Archive for June, 2015

Family ties

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

There are lots of different activities that families do together to promote family bonding. Things like playing sports together or having family game nights, or camping, hiking. But our family’s favorite bonding experience? The bunch of us plopped on the couch with a cat or two strewn amongst us, watching TV.

I’ve always felt a little guilty that something so inert and seemingly non-interactive has been one of the most memorable and enjoyable ways that our family has spent time together. There’s a voice inside of me that says when our kids were growing up, we should have dressed them in their matching overalls (which of course of I have sewed out of the curtains), strapped on their little backpacks filled with granola bars and water and set out on a trekking adventure – ala the Sound of Music.

Instead, we’re sitting on our butts staring fish-mouthed at the TV.

But thanks to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, I now have some data that proves that watching TV together is actually a great way to bond.  According to the study in the Journal of Adolescent Research, shared media viewing led to more positive functioning for adolescent boys and girls and “greater parental  involvement” for both.

No need for me to feel guilty any more. The experts have quantified what I already felt was true – that when we watched TV together and laughed, and commented about what we were watching, and talked about it afterwards, we were developing – in research parlance – “positive social skills” in our children.

I remember when our kids were between the ages of 6 and 14 in the late 1990s. Every Saturday night, we looked forward to the line-up of our favorite TV shows. “Mr. Bean,” “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and “Iron Chef,” back when it was the authentic Japanese series with English subtitles.

Now, when our kids are visiting during college breaks or are on army leave and they are in the mood for the TV equivalent of comfort food, they’ll suggest popping in a MST3K DVD for family viewing. “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders” from Season 10, especially because it was partially filmed in Petaluma, is a perennial favorite.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we can (partially) credit Jennifer’s college scholarship to our family spending a day during Christmas break, binge watching “Cheers.” When her college application required her to write an essay about “If you could teach a course about anything, what would it be and why,” Jennifer, who aspires to be the next Amy Poehler, was ready with a full rationale about why she could fill a semester guiding students through why “Cheers” is “the best TV show that’s ever been,” as Amy says.

Jennifer is home from college for the summer. So what are the three of us bonding over? “Foyle’s War,” the British detective drama that takes place during WWII. Jennifer would never watch this on her own but sharing the experience as a family? You bet. She even surprised herself by saying, “I’m leaving my friend’s house a little early so I can come home and watch ‘Foyle’ with you.” When a teenager actually wants to spend time with their parents, you know something special is going on.

Happy Anniversary

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

Thirty-one. If you’re talking about a person’s age, a 31 year-old is a young person. But in the context of marriage, 31 years seems like a really long time for two people to be together. I guess that’s why it’s hard for me to believe that Steve and I have been married that long. Time has gone so fast…we can’t be that old! But there’s no denying the math; we were married on June 16, 1984 on a breathtakingly beautiful Saturday in San Francisco.

So this year, in honor of our 31st wedding anniversary, we did something really unusual for us: we celebrated it. It’s embarrassing to admit that we’ve let the prior 30 anniversaries – except our first anniversary when we went through the ritual of eating the freezer-burned wedding cake that we had saved  – pass by unacknowledged. Our 26 year-old son had no clue what our anniversary date is until we told him yesterday.

What’s our lame excuse for ignoring the Wood (5th) anniversary, the Tin (10th), Crystal (15th), China (20th), Silver (25th), Pearl (30th) and all the anniversaries in between? “We’ve been busy,” she said sheepishly.

Once we had children, that’s where all our focus went…probably too much so. I’m sure our kids would not have suffered if we had taken a night away from them to honor our anniversary date. It might have even been a little shocking to them – in a good way – and demonstrated to them that the world didn’t begin when they were born…that their mom and dad were a couple with interests and activities and even some fun(!) before they arrived on the scene.

Now that our youngest daughter is in college, those years of intense parenting are behind us. We’ve entered the next phase of our lives when it really is all about us as a couple. It’s about time that we begin celebrating us!

So here’s a toast to another 31 years. Steve will be 101 (but because he’s blessed with such good genes he’ll only look like he’s 80) and I’ll be a youthful 89. God willing…if we make it to 2046, I’m sure we’ll still be wondering how it can seem like we blinked, and 62 years flew by.

Permanent ink

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

I guess you could say that our daughter’s first year away at college left an indelible impression on her…because she came home with a tattoo.

Long gone are the days when getting a tattoo cast judgement upon the wearer. Maybe you have the same impression that I had yesterday as I surveyed the checkout line at Costco. It’s more like who doesn’t have a tattoo? My forearms looked so plain and boring compared to the tribal patterns, Chinese characters, wolf head and anime characters that I saw on other people’s arms.

And then there was the heavily tatted couple pushing their toddler in a stroller. They had so much ink on their arms that it looked like they had changed ethnicities. You know how when you see an African American couple, you generally expect to see their children with the same skin color? I found myself immediately thinking how odd it was that their blond son hadn’t inherited the same colorful skin as his parents.

But back to our daughter…. Jennifer Lynn had prepared us about a year ago that she was planning to get a tattoo when she turned 18 so when she arrived home with a tattoo, it certainly didn’t cause a “YOU WENT AND DID WHAT?” kind of reaction from us. She is just one of the 22% of 18- to 24-year-olds who have at least one tattoo, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. That’s compared with 9% in 2008.

One of the reasons Jennifer Lynn waited to get a tattoo was because when she was working at Starbucks, visible tattoos weren’t allowed. You could have them; they just couldn’t be seen. But as another example that that tattoos have moved into the mainstream, Starbucks changed their policy last November. Their dress code guidelines now have a big thumbs up for tattoos as long as they aren’t on the face or neck and are not offensive.

If you squint, you can see it.
If you squint, you can see it.

So, what did Jennifer Lynn have tattooed and where? It is almost anti-climactic. Her tattoo is about the size of a quarter and is of her own design; a sweet little bird that she drew based on the silhouette of a favorite necklace. And any shirt – even a tank top – would cover it up.

For this bug-bite sized piece of body art, she paid $80 of her hard-earned money to a tattoo artist in Venice Beach.  Which makes me wonder about the thousands of dollars that people are spending to get big, museum-quality tattoos on large portions of their bodies. That sounds painful on many levels.

Furiosa in the Family – Part 2

Sunday, June 7th, 2015
Valerie's fan art of Furiosa

Valerie’s fan art of Furiosa

A couple of weeks ago, after seeing the new Mad Max movie, I wrote about Furiosa, the character played by Charlize Theron and the similarities to our 22 year-old daughter Valerie. They are both missing their left arm and both have warrior-like determination. That character trait in Valerie was obvious from the moment she was born – unexpectedly in our bathroom – but that’s a story for another time. When I pulled her little four pound body onto my lap, her dark blue eyes met mine with steely intensity. As a youngster, when she decided that she wanted to learn to ride a two-wheel bike, she went into the garage and taught herself to ride a two-wheel bike. Done. Without any help from Steve or me.

Lest I start sounding too much in awe of the wonderfulness of my own child, I would like to add that determination is a double-edge sword. And the flip side is stubbornness. Some of her tantrums almost left me with PTSD.  I still can’t go to Coddingtown Mall without a flashback to the absolutely ear-piercing tantrum that she had in the courtyard over not getting a toy that she wanted.

That said, I am very proud of the way that Valerie approaches life. I am also proud of her talent as an artist. So this week, I get to share with you a glimpse of both. Here are Valerie’s thoughts on the Mad Max movie and her illustration of Furisoa.

Mad max really was so darn good, objectively and to me personally; I was born with one arm, congenital below elbow amputee like in the movie and though I have prosthetic arms I wear I tend to go commando, fake-limb wise. And it was so so awesome that that part of Furiosa’s character was never mentioned or acknowledged; it was just something that she deals with and owns, like legitimately disabled people do every day. She didn’t need lauding from able-bodied people to prove how badass she was: she just WAS badass. As an amputee seeing this was awesome, and such a welcome change from the tired trend of being inspirational footage in life insurance commercials. Now I just have to find a sweet metal arm like she has.