27 May 2011

Bad doggie treats

Everyone knows that positive behavior modification is the ideal method for motivating people and changing bad habits. The problem with this approach is that where children and annoying behavior are concerned, it’s more expedient, and satisfying to cut to the chase. If I say to Gabriel, “Stop X right now, or you will lose Y,” I have a roughly 50% success rate.

In the 50% of the time that this threat is ineffective, Gabriel loses a privilege, he often resorts to crying. And then I get angry that he can’t take responsibility for his actions, and tack a second day of privilege loss to the punishment, which makes him cry more. This is a masterful manipulation on his part; he is sensitive and empathic, and wears his emotions on his sleeve. Because he knows how he tugs on my heart strings, he goes for my emotional jugular. For years, we’ve been stuck in this vicious circle.

A few years ago, after we saw Dr Expensive, we instituted an elaborate positive behavior modification ticketing system. In hindsight, our system was ill designed, and generally a pain in the ass to administer, and within six months we let it fall by the wayside. Recently, Gabriel began clamoring for its return. I ignored this for a few weeks, until I realized that he was telling me he needed it. And so we re-instituted a new and improved system.

I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to explain to Gabriel that lying, and refusing to take responsibility for your actions is worse than the actions themselves, and only makes me angrier. With the new system, I began offering him a ticket to encourage him to fess up to his mistakes. It’s been working pretty well, and I was feeling very proud of both of us.

Recently I watched an episode of Modern Family in which a grocery clerk, played by Manuel Lin Miranda pitches a business proposition to the family patriarch, at the behest of his soft-hearted Latina trophy wife. His idea is a for behavior modification technique in which a dog receives a bacon flavored treat from the mouth end of a long dachshund shaped tube for good behavior, and a bland treat from the ass end for bad behavior. It was a spectacularly bad idea that backfired when the dog wound up preferring the bland treats.

Although it was very funny, as I watched, I had the uncomfortable realization that I HAVE BEEN GIVING MY SON BAD DOGGIE TREATS, and it was time to stop. And so I decided to just come down harder on his ass. As it turns out, since we are both a few years older and wiser, this also works pretty well.

18 May 2011



I like to wake at six o’clock, before my kids are up, so I can have quiet time with a cup of coffee and the news. If I only get halfway through the Daily Wrap before someone awakes, that constitutes a BAD NEWS DAY, which makes me very cross, because that is my only opportunity during the day to see what is going on in the world. And then I feel conflicted, because although I am happy to see my children, I can’t help but wish it was not quite yet.

Lately I’ve taken a harder line about their respecting my need for my quiet time. And though they try as best they can, of course they can’t, because they are children. So I close the computer, but can only pretend to listen, because my brain is shouting: SHUT THE FUCK UP*, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LET MOMMY READ THE NEWS, which of course I would never say.

At least, not yet.

A friend of mine told me that one of her most liberating parenting moments came when her children were teenagers, bickering in the back seat while she was driving. She turned to them and without malice, said, “Shut the fuck up.” And they did.

I can’t wait for that day.


During short trips around town, I keep the radio off, so I can talk with my kids. I am not very chatty, so mainly they talk, and I listen, and we have some of our nicest conversations this way, as I hear the news of their days, and their hopes and dreams.    

Sometimes, though, I just can’t concentrate on safely piloting the car while trying to answer vexing questions, like “What is the difference between a prostitute and a whore,”** “How do cats decide who to marry,” or, as Sacha is fond of asking, “What are we having for dinner tomorrow?”

At these times, I impose a talk amongst yourselves policy, but because the habit of car chatting is so ingrained, I find myself instinctutally answering questions, and then remembering that I told them not to talk to me. And so I cut myself off mid-sentence, and sternly say, “Please don’t talk to me, I am DRIVING!”

When they are older, I hope they do not hold this confusing mixed messaging against me.

*How I wish this book had been around when my children were younger.

**In an eerie self-fulfilling prophesy, I was recently asked this, several weeks after pondering this very question in this space.

14 May 2011

Love bites

Everyone knows that a penis is a boy’s best friend, and Sacha and his have always been extra-special close. Lately he’s discovered the art of self-massage; after a recent bath, I watched him in a trance, with a dollop of cream having a good go at himself.

On Friday afternoon I asked Sarah to get Sacha for changed for karate and she came running into the kitchen.


Sarah can be a bit alarmist, but when I looked at him, I couldn’t help but mutter, “Holy shit.”

His groin, penis and balls were covered in angry red hives. Sacha wasn’t complaining about it, and it was four o’clock on Friday, so there was no point in calling my pediatrician, but it looked really alarming nonetheless.

I used my complete lack of medical training deduce these were some kind of bug bites. We’ve had a minor epidemic lately, and both Sarah and I are spattered with welts.

But still, given that Sacha is a bit precocious where masturbation is concerned, has mildly sadomasochistic tendencies, and his penis looked like it’d been scrubbed with steel wool, I felt it was time to call in a medical professional. I have a friend who is a dermatologist and I knew she’d be seeing Sacha the following morning at karate. Because I am a sensitive wife, and  didn’t want to put David in the position of asking our friend cold if she could please examine our son’s balls, I sent her an email to give her a head’s up.

She confirmed my diagnosis, and advised that we treat the bites with antihistamine and cortisone. Just when I'd finally gotten to the point where I was completely out of the business of dealing with my son’s business, every evening, for medical reasons, I have to give him a genital massage. 

Two steps forward, one step back.

11 May 2011

On housework and its contents

I love to clean; I need to clean. Even being in someone else’s messy space makes me edgy. If you are my friend, and you keep a messy home, I do not love you any less, but know that while I am having a lovely time visiting with you, I am also fighting the urge to straighten up.

Recently I had a conversation with a woman who described herself as superficially neat. For a few days, that phrase sent me into a minor existential crisis, as I fretted about the possibility that I was actually a messy person in disguise, and have been living a lie. Eventually I talked myself off the ledge — my junk drawer is neat, for god’s sake, — and realized that even on a messy day, my home is tidy.

But, as neat as I am, I have a friend who is even neater. I’m in her house often, and I have never seen a single thing out of place. I am in awe of her; she has a job and a family, and yet, without daily domestic help, maintains a supremely pristine space. I am actually jealous of her basement, because although it is a completely ordinary unfinished space, it is as empty as the deep blue sea. She assures me that she has clutter, but she must keep it really well hidden, because I cannot detect any evidence of it. I really hope she shows it to me some day, because then I will be able to take her off her pedestal, and our relationship will reach a whole new level of intimacy. Until that day, I can not dare show her my basement, for fear she would loose all respect for me.

One of the best things I got out of writing boot camp was the realization of the extent to which I use housekeeping as an extremely effective form of procrastination, because unlike surfing the Internet, cleaning is PRODUCTIVE. My writing teacher told me I needed to get over my cleaning mania if I wanted to write. And although I knew it was true, it got my back up. This was not what she said, but what I heard was, “If you are to be a Serious Writer you must become messy,” which is tantamount to telling me I must have a sex change operation. As a result of boot camp, I am more relaxed about the state of affairs in the house, and (slightly) more comfortable letting things get a little seedy.

Today, I got around to cleaning the children’s bathroom. I was dreading it a little, as I rarely enter this space. I came, I saw, I conquered, and was left with just three disturbing questions:  
  • What the fuck was growing inside the electric toothbrush?
  • How long do they go between toilet flushes?
  • How long has the soap dispenser been empty?

In the interest of maintaining peace in the house, I shall file these under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

09 May 2011

Mind your money

In March, a friend who works in the television industry was contacted by a colleague looking for a third grade class to film a segment on kids and money for the Suze Orman show. My friend’s children attend the same school as mine, and Gabriel’s class was chosen to film the segment.

The first thing Gabriel said when he came home from school was, “Mama, Mama, I am going to be on TV!”

Because I am all about MANAGING EXPECTATIONS, and knowing he could end up on the cutting room floor, I replied, “You might be on TV.”

When I relayed this conversation to my friend, she said, “Don’t worry. I know your son; he will be on TV.” Still, I kept this information in my back pocket, because of the MANAGING EXPECTATIONS.

Gabriel’s classmates were asked to write short essays about money, and what they like to do with it, and sure enough, Gabriel was selected to be on the show. Before the day of filming, we got his hair cut, and chose a clean shirt for school.

Suze Orman airs on Saturday night at nine, and we set the DVR to record it, hoping to watch it on Sunday. 

Saturdays at nine is a sacred time in my household, when the new season of Doctor Who, which started only three weeks ago, airs.

We are embarrassingly serious about Doctor Who. There is a long gap between seasons, and the start of a new season is a time of much rejoicing. I actually blew off friends to whom I'd extended a dinner invitation, because I hadn’t realized the night I’d suggested was the SEASON PREMIERE.

As nine o’clock approached, Sarah, who is very into Doctor Who herself, lobbied hard to watch Suze Orman, and although David and I really, really, really would have preferred Doctor Who, given the choice between family and our favorite television show, we did the right thing.

I had never seen the Suze Orman show; until that night, I didn’t even know her name is pronounced Susie, not Sooz, which make more sense phonetically. I felt a little conflicted about her, as I found her both extremely annoying, and thus hard to take, but also, a hard-assed straight shooting bitch, which I respect. In the end, annoying won out: she’s very shouty, and kept referring to Mother’s Day as “Mommy’s Day.” It was painful to watch in real time, and the show is an hour long, but we persevered, for Gabriel.

Sarah didn’t much care for the show either:

“I don’t like her hair.”
“Her teeth scare me.”
“She looks like she should have wrinkles, but she doesn’t”
“She’s not a mother, is she?”
“Maybe she’s a lesbian.”

Just as we were about switch to Doctor Who, we saw the preview for Gabriel’s segment, featuring GABRIEL. By this point, Gabriel had grown so bored that he had passed out on the couch, but the rest of us were rewarded with five minutes during which I nearly DIED of adorableness, as we watched Gabriel and his classmates speak bluntly about money.


And while I was irritated that a woman who pronounces her name in a manner defying phonetic norms could not correctly pronounce Macaluso, I am grateful to her nonetheless, for allowing me to see my gorgeous, disarming, good-natured, delightful son display his charms on national television.

It was a pretty great Mother’s Day present.


06 May 2011

Basketball jones

Sacha has always been obsessed with basketball.

It began when he was barely walking, and I asked him to put his dirty diaper in the trash. As he threw it in, I said, “He shoots, he scores!”, and unknowingly unleashed an enduring passion. From that day forward, every diaper change became a basketball game.

The the height of the hoop continues to progress as he grows; he went from one suitable for crawlers, then toddlers, and now he insists on a full-sized backboard. Like a bloodhound, he sniffs out backboards, and begs to be hoisted up to take shots. When he became too big for me to hold over head, he would seek out any available adult, stranger or not, and demand to climb on their shoulders. If we are out for a walk and we pass a pick-up game, we must stop to watch. When he gets home from school, he drops his backpack and heads straight to the our disgusting basement, to work on his game. David regularly takes him to the Y to shoot hoops.

This is especially funny because mine is not a sports loving family. My father is something of a sports neanderthal, and one of the things that attracted me to David was his complete lack of interest in organized sports.

I find baseball dull, and although I pretend to watch the Super Bowl in an attempt to conform to social norms, I find football brutal and clumsy. But of all sports, I’ve always felt basketball has the most potential; it is fast paced and graceful, and I can appreciate it as an art form, even if I had no interest in watching an actual game.

When he was younger I used to DVR games for Sacha to watch when I needed to keep him occupied, and because he was unaware of the larger world, he had no idea that by the time he watched them, the games were ancient history.

This sort of thing will no longer do, because this year we introduced him to March Madness. I used it as a very effective behavior modification tool while getting him ready for bed, when he is generally batshit crazy. At first, I would sit with him, reading while he watched, but he would climb into my lap, making reading impossible, and then I had no choice but to watch the game. By the end of the series, our entire family was gathering to watch the games, and I found myself beginning to look forward to this ritual.  

From the Final Four, we quickly proceeded to the NBA playoffs, and somewhere along the line, I I found myself watching the Knicks versus the Celtics, not just as an opportunity to spend time with my son, but as a pleasure in and of itself. I started off simply appreciating the mechanics of the game — how can one be unmoved by a basketball player’s balletic form, the beauty of their arms — but not really caring who won. By the end of the play-offs though, I was heavily invested in the Knicks.

Although these things are elementary, here are a few of the things I now understand:
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • A’mare Stoudemayer
  • give and go
  • fast break
  • back court vs front court
  • center line, free throw lane, 3-point line
  • shot clock
  • bank shot
  • offensive vs defensive rebound
  • feint
  • field goal vs free throw
  • the distinction between one, two and three-point shots
  • flagrant vs offensive vs personal foul
  • floor violation
  • running out the clock

Then there are the things I know about, but haven’t quite figured out. I know that a team consists of a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center, but cannot yet recognize which player plays which position. I know there are different strategies, such as man-to-man defense, low percentage shots, keepaway games, and full-court press.

In short, I am beginning to know what I am talking about. Before the end of the series, I found myself two doors down at my sports loving neighbor’s house, talking about Friday night’s game, and anticipating what I was feared would be the final game of the series on Sunday afternoon. When David came in from a day of gardening, I brought us each a beer, and we sat down by ourselves, to watch the game. 
The second half was tense and exciting, and by the end of the third quarter the Knicks were only down by ten points, and I could  feel the energy on the court palpably shifting, as the Celtics began getting sloppy and the Knicks hungry with the possibility that the could actually win the game, and thus, prolong the series. When David left for the market, in the fourth quarter, I found formerly sports indifferent self on the edge of my seat, excitedly texting him updates.

What started as a labor of love is quickly becoming a passion of my own. I find myself looking forward to next season, and feeling a bit sad that we cannot afford the even the cheap seats for a family of five. But I’ve made a promise to myself that someday, we will take Sacha myself to a Knicks game, and I will thoroughly enjoy watching him (hopefully just metaphorically) pee himself with excitement.

02 May 2011

Jack is a dull boy

Saturday afternoon Sarah got together with her two closest friends, whom she has known since birth. While I am not generally nostalgic, the sight of these three — now on the cusp of adolescence — whose diapers I changed, and whose mothers are two of my closest friends, has the power to turn me into a bawling idiot. I control myself, but inside, I am carrying on like a drunk, to the strains of Sunrise, Sunset: “OH MY GOD, YOU ARE ALL SO BEAUTIFUL, I LOVE YOU ALL SO, AND WHEN DID YOU GET SO GROWN UP, AND I CAN’T WAIT TO DANCE AT YOUR WEDDING.”

They wanted to walk to Applegate Farms, and I asked if I could join them. I didn’t want ice cream, as much as the privilege of trailing behind them and admiring their beauty. Two weeks ago they got together to celebrate on of their birthdays with manicures and a sleepover. As we walked home, I complemented their manicures, which I noted, have held up remarkably well. There was much agreement about how their technicians had done exceedingly good work. And while I’m sure the technicians were highly competent, I did refrain from pointing out that the fact that none of them are regularly washing dishes and scrubbing toilets may also have something to do with it.  

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in every well run household, you will find a woman in charge. Although he is loathe to admit it, in our house, I am the CEO, David the CFO.* This model works very well, as am controlling by nature.** I love bossing people around, am very good at it, and will never tire of it.

Sacha was recently invited to a birthday party by one of his classmates from the DLC at Eagle Rock bowling lanes. That place is insane on a calm day, but it seemed like an exceedingly bad choice for a bunch of hyperactive five year-old boys, and the last place I wanted to be on a Sunday afternoon. And so David didn't so much draw the short straw as get it handed to him. Rank has it’s privileges.

* Gabriel recently said to me: “When I am married, I will let the girl decide, and we will be happy.” He is a wise child, and will make an excellent husband.

**Coincidence would have it that I gave birth to a daughter who is just as, if not more controlling than me, which should make for an interesting next few years. We get the child we deserve, and my comeuppance is right around the corner.