a new approach for the peace process

A friend of mine had the chance to meet former Prime Minister Tony Blair last week, just after he visited the UN and witnessed the latest failed attempts at a Palestinian/Israeli peace. “They’ll never work that out,” Blair told my friend, shaking his head sadly, and who could disagree with him? When two factions have been at war for that long, what could ever make them sit down peaceably and agree?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the answer: Animal Jam.

My two boys give Cain and Abel a run for their money. They can’t be in the same room for ten seconds without bloodshed. Then, just last night before bedtime, I happen upon this happy scene:

CONNOR: Ooh, Seamus, your igloo looks good.
SEAMUS: Thanks. I got the fuzzy dice with my boogie points.
CONNOR: Boogie points! Luh-cky!
SEAMUS: Oh, would you like to know how to get boogie points? You just have to go under the volcano and follow the green path. Here, join me on the Ice Cube server, I’ll show you.
CONNOR: Gee, thanks, Seamus!

While they have nothing but the utmost contempt for each other in the real world, in the virtual world, my boys are the best of friends. As long as they are interacting in a Second-Life environment of fluffy friends and gentle climate change reminders, they get along great.

This is fantastic. It’s also a little weird, like when Itchy and Scratchy had their “Porch Pals” episode and sat in their rocking chairs and had lemonade. In this equation I’m Bart Simpson, sitting in front of the television, wondering what the heck happened. (I’m on my iPad and can’t embed the Itchy and Scratchy video right now, but you can watch it here, and it’s worth the click for the perfection of the imagery).

After a while, I got too freaked out by the lovey-dovey stuff and told the boys it was time for bed. “But we’re playing tic-tac-toe!” they wailed.

I wanted to point out that they could just turn around, and make eye contact, and play Tic-Tac-Toe on a piece of PAPER. But who’m I kidding? There’d be screaming within seconds. I’m enjoying the peace that Animal Jam has brought my household far too much to poke holes in it. If we could just have gotten a few more UN translators on the Ice Cube server last week, they might have gotten something done after all.

why I do not know how to tie my shoes.

I carry a few secrets around with me, sources of deep shame. Don’t we all?

Okay, I’ll go first.

I can’t really drink out of water fountains. Whenever I do, I get water all over my entire lower face. I can really only attempt it if I’m wearing long sleeves, so that I can use up one (or both) of them to mop up before I return to a fully upright position.

And I don’t know how to tie shoes correctly.

I’m not sure why this is– I think I was under deadline to learn over Labor Day Weekend, before first grade started and I’d be on my own with my imitation Docksiders (speaking of sources of deep shame). And so my dad taught me this sort of placeholder method that was a lot easier to teach me at the time. I think he figured he’d teach me the “real way” later. And then siblings 3, 4, 5, and 6 were born.

Most people, in my history of observing people tie shoes, use the method detailed here- let’s call it the ehow method. The first half of the method, making the “X” out of the two long shoelaces and pulling it tight, is how I do it too (let’s assume that that’s universal). But then, here is the norm from which I deviate:

  • Fold one shoelace in half while holding laces taut.
  • Wrap the other end around the folded end.

  • Grasp it in the middle after pulling it around the folded end.
  • Bend it into a flat loop and pull through, making a bow.
Totally lost. I’m totally lost! No idea ehow to do that. When I was six, I learned this gentler method:
  • Make two bunny ears.
  • X the bunny ears.
  • Put a bunny ear through the hole.
  • Pull.
I’m going to call this the Wondertime method, since I’ve just discovered it’s what they espouse as a teaching method. And yes, it does get the job done, kind of.
The problem is that the two-bunny-eared Wondertime Method is much more prone to unraveling — yes, even when a double two bunny knot is employed– than the one-bunny-eared Ehow Method.
Since 1995, my husband has been promising me to teach me how to tie my shoes correctly “this weekend.” We’ve never gotten around to it. We have similarly sworn since 2002 that when the time came to teach our children how to tie shoes, Daddy would have to take the lead.
We delayed that day for quite some time (thank you, Velcro Skechers!) but apparently Velcro sneakers are a sure sign of a mama’s boy, and so both my boys chose lace-up sneakers to change into for daily PE this fall. Right around when my husband started a new job and fell off the parenting radar screen entirely.
And so this week, both my boys have learned the two-bunny-eared method. I’ve been telling them Daddy will show them the real drill one of these days. Maybe before they leave for college. Either that or ehow can teach ’em.
Any other two-bunny-eared folks out there? Make me feel better about myself.



I Don’t Know How She Does It: my review

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of I Don’t Know How She Does It, hosted by the Moms and the City  and including a post-screening discussion with Sarah Jessica Parker herself. I can report that La SJP is just as absolutely gorgeous and adorable and self-deprecating in person as you might expect; that she really does seem like a cool and normal mom; and that this particular audience of cool and normal moms squealed like teenyboppers when she first walked in. It was like a private audience with Cinderella in her castle at Disney World.

What started as a typical Q&A (“So how DO you do it, Sarah Jessica?”) became more of a group discussion after SJP suggested she’d prefer that to the thousandth interview in which she gave the same somewhat rehearsed answers. She put down her mike and asked the audience what WE wanted to say, and it was an interesting and exhilarating and challenging conversation. Which was great, because I am sorry to say, the movie was none of those things.

I Don’t Know How She Does It shows a mother walking her daily tightrope, and heaven knows we all have some stories that would curl moviegoers’ hair. But in this film, there are no consequences for adorably haphazard parenting.

  • Kate has to bring a store-bought pie to the school’s bake sale in the opening sequence. The horror! The horror! And then… nobody notices or says anything.
  • Kate finds out she has lice just before a big business meeting! And then… the client doesn’t notice, she gets it all combed out in the next scene, and it’s never mentioned again.
  • Kate turns off her Blackberry and misses several frantic calls from her husband that their 2 year old is in the emergency room! And then… he bumped his head but he’s fine. And it’s never mentioned again.

That’s pretty much the movie. I could go on, but it’s boring, and that’s my point. Worst of all, I think it sets mothers back. I’m thrilled to see a movie about motherhood that says it’s going to tell the truth. But when it pulls its punches, it makes us look like we’re all a bunch of addled overthinkers, making up our own problems because we have no real ones. And the thorny conclusion, which seems to suggest that women really can’t ever put their careers first, will probably raise some hackles.

I loved the novel on which this film was based; it was hilarious in an ouch-too-true way, and it has a dry British sense of humor that was lost in translation, and in wondering how that happened, I’m inspired to pick it up again. But I don’t think this movie goes at all far enough in raising the issues that today’s mothers have, and want to talk about. There’s an intended irony in the title: she’s NOT doing it, of course, she’s barely getting by, she only looks perfect from the outside. Inside she’s a mess. But this movie makes it all look way too easy. You do know how she does it, and heck, it’s not even that hard.

In her review of NBC’s “Up All Night” in yesterday’s New York Times, Alessandra Stanley seemed similarly frustrated that it didn’t go far enough either:

“Up All Night” takes three of the funniest actors working on the small screen and ties their hands while asking them to send up child rearing, which, as most mothers know, is as dangerous and scary as racecar driving, only you never actually get anywhere….the show has to get over its fear of offending. Infants don’t break that easily, and neither do comedies written at their expense.

If you’ve seen either I Don’t Know How She Does It or Up All Night, I’m curious what you think. Do you feel it reflected your life accurately? Can it? Should it? Would it be funny if it did?

are men more prone to inertia than women?

My husband broke his little toe a month ago. It would seem. On my daughter’s shin. (I don’t get it either.)

For a month, he has been hobbling around and literally tearing up every time one of us bumps his foot.

“Maybe you should put some shoes on,” I say.

“It hurts when I have shoes on,” he responds.

This is when I say that he should go see a doctor because it’s probably broken.

“I know,” he says.

And then he does not go.

This reminds the drama major in me of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot, in which two men wait for someone to arrive (who never does) and then decide they should stop waiting and leave (but do not). Here’s the big finish:

ESTRAGON:Well, shall we go?

VLADIMIR:Yes, let’s go.

They do not move.


I never fully appreciated this play’s greatness as a single woman. Now I think Beckett captured the very essence of a man’s existence: talking a lot about something, I mean a LOT, but not doing anything about it.

And they start young. We were cleaning out our minivan last weekend (six inches of rain will eventually make you that desperate). I climbed into the third row, where I never venture, and found Seamus’s booster seat armrests covered in a sticky brown goo of dubious provenance.

MOMMY: Boys! It’s disgusting back here!

CONNOR: I know! It’s so gross!

MOMMY: Seamus! How can you sit in this seat?

Seamus shrugs.

SEAMUS: I don’t weally think about it. As long as I don’t wook down.

Men will go to great lengths to avoid dealing with the unpleasant. I read somewhere about a guy who, rather than changing the toilet paper roll in his bathroom, would go for the extra roll under the toilet paper cozy. His wife only discovered his perfidy when the cozy sort of collapsed for lack of toilet tissue support from beneath. “Is he seriously that lazy?” this man’s wife mused. Yes ma’am.

My closing argument: a male friend of mine, during his off-campus college days, lived in a house full of guys. Their kitchen became so funky and disgusting to behold that after winter break, they NAILED PLYWOOD OVER THE DOOR. They chose not having a kitchen for the rest of the year over cleaning it.

And so I have come to believe that the male propensity for inertia is much greater than the female. I’m currently seeking a major university grant to study this topic more fully. (That will be a lot easier to achieve than getting my husband to the doctor for his month-old broken toe.)

Do you have any empirical evidence of your own to contribute, about the relative inertia of the men in your life?

The Fresh Air Fund: our first time hosting. Definitely not our last.

Happy Labor Day, and happy one-week-until-school-starts in New York City. I have totally bittersweet feelings about this. For us, the end of summer is a more drastic change than most, since pack up the backyard blissdom where we have spent July and August and make the trek back to our city apartment.

When people hear that we raise three kids in the city, they often ask me how big our apartment is. To which I always say: it’s kind of big for an apartment. But it’s pretty small for a house. And my kids can’t run because we have downstairs neighbors. And they can’t go outside unless I go with them. And we all get a lot less fresh air than we spent the summer getting used to.

Which is why our family has been a longtime supporter of The Fresh Air Fund, which gives inner-city kids the chance for a real summer vacation, one with crickets and s’mores and running through sprinklers. A vacation where you can go outside whenever you want- and find grass just outside your door.

This summer, we took it a step further: we hosted a Fresh Air Fund guest at our home for a week. Nothing went according to plan. And it was awesome.

When we picked up Marques last week, Hurricane Irene was bearing down on New York City and Long Island. So we headed west instead to my in-laws’ home, where we spent our first four “Fresh Air” days (two of them in the pouring rain). Then we headed back to Manhattan, sure that the power would be back on for Long Island at any moment. Uh ha ha ha ha. We ended up spending three days in our New York City apartment with our guest– not exactly the wide open spaces the Fresh Air Fund touts. Marques went back home without ever having gotten to the beach. (Too many downed power lines– our electricity never did come back on).

But we road tripped to greener pastures to swim, and play wiffle ball, and enjoy mid-afternoon ice cream sandwiches just because. Our friend enjoyed lots of firsts: ping pong, diving boards, bunk beds, life with three “siblings.” And when it rained, we had a dance party in my in-laws’ basement and Marques taught us all some “Billie Jean” choreography (he has some major moves).

What I never could have predicted is that I didn’t have to worry: Marques loved it all. The other thing I never expected was that life would be easier for me,and more fun for my kids, with him around. Marques made everything fun. He declared everything “the best ever.” We parted with big smiles (his) and tears (mine) and a solemn promise: to get our toes in the sand next year.

If you have a house with a backyard, and a little extra room at your dinner table,  you can really show a Fresh Air Fund kid the time of his life. You don’t have to have a pool or beach access or live in the Taj Mahal. Wherever you live, you and your kids will probably have renewed awe of just how fortunate you really are. We’re so glad we had the experience. If you’ve ever given the Fresh Air Fund some thought- go for it.

Back to the wise-assin’ tomorrow. It’s a new school year! My pencils are sharpened!