Monday, December 04, 2006

Yes, Jack, there is a Santa Claus

(Writer’s note: With much credit and apologies to newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, circa 1897)

Last Christmas brought with it THE question, as it had done three preceding times before at about the same age. It made the holidays especially bittersweet as the baby of the family took his place Christmas morn with his older siblings, four sets of eyes filled with a little less magic. My heart heaved. The reign was over. Or was it? Santa Claus, or no Santa Claus?

Jack, your little friends were wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical and electronically charged age. They do not believe except (what) they see online, on television and in the movies. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.

Yes, Jack, there is a Santa Claus. Who else would sprinkle that magic dust on you and Janet and Kenny and Blake? Who but Santa would leave that same shower of fine and twinkly silver on the hearth? Santa exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. (No -- video games and computers and balls of all shapes and sizes are not what give you your highest joy.) Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Jacks. And if there were no Jacks, there would be no childlike faith then, no Mother’s Day poetry and no random pats on my back to make this existence tolerable. With no Jacks, we should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light which childhood fills the world be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig! You might get dad to hire men to watch all the chimneys in New Canaan on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, or get Blake to stand guard in green and red cammies, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men (or women!) can see. Did you ever see Babe or Lou dancing in the outfield or by the plate, ready to help you hit a homer or catch a fly ball? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not here. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders of the world there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Ah, Jack - No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

You can Google him and think you have the proof, you can sneak around my closets this month, you can smirk in the malls at the helper Claus, but you will never discover tangible evidence of his non-existence. For he is in your heart, your memory; in the unseen, magical December air. And he’s as close as that soft kiss on your cheek while you sleep.

So don’t pout and please don’t shout. Santa is SO comin’ to town.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Just Say "No"

If you remember being a teenager, which you probably do, then you’ll remember how many things you tried to pull off without being caught by your parents or – heaven forbid – the police. These things included, but were not limited to, smoking, drinking, drugging and canoodling with the opposite sex.

It has been said that our generation of parents have tried to be more friend than foe with our children. Guilty as charged on some accounts. My head was more in the sand that out with my two older ones, but only up to a point. Around the time that Kenny turned 14 I suddenly chucked friendly mode for Gestapo.

If he would announce his intentions to go to a party, or even just that he wanted to go to a friend’s house after school, I would call the home of his proposed appointment to make sure an adult would be present. This would cause major embarrassment and much sulking on his part. But I’m blonde, not stupid. I remember keenly what I was doing at that age; hanging out in a parentless dwelling was Nirvana. I wouldn’t have the sins of the mother (or father or step-father for that matter) visited on the son.

This is not to mean that he wasn’t successful on occasion. If one wants what one wants they’ll get it somehow. But I tried my best, even through his senior year at New Canaan High, to remind him about rules, responsibility and the rage of a mother nearly-fooled.

I now have to be Rambo-mom to Janet. Technically, eighth grade was a very long time ago for me, and yet, having a 13-year-old daughter keeps it quite green. She hosted a party recently and I probably made my presence known to her guests more than I should have, but as I said, she keeps my memory sharp. She vacillates between being Teen Wolf and Teen Angel, so when I announce that I will be calling so-and-so’s parents to make sure they’ll be home for whatever party or small get-together she wants to attend, the Angel pretty quickly grows fangs. Good thing I’m not afraid of the big, bad wolf.

Of course there will be a time or times when even the good kid is in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that they will inevitably make the off-center decision. As we have done as parents since toddlerhood, we can assure them that we will be there should they fall, even if a consequence needs to be handed down.

We have to learn to say “no” early on. “No” to the trip to the toy store; to the third play date of the week; to the ice cream; to the extra half hour before bed. Then it’s “no” to the second sleep-over of the weekend, or wandering aimlessly around downtown; to constant IM-ing; or chauffeuring to and from movies in Norwalk or Wilton every weekend. And “no” to un-chaperoned gatherings at other person’s homes.

New Canaan CARES addressed this issue for middle school parents yesterday – “Navigating the Teen Party Scene.” For first-time parents of teens, navigating the whole stretch of teenage years can be fraught with fog and stormy seas. Yet having made the treacherous journey twice already, I can report that eventually the water calms and the sun does come out again.

But just for the record-- and previous teen parenting experience aside -- I am so not psyched about doing it all again, two more times. There’s not enough grey hair-ridding coloring in the world!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Roots, Wings and Other Things

The phrase, “there are two things we must give our children, roots and wings,” has been dancing around in my head lately. As I hit the streets and the Internet in search of the perfect holiday gifts for my four kids, I ponder if I have given enough roots and wings; something money can’t buy and Santa can’t deliver.

Sometimes guilt overwhelms me when I think about my older two, Blake (21) and Kenny (19). I divorced their father when they were just ages two and nearly four. For five years I struggled and survived as a single parent; we were fairly rootless for a while. But when I remarried 12 years ago I, along with Jon, my husband, was able to start providing them with family traditions. As a real hands-on stepfather, Jon instilled in them a sense of responsibility as well as a living illustration of setting and attaining goals. I in turn was able to involve them in the creative process associated with my then-business (County Kids magazine) and of the joy and hard work involved in seeing a dream through to fruition.

The actual physical roots my children had were first planted in Weston, the town of my girlhood; we also lived in the same house in which I had grown. But five years ago, knowing instinctively that it was time for me to “graduate” from Weston, we pulled up roots and settled here in New Canaan. Now firmly planted, they – and we – are thriving in our new environment. Blake and Kenny will always have a pull towards Weston, as will I, and it is another bond the three of us share.

Giving our children wings is a more emotionally difficult task. Do we push them out of the nest or nudge them gently? I believe each child is unique and the method for teaching them about freedom can vary. Partly, we teach by example, by flying solo with determination or by breaking away with hesitation i.e. not taking many trips without them. Neither way is the better way, but each way helps them develop the wings they will need. Wings that invariably appear to flap when we are least prepared.

When Blake began talking about a career in the military during his sophomore year in high school the flutters caught me unawares. And on that morning in July of 2001 when the doorbell rang at 4 a.m. and his Marine recruiter arrived to drive him to boot camp, my heart couldn’t have been fuller or more broken. Blake was ready to soar and I let go, but not without holding on to a couple more feathers.

Kenny has since grown strong and creative wings after a few false starts and crash landings. Although Janet and Jack are still here, continuing to grow their roots and wings, I miss my older birds and have been adjusting slowly but surely to my half-empty nest.

Traditions, family in-jokes and certain “formats” during the holidays remind our family of its roots. But the moment I cherish most in this world – where roots and wings come together for this mommy – is on Christmas morning.

It has been a tradition for many years now that on December 25th whichever child wakes up first must come to our room and tell us that he/she thinks or knows (by peeking) that Santa has come. That child then gently wakes up the other three and then all four of them pile into our bed for at least another half an hour of “sleep.” Christmas of ’02 is the last time all four children were home, as Blake was in Japan last year. That morning is etched in my mind and in my heart. There we were, from then three foot tall Jack to 6’2” Blake, all snuggled together in the silent still of the morning, anticipatory and sleepy, giggling and lovingly making fun of one another; my winged and my still wingless birds safe in my embrace if for but a temporary slice of time.

I envision this tradition in years to come, with grandchildren and daughters and sons in law, all piled onto our bed in the wee hours of Christmas morn. Roots going back deeply and feathers floating lightly above the bed. It is my favorite Christmas gift. It is simple and it is priceless.

Happy holidays from our family to yours!

Coaching or Encroaching?

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” famed professional football coach Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying. Maybe that sentiment is true at the professional level, or even high school or college. But at the elementary and middle school level, winning shouldn’t be the only thing. And most of the volunteer coaches in town seem to understand that.
Sports coaches should assist athletes in developing to their full potential and are there to provide encouragement. According to a web site on sports coaches, “the role of the coach is to create the right conditions for learning to happen and to find ways of motivating the athletes. Most athletes are highly motivated and therefore the task is to maintain that motivation and to generate excitement and enthusiasm.”
From what I understand -- as a former cheerleading coach at the Pop Warner football level as well as at high school, and as the wife of a past volunteer coach-- the role of the coach of young children and adolescents is to introduce them to and instruct them in the particular sport at hand. Allowing them to play or try-out different positions in the hope of finding their strengths is key. And encouraging them to play their best with an eye on the prize (winning) is also valuable.
But what happens to the 8, 9, 10-year-old child who shows up at every practice, sits through games without getting much out of it (i.e. playing time) and is not receiving the return on their efforts? Although as adults we know that self-worth comes from within, as children we seek it initially from outside, grown-up sources.
Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL football star, and the subject of the book, “Season of Life,” and referred to "The Most Important Coach in America" is described in one passage of the book as saying to a team he was coaching before a game:

"What is our job as coaches?" he asked. "To love us," the boys yelled back in unison. "What is your job?" Joe shot back. "To love each other," the boys responded.

Mr. Ehrmann spoke last night at New Canaan High School during a program sponsored in part by New Canaan CARES. On November 7th, Mr. Ehrmann will return to speak with all coaches and physical education teachers during their in service day. His message is significant, especially to volunteer parent coaches.

Within the past year, Jack -- who eats, sleeps and breathes sports -- has had the good fortune to be coached by several New Canaan fathers (thank you Doug Hart, Joe Radecki, Tom Sands, Bruce Wilson and Rick Condon) who not only recognized his athletic ability, but sought to help him hone it. Each young player was taught his worth, no matter what the level of his athletic ability. Doug Hart and Tom Sands notably had the ability to turn individual baseball and football players into a team – a team whose main priority was having fun, win or lose.

“Hold your heads up high,” exclaimed Tom Sands to his young charges after a baseball loss. “You were great out there; be proud. You’re the ‘A- Train’ (a team nickname)!” The boys were only momentarily discouraged by the loss, and although they would go on to lose a few more games, they also wound up in the finals of the 10-year-old championship. Because they were good baseball players? Absolutely. Because they had fun playing the game? You bet. And, equally as vital, they knew they were cared about.

Being relegated to the sidelines -- first in sport -- may translate into sitting things out, sidelining oneself, sooner or later, in life. Encroaching upon the growing child’s sense of worth isn’t the coach’s job. For a kid, discovering and feeling that some adult other than their mom or dad finds them essential on the field or on the court of play is priceless. Right now our children’s self-esteem and their self-assurance are being built; it shouldn’t be torn down. That strategy works fine at military boot camp, but these are just kids; pre-teens.

The voluntary coach needs to understand how critical they are to the development of every kid. It is a great act of trust for parents to turn their child over to these coaches, and the quid pro quo is that the coach will approach their role with objectivity, compassion and an eye toward developing a sense of community and worth among every child.

Now that’s a winning season.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The "What If's"

All of us – parents or non-parents – suffer in varying degrees from the “What Ifs:” What If my plane crashes? What If I don’t get that job? What If I never get married? What If there’s no butter at the store?

But once you become a parent, actually before you even eyeball the apple of your eye, the “What Ifs” intensify. It all begins with the sobering thought, “What If I’m not ready to be a parent?”

Who is ever totally ready, really? For the responsibility, the sleep deprivation, the aggravation, the love that swells to bursting and the worrying. Those nagging, insane, trivial and terrifying “What If’s?” But ready-or-not, the child comes along with everything listed above and it is up to us parents, new and not-so-much, to determine which “What Ifs” are worth losing some hair over and which are quite simply beyond our control and not worth another sleepless night.

I have suffered, chin-upped and chocolate-powered my way through some pretty legitimate What Ifs, but at the same time I gave the What Ifs more power than they deserved. The most obvious of these was “What If Blake gets wounded or killed in Iraq?” I would watch and hear the reports of casualties or bloody confrontations and my imagination went whirling into overdrive. It’s happened twice and is scheduled to happen again in the fall. “What If I can’t do it a third time?” I ask myself. “What If it’s worse?” And yet, with each of his deployments, I realize that dwelling on the things I cannot change is futile. I am still playing the tapes, even now, and wondering if I will be able to fully concentrate on my position in the PTC; my responsibilities for an autumn disease fund-raiser; writing this column; Janet and Jack and Jon.

My second oldest son, Kenny, lives in Queens and works in Manhattan. We usually speak on the phone two or three times a week. Last week, I hadn’t heard from him and kept getting his voicemail. I heard on the radio that there were subway stabbings on the line that he uses to get to and from the city, so I went straight to “He’s in some hospital unconscious or worse and since his last name is different from mine nobody knows to contact me!” I left more frantic voicemails. He called me the next morning.

“Jeez, Mom! Every crime that is committed in New York City does not involve me as the victim, just as every Marine killed in Iraq is not Blake!” I laughed at his observation while at the same time remarking, “But you’re not a mom!”
Some of the What Ifs of being a mom or dad are just not reality-based nor should they even merit the strength of their contemplation. These from my own family include, “What If Jack doesn’t win the baseball championship?;” “What If Janet(age 13) doesn’t want to go to college?;” “What If Janet loses her cell phone?;” “What If Jack conks his head on the side of the swimming pool?;” “What If Kenny’s web business doesn’t take off?;” “What If Blake can’t get his truck fixed?”

There is a prayer said in certain circles that never fails to ground me when these wild feelings threaten to consume an otherwise sensible mind. It is called the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s a great assemblage of words to remember and repeat whether you are a recovering whatever or not. Anyone can and frankly, should, use it when times get tough and perplexing parental thoughts run amuck.

I cannot change our government’s policies nor should I challenge Blake’s choice of career. I cannot, could not, change the fact that Jack’s baseball team didn’t make enough hits to win. I cannot change the stone landscape of our pool, instead I have to trust that the kids won’t be too foolish, and if they are, well, Norwalk Hospital isn’t too far away. I cannot change the fact that the grocery store may be out of butter, but I can adjust and make another choice.

Parents can choose to be paranoid or they can change the level of their anxiety accordingly. We love our children fiercely, desiring passionately to shelter them from storm or pain or humiliation or confusion. But there is always courage and wisdom in changing the “What If (negative thought)” to “What If (positive thought).”

What If you tried that today?

Doggone Predictable

Kids and pets: they’re pretty much an inevitable. It could be a golden retriever or a gold fish, but at some point, your child is going to ask for a pet. Most likely you will buy one, and you may be fooled into believing that your kid will take on the lion’s share of the caring and feeding for said pet. But really, mom (or dad) – the onus is all yours.

I am sure there are families who may strongly disagree with me, yet from my 22 years of experience, I have been the one who has cleaned up more pet poop, doled out more kibble and cleaned up more crates and cages and fish bowls than I ever thought imaginable.

Kenny and Blake had rabbits and Beta fighting fish and a likable, but hyper dog that we got from Adopt-a-Pet. The rabbits eventually died (not my fault; I was a good caretaker), ditto the fish. The dog, named Eli seemed like a good idea. We bought her ostensibly for Blake’s 10th birthday, and he was pretty consistent with feeding and the occasional dog-walk around the neighborhood. But it was I who would have to leave my office twice a day to check on her and she was so revved up that she would wind up dragging me across the yard on my stomach; I was three months pregnant at the time. After being our family pet for about four months – many stomach rides and chewed up drapes, chair legs and shoes later – we arranged for her to be re-adopted by a wealthy family who week ended in the Hamptons; Eli made out well.

Janet pleaded for a puppy just before turning 9, and so four years ago, Glory, a black lab, came into our family. While Janet has for the most part lived up to her promise to love, honor and feed Glory, she refused to clean up after the puppy’s accidents, which left that charming detail to yours truly. I can’t blame her for not following through; it’s gross. The training and the disciplining of Glory also fell on my shoulders, as does, of course, the majority of training and disciplining the children themselves.

This past Christmas, Jack was presented with a red fox lab that he named Joey. Here’s the insane part – getting a new puppy was my idea. I am a martyr! Yes, Jack feeds Joey, plays with Joey and tries to help me with various behavior commands, but I am still president of the poop-and-pee patrol, the only member of our family that spends at least six to seven hours looking after Glory and Joey.

For all my griping here, caring for a pet is an important ritual for a child; it kind of prepares one for being a parent. Letting your kid choose a name, snuggle with, play with, feed and help with any training of a pet gives a boost to their maturity, and in a way, their self-esteem. They are loved unconditionally and know that their pet is dependent upon them for love in return.

I have a close friend here in New Canaan with a virtual menagerie of pets, from the furry to the feathered. Her twin boys are well-versed in respecting and caring for the pets in their family zoo, and this respect and caring has been ingrained into their personalities. Their mom-- who like me works from home -- is responsible during the school day for the assortment of pets, and one would think that she has had her fill of animals and aviary- dwelling friends. But she too recently joined the puppy brigade!

Doggone it; like kids, moms can still be a sucker for a furry little face.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Lowdown on Crushes

School’s well underway and there are new boys or girls in your child’s class, and/or members of their grade who heretofore were invisible, yet somewhere between June and September they emerged from their ugly duckling stage and will be whispered about in small groups as looking “so hot.”

I cringe when I hear the adjective “hot” come out of a 12 or 13-year-old’s mouth to portray another 12 or 13-year-old. I don’t remember hearing that depiction of a handsome boy or a beautiful girl until somewhere in my 20’s, yet even then the word was mostly employed when speaking about porn stars. Yeah, yeah, it’s a new millennium and all of that. But really – that description coming from a middle or high schooler’s mouth?!

Adolescent crushes will begin forming, people, as sure as yellow buses appearing ‘round the bend and new textbooks cracking open. You may even overhear your sweet little daughter referred to as “hot” while passing a pod of boys on Elm Street after school. The crushes will last for days or weeks, or maybe just until lunch period. Your son or daughter will blush or stammer or stutter and shyly tell you about the cute person, hoping for your discretion.

I recall Blake and Kenny’s first crushes with fondness even though they remember my reaction quite differently. Kenny’s was with an adorable girl who was in his third grade class; her name was Stacey. She was tiny and perky and a ballet dancer with long brownish-blond hair who would giggle whenever she was near Kenny. He would alternate between ignoring her and chasing her around the playground trying to kiss her.

Because I was then publishing County Kids, I thought it would be nice to put her on the cover for our annual dance issue. Wouldn’t Kenny be thrilled? He could frame the cover and pine over her in the privacy of his own home. When her mother accepted the offer I was pleased and Kenny was perplexed. To him, it seemed a public admission of his crush. No sooner had the issue hit the stands than he announced that he “hated” her. I had crushed the crush and he’s never let me forget it.

“Don’t ever do to Janet and Jack what you did to me with Stacey!,” he screamed at me at age 15 apropos of nothing. Blake echoed his brother’s thoughts, as one year after the Stacy incident I had put Blake, his buddy and the object of his affection on the cover of County Kids. Needless to say, neither son confides in me the existence of a romantic relationship lest now I start planning a wedding and imagining what my grandchild might look like.

Crushes are fun (although unrequited ones aren’t as gleeful), they’re innocent and they produce the kind of butterflies that make one’s heart soar. Even adults can develop crushes; I have a number of female friends who have admitted harmless crushes on tennis instructors, or the cute father they see in the school hallway or on the football field, or the handsome New Canaan police officer. Even my male friends will cop to the occasional attraction towards the adorable wife of a friend of theirs. As long as the crushes don’t progress to something more adulterous, it seems okay.

Your child’s object of fascination may reciprocate the affection and become a boyfriend or girlfriend which is another rite of passage entirely. (Don’t worry neophytes of this phenomenon, all it means is that they instant message one another and perhaps hang out downtown on Friday afternoons.)

So gear up. Along with fresh pencils and pens, your child may acquire the pre-teen or teenage crush. It’s your job not to squash their foray into “love.” Today’s hot crush is tomorrow’s in-law.

I may not like the word “hot,” but no matter what you call it, crushes are cool.

Do I Make You Proud?

My children complain that I tend to malign them too often in this column. That is not my intention, of course, and I hope that interpretation is due to familial sensitivity. Although the kids and their exploits are seemingly an endless source of tongue-in-cheek as well as serious topic inspiration, they are also the supply of oceans of pride.

Jack and I recently went to see the “American Idols” in concert. This year’s winner, Taylor Hicks, dedicated his song, “Do I Make You Proud?” to all those serving in the military here and around the world. I immediately welled up and Jack gently took my hand and squeezed it and smiled up at me: I was proud on two levels – for Blake due to the obvious, motherly and patriotic reasons, and for Jack because of his maturity and protective instincts.

Of course our children make us proud. And naturally, we may not always show that support to them as often as we may imagine. Somehow and sometimes the need to correct, to question, to challenge comes spewing out of us. There is the verbal disclaimer of which we aren’t even conscious: “That was a great hit, but…;” “Well a B-plus is fine, but…;” “Thank you for saying ‘thank you,’ but…;” “Wouldn’t you be happier at this college?”; or “I know you tried your best, but…”

To provide some “balanced journalism,” I offer up some moments of pride for my four babies. I think it will get your own wheels whirling regarding your own child’s shining moments.

With Jack, many “wow!” moments involve sporting events: Jack intercepting the football and running 20 yards for a touchdown; a game winning catch in center field; sprinting to the top of a portable rock climbing wall. He’s also solved puzzles that stump an adult and shoveled snow without being asked or even expected to be asked. He saves every penny of allowance, holiday money and birthday checks.

Janet gave me goose bumps in elementary school when she and a friend sang and danced in the West School variety show, bringing down the house. Three summers ago she roped a calf at her camp’s final rodeo, and although seeing a tiny spider will cause her panic, she nevertheless rides horses in the Tetons amongst black bears. Janet amazes me when she runs to a friend’s aid, either literally or via phone or email; her loyalty can be fierce. And her creative writing is top notch.

Kenny had many a basketball game-saving dunk or three-pointer, the show-stopping lead in a middle school musical, and the ability to solve a Rubik’s cube blindfolded and in less than three minutes in a talent show. He was valedictorian of his recording arts college class and gave the commencement speech during his entertainment business graduation. And currently he is about to launch an online music source, His entrepreneurial side gives me more pride than pause.

As a child, Blake dove into a pool in October to save a frog that was headed toward certain death-by-pool-filter. An accomplished artist in high school, he often had his drawings on display in the lobby. He will defend me and protect me emotionally when push comes to shove. And I needn’t go into his courage and bravery and commitment as a member of the United States Marine Corps.

Gaining and maintaining self-esteem is a tricky entity with children, adolescents and young adults. Reminding our kids of their worth, of our pride, of how terrific they are even when they may stumble is crucial. So they strike out; big deal. Or they find a “C’ on their report card; encourage them anyway.

Catch them doing something good every now and again. It’s always happening.

Alcohol Use: Facts, Feelings and Family

One evening 13 years ago, Jon, Kenny, Blake and I sat down for a celebratory dinner. I had just found out that I was pregnant (with Janet). We toasted – the boys with their milks and Jon and me with a glass of beer. Blake, then 9, stopped us mid-toast and cried, “Mommy! You can’t drink beer when you’re pregnant! Stop it!”

“You’re right, Blake,” I replied sheepishly, and I put my glass down and pushed it to the center of the table. Kenny, then 7, quickly picked it up, and before we knew it he had taken a sip.

“Ahhh,” he said, “When I grow up I want to be a drunk!”

We all laughed a horrified laugh, but nobody was more horrified than me, who – at that point – was steeped deep in denial that I might actually be a “drunk,” an alcoholic, and, coming from a childhood where one of my parents was an alcoholic, I certainly didn’t want one of my children becoming one.

Fact: Children of drinking parents are less likely to see drinking as harmful and are more likely to start drinking earlier.

Fact: Alcohol is the number one drug of choice among our nation’s youth.

These facts, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, have been facts long before they were seriously looked into and surveys were taken. But that doesn’t lessen the truth. And the truth is certain students at Saxe, the high school and even the private schools in town, experiment with and/or use alcohol. Some of their parents know it and many haven’t a clue.

I have shared in this column before about how I am like white on rice with my kids about alcohol use and abuse. I easily and instinctively discovered Kenny’s hiding places for booze back in high school, and lectured and still lecture him and Blake about drinking and driving. Janet is in sixth grade and I weekly remind her that she shouldn’t smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol just because a friend might offer either one. I am hyper-vigilant because I am a recovering alcoholic and of course do not want to see any of my children tailspin into abuse and dependency on alcohol.

Does that fact mean that my children might be spared? Of course not. Will a non-alcoholic parent be spared a child using alcohol or drugs? Of course not as well.

Parents can exert a moderating influence on the drinking behavior of their adolescent children by monitoring their own alcohol use and that, too, is a studied fact. It might also be helpful to reach back into your memory of your own drinking or drugging history from high school in the 70’s or ‘80’s (if you had one) and use that knowledge to be aware of where your child might be hiding the evidence or where he or she might choose to use right there in your own home.

Jon caught Kenny and a buddy red-handed several years ago in our basement crawl space. We are moving into a new home and I have already done some reconnaissance work on key locations on our property and in the home where secret drinking could occur (and according to the previous owner, did occur when her kids were teens.)

Feeling: This knowledge may or may not prevent my younger children from taking a drink or two in the woods of Waveny or at a home with absent parents or in a bathroom stall at school.

But we are luckier than our own parents were because we are armed with the facts. We have organizations such as New Canaan CARES at our beck and call. And we should charge ourselves with acting upon those statistics and in making sure that we equip our offspring with consequences.

I have heard it is best not to engage a drunken child (or adult) with those punishments, those consequences, when they are in an inebriated state. Save it for morning when the natural consequences are raging around in their head and their body and remorse is more easily available. I certainly wish that had been so for me back in high school. As it was, neither parent made a peep, and it is only by grace that I am still here to tell the story.

Spring fever is in the air. Remember how that felt when you were a teenager, and try not to be too smug if you didn’t use or abuse alcohol; your child isn’t you. And knowledge is power.

Family Summer Memories

Summer – fun, sun, fireflies, barbeques and family trips or traditions. Summer is a bit of downtime for everyone in the family, and the downtime allows for some significant memories later on along the road of life.

To me, the olfactory moments of summer come in the form of Coppertone suntan lotion. I know that I should be using fancier, better wrinkle-reducing sunscreen to keep that road map of lines around my eyes and forehead at bay, but Coppertone’s memories are comfort to me. One whiff and I am transported back to the Jersey shore or the rocky beaches of Compo in Westport. The sounds of gulls and sandpipers, waves crashing or caressing the shore, motor boats shooting through the waves, always bring me smiles and serenity.

My father had a Sailfish (sort of a surf board with a sail) and he’d take our family out each summer Sunday for hours of exploration on the Long Island Sound or the bay off of Long Beach Island in New Jersey. Freedom to me still feels like salt water spray and wind, and sand in my scalp and places in my bathing-suit that I never knew sand could get into.

My brother and I weren’t off at day camps back then, but my four kids have certainly had that experience. YMCA camp, town rec programs, the New Canaan Nature Center (which is awesome for the pre-school set by the way), and sports camps have all added to their summer memory banks. Janet graduated to sleep-away camp last year, which brings me to our family’s new summer experience.

Janet’s camp is just outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where our family has been spending two weeks every summer for the past 10 years. Her camp features a month of western horseback riding and rodeos, hiking, and backpacking among the Teton mountain range. This year – for some reason – I thought it might be fun to drive her out to camp from Connecticut, so she and Jack could see some of America along the way. Two kids, one mom, driving for 8 to 10 hours a day for four days. Can I survive? Stayed tuned.

This will be the summer of “Jul and Jack’s Most Excellent Adventure.” Because once we drop Janet off at camp, it will be three weeks of mother-and-son bopping around Wyoming and the West, before daddy joins us for the fourth week. This may be one family memory for the books (or one book if I could find an agent)!

Whether your child is a toddler or a teen, they will carry their summer moments with them over into their own future families. It could be the summer they broke their arm falling out of a tree house and how mom and/or dad took care of them afterwards. Or the summer they had their heart broken and you kept your distance while still letting them know your arms were always open for a hug. It will be the sounds and smells of the ocean or the grandeur of a mountain, or the snaps of twigs under foot, or the stickiness of popsicles on a warm summer eve, which will evoke their parent’s laughter and voices.

My own parents are now dead, but all I have to do is pop open a tube of Coppertone and they come swirling out, alive as can be, with all the summer lessons and levity intact.

Create and embrace your own family memories in this summer of 2005. You will never regret doing so.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Uninformed Child in the Information Age

"Mind your manners!” “Be polite, honey!”

I heard this non-stop from my parents and my grandparents as a child. I recall being sent to an etiquette type program along with my friends to try and perfect the art of the curtsey, the hand shake and placing my napkin on my lap (all with spiffy white gloves on, mind you!). “Please,” “Thank you,” and “May I” were phrases that became ingrained. Maybe I could have recoiled from it all, but I didn’t dare: I had too much respect and fear of adults to do anything otherwise.

As a child in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, I got my information on manners and everything else from my parents, my teachers and maybe Captain Kangaroo on the television. That was then and this is now. Today’s children receive information from a much wider variety of people, places and things.

I think, however, from personal experience and observation, that today’s child can and is apt to recoil more than their parents did; to question often; to defy the adult suggestions on basic interpersonal manners.

About 10 or 12 years ago, when Kenny and Blake were young, a friend of Kenny’s who lived in our neighborhood in Weston, used to walk in to our house not only uninvited, but unannounced. I would turn around and jump when I found him plopped down in front of our t.v. or on the floor of our playroom, sans Kenny or Blake.

“Hello Matthew,” I’d say. “What are you doing here?”

He’d merely shrug. No “Hello Mrs. Evans. How lovely you look today ”or “Oh, hi! Kenny invited me over. Thanks!” The child would then proceed to open our fridge as if it were his own, hang about for a couple of hours and leave as stealthily as he had arrived. It goes without saying that he left without a “thank you.”

Jack had a buddy over a while back who didn’t care for the snack I had prepared, and, in making no bones about it, inquired as to whether he could have something else. Since I’m not a short order cook, I explained that that was it; sorry.

“Well, do you have cherry juice boxes? I don’t like the grape kind.”

It took all of my years of being informed not to conk the kid on the head.

Trust me: my own kids have manner slips and faux paus all the time. And it is frustrating as we have informed them – sit up straight, say “please” and “thank you,” announce when you come in the door from school, look adults in the eye when you speak with them, shake hands, etc. Yet they don’t do it as instinctively as I believe their father and I did as children, or perhaps we’re not banging it into them as often as our parents did with us. Or maybe Jon and I are sub-consciously rebelling about the repetitiveness to which we learned manners as children; maybe we are being more “friend” than parent. And, of course, there is all the other information on the television, movie and computer screens our children view to the contrary: kids speaking rudely to authority figures, running amuck, questioning the point of being polite.

It is most likely a stew of all of the above. I know it’s not 1965 anymore, nor would I want it to be. But when I sneeze in the company of my children – even the 20-something year olds – it would be nice to hear, “Bless you.” After all, it’s just polite!

How About Some Cheese With That Whine?

Our February school break was a whine fest and I feel positively hung-over. The whining began just as a child thing but by the end of the ski vacation even my husband’s baritone voice went into low whine (mine was more of the high pitched variety).

What is it with whining? Kids learn early on that it “works,” even though as intelligent adults we know that it shouldn’t. Exhausted or desperate for peace, we give in to the incessancy of the whining. We may say, “Stop whining! Whining won’t get you your way,” but minutes later we’re handing over the cookie or changing the channel or searching for the misplaced or unpurchased toy that is the subject of the whining. Child-rearing books advise parents to ignore the whining, but have the authors actually experienced whining at its finest? I kind of think not.

Whining begets whining. Example from our trip: My daughter, Janet, 11, announced one morning that didn’t want to ski that day; she was tired. “ Pleeeaaase! You said it was my vacation too! Come oooooonnnn!” Her dad replied in a deep whine, “Come ooooonnn, Janet! I paaaaaiiiid for the ticket; you haaaaavvvvve to.” Then Jack pitches in with a half-whine, “ That’s not faiiiiiirrr! How come she can stay in and I can’t?!” My turn: “ Jaaaack! You can ski with me, pleeeeaaaase!” Jon: “ Juuuuulllllles. Don’t encourage her not to goooo.” Goodness, what a noisy scene.

We had Jon’s step-sister and family staying with us on our trip. They have two children, a girl, 6 and a boy, 9. They were big-time whiners and they are British, so the sounds of the whines were pretty intense.

“ Muuuuummy! Daadddy! Edward’s being awfully, awfully rude!” The English accent just intensified the annoyingness of the whine. (Note: I happen to adore English accents but in a whiny voice I am not a fan).

We were out in Jackson, Wyoming and it was pretty darn cold there the week of February 14, so there was a fair amount of complaining and whining about the crispness of the air (even from yours truly, though I was highly grateful that at least the sun was shining). Whenever Janet or Jack would start the whine about the cold I’d ask them if they wanted cheese with their whine. At first it made them stop the piercing sounds and ask what on earth I meant by that. I explained about wine and cheese and the rather clever play on words (wine-whine). And so whenever they started I’d say “want some cheese?” and they would invariably smile or laugh or tell me that I wasn’t very clever and to stop saying that. That said ,it also would cease the whining for a blessed ten minutes or so.

Although whining seems to be primarily a province of the young female of the species, it seems that boys are catching up. Blake (now 21) and Kenny (19) were not big whiners at all, but Jack and even some of his friends, can be real champs at it, which is both interesting as well as cringe-worthy.

I truly wish I could pass on some sound parenting advice here on the topic, but woefully, I cannot. Why? I doooonnn’t knnnoooowwww!

The Keeping Room

I have a sign that I bought about a decade ago that reads “The Keeping Room.” The catalogue from which I purchased the wooden sign said that back in Colonial times, the “keeping room” was the area in which the family usually congregated; it kept the family together. My sign has always hung in the kitchen.

Go to any cocktail or dinner or holiday party in New Canaan (or in any city or town in America), and the room which sees the most action and interaction during a bash is the kitchen. It’s inevitable and maybe instinctive. The kitchen – no matter how modest or how expansive – is the heart of the home, where secrets are told and kept, where we nourish both our bodies and sometimes our souls.

Janet and Jack either have desks in their bedrooms for homework or easy access to the desk in the study/guest room across the hall. But homework is rarely, if ever, performed there. They would much rather pull up to the kitchen table or sit at a counter and struggle with or handily conquer math or social studies or spelling. If memory serves, I did the same thing as a student, even in my college apartment!

Now my family doesn’t crave the kitchen because of mommy’s cooking, let me admit that to the world right here; Julia Child I most certainly am not. But I can microwave with the best of them, or heat up a frozen pizza, or whip up the most basic of meals. So my kids don’t crave the kitchen for a home-cooked meal, but they do crave the conversation.

It was in the kitchen of our first home where I told Blake and Kenny they would be having a younger sibling. It is where Blake told me of a bully on the bus when he was in second grade. It was the kitchen in our Weston home where Kenny’s adolescent misfires began with painful words and actions, and it was that same kitchen in which I read his personal journal out of desperation, searching for answers.

In our kitchen in New Canaan, we watched the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on our small television, anxiously hoping to hear about Blake’s Marine unit. And I remember Janet and I hugging and screaming in that kitchen with joy later that spring when Blake was finally back safe on American soil. At that kitchen counter Blake was later interviewed by a reporter from this newspaper. The kitchen is safe haven at moments when the world seems to be falling apart. Guess where I watched the t.v. in horror on September 11, 2001?

Janet has spoken volumes in the kitchen about girlfriends and boys who are cute, about difficult teachers and confusing concepts. Last week, as I washed dishes, she opened up about a friend who accidentally happened upon some older kids smoking pot behind Elm Street in the alley, and just how do you know if someone is smoking pot or just smoking a cigarette, Mommy? The dialogue that ensued was beneficial and valuable to us both.

Every family needs a keeping room, be it the kitchen or some other sanctuary, where conversations can happen between parent and preteen, toddler to grandparent and/or sibling to sibling. Keeping the family together is a more difficult and yet vital task in this new millennium.

In our new house, the kitchen is by far the largest room and I look forward to parties that will spill over into it and end up with just Jon and I and one or two other couples, dishing on the evening and sharing confidentialities. This kitchen will also see teen tantrums and mommy meltdowns and nine-year-old nonsense, but if will also feel a lot like love.

An Attitude of Gratitude

We are about to enter the season of “gimme.” And so I suggest that tomorrow, as you gather ‘round the dining room table for turkey and such, that you ask your children – no matter how wee or how wise – what they are thankful for and why.

This suggestion may seem obvious.

At our table we ask and we answer. From the younger two, the thanks is almost always about a thing—a toy or a piece of electronics. At age 20, Kenny can now point to more emotional or socially-based concepts for which he is grateful, such as graduating from college, securing a job, finding an apartment. Blake, the U.S. Marine, has not been home for Thanksgiving in four years, which may be the very thing he is thankful for on a 22-year-old level!

My husband Jon and I are usually predictable in our giving of thanks; we are always happy to have the family together, to have our collective health, to have our children alive (Blake in particular, given his career).

My father died nine years ago yesterday, on the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death. With it falling so precariously close to Thanksgiving, there is always a part of me that does not feel very thankful because I miss him and feel he was taken away way too soon. And now my mother is also absent. This will be the first Thanksgiving in my entire life where I will find myself unable to either see or speak with any parent. The urge to dwell in self-pity looms large except when I remember that I should remain grateful that I had as much time with them as was allowed. My own children don’t need to see me blubber all over my stuffing and gravy. They need to see me smile and they need me to love them – and be grateful, too, for that.

This year, though, I want to try something different, something beyond the verbal giving of thanks: I am going to ask them to write a gratitude list.

A gratitude list can comprise things, material possessions, but it should moreover include personal physical attributes we are grateful for (long hair, strong legs, blue eyes), people in our lives, such as mommy, daddy, best friends, a teacher, a dog or cat (okay, dogs and cats are technically not people, but…), and traits about home that both children and adults may not often think about being grateful for, like a pond in the backyard, three windows in the bedroom, a good sledding hill, a cool playroom. A gratitude list may also feature certain qualities about ourselves that equal giving – being a good friend, the ability to make someone laugh when they are feeling sad, offering helpful advice.

Children should be reminded that giving equals getting and that the getting isn’t always something that they can hold in their hands or wear or watch. That they can give one of those items to others without expecting or wanting anything back but a “thank you,” whether audible or silent.

From Thanksgiving until Christmas and/or Hanukah, the life of a child is usually about the gimme’s; the getting. Yet as the saying goes in some circles, “You can’t keep it unless you give it away.” The “it” isn’t a physical thing, like a toy truck or a video game or a doll, the “it” is gratitude for helping another. It is going from entitled to appreciative, and an un-entitled child is just one more thing for which to be thankful.

Worry Is a Mom's Middle Name

On the day that I write this, a U.S. Marine helicopter was shot down by insurgents in Iraq, killing 31 Marines from the First Marine Division, the same division to which my oldest son, Blake, is attached. Blessedly, Blake is not back in the sandbox at the moment, but rather training for Special Forces in California. Nevertheless, my heart still sunk at the news and while grateful that my son is safe, I felt deeply saddened for the mothers of those Marines who were not so safe.

And I worry. I worry about Blake being sent back there – his former unit will be re-deployed next month – and I worry about the dangers inherent in his new line of work in defending/serving our country and our military. My friends worry for me and my acquaintances worry, too; even strangers worry that may have heard of Blake but have never met him or me. Although the concern comes from both sexes, it is my fellow moms that seem to worry the most. (Fathers: Please note the use of the word “seem.”)

Worrying is what moms do, and oh, we do it well and with vigor. Whether it is something as frightening as a child in war or as common as a child swinging too high on a swing, we worry. “What if’s” form in bold capital letters in our head and across our hearts from the moment our children are born. “What if he won’t breast-feed?” “What if she cries too much?” “What if he’s too cold in that onesie?” and “What if she’s too warm?” Those What Ifs grow in size and strength as do our children.

How many times do we hear our children cry, “Don’t worry so much, Mom!” That’s how it works – moms worry, kids get to whine about it and hopefully everything turns out okay, or if it doesn’t then lessons are learned, sometimes on both sides.

Jack played football for the first time last fall. Although he wore a lot of padding and a solid helmet I worried about him getting hit too hard. Of course getting hit was exactly what his father looked forward to. “It’s fine, Jul,” Jon assured me. “If Jack knows you’re worried he may not want to hit and then he will get tackled hard. Getting knocked around a little never hurt anybody…” Oh sure, I thought, and I braced myself with every play. But Jon was right and my worrying, although not completely unfounded, was still not needed.

Often it is best not to wallow in the worry and just as often it is difficult not to; turning situations over to a higher power, so to speak. I have had to attempt that and continue doing so with Blake. When Kenny was going through his adolescent hell I was worried constantly and with very good reason, but eventually I began to adjust my worry level with him. With Janet I worry about middle school and its social and educational stresses and with Jack I worry about his frustration level and its impact on school and his buddies. My friends worry about their children off at boarding school or college, of the son who just got his driver’s license, of the daughter struggling with eighth grade science, the twins getting into a private school. The outcome of most of these worries are truly out of our control. The trick is differentiating which stuff is worth sweating over and which isn’t.

I worry about terrorism, botulism, racism, alcoholism, pessimism. Should I be worried that my daughter will be kidnapped when walking from Saxe to MacKenzies? How worried should I be about Jack testing the frozen-ibility of our shallow backyard pond? Will Kenny get a job after he graduates from college in May? Should I obsess about a Marine in dress blues ringing my doorbell one evening? The answers are both yes and no. If I didn’t love my children so much, I wouldn’t worry, and therein lies the rub.

Oddly enough, I have a saying posted on the bulletin board in my home office which reads: “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles; it empties today of its strength.” There are days when I can look at that and say, “Yeah! How true! I can do that!” and other days when I want to shred that saying to pieces. Yet I always hear my children – actually primarily Blake – crying like a mantra in my head: “You worry too much Mom. Everything’s going to be okay. Calm down.”

“Hakuna Matata,” said Timon and Pumba in the movie the Lion King. It means no worries for the rest of your days. I think it’s worth humming that song whenever the worry kicks in. Try it. If nothing else, it will make you giggle and forget your worries for a moment.

The Entitled Child

Here is a scary question for Halloween weekend: Are you raising an entitled child?

No parent sets out to raise a child that feels any or all material possessions should “naturally” come their way. Ideally, it would be best if our kids understood that things need to be earned or deserved based on merit, and that it is better to give than to receive. There are children half a continent or half way around the world who have nothing or who have lost everything, so get out there and help raise money or clothes or books for them! New Canaan CARES is featuring the author of “Raising Financially Fit Kids” next month, so this topic is certainly timely, and although I am not an expert, I do have frightening tales of entitlement-minded children to share.

When my second oldest son, Kenny, was a pre-teen and early teen, his favorite mantra was that he needed-- fill-in-the-blank -- because it was “pivotal to my success.” The first time he said this I laughed and promptly went out and bought him whatever small piece of technology he had requested. And then it happened a second and a third time; I was becoming brainwashed to the phrase “pivotal to my success.” The kid was a behavioral nightmare, but I wanted him to be good, to be a success and so I robotically dashed to the store, whipped out the checkbook or the credit card and got him what he wanted. If he asked to stay up a little later at night, or have a friend sleep over, or drink Capris Suns until the cows came home – boom! – his wish was my command. It was “pivotal to his success” and I felt I had to help make that happen. It was pivotal to my success as a parent.

Oh, was I so very wrong, and Kenny and I both paid the price fairly dearly, and I mean price both financially and emotionally.

Flash forward to his senior year at New Canaan high school. After winding up deprived of all material possessions and more the year before, he went out and got a job at the late Ritz Pastry Shop to pay for anything that might be a want rather than a need. Despite feeling that he was entitled to us paying for college, he secured student loans. (If he messed up in college it would be on his dime, not ours) The results? He graduated valedictorian last spring and anything that is still pivotal to his success is primarily bought by money he has earned. He has become entrepreneurial rather than entitled, a solid citizen rather than a self-seeking one.

And now there is Janet, who not only shares Kenny’s birth date but his “pivotal to my success” philosophy. Still reeling from Ken’s teenage years, we are determined to nip her wants in the bud. As Jon reminds her and Jack all the time, “’I want’ gets nothing.” (And yes, I get that from him as well on occasion.)

Just because we can afford to buy X,Y, or Z doesn’t mean we are going to buy it. We are trying to encourage her to think beyond her own needs – “$60 jeans? Really?” – to those of others, known and unknown to her or our family. That just because it’s the weekend doesn’t mean she can stay up until midnight or that Jack can continue not to eat what the rest of the family is eating just because he doesn’t like the food. The only two people entitled to do anything are mom and dad – we are entitled to try and raise children who have some sense of dollars and cents and right and wrong.

Spooky thoughts, right?

Every Day is Mother's Day

One Mother’s Day back in the early 1960’s, my brother and I asked our mom why there was a “Mother’s Day” holiday. She answered, “Because every day is ‘Kids’ Day.’” I remember us looking at one another with a mixture of guilt and glee. I also recall the guilt fleeing quickly. “Kids’ Day? Cool!”

My own Mother’s Days – and there have been 20 of them! – are pretty nice, but nothing extraordinary: I sleep late, maybe the kids bring me some breakfast in bed, I get both homemade and Hallmark-made cards, we go out for dinner or order my favorite take-out. Kind of like most Sundays, minus the cards!

There was one Mothers Day that does stand out. When my now 19-year-old son, Kenny, was 12, he spent about an hour in his room with the door locked. He was banging on the walls and I was trying to nap and it drove me crazy, but he wouldn’t let me in. Finally he asked me to come to his bedroom. “Okay, just slowly open the door,” he instructed, as the rest of the family stood outside with him in the hallway. As I turned the knob and began to walk in, my then-favorite song (R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”) started playing and in the darkened room Christmas lights blinked brightly; lights that had been strung up all over one wall to read: “Mom.” It was a very memorable and treasured moment. Especially because it would be six more years before Kenny even uttered “I love you, Mom” again!

Don’t get me wrong, I do love the plaster hand-prints, the popsicle frames and the tiny flowers grown in egg cartons. They are beyond special. I also adore the placemats with poems laminated onto them forever, as well as the wire hangar mobiles. But it’s the everyday gifts that my children bring me that mean even more.

My daughter Janet and I will sometimes have a “girl” day on a random Saturday or Sunday. We’ll get a manicure at Hollywood Nails, see a movie at the Playhouse, the obligatory after-movie ice cream at Baskin Robbins and an hour of window shopping or actual shopping, during which she will open up her little heart to me about all manner of subjects. I’m her confidant and her temporary guide through the beginnings of middle school and it is an honor. When she comes home from school with a passing grade in a subject she is struggling with and thanks me for helping, that’s a gift, too. An unexpected but needed hug from Janet when I’ve had an emotionally draining day on the war watch is the best present, too.

When Jack, 8, wants me to lie down next to him and cuddle at bedtime: great gift. The first time Kenny called from college this school year and solicited my advice and took it: awesome moment. The fact that he phones me after he leaves each final exam to tell me he’s aced it: priceless. Blake emailing me from Fallujah last Friday: you can imagine how incredible.

Every day can be Mother’s Day if you but look for the kudos your kids are giving you. They are there, sometimes buried, sometimes right between your eyes. Yet it is still nice to have one day “named” after us mothers and to have your spouse shower you with praise and spring posies. And this year, honey, a gift certificate to Garineh’s Spa would be oh-so-lovely as well. Remember: Father’s Day is next month and pay-back’s a, well… a great thing!

Kids and Cleaning: Do They Really Mix?

Although the phrase, “Clean your room!” is uttered by every parent to every child twelve zillion times a day all over New Canaan and the rest of the cities, towns and villages in all of the 50 states, the cleaning is something that seems to take kids a very long time to understand, let alone follow through on in a meaningful manner.

If you are the fellow parent of a teenager, you know exactly what I mean. “Clean” means shove everything under the bed or into the closet. Even clothes you have just freshly washed and folded and placed onto their unmade beds are thrown willy-nilly into the laundry hamper, rather than placed in dresser drawers. Hand them a can of Pledge and a rag and they will most likely just spray the scent into the air and use the rag to circulate the lemon fragrance throughout the room.

The faulty cleaning gene goes beyond the teenage years, unless of course you are lucky to have a child in the military – as I do – and then they truly understand tightly made beds, mopped floors and clean-until-they-shine toilets.

Last week I traveled to Astoria, Queens to my son Kenny’s apartment to offer my cleaning services. Four young men are sharing one bathroom. It was an absolute horror; worse than anything I have ever seen in the way of filthy. The cleaning up literally had me gagging, but the toilet was so disgusting that I didn’t dare throw up in it for fear I’d never stop. I relied on bleach fumes to keep my lunch in place. Disinfecting the bathroom was all that I could handle that day.

I left all of my cleaning substances and several rolls of paper towels behind with a strong suggestion that Kenny and his cohorts actually use them. More than once a year. I highly doubt I will be making a return cleaning engagement.

When Kenny and Blake were about 9 and 10, I would ask them nicely to pick up their toys ands clothes in their bedrooms. After the second request would go unheeded, I took some advice I read somewhere and would take a black, plastic trash bag and simply put everything that was on their floor into the bag; I wasn’t going to throw the bag out. But they didn’t know that. I only had to do this about three times before they got the message.

Younger children usually delight in helping mommy and daddy to clean things – spraying the window cleaner and mopping it up with loads of paper towels; trying so hard to navigate their sheets and blankets to made their bed; helping to push the vacuum cleaner over the rug. Yet at some point – usually around kindergarten or first grade – they seem to lose interest. And ability.

Blake began washing his own clothes in about the fifth grade (Kenny was in college before he ever met a washing machine!), and Jack, 9, learned his way around a washer-and-dryer in third grade. I introduced Janet to the vacuum cleaner late this past fall, but she hasn’t been especially interested in making another date with the Dyson since.

Because I work at home more these days, I let our cleaning woman go.

“What?!” screamed Janet when I told her. “Who is going to clean my room now?”

I simply smiled at her while she grimaced, realizing the harsh reality of what my smile meant. And then she quickly recovered.

“Oh good, “she said like a princess before closing the door to her bedroom on my Cheshire cat face. “That means you can clean it!”

I’ll have the last laugh though: the only princess she will resemble will be Cinderella before the Ball. I’m so wicked. But it’s all good, clean fun.

Parents To The Rescue

“No pain, no gain” is usually associated with physically working out. But it also applies to psychic pain, and I think many parents in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s are guilty of perhaps trying too hard to protect their children from both.

I know I have done just that on more occasions than I probably should be admitting to in print. Yesterday New Canaan CARES presented a seminar entitled, “Resisting the Urge to Rescue our Kids,” and that presentation will be repeated in April. It’s both informative and squirmily enlightening.

I experienced plenty of physical and psychic pain as a kid growing up in the 1960’s and ‘70s – skinned knees and elbows, the random leg gash from a bicycle kickstand, measles, mumps, not to mention growing up in an alcoholic household, dinner-less nights spent in my bedroom for disrespecting my parents, and a few misguided groundings. Out of four kids, I think only Jack has gotten a skinned knee, although Lord knows Blake- the twice-deployed to Iraq Marine – now has his fair share of close calls and emotional scarring.

But I have most assuredly been in “fix-it” mode since first becoming a mother. I gave in to whining, pleading, tantrums, campaigning. Just over this past weekend, Janet was insisting that she needed a dress for a Bat Mitzvah (not occurring until May!) by Sunday. She presented and presented and justified her case and immediate need with a tinge of seventh-grade whine that finally wore me down. As she walked away, triumphant, her older brother, Kenny proclaimed, “Winner and still champion…” This from the one child I have tried to “fix” the most.

Kenny recently had some financial troubles, which most recent college grads without full-time jobs are wont to experience. Rather than have him go through the agony and embarrassment and learning experience of moving out of his apartment to the rent-free room at home until he is gainfully employed, we rescued him with a quick trip to the ATM and our bank’s website. Good instinct on our part, or enabling decision? We want to help, we want to throw a life-line. Yet no pain, maybe no gain.

I am getting better at maintaining a “grounding” with Janet and letting Jack know in no uncertain terms that speaking disrespectfully will land him in the dog house as well. It’s not easy, though, morphing ourselves less into friends and more into parents.

My parents were more authority figures than buddies, at least until I reached my 30’s. Even still, there was always a modicum of fear inside that I would “mess up” and be sent to my room, figuratively speaking. And I think many of my friends feel the same way about their own parents. Yet our kids aren’t so much “afraid” of us; we shake our heads as to why, when the answer lies right within us.

It’s complicated. We want to be the nice guy, but we want our children to respect and obey, and conversely we want to protect them from pain at all costs.

What will be the price we eventually pay? What will our children have to pony-up emotionally and interpersonally down the line?

It’s not wrong to want to be our kid’s hero; it’s completely natural and do-able. I guess, however, that it’s wiser to be at once the hero and the villain, all rolled up into one loving parent.


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Pamper Yourself!


~ Massage Envy of Fairfield; 2279 Black Rock Tpk.; 203-333-ENVY
~Therapeutic Massage in the comfort of your own home; www.massageatyour; 203-531-6246
~Robin Ordan, LMT (Old Greenwich and Stamford); 203-561-8535
~ Greenwich Healing Hands,Greenwich; 203-253-5576
~ Beyond Touch, Ridgefield; 203-438-2354

~Therapeutic Skin Care; Marilyn Hall, certified esthetician; 203-847-0250

~ Pilates Studio of Fairfield, 39 Sherman Ct.; 203-255-1246
~ Black Rock Pilates Stdio, 2889 Fairfield Avenue; 203-335-1987
~ Yoga Sensations, 511 Glenbrook Rd., Stamford; 203-965-0696
~ Nu-Yoga, Norwalk; 203-854-6744
~ Harmony Yoga, 48 Union St., Stamford; 203-962-4672
~ Movement Design (Pilates); 11 Burtis Ave., New Canaan; 203-972-3438


IN WESTPORT: Toquet Hall, is open to all students of Westport's public and private high schools.It is a supervised drug-and alcohol-free space where teens are encouraged to initiate, organize, and participate in, a broad range of activities. Located on the second floor at 58 Post Road East, directly across from the YMCA. Entrance is in an alleyway, with a sign above the door. Toquet Hall is open from Wednesday through Saturday: Wednesdays and Thursdays 3 - 9 p.m. Fridays 6 p.m - midnight and Saturdays 6p.m. - midnight (Hours are subject to change.)

IN GREENWICH: Greenwich Skate Park. 61 East Putnam Ave Greenwich, CT. Skate and ramp park with season or day passes available to both residents and non residents. Conveniently located to the train station and the Arch Street Teen Center. Used primarily by the 12-15 set. Learn to skate and camps offered. Site is supervised.

IN NEW CANAAN:The Outback.
Run under the supervision of two adult directors, and by a Student Government Board, The Outback offers a projector TV (as well as several other TV's with cable access) stereo equipment, stage complete with lighting and PA system, pool and ping pong tables, Internet access, and comfortable seating and work space. The feature of the facility is the Outback Café, providing great food at reasonable prices exclusively for teens. In addition to the use of all of the facilities listed above, you can enjoy special events every Friday and Saturday night including dances, band nights, movie nights, karaoke, and improv comedy. The Outback is situated just behind Town Hall with easy access from Elm Street.

IN FAIRFIELD:The Beanery; sponsored by Fairfield Parks & Rec; a high school nightclub showcasing local bands; Fridays 7:30-11 p.m.; residents only.

IN RIDGEFIELD: The Barn: 10 Governor Street;Foosball, air hockey, 2 TV's; teen dances

After-Hours Pediatric & Adolescent Urgent Care
FIREFLY, After Hours Pediatric, LLC: Mon-Fri 5 - 11 p.m.
Sat, Sun and Holidays 1-11 p.m.
1011 High Ridge Road, Stamford 203-968-1900

Gay Youth/Parents of Gay Youth Support Sites







The Center for Hope, 590 Post Road , Darien ; 203-655-4693, also in Stamford at 325-8123.
Women's Bereavement Group in New Canaan; the Congregational, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches offer a program based upon "The New Day Journal," a guide and support during a time of grief. For more information call 966-0002.

The Den-Family Centers in Greenwich: 203-869-4848.
The Danbury Chapter of The Compassionate Friends;
203-797-8896. Grief support group for families who have experienced the death of a child.


The Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital; 203-852-2148.
Northeast Center For Trauma Recovery;
acute traumatic stress and grief counseling; Greenwich; 203-661-9393, ext. 8.
"Growing Through Grief,"Ann's Place The Home of I Can offers "Transitions," a bereavement support group, in the Danbury area. Call 203-790-6568.
Stamford Counseling Center;
free, short-term counsel; 203-323-8560.
Christ & Holy Trinity Church Bereavement Support Group;
Westport; 203-227-0827.


Louise Levin, M. Ed. L.M.F.T.; Westport, 203-259-8036

Kim Ann Oliver, PhD.; Westport, 203-222-0746

The Family Center Services in Westport
is offering divorce and separation mom support groups. For more information on days and times for the groups, call 203-226-7007.

Family Centers' in Darien is offering a single moms support group, Mondays at 6:30 p.m.; 972 Boston Post Road, Darien; 655-0547.
is a special weekly seminar and support group for those separated or divorced. Offered in the New Canaan area. For more information, call 972-7680.

Center for Divorce Mediation & Family Services; Stamford ; 203-978-7680.


Connecticut Domestic Violence Hotline:1-888-774-2900

The Family Center in Westport sponsors a support group for rape survivors; call 203-226-7007

The Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Stamford; support for rape and incest survivors; 203-348-9346; Hotline: 203-329-2929

Domestic Violence Crisis Center; Norwalk Hotlines - 203-852-1980 and 888-774-2900/ Stamford Hotline - 203-357-8162

Center for Women and Families Domestic Violence Service, Bridgeport - 203-384-9669; 203-334-6154; 888-774-2900


Breast Cancer Survival Center, Norwalk ; 203-857-7304.

Cancer Care, Inc., Fairfield; 203-854-9911.

Center for Hope, Darien and Stamford; 203-655-4693/203-325-8123.

Ann's Place in Danbury; learn what's new in local cancer support services at Support groups for women, men, children and caregivers; yoga, journaling and relaxation; 203-790-6568.

Y-ME of CT; 203-483-8200. Meets in Bridgeport at St. Vincent Medical Center alternate Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Milford Hospital on alternate Wednesdays.


The 5Rhythms of Gabrielle Roth Workshops; heal body and soul through expressive dance; 203-254-3932.

Chi Dancentre; 44 Main St., Westport, 203-226-4300;

Sound Directions; drumming and rythm-based programs to meet specific therapeutic, wellness and recreational needs; 203-454-DRUM/


ABC Nutrition & Wellness:
Angelic Healing Center
, Norwalk; 203-852-1150
Sabita Holitistic Center, Fairfield & Southport; 203-254-2633
Stamford Center for Natural Health; High Ridge Road; 203-325-3535
Darien Center for Integrative Medicine; 870 Post Rd.; 203-655-4494
Total Life Care Center, Norwalk; 203-853-4852.
Kindred Spirits, Wilton: 203-563-9781
Spiritual Insights for Living, Bridgeport; 203-870-8966
Reverence and Mirth, Stamford; 203-588-9309


The Lion's Den Book & Gift Store/St. Mark's Parish, 111 Oenoke Ridge, New Canaan; bibles, holy books, prayer, icons, meditation, yoga, toys, jewelry, gifts, candles... ; open Wed., Thurs. & Friday 9 a.m. - 1 p.m., Saturdays at 10 a.m.

A Touch of Sedona, 452 Main St., Ridgefield (gift shop and spiritual center); 203-438-7146.


Connecticut MOM.ORG was started by Julie Butler Evans, the founding editor/publisher of Connecticut's County Kids magazine and currently a parenting columnist for the New Canaan Advertiser, "Parenting From the Trenches."
A mother of four children ages 13 to 26, Julie wanted to share her experience and hope with other moms, and create a one-stop site and forum for women in Connecticut who aren't only trying to be a good mother, but also good humans, being.