Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Update: Just in Case You Were Wondering...

For anyone who remembers my previous posts and was under the impression that my household has since metamorphosed into a Utopia of order, cleanliness, promptness and strong work ethics, let me enlighten you.

- We still have trouble leaving the house less than 5 minutes before school starts. Sometimes it's a matter of staying in bed too long; sometimes it's an argument over the necessity of brushing teeth or hair; other times it's a blissful ignorance about time, despite reminders ("It's's's EIGHT-FREAKIN'-THIRTY-NINE"). And then there are the days when they simply don't see why they should interrupt their reading/LEGO-building/sibling-chasing/coloring just to spend 6 hours in an institution of learning.

- The Set-Your-Own-Homework-Schedule Momsperiment has had its ups and downs. Sometimes the kids will get down to business on their own and at a reasonable hour; other times the work is put off for more interesting pursuits - like playing with the neighbors - and finally done a little too close to bedtime for comfort. I admit I may be contributing to the problem by letting them play in the park after school (on a sunny 65-degree day, how could I deny them a little dose of exercise and vitamin D?); once the deep freeze of winter hits, it may be easier to get work done earlier if we go directly home.

- The forgetfulness issue?  I just flushed a toiletful of waste that's been marinating nicely for at least six hours. Homework sheets and school memos are often stuffed in my son's backpack, while the folder designated for those papers lies idly in his classroom desk. Books, pencils, crayons and little rubber toys get abandoned on floors, tables, chairs and sinks, picked up only after repeated requests (or until I get tired enough to pick them up myself).

- Nagging? Still do it, even though I hate it as much as the kids do, and it doesn't accomplish much other than resentment and halfhearted efforts. I want to stop it even as the words come out, but it's like a default setting that switches on when requests and reminders are ignored or blown off. What was that about insanity being defined as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results each time?

So rest easy. The Perfect Mom Award is still up for grabs, and I'm not getting anywhere near the finalist list yet.

Oh, yes. We're still waiting for that Hogwarts LEGO set to materialize. Even Linus gave up on waiting for the Great Pumpkin after 24 hours.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Five Unexpected Perks of Motherhood

When women talk about how great it is to be a mom, they usually mention things like first steps, sticky kisses, crayoned pictures, piano recitals and misty-eyed graduations. But there are other terrific benefits that aren't acknowledged as often, so here's a nod to some of the ones you might not have realized. Thanks, kids - we owe you one!

You get an automatic excuse for everything. Nodding off at your desk? You can't help it - you were up with a fussy baby all night. In a bitchy mood? Who wouldn't be, after an hour of nagging the kids to pick up their rooms? Spaghetti for dinner two nights in a row? Sorry, but what with the parent-teacher conferences, shopping for the special jazz shoes your daughter needs for her 3:30 dance class, collecting your son from his playdate and getting homework done, there was no time to get to the market. If our politicians played the parenting card more often, they'd get a lot more sympathy for their political missteps. "I can't believe I couldn't remember the third cabinet department I said I was going to cut as president - but you try doing a televised debate an hour after your kid gets stomach flu and barfs on your shoes!"

You get parking lot privileges. More stores and malls are adding designated "parent parking spaces" close to their entrances for the benefit of moms and dads who have their hands full juggling kids, strollers and shopping bags. Granted, drivers without kids can try to get away with parking there too, but you're fully entitled to shoot your best glare at the college student sans car seat who pulls into the spot and offer your best wishes that one day she, too, finds herself trying to drag two tired toddlers half a mile to her car.

You can duck your civic duty. In many counties, being the primary or sole caregiver of young children makes you eligible for a one- or two-year deferment of jury duty. So don't freak out if you get a jury summons in the mail; you may not have to scramble for a sitter after all. And if you do have to serve and get put on a case? Just say that since becoming a parent, you assume everyone's guilty because you don't want to take the chance that any creepy criminals might be roaming the streets where your kid plays. You won't get past voir dire.

You get more stuff.  From the blingy push presents moms now claim as their due to the extra birthday and Christmas gifts that come "from the kids," motherhood can really pay off sometimes. Coupons fill your mailbox; contests offering sweet mom swag fill the parenting websites. And let's not forget that second Sunday in May. Presents, cards, brunch, maybe even an afternoon to yourself - all because you're a veteran of potty-training, mac 'n'cheese and SpongeBob. Not too shabby.

You meet some great people. By far, the best perk of all. The pediatrician who takes you seriously when your baby "just isn't acting like himself" and offers reassurance even when you call her service at 1 AM. The science teacher who sparks your child's curiosity about the way the world works. The moms on Twitter who host virtual "wine parties" every Wednesday night and share laughs and tips. The children's librarian who always recommends the best books and lets you know ahead of time when the new Mo Willems is going to arrive. They're a vital part of your world now, but you'd never have given them the time of day if the pregnancy test hadn't come back positive.

These five only scrape the surface. Let me hear from you - what unusual perks have you claimed since becoming a mom?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

5 Ways to Improve Chuck E. Cheese. (Please.)

Dear Chuck E. Cheese: 

First, let me praise you for being almost everything a kid could want in an indoor playspace: tons of arcade games, a party space, familiar food and trinkets to take home at the end of the day. And you're a godsend for us parents on a weekend or rainy day after books, sticker-intensive crafts and rounds of Monopoly Jr. have been exhausted.

But you're not perfect. (Hey, who is?) If you want to earn your place as the all-time favorite destination of families everywhere, you'll need to make a few little tweaks. Take it from a mom who knows - these improvements will boost your parent-cred so much you'll have to put velvet ropes in front of your door.

Reconsider your mascot. Outrageous, I know. But let's face it: The mouse market was cornered long ago, and to much more successful effect. You think corporate symbol, Mickey's your rodent. And why not? He's fun, he's an established actor - and he looks nothing like an actual mouse. CEC, on the other hand, is uncomfortably realistic, down to the gray fur, pointy nose and buck teeth. You halfway expect to find little Chuck E. Droppings on your pizza plate. Then there's the whole mixed-message problem. Chuck's depicted as an athlete who skateboards and surfs his way through his commercials - all in the name of enticing kids to sit in front of video screens, devouring fries and ice cream. I'm sure you can find a more appropriate spokesperson. Why not let plump, goofy Mr. Munch take center stage instead?

Lose the animatronics. Speaking of stages, the CEC arena isn't exactly Madison Square Garden. The Disney parks give us beautiful replicas of presidents, pirates and haunted-house ghosts, with movements so lifelike they probably let loose with a belch when no one's looking. You, on the other hand, can only offer a clunky robotic "band" that jerks and clacks their mouths out of sync with the corny patter and music videos playing on the video screens. Their clothes are faded, their polyester fur matted in spots from too much touching by curious young visitors. Between sets, their eyes eerily shift from side to side - clack, clack - as if to catch someone cheating at skee-ball. They don't offer original music, interact with the kids or do anything to enhance the experience. So retire them to the Smithsonian and put something more useful in its space, like a walled-off coffee bar or spa where the moms can duck in when the din of beeping machinery and squealing first-graders gets to us.

Give us real pizza. Is Chef Pasqually too busy pretending to play his fake drums to get his rear into the kitchen and put together a decent pie? When we spend an afternoon at a playspace/restaurant, the last thing we need is to endure an assembly-line pizza that looks like it contains more artificial ingredients than a Kardashian sister. Shell out a few extra tokens for fresh mozzarella, a simple homemade sauce, locally grown veggies and imported pepperoni and make Chuck E.'s a destination pizzeria. We parents feel guilty enough about coming here more often than we do art museums or matinees of The Magic Flute. Let us have the satisfaction of saying, "At least we get to enjoy a fabulous margherita pie!" (While you're at it, give your chef the dignity of a true Italian name. Pasquale, please.)

Spare us the crappy low-end prizes. The average family with preschool- or school-age children has approximately 847 tiny tops, cartoon tattoos, clacker hands, crayon four-packs, vampire fangs, rhinestone rings, plastic parachuting soldiers, suction poppers and those miniature tubs of slimy goo that make a fart noise when you press your thumb into them. Every single one of those toys is now either lying under a sofa cushion, gathering dust under a bed, languishing on the minivan floor or hidden in the corner of a purse ("Here, Mom, can you hold this while I play another game?"). Trust me when I say that we don't need any more. Neither do the landfills where they inevitably end up. But the "better" prizes like dolls and electronics come with a price tag of 1,000 tickets or more - and when games give you only three or four tickets per play, it's hard to earn enough without emptying your wallet.

Do us a favor. Either adjust your machines to dispense more tickets per play, or give us something good for our 200 tickets. More tokens, maybe. Or donate a few bucks to help children who have more problems in their lives than a lost slap bracelet.

Two words: open bar. 'Nuff said.

I guess that's it for now. Please give these suggestions some thought. Next time I visit one of your fine establishments, I'll be keeping my eyes open for them. Clack-clack.

Love and kisses,
Mom E. Speriment

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Nigerian LEGO Scam

In this morning's email was a stern-sounding ALL CAPS message from "Special Agent John Edward" of the FBI, informing me that the agency had confiscated two boxes at JFK containing "a large sum of money...from federal government of Nigeria" addressed to me. Agent Edward informed me that I needed to contact him (at a non-FBI email address) "or you will be prosecuted in the court of law for money laundering."

Oh darn. Busted again.

I'm sure you've seen these emails, too. Sometimes it's a threat of jail; other times, it's an enticing offer of millions of dollars in exchange for a couple of thousand dollars in "processing" fees. And, like me, you dump them into the spam file without thinking twice. Unfortunately, enough folks believe them and send these Nigerian scammers enough money to keep them in business.

When I saw this latest attempt to separate me from the little money I have, I started wondering what kind of people are so gullible - or, perhaps, desperate - that they're willing to believe any promise of a prize, no matter who offers it or how unlikely the chance that it's true.

Then my son came home the next day and told me that one of his classmates had asked him for a piece of his orange at lunchtime. He gave it to her, but added, "You owe me a Hogwarts LEGO set."

She said no problem. She'd buy one right away and give it to him.

And he believed her.

The next day, she told him she had the Hogwarts set. But of course she couldn't bring it to school, so she was going to have it shipped to our apartment.

And he believed her.

It's been three days since that little exchange. No LEGO set, Hogwarts or otherwise, has shown up at our doorstep.

But he still believes it will, soon.

No amount of discussion or appeal to his senses will change his mind. He is firmly convinced that since his friend promised him the toy, she's sure to deliver. Never mind that it's unlikely she has that kind of money to spend. Or that it's unlikely she has the skills to wrap a box, address it to us and get it to the post office. Or that this friend's mother would be VERY unlikely to approve of a transaction like this.

He still believes.

Nor will he consider the argument that friends should do nice things for each other - like, say, sharing a bit of fruit - without expecting anything in return. To his mind, this casual lunchroom banter constitutes an ironclad contract.

And he believes with all his heart that the agreement will be honored.

Just like the poor souls who send hundreds of their hard-earned money to foreign post office boxes and sit waiting for days for the $4 million money order they just know is coming their way from the widow of a wealthy Nigerian businessman they've never met, who just happened to choose them as a worthy recipient.

I don't know when reality will finally hit for my son, but it's sure to hit hard. And a little of his innocence and trusting nature will be lost forever as he realizes that people can't always be counted on to keep their word.

The only difference between my child and the adult scam victims is that his loss is minimal - a couple of slices of navel orange. If this deal had actually gone through, he would have come out much better off than his friend.

On second thought, maybe there's a silver lining to all this. It looks like my kid's got the making of a good banker.