it’s the most dreaded time of the year…

Sorry I’m a little tardy writing this week. It’s because this week was the much-dreaded, all-consuming, last week of summer camp. In other words, it’s camp tipping season.

I didn’t know there was such a thing until last year, when I found out the day before camp ended (thank God). Though I was a camp counselor for five summers and never received a tuppence for my pains, this is apparently a non-optional part of modern camping, like chipping in for your kid’s gym teacher’s Christmas gift is mandatory during the school year.

Here’s my problem with this. No guidance is given, at all, because it’s deemed a “discretionary” matter. But if you had no idea you were supposed to do this in the first place, then how can your discretion possibly be correct? (And make no mistake: there are many ways to do this wrong. It’s up to you to ascertain what is expected of you, as a mom of the 21st century.)

These are excerpts from the ostensibly helpful letter that came home in my boys’ lunchboxes:

“Although there is no official policy for tipping at ______ Camp, it has become an established tradition.”

Read: Although we’re not going to tell you you have to do this– since we can’t– if you don’t tip, you’ll be a colossal jerk.

“It is not obligatory in any way, but our counselors are greatly appreciative…”

Again: do what you want, a-hole, but you’d better pony up, is all they’re saying.

OK, so I got the message. In my case, it was not-at-all-totally-mandatory for me to tip EIGHTEEN PEOPLE (ten for the 3-year-old’s room, eight for the 4-year-old’s). Fine. How much am I supposed to tip them, sirs? I kept reading:

“Many of you have asked for guidelines for tipping. Our best advice is that whatever feels reasonable to you is entirely appropriate.”

Well, thanks. for. NOTHING. Whatever seems right to me? What seems right to me is that you pay these counselors enough, out of the outrageous sum I already handed over for the summer, so that this non-obligatory-obligation didn’t exist. Barring that, what seems right to me is that you just TELL ME what I’m supposed to tip each of these kids so that I don’t seem like a tightwad, and they won’t hold it against my next child-to-be when he/she is a camper four summers from now.

This is the kind of thing that keeps you up at night. After several days of internal deliberation, and desperate Googling for advice, I came up with the round sum of $20 each. On the one hand, that hardly seems like enough for the 30-plus days they took care of my kids. On the other hand, with eighteen counselors to tip– many of them “senior counselors,” whom I was advised to “consider proportionately,” I was looking at shelling out almost $500. I cannot say that seemed reasonable to me whatsoever.

And there wasn’t anyone for me to ask. I don’t really know any of the other parents; summer camp was not the friend-making experience, at least for me, that I had envisioned. And the few who did say hello to me, I didn’t feel like I knew well enough to ask. It felt gauche to have to ask. It felt gauche to not just know these things.

In the end, I went with $20 for the regular counselors, and $40 for the grand pooh-bahs, and broke out into a cold sweat as I watched my older son hand out his lovingly lettered thank-you notes/ blood money to each of his teen caretakers. I still have no idea if I did the right thing. I’m haunted by the PS in the letter the camp sent:

“Counselors in our youngest groups, the Belugas and the Sea Robins…”

(that’s my kids’ groups)

“…work particularly hard and have to pay extra supervisory attention to their campers. Please don’t overlook them in your tipping.”

In other words, even if you do tip, there’s a chance that they’re still going to feel overlooked. There’s still a chance you screwed up, big-time. In fact, those counselors are sitting around right now making voodoo dolls of you instead of cleaning up the tie-dye supplies, like they’re supposed to.

I’m doomed.

OK, now we SHOULD be neurotic

After dropping the boys off at day camp this morning, I treated myself to a coffee and the New York Times. I was glad I did– kind of– because this article was on the front page:

Parents Warned Cough Medicines Imperil Infants

Here’s my first thought on this: actually, we haven’t been warned. Not really. I don’t count an article in the Times, since not all parents have time to peruse the New York Times each morning (and neither will I, in another 8 weeks– having two hands free to hold and flip through a newspaper is a distant memory when you have an infant who nurses every two hours). If I were living in the SAHM bubble from which I have only recently emerged– by having two kids who are at last old enough to be in day camp every morning– I would not have seen this article.

In case you haven’t, either, let me give you the highlights:

Cold and cough medicines marketed as being safe for children, including those with “drawings or pictures of infants in diapers on their labels,” were actually never tested for use in children. “Instead, the drugs’ makers performed studies in adults and then simply assumed that they would work in children,” the Times explains. “Among the ingredients that have caused concern are…dextromethorphan,which… can cause neurological problems, including abnormal movements and hallucinations, even in standard doses.
Another is pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that has been associated with infant deaths.”

OK. This is the kind of information that you shouldn’t be able to open Internet Explorer, or turn on the television, without seeing in flashing lights. This is the kind of thing you should be getting individual calls at home about, and I think L’il Happee Koffer Yummy Grape Syrup, or whatever the offending drug is, should shoulder the costs of calling each of us up to say, “Hi. Do you have kids? Well, you know how we have a cute diapered baby crawling across the label of our medicine? Which would have led you to believe, as a parent, that this was a product for small children? We were totally messing with you. Totally unsafe. OK, bye.”

Does anyone else find this absolutely infuriating? How is it possible that for years we’ve all thought it was OK to give our children medicines THAT WERE NEVER TESTED ON CHILDREN? And now that the FDA has declared these medicines will “imperil infants,” why are they still on the shelves?? Why is this acceptable?

When are moms going to say, enough is enough? Why aren’t we taking to the streets over the millions of toys that, NOW they tell us, have lead in them? And not Cheap-o brand “Bag o’Glass” Dan Aykroyd type toys, but Mattel! And Fisher-Price!

As you know, dear readers, it is a constant struggle for me– and for many mothers– not to sweat the small stuff, not to flip out if the milk isn’t organic, or if I forgot the sunscreen at home. Every day I tell myself that the “Mother Load” of things to worry about is mostly crap.

But then these studies come out, and they’re scary, and frankly made even more scary to me by the fact that they aren’t we-interrupt-this-regularly-scheduled-programming announcements. The FDA is “issuing an advisory” and it’s up to you to find it and read it, and these medicines are still on the shelves, and who knows how many kids are sucking on Dora Princess with Real Spinning Action’s leady head right now?

I am appalled that I have exposed my children to unsafe drugs, and LEAD, for Pete’s sake, when of course I know those things are terribly unsafe. But I figured, so did Fisher-Price, and Robitussin. Now I find out that they never really bothered to check, and now, apparently, I can’t trust what these companies tell me is safe for my children to play with or ingest. I don’t want to be the neurotic mother who only gives my children Montessori-inspired wooden toys made in Denmark. But at times like these she’s looking pretty smart, isn’t she?

they could have saved a lot of money if they just asked a mom

It was interesting to see the amount of coverage this study received in the media this week, concerning how youngsters, in a taste test, overwhelmingly preferred food that came in McDonald’s packaging to food that didn’t.

I mean, I guess it’s nice to have scientists confirm what every mom already knew for sure, but couldn’t they have just asked us in the first place, and spent their time and money curing cancer?

According to the AP, “the study had youngsters sample identical McDonald’s foods in name-brand or unmarked wrappers. The unmarked foods always lost the taste test.” By margins as large as 3 to 1, the children preferred food with the golden arches on it.

Not only am I not surprised by this, I’m not even particularly dismayed. Anyone who has had a child, and who has navigated with that child through the aisles of the supermarket, knows the power of advertising. “Look, Mommy! Ratatouille yogurt with rainbow sprinkles! Devil Dogs with real artificial Shrek-green frosting!”

This can work against you or for you. I take these moments as teachable ones, and give my four year old an earful about how the company put Shrek on the Devil Dogs to make him want to buy it, but that mommies know that they are full of preservatives. When he then asks what preservatives are, I parry with, “Something that makes food taste really yucky.”

And on we go from there. On the other hand, this same child is an incredibly picky eater, and there are times when I thank God for this very exploitative packaging that this study sought to expose.

For example: I have tried many times to get my picky eater to eat edamame (soybeans), without much success. Since the only meat he will eat is chicken nuggets, I have been working hard to find other sources of protein he will consider. Never have I been successful. Never, until I found this product in my grocer’s freezer: Spongebob Squarepants Edamame. My son has never watched this show, but he is helpless in Spongebob’s thrall, and when I was able to present him with his own bag of Spongebob edamame at dinner time, well, that changed everything. He gobbled it up, and next time I can buy regular edamame… and keep using the Spongebob bag.

Another example: my son needed eye drops, and refused to allow me to administer them, until I presented the Target brand eye drops I had as “Captain America’s Special Magic X-Ray Vision Drops,” willfully misrepresenting the red bullseye on the packaging as Captain America’s shield. Well, that changed everything.

So I am all in favor of marketing to kids. I’m going to go to McDonald’s and ask them how much to buy one hundred of those paper hamburger wrappers. And then serve my 4 year old liver and onions… yummy McDonald’s liver and onions. It just might do the trick.

just had to post this

A woman in England has just given birth to a 14 lb 7 oz baby boy– naturally– according to this article in the Daily Mail.

This was her third child. Both of her first two weighed around 8 lb at birth.

This is my third child. Both of my first two weighed around 8 lb at birth.

This story terrifies me more than a little, although it may explain why, at 32 wks, I have taken to actually hiking up my belly with my hands from underneath and carrying it around with me. I knew something was up. This baby’s going to set another record.

thanks Dr. Brian

I was talking to my old college buddy, Dr. Brian Primack, last night, catching up after at least a year since we last spoke. (He’s got 2 kids, we’ve got 3, you know how that goes.) I was talking to him about “Mother Load” and this whole idea that I’ve been chewing on for two years: that parenting is getting harder and harder, because the hurdles we have to jump are increasing daily. MRSA! Lead paint in toys! Autism in vaccines! Date rape drugs in Aquadots! And how I alternate between actually stressing about these things, and trying to put them out of my head, but stressing that I’m NOT stressing. Either way, you feel like a lousy mother, and you can’t win.

Brian, who has a knack for crystallization, said: “It’s going to be very interesting what we discover in medicine in the next 20 or 30 years. Because we know 1 milligram of lead per square centimeter of painted surface is the threshhold, the point at which lead can be dangerous. But we can’t quantify worry. We don’t know at what levels worry and stress become dangerous, because we can’t measure them. But someday soon, we will be able to measure them; and then we’ll understand just how much damage we’ve caused, to ourselves and our children, by the stressful ways that we live today.”

“I gotta write that down,” I said, and grabbed a pen. Now I’m telling you. And I hope to put that in a book someday, and give Dr. Brian Primack credit. That’s a priority-straightener if I ever heard one.