Archive for September, 2007

Halo Happiness

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Our 19 year old son, Ethan, got home from work around 8:30 pm on Friday night and the first thing out of his mouth was, “Are you guys going to bed soon?” Although I’m sure that we were so tired that we looked about 110 years old as we sat staring blankly at a movie, his question was not motivated by a desire to make sure we went to bed early to get some rest. He wanted to know when he would have our one-and-only TV to himself so he get the next cool item ““ and bragging rights ““ in Halo 3.

Ethan has always loved playing video games. There was even a point in his life that we felt that video games had gone beyond just being a diversion; they had become an escape from dealing with the world around him ““ which I suppose is the definition of an addiction. Painful as it was, he went cold turkey from playing them for a year.

When he went back to playing games, he had more balance in his life but he never lost his passion for them. Still, his video game mania does frustrate me at times. When he is explaining in great detail why the physics of “Half-Life 2″ are revolutionary, I find myself thinking that if he put half as much brainpower and energy into physics in real life that mountains would be moved or bridges would be built”¦But what do I have to complain about? I’ve got a teenage son who wants to talk to me ““ even if it is about first-person shooters. 

Sometimes I tell Steve that I’m worried that if there was a pie chart titled “What Ethan Spends His Time Thinking About,” that video games would be half of the pie. “Work, School, and Friends” would be almost the entire other half with just a little sliver for “Future Plans.”

Steve can give me a little perspective on this because even though he has never held a game controller in his life, he shares the same DNA and he understands why video games are so appealing for a young man like Ethan. He pointed out to me that there was an article in the newspaper that described the soldiers in Iraq, who are the same age as Ethan, unwinding from a day of fighting insurgents by playing video games in their barracks.

I’m thankful that the stress in Ethan’s life right now is not life threatening and is limited to cranky customers during his shift at Blockbuster, but everybody needs a way to blow off some steam and video games just happens to be his recreation of choice ““ him and millions of other males born after 1975.

I thought video games were a pastime that he would eventually leave behind like Legos and Pokemon cards because I was in denial about how intrinsic video games really are to Ethan and guys who have grown up with technology. However, the release of Halo 3 and the media attention surrounding it made me realize that video games are here to stay and getting bigger every year.

No one is going to “grow out” of playing video games, in fact, this generation is going to grow old with them. Can’t you imagine the old guys at the retirement home with controllers in their gnarled hands, huddled around the Xbox 1800 playing Halo 13, shouting, “I’m dead!”?

If I had any money to invest, I know where I’d put it: a drug company that’s developing arthritis medication to keep their thumbs nimble.

Vanessa: Naughty or Nice?

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

My interest in the Britneys and Lindsays of the world is pretty much limited to what I glean from a People or Us magazine while I’m waiting in the checkout line at Safeway. Depending on how many people are in front of me, I usually have about five minutes to flip through the magazine to find out who’s in rehab and out of underwear that week. Then I return the magazine to the rack and forget about pop star antics until the next time I’m at the store.

However, there was item of celebrity news that stayed with me beyond the checkout stand and prompted some discussion in our household. That was the story that pictures of a naked Vanessa Hudgens, star of Disney’s “High School Musical” movies, were circulating on the Internet.

As the mother of a high school teenager, who is not much younger than Vanessa, and a pre-teen daughter, whose age group is the major audience for the HSM movies, I definitely wasn’t won over by her explanation that “This was a photo that was taken privately”¦it is unfortunate that this has become public.”

Oh, I get it. According to her logic, the problem is not that she is an 18 year old girl who is suppose to embody wholesomeness and she chose to have her photo taken without any clothes on, the problem is that it became public!

When Steve and I talked about this, he tried to convince me that it’s not that unusual for girls to send sexy pictures of themselves to their boyfriends. He said that lots of guys in the army had naked photos of their girlfriends in their lockers. I asked my 19 year old son what he thought about this and his comment was, “Awesome!”

OK, I certainly understand sending your boyfriend who’s half way around the world a pin-up photo, but at the risk of sounding like a prude, (Valerie and Jennifer”¦are you listening?) nice girls don’t have naked pictures taken! And that goes double since the Internet!

We continued talking about what Vanessa’s motivation for the photos might have been. We decided that either she is not very bright or she is actually pulling a Paris Hilton.

If we give her the benefit of the doubt, that was an innocent photo, taken at a moment in time when she feels that she is at the peak of her attractiveness, she would have to be awfully stupid to transmit a photo electronically knowing that everything ends up on the Internet. This becomes all the more ironic given what she had to say on an episode the “Tyra Banks Show” that aired Monday. When an audience member asked her about how she felt about other young stars getting in trouble, she commented, “I honestly just think it’s stupid. It’s easy to stay out of those situations. You just have to be smart about your decisions.” I think she should take her own advice.

Or perhaps she is more media savvy than her teenage persona lets on. Knowing full well that the photos would end up on the Internet, she could claim innocence, but instead bask in the media buzz that they generated. Given that she works for Disney, unless she wants to get fired, naked pictures don’t seem like a very good way to garner attention. If that was her motivation, we come back to her not being very bright.

Nobody thinks that Paris and Britney are “nice” girls, but even they didn’t have naked pictures on the Internet when they were 18. I hope Vanessa’s mom is having some straight talk with her. Something along the lines of “What kind of girl do you want to be?” I know that’s what I’m going to be talking to my daughters about.

Non-Judgment Day

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

We’ve all been there a thousand times: we start chatting with another mom while we’re waiting for the kids to come out of school.

The conversations always center on our families. We compare notes on schools, teachers, and activities. Those subjects would seem harmless enough ““ after all we’re not discussing General Petraeus’ report on the war in Iraq ““ our topics are more along the lines of how to keep the swarms of yellow jackets from making off with the kids’ lunches.

So I was having one of these parking lot conversations recently with a mom when I asked about how her older daughter was doing at the junior high. She relayed the story about how her daughter was bored in seventh grade math so she didn’t do the homework. Because of that, the teacher didn’t want to place her in the higher level eighth grade math class. This mom believes her daughter is an exceptional math student so she raised a fuss with the school administration until they relented and let her in the more advanced class.

Throughout the conversation I nodded sympathetically, but inside I was thinking that this mom had given her daughter an unintended lesson: “You can skip doing the work and I’ll step in to bail you out. The rules don’t apply. You’re special.”

Would there have been any value in saying that to her?

For one thing, I’m sure it would have come out sounding very judgmental. It’s difficult for me to find a way to state something I feel strongly about without sounding harsh. If I made a comment such as, “I think you really made a mistake doing that,” I could be sure that would be last conversation I would ever have with her.

Also, what qualifies me as the Dr. Phil of our elementary school, telling other parents how to raise their kids? I could be totally off-base. Maybe it would not have been in the daughter’s best interest to let her suffer the consequences of slacking in seventh grade. Perhaps the end of the story is that because she was placed in the advanced class with more motivated students, she also becomes more motivated. And when she goes on to become the most famous mathematician next to Euclid, she can look back and attribute it to her mother and thank her for fighting for her to be in Algebra 1.

And one last point, this mom wasn’t asking for advice; she was just responding to my inquiry.

So I’m wondering, is this one of those instances like when you’re in a group of people of differing political views and rather than risk being confrontational or making someone uncomfortable, you just let the differences in philosophy pass by without comment? Can I express my point of view on something I feel strongly about without sounding like a jerk?

When I talked this over with Steve, he suggested asking the mom, “Do you think what you did might be giving her the wrong message?” I liked that, it wasn’t loaded with condemnation.

As I sort through this, that’s what I want to do, the next time I have an opinion about something someone says to me. I’m not going to ignore what I’m thinking, but I’m not going to make a statement. I’m going to ask a question. I don’t think anyone ever minds someone trying to understand them better.

That’s Why There are Hallmark Stores

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

As my daughters and I were wandering through the paper and scrapbook aisle at Michaels craft store yesterday, one thought kept running through my mind: who has time to use all this stuff?

All the women I know who have a family and a job (that’s most all women these days) barely have time for even the basics of running a household. For instance, it’s obvious from the amount of prepared meals available in grocery stores that no one has time to cook anymore. And if they’re like me, they wish that they could take it a step further and break their families entirely of that annoying habit of wanting to be fed regularly.

And household chores? If in the hour and a half that I’ve allotted to cleaning, I consider the job done if I’ve vacuumed up the tumbleweeds of dog hair and hosed down the bathrooms with Tilex. I’m not going for a “clean” house, just one that is cleaner than it was before I started.

So that brings me back to the aisle at Michael’s and the enormous selection of little paper cutouts, stencils, glitter, paper punches, ribbon, and on and on for making hand-made cards or embellishing scrapbook pages. Women don’t have time to prepare meals and maintain a house, yet somehow they’re going to find the time to sprinkle glitter on cards?

I’m sure it would take me at least half a day just to decide on the paper before I could make even a simple gift tag. And assuming I made it through that decision in 2007, I still would have to choose from five different color schemes (Metallic, Silver, Spring time, Childhood or Polo, whatever that means) for the tiny 3/16″ eyelets so I could attach the tag with a color coordinated ribbon.

If I had all the time in the world and this sort of craft appealed to me, I can understand making an investment in time and money to decorate pages of a photo album. It can be passed onto future generations who might appreciate the effort, and the embellishment details might even add insight to the pictures. “Oh, isn’t that cute, Grandma put happy face stickers next to the photos of Mom moving out of the house.”

But devoting hours of time to making something as disposable as a greeting card? No one has that kind of free time and particularly not for something that probably will end up in the recycling bin within a few days. The closest thing in my life that I can relate it to is when I spend a couple of hours making a special dessert. Like a hand-made card, my éclairs are appreciated for a few minutes, but then they’re gone”¦and I probably won’t have time to make them again for another four years.

It’s interesting to me that Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. is expecting a lot of women to spend a lot of time”¦and money”¦cutting and gluing cards and scrapbook pages. She has just launched a paper crafts line at Michaels, and according to the Wall Street Journal, she expects to generate $100 million of annual sales within three years.

I’m sure Martha Stewart has some smart people working for her, but unless they can figure out a way for moms to check their email, drink their lattes, and glue little flowers onto colored paper ““ all while driving the kids to soccer, I just don’t see that $100 million happening.

Now Entering the Target Zone

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

When I go shopping at Target, I do it with the knowledge that I am entering the black hole of retailing”¦a place where time and space have no meaning”¦a place where the gravitational pull is so strong that I’m not sure I’ll be able to achieve escape velocity ““ especially if I end up on the makeup aisle looking at shades of lipstick.

Let me give you an example of how this works. Yesterday, I had several errands on the agenda: I needed to buy a small birthday gift for a friend, my daughter was starting school with one and a half pairs of socks in her drawer, and we were out of mouthwash. So, naturally I went to Target: the one store that I could count on to have all of these items.

In the car on the way there, I got consensus from my daughters that on this trip to Target we would not look at the clothes or shoes; I know from experience that once we venture into that side of the store and start trying stuff on, I might as well call Steve and tell him not to expect us until tomorrow morning.

But I knew that my daughters weren’t really the problem. It was me. Could I stick to the shopping list and be in and out of there in under an hour?  I think of myself as a disciplined person, but when I’m in Target, I have trouble staying focused. There are so many categories of items and so many choices within each category that I lose all track of time.

Particularly on the hair care aisle, I enter some kind of weird space-time continuum. Day turns to night. I forget I have a husband and children. I get so consumed trying to decide between Pantene Full & Thick Conditioner or Fructis Body and Volume Conditioner that I practically don’t know where I am.

So I was on the defensive not to let this happen on yesterday’s shopping trip. I’m very familiar with this particular Target store, so I knew right where to head to find the mouthwash. Listerine Whitening. Got it. Oh, we need Flossers, too. Great, they’re on the same aisle, so no problem. Oh, darn, I just remembered we’re almost out of air freshener. Well, we’ll just grab that on the way to the Girls’ Department for the socks. Oh good, on the end aisle display they have a nice pumpkin candle and holder. Birthday gift”¦checked off the list.

Oh no”¦as we walk past the L’Oreal and Neutrogena section I remember I’m almost out of foundation! I feel like I’m being sucked into the aisle”¦I told the girls we would stick to the list. If I cave in, how can I refuse them a chance to look through the t-shirts and tops?

“Hey, Mom, I know you said we weren’t going to look at clothes, but there was a really cute shirt we passed on the way in. Can I try it on?” “Yes, I guess so,” I answer. “If you can just put it on over what you’re wearing. I’ll be here trying to decide between “˜Neutral Beige’ and “˜Buff Beige.'”

The gravitational pull of Target was too strong for me to resist yet again. I call Steve to tell him to get his own dinner. “Oh, wow, I didn’t know they had the extra large bags of cat food, and we need a new kitchen rug, and I broke my reading glasses, and they must have vacuum cleaner bags somewhere”¦”