maddening and vomit-inducing

You may have missed this one while you were pumpkin picking this weekend: according to the New York Times, the Disney Company, parent company of Baby Einstein, will offer refunds to any consumer disgruntled that their babies have not actually become geniuses.

“The unusual refunds appear to be a tacit admission that [the videos] did not increase infant intellect,” according to the Times, and this is much to the delight of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which had been pushing this issue for years with the Federal Trade Commission.

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the fact that the Baby Einstein videos would seem to enhance, rather than contradict, this organization’s stated goal of a “commercial-free childhood,” since unlike, say, the surprisingly ad-riddled PBS Kids, the Baby Einstein videos did not HAVE advertising. OK, all the DVD’s did begin with somewhat annoying pitches for the videos themselves. But they weren’t hawking Chuck E. Cheese or anything.

My question is, did anyone REALLY think that these videos were going to make their kids smarter? Are any of us that idiotic?And how does something that is”not educational” become, in some experts’ minds, something that is actually harmful? Vicky Rideout, of the Kaiser Family Foundation, had this to say in the Times article:

My impression is that parents really believe these videos are good for their children, or at the very least, not really bad for them.

You know what? That is EXACTLY my impression. The Baby Einstein DVD’s are, at the very least, not really bad for my children. Not compared to a lot of other stuff out there. And there are other marketing pitches I have much greater problems with.
But should we all storm Moose A. Moose’s office because nick jr., nee Noggin, despite their cheery claims, is nothing “like preschool on TV”?

Can I take the Diaper Genie to court because I spent $109.99 on it and my baby’s room still stank?

Heaven knows parents are on the receiving end of more unnecessary but slickly marketed crap than any other consumer group. (If you want to read more about that, read Pamela Paul’s excellent book, Parenting, Inc.) But I think these experts are just being silly when they suggest Baby Einstein was somehow especially fraudulent.

In fact, I am going to go on record and say that “Baby Neptune” was THE BEST $12.99 I HAVE EVER SPENT. It’s old-school (on VHS) but I keep the old VCR around at my inlaws’ house just so I can pop it in when Maggie gets up way too early, due to being in a strange bed, just like she did this past Saturday morning. And when I took a nine-hour flight with all three of my children last year, I’m not sure we would have survived without “World Animals” on repeat. Have your kids watch TV, or not; but if they are going to watch TV, they could do a lot worse than Baby Einstein. My barely two-year-old watches “Ni Hao, Kai Lan!” on my bed while I get dressed in the mornings, and it makes me want to stab my eyes out. Her brothers prefer the ultra-violent and occasionally racist “Tom and Jerry,” and sometimes she manages to catch a few moments of that as well.

When my oldest was a baby, I didn’t know a mother who didn’t have a Baby Einstein video around, or a baby who didn’t enjoy them. I also didn’t know a single person who thought she was creating a future genius with these things. Whenever my kids watched one of these videos, I would be reminded of an avant-garde theater writer I studied in college named Antonin Artaud, who, in one of his texts, called for a beetle to lower itself onto the stage with “maddening, vomit-inducing slowness.” That was Baby Einstein’s pace: slow to the point of making you vomit. But my babies were transfixed. It’s the idea that we parents are idiots that this mother is finding maddening. And vomit-inducing.

is shouting the new spanking?

This morning in the NY Times, an article by Hilary Stout on the new parenting taboo: yelling at your kids. Sure, we all know better than to hit our kids. But how many of us mothers yell at them? Often? And might that not be nearly as bad?

I was interviewed for this article, after the reporter read my own confessions of having Lost It right here on this blog: after one particularly yell-y Martin Luther King Day weekend, and again last spring, when I attempted to give up yelling at my kids for Lent. I yelled less. I cannot say that I yelled none, and I hope the good Lord forgave me those few transgressions.

I am a yeller. Rare is the morning that I can get my three kids and me out the door by 8:00 a.m. without yelling at one of them, for having ignored me the first eighteen times I told him to put his shoes on. Or something like that. It feels great in the moment. Effective? Kind of. Especially after you’ve asked nicely eighteen times. But then I look at the clock, and think, oh great, I only made it until 7:21 today, and give myself another demerit on my internal mommy report card.

What I have found to be most useful (and acceptable) is to, when necessary, raise my voice WITHOUT anger. Like I’m talking to a cartoon granny with one of those old-fashioned ear horns. After saying “What do you want for breakfast, Seamus?” six or seven times without getting a reply, I might say very loudly, “SEAMUS, WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR BREAKFAST?” If I do it without blame or anger, just volume, he looks up and calmly says “Mighty Bites” and we can all move on. (That’s when things are hectic and I don’t have time to keep being ignored, or to spend the next fifteen minutes continuing to ask the same question in modulated tones.)

Anyway, it’s an interesting article, and raises some pertinent issues: what other disciplinary techniques do we have? Should we be troubled by our own yelling? Are there costs to our children for it?

There’s only one expert opinion that made me roll my eyes: according to Dr. Ronald P. Rohner, director of the Ronald and Nancy Rohner Center for the Study of Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection at the University of Connecticut, yelling “is a risk factor for families.” A risk for what, Dr. Rohner does not say, but I am fairly certain that the MALE Dr. Rohner never stayed home with three children under five. And so I would like to conclude by quoting me, Amy Wilson, director of the Amy Wilson Center for the Study of Whiny Children and Overtaxed Mothering at the University of My Apartment:

Do the best you can. If you yell at your kids, tell them you’re sorry and give them a hug. Then, try to do the best you can.

(photo taken from NYT article: Jamie Grill, Getty Images)

I cannot tell a lie

With the ongoing compression of our news cycle, I have already reached my limit on Balloon Boy before I even had a chance to post about it. I’m sure you have too, but if you haven’t watched the actual moment when wee Falcon Heene blows his parents’ cover on live television, it is really worth taking a look. Here’s a partial transcript:

DADDY HEENE: Falcon, did you hear us calling your name out at any time?
FALCON: Mm hmm.
MOMMY HEENE: (nodding frantically to elicit correct response) You did?
DADDY HEENE: Then why didn’t you come out?
FALCON: Um. You guys said… that… um… we did this for the show.

Daddy Heene craps his pants.


Even Wolf Blitzer isn’t sure what to say next.

I am very happy that I did not know about these events as they were unfolding, else I would have been glued to the television, sobbing for this terrified six year old boy and his terrified parents. But I have watched the CNN cover-blowing moment about eleventeen times. I love it because it’s so pure. A six year old is just not that good a liar, yet, and I can’t believe his parents didn’t factor that in to their maniacal schemes. Still, It’s not like Falcon tells the truth out of pure, youthful innocence. He gets this devilish smirk on his face first, like, I’m going to be a naughty boy now. Of course, by blowing the whistle on the whole shenanigans, he was just the opposite. After watching the look on Falcon’s face, you have to know this is a hoax, just because this kid is clearly not afraid of his parents at all, let alone afraid enough to hide from them in a crawl space for five hours.

I still don’t really get what Daddy Heene thought they were going to get out of this. If the balloon landed, his kid was hiding the whole time, and the setup was never revealed, was that somehow going to be some amazing event? Not really, right? It is the unraveling, the revelation of the hoax itself, that has kept us all watching.

Of course, the really childish one here is Daddy Heene, who thought he could cry wolf and get away with it. How fortuitous, then, that his son has already internalized the example of George Washington and the cherry tree: he could not tell a lie.

back to the ol’ typewriter

I am working on one more essay for my book, to replace my ruminations on Cookie magazine. I wrote most of that essay before the announcement that Cookie was going out of business, but while those thoughts are very pertinent at the moment, they will be ancient history by next spring.

So this week, I’m working on a chapter about “Mommy and Me” classes. I took Connor to eight different classes before he was two years old. Seamus, two or three. Maggie? Her babysitter takes her. I assume this is a quite ordinary progression for families with more than one children. But I am wondering if the “Mommy and Me” class landscape looms quite as large in places that are not New York City. Here, there are hundreds of offerings, many just a short walk from our door. Some are great, some are pretty lame. But what they all offer is an overpriced way for a mother and her baby to get out of their cramped, dark apartment for 45 minutes on a wintry Tuesday morning. Mothers in New York City go to tons of these classes with their babies, but we don’t have yards, or basements, or dedicated playrooms. (We eventually created a playroom in our apartment, but that meant giving up a den.) We don’t even have superstores to drive to and wander the aisles thereof. Mommy and Me classes are where we have to go.

So I’m wondering: where you live, are Mommy and Me classes popular? Do you go to them? Do you feel the pressure to sign up so that your baby can keep up with the rest? Do you love them or dread them?

change is bad

Today was another big day for Connor the Grader. Starting today, he will have to change out of his uniform each day and into his gym uniform for PE class. Yes, my son’s school has PE every day, and once his teacher has gotten 17 first graders down three flights of stairs, into the locker rooms to change, into gym class, back into the locker rooms, sorted out 17 identical white polo shirts and 34 white socks, and straggled them back up three flights of stairs, each day, I am not sure when she will be working in the whole teach them how to read part.

Connor has had PE every day so far this year, but this post-Columbus Day week is the first day he will have to actually change into his gym uniform. And this morning, he was a wreck.

CONNOR: I don’t want to GO. I don’t want to WEAR a gym uniform or even GO to gym or school. (sniff)

MOMMY: Why not?

CONNOR: Or karate. I never want to go to karate again.

MOMMY: Buddy. Why not?

CONNOR: Cause I don’t want to.


CONNOR: C-c-cause… (breaks down sobbing)

MOMMY: Sweetheart, you have to give me a reason besides you don’t want to go because you don’t want to go. Maybe there’s something I can help you with.

CONNOR: Just let me stay home.

MOMMY: Not an option.

At this point, Connor ran to his room and threw himself on his bed, sobbing that no one in our house understood him.

Am I in big trouble? Because he’s not even seven. What can I say? Transitions are very, very difficult for my sensitive oldest child, though this one seems a little ridiculous. If he were overweight, I could see some anxiety, but he’s as tall and bony as all the other boys in his class. I think he’s just anxious because he is a classic First Child. Which means, I guess, that it’s my fault.

I managed to calm him down on the bus to school, and by the time we got there he ran in with two pals without an apparent care in the world.

“Guess what, guys!” his teacher boomed as his little gang burst into the classroom. “I’ve moved your desks! Today, you’re all going to sit somewhere new!”

I look at Connor. His eyes widen in abject panic. Thanks a lot, Ms. B.