them out. (Same goes for transferring mix tapes to digital.)
5. I am just about to finish the songs I started recording in 2007.

I brought my ipod to the gym yesterday. I’d been finding it hard to do all those in between runs. The non-issue trainings runs that require patience and stamina. So this was something easy to pull out of a bag of tricks – listen to music, and “stay within yourself.” Except I never stay anywhere near myself when I listen to music, at least not the kind that I love. So the lie was this:
The reason I don’t listen to music when I go running is because I like the quiet, the time to myself, the chance to let my mind wander. I do like those things, but:
Yesterday I listened to Band of Horses “Funeral”, Bright Eyes “A Scale, A Mirror and Those Indifferent Clocks”, The Cure “Plainsong” and others that are equally beautiful and heartbreaking. The kind that give you a gut wrenching nostalgia, even the first time you ever heard them.
Turns out the reason I don’t listen to music at the gym is the same reason I don’t listen most of the rest of the time (to anything but Putumayo Kids), the same reason Joe from Bayonne won’t pick up his drums in the studio three years after we played our last show, the same reason my parents wouldn’t move into the room my sister and I shared after we moved out even though theirs was tiny and we had the master bedroom, the same reason Alex’s Green Card still has a picture of a 5-year-old boy on it. To say I don’t miss playing (and most days I don’t miss it, I don’t miss it) – well, have you ever read Absalom, Absalom? Hope this doesn't ruin the ending:
‘“Tell about the South," said Shreve McCannon. "What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they?…Tell me one more thing. Why do you hate the South?"
"I don’t hate it," Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; "I don’t hate it," he said. "I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!"’

Atypical Kid-Pick of the Week

Take your kids to see some new art @Irrelevant: Local Emerging Asian Artists Who Don’t Make Work About Being Asian
Opening Thursday, July 1st, from 6-8 pm @ Arario Gallery 521 West 25th Street, New York, New York; the show runs Jul 1 to Aug 6
Guest Spotlight: Hein Koh
Hein Koh is what she wanted to be when she grew up (an artist). [She also wanted to be a fashion designer, surgeon, teacher, psychologist, musician, and DJ.]
Each morning she bikes to her studio in Long Island City and begins her work by writing or sketching in a journal. "I don't paint until I feel like something is seizing me to do so," she says. That doesn't take long, but then again, she is one of the few New Yorkers who doesn't keep track of time. And one of the only ones who gives herself enough of it to do what she loves.
Hein's work is at turns childlike and futuristic, funny and dark, full of both raw energy and years of careful thought about what it means to be an artist, how to live purposefully, how to push yourself to the edge and still stay centered. In between painting, making jewelry with cancer patients and teaching art classes to kindergartners, Hein took the time to answer a few questions about her days, her art, and what advice she has for others.
What is a place that inspires you in NYC? I just found a new inspiring place the other day--the Hudson River by 69th street. There's a cafe and pier over there, and some grassy areas to sit on right by the river. The view of the sunset is incredible. The other day, I sat underneath a willow tree on the bank, and found it so rejuvenating. I had brought a book, but barely read it because I enjoyed being mesmerized by the water. I found it very relaxing and meditative.
How do you spend your evenings, after you leave the studio? If I'm not hanging out with friends or going to openings, then I usually have some work to do in the evenings--there's a lot of hustling involved in being an artist, trying to get studio visits, shows, applying for grants and residencies, updating my website, etc. So there is actually a lot of time spent on the computer! Also, Jim (my husband) and I have dinner together most nights, and we talk and goof around a lot. At the end of the night, I like to wind down by taking a bath and then reading in bed until I fall asleep. I also write in my journal a lot, not just in the evenings but throughout the day. It's just something I have to do to get things out of my system and clarify my thoughts, beliefs and values.
Any advice for young artists? DON'T BE AN ARTIST! Seriously, it's a hard life, and I wouldn't tell anyone to choose it. I don't feel like I chose it either, I just feel like it's something I have to do for my own sanity. At the same time, it can also drive me insane, so it's a Catch-22 that I'm living. If you really must be an artist, practical advice I would give is to find a job that you like, such as teaching, so that you're not feeling tortured and desperate as you wait for your "big break." In most cases, that "big break" is not going to happen and you have to expect a long and difficult road ahead of you. Take care of yourself by exercise and eating right--taking care of the body is essential for mental health, and as an artist you're going to need all of your mental reserves. Stay in touch with other artists because community is so important in the art world. Most of the things you will get will be through connections, and it's important to have a good group of friends to lend support and encouragement to one another. I could go on and on about this, but I'll stop here and say it's a singular experience for each artist, so you just have to figure out a way to make it work!
What is your favorite color? It's hard for me to pick a single color as my favorite, because I love all color too much, and it also depends on its specific use. I can say for clothes though, I like black, white and red, but I only like white in combination with black and/or red. I love that black goes with everything, and red because it is fiery and stands out. White goes with everything too, but I like the more dramatic effect of black paired with other colors. The funny thing is that while I used to paint in a lot of bright colors, lately I just paint in black and white, and occasionally red. So maybe I can say these are my favorite colors, overall.
Opening Thursday, July 1st, from 6-8 pm @ Arario Gallery 521 West 25th Street, New York, New York; the show runs Jul 1 to Aug 6

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Twelve Things I Learned from Hein Koh

1. Write every day whether you want to be a writer or not.

2. If something is bothering you with a good friend, honor the friendship enough to address it.

3. See as much of the world as you can.

4. Name your band something memorable like “Speedy Vulva”.

5. Don’t act according to obligations, it will make you feel overwhelmed and irritated and more importantly, it’s not genuine.

6. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Do not complain about the time or money involved in their procurement and preparation.

7. If people ask for your opinion, be brave enough to give it.

8. Don’t expect strong friendships or relationships without putting any effort into them.

9. Use the library, even if it means waiting weeks for books you're dying to read. It saves money, resources, and space in your apartment.

10. If someone has a leech on her toe that she got while swimming in the Connecticut River and didn’t notice for several hours, grab a lighter and burn it off.

11. Give yourself lots of time alone.

12. Be open to change, even in your wedding vows.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

You didn't have me at hello or any other time

Mingling at the playground is worse than any cocktail party I’ve ever been to. For one thing there are no cocktails. And nobody I’ve talked to there has been amused by the idea of bringing them (in the afternoon people). This is yet another limitation of raising kids in the city. If we were at each other’s houses with porches and yards, standing around drinking wine while the kids played would not seem that outrageous, would it? (I wonder if putting this post back-to-back with can-you-drink-while-breastfeeding is going to give the wrong impression.)

As I mentioned in Before They Were Moms, while in the playground I can’t get any discussion going about life outside of diaper changes and dwindling naptimes. And I myself am interested in hashing out those topics. But once we’ve gotten through “He still falls asleep in the stroller sometimes” or “She’s started to prefer the shower” one toddler or another is reaching for somebody else’s Pirate Booty and we’re off to stop the would-be plunderer.

I sometimes feel like a kid who transferred schools midway through the year because I really only became a stay-at-home-mom a few months ago. For the first year of Wally’s life I worked full time and Alex was home. He went to museums and parties and the recording studio with Wally in a sling, but he never did the baby scene. I got home at 6 and Wally went to bed at 7. I didn't know Wally that well (except during the night, when I would have preferred not to know him as well as I did).
When I got laid off last summer, Alex and I overlapped for seven months at home, but we didn't have clear roles day to day or even hour to hour. It was always – okay you take him out, I have to finish this project. Or, I have a client tomorrow at 10, are you free? We did fun things the three of us. We took little weekend trips. I did jury duty. Therapy. Wrote a young adult novel. We got a jogging stroller and trained for a 10K. We even had a live-in part-time nanny for six weeks in the fall. Alex and I were both vaguely looking for work, working, taking care of Wally, tripping over ourselves to get used to the astronomical number of agreements required for both of us to freelance at home and share responsibilities for taking care of a high-energy child without a primary caretaker, a weekly schedule, a daily routine, or one of us designated as “in charge” of the baby. Even as parents, we were babysitters. “Yeah, I’ll watch him tonight for you, no problem.”

Until Alex got a job doing IT at a school in Chinatown. When he started there March 1st, I made my entrance into Pinwheel Park on that first day as “a mom” (complete with ill-fitting jeans and unflattering running shoes). It was a huge relief to take on that role, to know that whatever freelance work came my way I would now squeeze into nap times and evenings. Much less anxiety knowing I was in charge of doctor's visits and Wally's therapies and anything else that came up. That I wouldn't get an angry voicemail about an appointment Alex had "penciled in" to his imaginary schedule. So even though I couldn't take five hours to go to a coffee shop and work on my writing, or meet friends for lunch, or easily entertain visitors, life got much easier. I got to know Wally. Got to understand his rhythms, anticipate breaking points, cheer him up in simple ways.

And I finally got to the point where I could do more outside than say, "Excuse me" as I jumped over two girls having a tea party to get to Wally before he walked down a slide. He started sitting to go down slides and I started approaching other moms with "Have you ever noticed...?" type riffs. But they hadn't. (How on earth did you not notice that? I want to say. Do you have a tear in your cornea? Did you just get out of solitary confinement?) They are full of zen statements about how "That never bothers me" or "He's over that phase" or "We try not to stress about that." It's hard to relate while being so positive. Much easier to connect over irritations and frustrations. I don’t know if small talk could get any smaller than the prototypical “How old is he?” “How old is she?” (in months, remember, in case your eyes aren’t all the way glazed over yet). But maybe this is yet another case of me not accepting my role, on the playground, as a mother primarily, not a friend. Maybe the conversations with other adults should be kept small so the steps for Wally can be big. I'll have to think about this. But in the meantime I'll keep holding out for that moment when a new mom turns around and looks me right in the eye and says, "Yes, I know exactly what you mean."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thanks, but no thanks

Almost as annoying as the amount of parenting advice out there--not just out there, but falling like volcanic ash where ever new parents happen to be standing--is how unbelievably vague so much of it is. If you're going to follow me around with nonsense about Wally's pants being too short and how I should make sure to wipe his face (should that go before or after making sure he doesn't get hit by a car?) or the fact that he's getting wet (was that not the point of the hippo sprinkler in the playground?) at least aim for a little more consistency than Sarah Palin when giving information that could be of some possible use.

1. Can you drink or can’t you while breastfeeding? I know doctors have to categorically say you can’t so that no one misuses the term moderate drinking like they do every year at the office Christmas party. But whenever I asked about it back in Wally's first year I’d fall into a conversational sinkhole:

(me) Is it okay to drink while breastfeeding, I mean like one beer or whatever?

(friend, coworker, person behind me at ATM, clerk at the liquor store) As long as you’re not pounding cosmos and margaritas.

So it is okay to drink one beer or a glass of wine?

As long as you’re not pounding cosmos and margaritas

Obviously I know that’s not okay. Did I say, "Is it okay to pound cosmos and margaritas while breast feeding?" No. Why are you dancing around being even the slightest bit helpful by ruling out such a ridiculously extreme case? Why can’t anyone just say “Yes, it’s okay. One beer is okay. Yes.”

2. (me): If he only wants to eat on the go, should I let him, or should I enforce "mealtimes"?

(person who clearly needs to look up the definition of "busy") He needs to eat.

(me) Okay, so I should let him eat healthy snacks on the go.

(other person) Make sure he's not picking all day long.

(me) But grazing a little is okay?

(other person) Children should eat what they're given.

When it comes to parenting everyone knows best--especially the people whose children moved to Singapore after college and never came back--but they'll never give you a straight answer. Wally had lots of trouble sleeping on his back as a newborn. When he started to roll over at 2 months I kept asking, is that okay, for him to sleep on his stomach? Well, everyone said, just be sure you always put him to sleep on his back. (Did they mean if he rolled over, that was his problem?) If it was really okay, why couldn’t they leave it at that? It never sounded convincing.

I feel like I'm talking to my high school French teacher. The answer to every student's question was "That's a case by case basis" but she could never think of a case. Everything depended on the speaker. We could never get a yes or a no.

I guess the best advice -- and there are some free spirits out there who've been willing to give it to me-- is do what works. And "what works" can change minute to minute. Some days your toddler will be just fine sharing "cool cars" with other kids in the sandbox and you can keep reading that first sentence of Taming the Spirited Child over and over pretending you're actually getting a little free time. Other days you'll see the "grabby phase"* coming from a mile away, and it's your job to grab him out of there before the monster trucks go flying. When it comes to health and safety, there are hard and fast rules (and surprising ones -- peppermint oil is highly toxic, don't ask me why I know). But when it comes to most of the day to day stuff we agonize over, I haven't found any other way but seeing which situations and patterns and reactions work best (depending on the mood and time of day) and trying to make the greatest number of those happen. And even "what works" doesn't always work. Still, it's a good rule to follow. Harder for me is biting my tongue when the woman in the laundry room says I should cut Wally's hair because it's getting in his eyes.

(“Yes, it’s okay. One beer is okay. Yes.”)

*coined by neighborhood mom Kristin Ames

Monday, June 21, 2010

10 Rules for Running, Writing and Life

At the gym yesterday I started thinking through a list of running advice that would apply to writing (and any other pursuit). Along the lines of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Once you get started, you keep thinking of them. Like, don't be afraid to sweat. Rain is not an excuse to stay inside. Listen to your body. Adapt to the environment. Anyway, here are 10 Rules for Running, Writing and Life.

1. Start where you are.
2. Practice everyday.
3. Stay at your own pace.
4. Set goals and stick to them.
5. Boredom is your mind telling your body to quit. No one gets bored walking for a half hour. (Got this one from my dad.)
6. Accept bad days, even on cool, perfect, beautiful days when you had a good night's sleep and feel fine. (The opposite will happen too.)
7. Push yourself but not so hard that you won't go out tomorrow.
8. Remember mental stamina will give out before physical (from The Self-Coached Runner).
9. Don't worry about how you look to others.
10. Keep moving forward.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Ladybug Principles

Six years ago my dad and I wrote a self-help manuscript about running. Really it's about motivation and sticking to a goal, using running as a stand-in for any goal worth pursuing. Having run 17 miles of the New York Marathon in 2 hours 43 minutes hardly qualified my dad as an expert on the sport. But his years as a psychologist treating veterans and leading groups to help people break bad habits gave him insight into how to get people to stay focused. And he loves to run.

We called it the Ladybug Principles because we'd been using ladybug stickers to mark days that we ran on our calendars. We gave the principles lighthearted names to make them easy to remember, but based them on a mix of classical wisdom and modern cognitive-behavioral science. During that summer we ran as much as we could and kept track of what ideas worked and what didn't. We cringed and amused ourselves looking back at a painful early draft where there were about 32 sections all divided into "hurdle" and "solution". Glenn Davis could not have gotten through them all.

When we finished we sent the book out to exactly one agent and one editor. Both gave feedback for how to make it more sell-able. We thanked them, gave their ideas a few moments thought, and moved on to other projects. We took our own advice in many areas but not in the one where we faced the strongest resistance and needed it the most.

Five years later, the manuscript found its way into the hands of a resident at the psychiatric hospital where my dad supervises first year post-docs. She is an actual runner as in she won the New Jersey Marathon, in 90 degree heat. Her main focus this year is to lead a running group as part of the treatment for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. And guess what she's using as her guide? Rules with names like: The Flossing Principle and The Banana Split Corollary. These sections are actually printed in her medical records. A few weeks ago she told my dad, "We're moving onto Johnny Appleseed."

My dad and
I keep laughing over the names being taken seriously. Although the truth is, the names themselves are probably not. But the ideas are. And maybe that's the essential point that we were missing, taking them seriously ourselves. We'll put off eating and sleeping and normal human functioning to work 'til the last dog dies for other people's projects, but rarely for our own.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

He's just not that into it

I met my friend Anne from high school today at a farm close to where we grew up. Anne was a year behind me in school but we worked together at a children’s museum and shared a love of Weezer-before-they-were-famous (and after).**

We only had an hour to spend together between when she could arrive (because of the kids) and I had to leave (because of Wally). Back in high school a rushed visit meant meeting after dinner and getting home before the town curfew of 1 am. This time we talked as fast as possible, in between treasure hunt questions, Wally’s disappearing acts (I am now accustomed to being greeted by strangers with a relieved “There’s your mommy”), requests for water and the like.

Anne asked if I can ever “get out on my own” while I’m visiting. I said not really, except during Wally’s nap and I'm in the middle of several freelance projects now so I use the time to write.

“Can’t your parents watch him for a while?” she asked innocently, as Wally stuck his hands in the chicken cage, gave a goat a kiss on the mouth, climbed up to the top rung of the sheep pen, and jumped on the roped-off hay ride wagon. Within less than a minute she had answered the question herself. Anne had a baby on her hip, a scared-four-year old wandering behind her, and was managing to push along a double stroller.

I made the mistake of saying how calm and well-behaved the girls were and immediately apologized. I hate when people do that, observe a child’s behavior for two minutes and instantly generalize it. We laughed over that tendency people have to collect a little data and, as Anne said, feel they’ve “nailed it.”

“He doesn’t like apple juice.” "She's so easy on long trips." “I guess he’s not interested in animals anymore.” Just because he doesn’t want apple juice right now doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t like it. Aren't there certain things you like that you don't feel like consuming right now?

Plus we can't always assume that a reaction is related to the variable we're focused on. Maybe a boy who loves cows and begged to see them for a week is crying even though he's right there in the barn with all the nice cows. Yes he does like cows--he still does-- but does that mean that when he's in bovine proximity nothing else can bother him at all? Like he can’t have a stomach ache, or be tired from traveling all week, or have really wanted to ride on that hay ride?

There seems to be this propensity for immediately classifying children and expecting consistent behavior. We don't do it with adults in quite the same way. They're not watching the World Series – they must hate sports. He wants to see Toy Story III--he's obsessed with Pixar. We don’t usually go from one incident to global proclamation. But with children we often do, refusing to let them be complex, capricious, impulsive, extreme in their emotions--all things we know they are.

Maybe it’s because they’re such mysterious creatures, seeming to be half human and half spirit, driven by unseen forces. Forces that infuriate--we came all this way for them to have fun and they're just not that into it--and ones that amuse--like the way they get the biggest kick out of the simple orange house cat sleeping in the barn, the way they shriek with delight when it jumps up to a higher haystack, eager to get away from their overzealous petting.

**(We went to see them open for Lush at Axis on Lansdowne Street in the summer of 1994. When we walked up to them afterward to buy t-shirts, they asked how we had heard of them, a question that by September surely wouldn’t have been posed to Tibetan monk.)

Monday, June 14, 2010

City Kids

My new hero Lenore Skenazy posted my "Free-Range Experiment" on her blog yesterday. (Guest Post: Trust A Stranger at the Park?). One comment in particular has been nagging at me (in a good way). "i am pretty free-range. but, having a stranger, in NYC, saying she could watch my kids, while tempting, is not always the wisest course. Where is Rachel located? NYC is its own animal. I would have suggested the same thing, but I can’t think of many moms who would take me up on it. It all depends, really; it’s not an open/shut case of who is neurotic and who isn’t," (rae liter).

I would absolutely agree that someone's response to the question "Do you want me to watch your kids?" is in no way a litmus test for how overprotective he/she is. In fact, I had to add in the discussion on that site that I couldn't leave my own toddler to anything less than an infantry unit in my own living room (or so I'm advised whenever someone watches him while I run to the Post Office or take a shower). Then again, the free-range discussion for the most part does apply more to kids 4 years old and up, I would think. Maybe even a little bit older. Surely no one would recommend letting toddlers loose in Central Park or anywhere else.

But I keep thinking about the NYC part of it. About how many times people say to me, "It's a city thing" when I complain about one aspect of child-rearing or another. The $1000 stollers -- a city thing. The craziness about music classes for kids who are happy banging the proverbial pans. Soccer classes because you don't feel like taking the time to play a game of catch. The looks you get on the playground when your kid even starts to pick up a car no one is using--can you give me one second to wrestle it from him before you start in with "Get that! We need that back. We're leaving soon." It's a city thing. So I'm curious about this.

I have found it true in many instances, and certain limits to freedom are the only rational way to behave-- we can't let our kindergartens go bike riding down 9th avenue by themselves. The wonderful childhood memories I have of climbing trees alone and having picnics in the woods and wandering down the railroad tracks (yes I was old enough to know to get off the tracks as soon as I heard a train coming, back then they were still allowed to whistle) is just not in the cards for my kids unless we move. But how much of the distrust and disconnectedness and alienation is due to the inherent dangers here and limited resources and how much to other factors? How do people outside the city feel about the free-range movement? I was talking to a friend who is back up at Dartmouth for his vascular surgery residency who says he imagines kids up there play outside (in the country) just the way they always did.

Is that true? Are we in the city catastrophizing by imagining a whole way of life gone, replaced by video games, computers, scared parents, clear cut yards in subdivisions with trees no taller than the top of an average SUV?

Of course there are much bigger questions at work here, in terms of perception around danger. Clearly we are governed by instinct over reason (we jump in cars without blinking but say Hail Mary's when hitting heavy turbulence mid-flight not to mention the superhuman courage we'd have to summon to walk in the woods alone at night). Do you remember the Times article a while back about city-folk being terrified of the country? Makes me think of the time my boyfriend and friend came with me to visit my parents in a small town Northwest of Boston. We took a walk at night. There were no street lights and there was no one around, most of the houses were dark, surrounded by woods. "Is this safe?" they asked. They never thought twice about the warehouse-lined street by the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn where we had our music studio.

My cousins from California wouldn’t step foot inside the NYC subway. What did they do instead to get around the city? Just about the most dangerous thing you could do beside hang-glide down from the Empire State Building– they drove.


These are just a few examples. I'm sure my wily two-year old could think of many more.

1. I never remember to cut Wally's finger or toe nails. On the rare occasions we have a sitter, she asks for the nail cutter as soon as she walks in.
2. I like to talk about not living in fear and letting kids be kids but I confess to an insane degree of catastrophic thinking ("I don't see the blanket moving; he's not breathing", "She didn't answer her cell phone, she must have gotten hit by a car" etc.)
3. I've been known to put Wally in front of inappropriate youtube videos with hallucinatory images of bunnies singing to trance music because I needed to get something done (and didn't realize the videos weren't for kids).
4. I have at times employed my sister's technique of a raised middle finger while walking behind Wally (when he can't see). Harmless but totally satisfying and helps me keep my indoor voice while indoors.
5. I let Wally play in the sprinklers on days in the low 50s, no sun. Other parents tell me to change his clothes (sometimes lending me extras) and insist I bring him home.
6. Last September I hesitated to put sunscreen on Wally in a blinding late summer sun because I didn't want my friends to get annoyed with me for holding them up on a walk around Governor's Island.
7. Many times I have tried to use junk food as a means of getting my little wiggler to sit still (but it never works).
8. I find it nearly impossible to go to bed early even though I know I'd be in a much better mood at Wally's 5 am wake up call if I did.
9. On the day of my jello shots get-together I let Wally take an absurdly long nap even though I knew he wouldn't sleep as well that night just so I could finish the creamsicle and margarita shots.
10. Sometimes I tell Wally I have to change his diaper so he'll let me continue reading tabloid magazines. It's the only way he'll steer clear.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Being Busy on Purpose

I have a lot I want to say about being busy on purpose (maybe this is obvious to everyone), preferring the stress over tiny things like being late for an appointment to the sadness that can rise up when things are quiet, when there's no where we have to be, no one we have to get back to, nothing we're running behind on. A fear of being where we are. Like that last haunting image in The Graduate--we got everything we wanted--now what? It's easy to keep big life questions at bay by continually swatting at the little ones buzzing around like flies in front of your face.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Landing the Aircraft

When I was five I fell off a jungle gym and cut my forehead, requiring 11 stitches across and 8 down. It was a minor upheaval, an anxious afternoon for my mom. I don’t even think my dad came home early from work. No thought was given to changing anything about the pebble-lined playground; no suggestions about spotting a 5-year-old for tricky climbs and flips (I’d been imitating my 7-year-old sister's penny drop when I dropped without the penny part).

True it was a small injury, one which didn’t call for a lot of soul-searching on anyone’s part but so far as I know no one ever asked—where were the adults? The adults were inside making dinner or writing letters or talking on the phone and folding laundry. They were hugely involved in our lives in all kinds of ways, but they also understood when to step out of the ring. We were allowed to be both seen and heard, and that was a breakthrough in parenting compared to their upbringing, but the fact that they were often neither was nothing remarkable.

Most everyone I know my age has similar stories.

How did a generation raised like this turn into hovering aircraft with our own kids? What’s so perfect about the ubiquitous helicopter metaphor is that it gets at both insidious parts of the phenomenon. Not only are parents today hovering nearby at at all times, taking away every chance for freedom or independence, for minor falls that will teach children to be more careful next time, but oftentimes they're never getting down and actually playing with the kids. Sure they are always around, saying their names, singing their praises, but will they follow them over to some weird, dirty corner of the playground or will they say, “Eli, stay here where I can see you.” You could see Eli over in the weird, dirty corner too, but that would mean you'd either have to let him go by himself or risk getting mud on your Manolo Blahniks and one has to draw the line somewhere.

Why not let the kid explore on his own a little, or else join him in his adventure? What is the point of hanging around buzzing and texting and snapping pictures? “I’m here if you need me, I’m here, I’m here” helicopters seem to say, "but unless you’re in danger, you don’t really need me."

Actually, that’s not true. They do need us. To look at the ladybug they found (not post a picture of them holding it on Facebook). To ride down the slide next to them. To help them push sand into a hole in the sidewalk. They do need us, but not in the way we're telling them to need us.

“I’ll just stand above you, beneath you, around you, underneath you; I’m here.” But we're there, not here. When hovering we're everywhere but the one place they want us to be, which is in the moment with them.

I love Lenore Skenazy's line: “I tried, but the helicopter parents refused to land."

Let's land the aircraft. Step outside into the sunshine. Breathe the air. For a minute after we cut the engine, the world will seem preternaturally quiet without the blare of the rotor blades. And then we'll start to hear so many other things. Maybe we'll wonder why a little girl is so intrigued by stuffing leaves into her empty snack cup. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to show us why it’s fun. But if we're not interested, we should go sit on a bench and check our BlackBerrys and let her get on with all the exciting things she needs to do.

Spirit Ship

My friend Kristin is putting on an amazing event on Saturday. Here's the info:

Saturday, June 12, 2010, Red Hook, NY- Little Creatures Films invites the public to join a magical experience that jumps off the screen aboard the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge on the Red Hook waterfront at 290 Conover St., Pier 44, from 3-5pm, in support of its upcoming film Spirit Ship.


Find out more here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Free-Range Experiment

In the playground this morning I tried to apply a bit of Free-Range parenting to my usual routine (albeit with someone else's kids). A lady with a newborn was trying to round up her boys (3 and 4) so she could move her laundry from the washer to the dryer in a nearby building. They of course did not want to leave even though they could "come right back" (which in kid-speak translates to Don Corleone saying, "Someday, and that day may never come").

I stuttered, "You can leave them with me" which was maybe a bit forward given we hadn't met or even engaged in any of the usual playground banter. She went silent for a moment, probably not thinking "Hey, what if this lady playing in the sandbox with her toddler changes her plan for the day and abducts Max and Jackson?" But more like -- "Can she handle all three?" (Especially when most days it's clear to even the most casual observer I can barely handle one.)

She asked her kids if they wanted to stay. They did. She told them, "Rachel's in charge." The 3 boys seemed to intuitively understand they should now play together and stay local. They chased each other around the monkey bars and returned again and again to the water. My main concern was that one of them might run out of the gate while I had to be on the other side of the playground catching Wally before he dashed in front of high-speed swings. Nothing close to that even happened, in fact hardly anyone was even on the swings.

When she came back the grateful mom said she worried only that someone might get hurt and then I'd have to attend to that on top of the others. I guess you could say it was lucky, but it was all so easy. So natural. The odds were stacked pretty high for us. How ridiculous to have to shuttle three kids back and forth from the playground to inside and back just to move a few pairs of ripped sweatpants from a washer to a dryer. I did notice quizzical looks from other parents but the kids couldn't have been happier. When the second adult returned to her post, they scattered out again. Had it not been for the free-range experiment, I wonder if they would have played together at all.

7:30 is the New Sleeping In

This morning we were deadbeat parents and let Wally watch Elmo videos from 5 until 7:30. He did check in every 10 minutes or so to pull the blanket off us and perform his patented one-second cuddle.

Yesterday my sister took me to Alice's Tea Cup on West 73rd. We had the mad hatter's tea for two and it was just amazingly good.

I am trying to convince her to start her own "mom's blog" because she's such a great mom with all kinds of fantastic advice and the two sweetest girls you've ever met. Plus when Wally was born she handed me this ingenious list of newborn advice--stuff you never find in any of the what to expect when you suspect you might be expecting books--and she was the ONLY person not wearing scrubs who knew how to swaddle the baby without posing a suffocation hazard.

Oh and lately I cannot tear myself away from Lenore Skenazy -- check out her blog Free-Range Kids.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jello Shot distraction

Sorry I've been drowning in Jell-O shots** so I haven't been posting. I'm also working on a little YA project for the same Editor which has been terribly fun and feels somehow illicit. I told my best friend (a world-class physicist) about the project and she had this to say:

"To keep their shape, the jello needs to be primarily solid. As the alcohol content increases, the polymerization of the jello is inhibited such that it becomes more fluid-like. At a critical threshold of alcohol, no solidification occurs. This transition can be measured with a rheometer."

Wally is sleeping under the huge, white comforter he filched from our bed (fits it all in his crib somehow) after a disastrously and inexplicably cranky morning (for him...and for me...).

** (not literally--although two Australians did actually fill a pool with 7,700 gallons of Jell-0 in 1981. Perhaps an attempt to disprove the dessert's famous slogan "There's always room for Jell-O"?)