Archive for January, 2009

Mine Won’t Be The Girls Next Door

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, we are big fans of TLC’s reality show “What Not To Wear.” It’s a program that we look forward to watching on Friday nights. And sometimes after “What Not To Wear” when we’re too tired to get off the couch and the cats are melted onto our laps, we flip through the channels for a little while longer. Occasionally we land on E! Network’s show “The Girls Next Door.”

“The Girls Next Door” is the reality show that chronicles the life of Hugh Hefner and his live-in girlfriends at the Playboy Mansion. We’ve nicknamed the show “The Mummy’s Curse” given Hef’s current state of decay.

I know what you’re thinking. What’s a conscientious, church-going mom like me doing watching a petrified pornographer and his barely-clothed and barely-legal girl friends? Or even worse, why would I let my teenage daughter watch?

“The Girls Next Door” is not a show that I seek out but I believe it is instructive. Just as “What Not To Wear” teaches women how to dress appropriately and fashionably by first showing them what they are doing wrong, “The Girls Next Door” works well as a cautionary tale to young women; it is a vivid demonstration of the dangers of living your life solely for vanity and hedonism. As I’ve told my daughter, perhaps a more fitting title for the show is “What Not To Be.”

The girls, Holly, Bridget, and Kendra, personify the character traits that I don’t want my daughters to emulate. Though they are purportedly beautiful women ““ after all, they’re Playboy models ““ it only takes a few minutes of hearing them talk to see that nice facial features and big boobs don’t necessarily make someone attractive. In fact, the unselfconscious vulgarity that seems to fill most of their conversations turns them ugly very fast.

However, I think that the most striking aspect of the show is that the girls’ lives at the Playboy Mansion are so absolutely devoid of anything worthwhile. They don’t work, go to school, or have any obvious skills. The Playboy staff attends to their every whim. And from what we can see, the only currency that the girls use in exchange for their room and board is sex (or at least the intimation of sex) with 82-year-old Hefner. Isn’t that called prostitution?

Apparently, the primary thought that occupies the girls’ somewhat limited brainpower is when they will have the next opportunity to take their clothes off ““ be it in front of the camera, or a Playboy sponsored event or party.

Oh wait, it doesn’t even have to be scheduled nudity; a rest stop on a Girls Next Door road trip was the only excuse Kendra needed to pull her jeans down and do an impromptu mooning of a passing train. This charming antic gave her something to talk about for the remainder of the show.

Partying, which is a euphemism for getting drunk, is also a major pursuit for the girls. Bridget planned a major celebration for her sister’s 21st birthday culminating in doing shots at the Madonna Inn. We got to see her sister barely conscious, stumbling through the parking lot at the end of the evening. Doesn’t that look like fun.

Hef’s girlfriends are treated completely like objects. Their role is to be arm candy for him at Playboy events. When he invites them to into the Mansion, it is because he thinks they are at the peak of their attractiveness. There’s no such thing as growing up, just growing older, so before long, they’ll be booted out and replaced by a younger or sexier version of themselves. It doesn’t matter that Hefner and his crypt-keepers look like they’re eating applesauce and wearing Depends.

An Opportunity to Share a Story

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

This week’s blog is a little different. One of the staff members at Redwood Empire Gymnastics forwarded an email to me from USA Gymnastics. They have launched a new website called BeginHereGoAnywhere.com and they are looking for brief stories that respond to the question “Do you know anyone who has benefited from gymnastics?”

I most certainly do know someone: our daughter. Valerie’s participation in gymnastics has contributed so much to developing her athleticism and confidence. And I am always glad to have an opportunity to sing the praises of Redwood Empire Gymnastics. Steve Klotz and his staff have been encouraging kids through gymnastics for 30 years and are one of the organizations that makes Petaluma such a great place to live.

So below is my (slightly over 200 word) submission to USA Gymnastics:

My daughter, Valerie, loves to be challenged. I think that is why she found such fulfillment in rhythmic gymnastics. Because she was born without a left hand, she had to learn how to catch and toss the rhythmic gymnastic apparatus such as the ribbon, rope, and clubs wearing a prosthetic arm.

Some would have looked at Valerie and only seen her limitations, but that was not the case at Redwood Empire Gymnastics (REG). When Valerie began rhythmic classes at age eight, her coach recognized her determination and never doubted Valerie’s ability to succeed in the sport.

This message gave Valerie confidence that grew stronger every year that she competed. While she is certainly unique, she was never treated differently than her teammates. At meets, Valerie was judged like any other gymnast and was proud that when she received good scores, she wasn’t just getting “pity points.” It boosted her confidence even more because she knew that if she was standing on the awards podium at the end of the meet, it was because she deserved to be there.

Participating in rhythmic gymnastics fostered Valerie’s ability to solve problems creatively. For example, her prosthesis has no movement in the wrist so Valerie had to devise ways to perform the skills with the limitations of her arm. But this also gave her an opportunity to develop her other strengths such as her musicality and expression.

Although Valerie decided not to compete this year, she maintains her involvement by coaching youngsters at REG. She is a role model for them by demonstrating that there are many ways to be a successful gymnast. You don’t even need two hands”¦just a positive attitude.

DMV: Driving Miss Valerie

Monday, January 12th, 2009

It was mid-morning on Friday when I heard my phone play the little tune to let me know that I had gotten a text message. At first I wasn’t even sure why my phone was making that sound; the last and possibly only text message I have ever gotten was AT&T’s welcome message when I activated my phone service a couple of years ago. The message was from my 16-year-old daughter, Valerie. “Call the DMV.” She restrained herself from adding “Now!!!!”

Some kids take a more laid back approach to getting their driver’s license, but ever since Valerie started nearing the end of the six month period for her provisional permit, her 20/20 vision has been focused on getting an appointment for the behind the wheel driving test. She is driven to begin driving”¦so during Christmas break, she made calls or went online to the DMV website almost hourly to try to make an appointment for the test.

However, she encountered a catch-22: appointments for behind-the-wheel driving tests are only available 30 days in advance but there were never any appointments available within that time frame. No matter when she called during the day and even if she tried every DMV office within a 30 mile radius, the response was always the same: the system was unavailable and/or no appointments were available.

Her frustration was growing. “I’ll never get my license!” I would try my motherly best to calm the storm. “I’m sure the system is just clogged up with kids like you who completed their driver training over the holidays and are now they are all trying to take their test and get their license. I’m sure once the backlog clears out you’ll be able to get an appointment.”

Although I certainly understand how eager she is to stop relying on me and have the freedom to jump in the car and drive to Jamba Juice whenever she’s craving a smoothie, a part of me was glad that she had to wait. The statistics show that 16-year-olds are far worse drivers than 17-year-olds so every day that she is a day older only improves the odds that she won’t get into an accident.

Now that Christmas break was over and she was back in school, I offered to try to make the appointment. But she didn’t want to rely on my aging memory for something as important as remembering to call the DMV. Hence, the text message that she sent to me while she was in between classes that morning.

I tried again without success and gave her the news when she came home that afternoon. “It’s not fair! There are probably kids getting their license who haven’t even done their 50 hours of driving. Can’t you do something about this?”

In true teenage fashion, she was starting to take this pretty personally. It was as if she saw the DMV as a big bully and she wanted me to march into the office and put a stop to them making her life so difficult. I suggested that unless she wanted to become the Tonya Harding of the DMV and kneecap one of the kids waiting for their appointment so she could take their place, there really wasn’t much she could do. Actually, I thought she was getting a wonderful lesson that when in comes to dealing with the government, you really have no choice except to follow their rules on their timeline. Welcome to the adult world.

She decided to try calling after business hours on Friday because in the hope that the DMV released their new appointments immediately after the close of business. As she made her way through the automated phone response system, her tone got angrier and angrier. “July 17,1992! Automobile!! 94952!! You stupid machine!”

“Valerie, take it easy.” We gently teased her. “That automated system is probably programmed to never give appointments to teenagers who heap abuse on it. I really don’t think DMV stands for “Determined Mistreatment of Valerie.”

Her frustration finally broke down into tears. I gave her a hug. “You really will get your license. Just be patient.”

Steve and I thought that since banks update their data at midnight, that might be a good time to try calling. I certainly wasn’t staying up until midnight and I didn’t want her to either, but I offered to go online when I got up Saturday morning.

And voila! Around 7:00am on Saturday, not only were there appointments available for the DMV closest to us, but there were even time slots available after school. Now all she has to do is show up on Monday, February 9 at 3:30 and remember to signal and look over her shoulder before moving into the bike lane. She will be on her way to independence.

A New Attitude

Monday, January 5th, 2009

New Year’s resolutions are difficult for me. The decisions that seemed so real and compelling in my mind on January 1 start to disappear in the weeks following Christmas. Little pieces of my good intentions linger like the last of the pine needles from the Christmas tree but by Groundhog Day, it’s hard for me to connect with why I thought a particular resolution was important and achievable. What I’m left with is guilt for my lack of discipline to stick to the resolution even for a few weeks.

I guess I can take some comfort in knowing I’m not alone in this. An article from the National Association for Mental Health in England urged people not to feel pressured to make New Year’s resolutions because it can trigger feelings of failure and inadequacy. The chief executive of the organization explained, “We chastise ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and set unrealistic goals to change our behavior, so it’s not surprising that when we fail to keep our resolutions, we end up feeling worse than when we started.” That’s me in a nutshell.

But he follows up that up with some really good advice that I plan to take to heart. And he says it in a way that doesn’t set myself up for failure. “In 2009, instead of making a New Year’s resolution, think positively about the year to come and what you can achieve.”

“Think positively about the year to come.” I have to repeat that phrase in order for it to sink in because being positive is not an attitude that comes naturally to me. In spite of all the good things in my life I tend to focus on what’s missing; my outlook on life perceives the “glass as half empty” rather than “half full.”

The synapses in my brain are very used to connecting the dots to create a picture of the worst case scenario, but this year I want to make some new grooves in my cerebral matter so that instead of expecting doom, looking on the bright side becomes my default attitude.

How am I going to do this? The same way anybody changes a lifetime of bad habits ““ whether it’s not exercising, overeating, or in my case, worrying about the “what if’s” ““ it’s going to take a lot of discipline and hard work not just for this year, but probably for the rest of my life.

There’s a series of weight loss books on the market that I think I can apply to my situation even though they deal with bad food habits and not bad thought habits. In the Eat This, Not That! series, the author teaches people to swap what they would normally choose to eat, drink, buy at the supermarket, or order at a restaurant with healthier choices. Obviously, you can’t give up eating, so instead, be smarter about what you choose.

Well, as hard as I’ve tried, I can’t give up thinking. So I’m going to follow his approach and devise a “Think This, Not That!” guidebook for myself. This year is going to be about learning how to substitute some healthier choices for my habitually negative thoughts. Monday morning when I’m looking at the account balances would be an especially good time to start.