Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Great Debate

How many times have I heard a mom tell me, unsolicited, that they never thought they would drive a minivan and they can't believe they are driving one now? I pretty much hear it from every minivan driver I know and that statement is then usually followed by a list of justifications, again unsolicited, on why they "had to go with the minivan". I sat at dinner one night with a table full of moms and watched three different minivan drivers defend and justify adamantly why they drive a minivan. They were so heated in their defense to each other that an outsider would have thought a debate was going on, but they were all on the same side. And I noticed that the rest of us at the table who drive SUVs sat quietly. None of us were attacking them for their minivan choice. We never entered the conversation or the debate. But for some reason, they still felt the need to list all of the reasons why the minivan "just makes more sense".

The minivan can be a good option for families, but let's clear up a misconception: getting a minivan is NOT a rite of passage as a mother. Moms have told me that they now have to drive a minivan because they have kids. But, you don't have to drive a minivan if you don't want to. It is just one of several options out there on the market. Yes, minivans provide a lot of interior room and extra seating and someone once defended the minivan as "at the intersection of cost and space"; you get a lot of car for the money. These all seem like fine reasons to choose this type of car, but I don't need to hear your reasons. I'm not sitting in my SUV judging you for being in a minivan. And I guess if you are judging me for driving my SUV, I just don't care enough. Do minivan drivers ever notice that you don't hear SUV drivers defending their choice in car?

If you want me to defend my choice to drive an SUV, I can, but the reasons I drive my car also make me happy. I love my car; I just do. My car, or "truck" as some would call it because of its off-road abilities, is fun to drive, its comfortable, and I think its cool. I've been driving my particular make of SUV since before I had kids and it has always met my needs for hiking, skiing, and toting my dog around. When I did have kids, I upgraded to a newer model for better safety features and a couple extra seats, but it is still basically the same vehicle. And although, the most off-roading my car now sees is occasionally parking in a soccer field, it still meets my needs and I still love it. No, the doors don't magically open and close on their own and there's no aisle to walk through the car from front to back; if you are in the third row, you're pretty much stuck there. And yes, sometimes I find myself standing on my head cursing trying to get the third row of seats folded up or down, but these are all things that I gladly accept.

So, minivan drivers out there, please stop defending yourselves. If you feel like you were forced into getting a minivan, I'm sorry, that's not fair. And, I don't know who would do that to you. Honestly, some of the stories I've heard are horrible: tears on the way to the dealer to get the minivan, etc. How does that happen? Did someone take you to the dealer at gun-point? Two of my friends who feel they were "never really minivan drivers" have recently traded their minivans in for SUVs, so it can be done. If you feel upset or embarrassed to be driving a minivan, then don't. If you do like your mini-van, that's great, don't defend yourself. You should like your car; as a mom you spend a lot of time in it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summers End

The gradual shortening of the days with the earlier arrival of dusk snuck up on me. I knew it was coming, summer comes to an end every year, but I was having so much fun I didn't realize how the time had flown by. I went out for an early evening run like I've done so many times this summer and found myself struggling to see in the dark on my way home. This cue made me realize I need to change modes soon and get back into my over-scheduled, back to school, back to activities mode. Am I ready?

Summer is hard to say good-bye to. And this summer has been one of the best summers I've had in a long time. I spent years transplanted on the West Coast craving a real summer only to be disappointed by San Francisco's cold fog. Then we moved back to the East Coast and I spent several consecutive summers dealing with chaotic home renovations and babies. Being a Stay-At-Home Mom allows for a lot of freedom to enjoy the summer, but infants and babies do not make for an enjoyable time with the sun, heat, and water dangers. Summers are so much better when those babies become kids. I've seen the light at the end of the tunnel and it is sunny and bright. My kids were a dream this summer. They traveled well, they played on the beach and swam in the water without eating sand or drowning, and they managed to entertain each other on all of those rainy days the East Coast saw this year.

Summer has been good to me, so I hate to say this, but now that we're at summer's end, I think I'm getting sick of summer. Sitting by the pool or on the beach in June felt relaxing, now its starting to feel boring. I could use a break from smelling like Coppertone. I'm sick of being coated in a constant film of greasy sunscreen and I'm weary of the multiple reapplications I do on my kids everyday. I'm also growing tired of the post beach and pool routine; the rinsing off and washing out of things only for everything to be used again the following day. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm ready to trade this in for rinsing out and re-preparing lunchboxes everyday. I've enjoyed our relaxed meal schedule and dining alfresco, but I'm over the novelty of having the house opened up to the outdoors since my kids have now dragged much of the outdoors inside on their feet. And most of all, I'm sick of finding sand EVERYWHERE.

I've enjoyed this summer but, I am ready for a change. Even if that change brings me back into the hectic school year schedule. I'm ready to come back from the beach that final time until Memorial Day - back to school, back to church, back to our regular life. I'm looking forward to having to set an alarm clock and having to be somewhere again. I'm looking forward to getting dressed in real clothes, not just swim suits and running skirts; to trade in my flip-flops for Uggs. And I'm ready to start really combing my hair again; its time. The "beach hair" look is getting old. The thing is, I think I love summer so much because it doesn't last forever. I need it to end. For me its vacation mode and its wonderful, but to really appreciate how great that can be, I need the rest of the year too. I need that over committed sometimes stressful school year to really enjoy the relaxed pace of summer. As much as I am now looking forward to fall, the restart of school and committee work, the smell of a wood burning fire and football games; I'm sure by February I will be counting the days until spring. That's the beauty of seasons. I know I couldn't live anywhere without them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Left Out

I'm feeling a little left out. Everyone seems to have a tattoo and I don't have any ink. I'm not going to run out and get a tattoo because its not that I really want one, but I didn't realize how mainstream they have become. They aren't just for bad-ass bikers and sailors anymore. But I'm confused because studies done recently show that tattoo removal is actually on the rise because of the social stigma associated with tattoos. Interestingly enough, the word "stigma" actually means "tattoo" in other languages. But despite these studies, everywhere I look there seems to be a tattoo in plain view. Is there really still a stigma attached to tattoos or has that changed? And if there is a stigma, what is it? Maybe its not such a negative thing any longer to be a "bad-ass".

I was at Sesame Place with my kids at the beginning of the summer when I first started to notice the heavy prevalence of ink in our society. It seemed that everyone over the age of 18 had a tattoo in the park except for me. While we were waiting in line I had some time to study the tattoos of the group in front of us. The women all had matching "anklets" of jumping dolphins and various other hearts and flowers on their backs and shoulders. The man in the group had a showcase across his upper body. Did these tattoos influence my perception of this group of people I didn't know? Maybe. If nothing else, the tattoos gave me some information that this group didn't have about me. By the time it was our turn to get our photo with Cookie Monster, I at the very least knew all of their kids' names, their taste in music, and that someone had died because this was all incorporated into the man's "sleeves".

Maybe tattoos are just so common today that there can't be a stigma attached any longer. Maybe they can really just be seen as self-expression or art? But the term "tramp stamp" still pops into my head when I see a lower back tattoo (I can't help it, I've heard it too many times). And so I was a little shocked this summer when I showed up for the first time to swim at our Country Club. There was a lot of ink floating around the pool, including lower back tattoos. I was by no means offended, but I guess I just wasn't expecting them in such a "blue-blooded" crowd. I don't have a good reason why, but it just seems out of place. One lady in particular comes to the pool regularly fully "blinged" out in gold and diamonds. But she also has an ankle tat and another on her hip. Did my perception of her change when I saw her tattoos? Sure, I think so. There was suddenly more to her story for me; she became a little more edgy than just a pretty mom with some nice jewelry.

My kids think temporary tattoos are cool. Every kid loves temporary tattoos and my kids are sporting a new Transformer or Star Wars tattoo every couple of days. But my kids are also eerily drawn to Ed Hardy designs too, without even knowing that they are based on actual tattoo art. If my kids were picking out my clothes, I would be wearing my skull and broken heart Christian Audigier t-shirt every day. There are lots of tattoo inspired graphic t-shirts in stores now and my kids never fail to find them and insist that I add them to my wardrobe. Target even has a line of Ed Hardy designs back to school supplies and this is what my children run to - not the toys in the next isle. No, my kids would rather look at a mouse-pad with a "Death to Love" inscription across a broken heart. Designers and marketers have definitely decided that tattoos are mainstream.

Will I support my own children if they decide they want to get a tattoo someday? I'm still not sure I'm in. But, I'm not sure I have much of a case against it. There are a few moms in our crowd that have small ankle tattoos and I can hardly say that has any bearing on their character. My sister-in-law, who is also "tat-less" and I were discussing tattoos as she was applying a Henna tattoo on my ankle last week; a "girls' evening" activity chosen by my preteen niece. She likes the idea of tattoos as a form of self-expression, but she made a good point: she changes her mind too often to ever be happy with a design she might chose. Tattoos might be a little too permanent for me as well. I think my husband is very thankful that I talked him out of a Tasmanian Devil tattoo in high school and a fraternity inspired Rampant Lion in college. Stigma or not, these images just don't fit in with his image today. I'm going to stick with my Henna and avoid any permanence. And for now, my kids will have to be content with changing up their temporary tattoos as well. Maybe by the time they are old enough, I will have built a better case against getting engraved.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Land of Tweens

I've just returned from a house with "tweens" and I am finding new happiness in the big issues my kids are facing at ages 5 and 3. Let's just say I am no longer annoyed with dealing with potty training or temper tantrums. I don't mind that my 3 year old speaks broken English and my 5 year old doesn't always conjugate his verbs correctly. And I have a new appreciation when I hear that both my kids think I am the prettiest girl in the world and want to marry me when they grow up. What lies ahead in the Land of Tweens is so much harder to deal with.

We just got back from visiting my husband's sister and her family in California. We spent a good deal of time with our niece, who is almost 12, and our 9 year old nephew. The language of a tween is somewhat funny, but after a few days I was wanting to lock my kids in a closet until they are 20. My nephew was constantly referring to his "mad skills" for everything he was doing, which was either playing a video game or bouncing / throwing / kicking a ball in the house. And when he wasn't cheering about his own "skilleage", he was shouting about how "awesome" everything else was. My niece overused the word "dude" and that is an understatement. And, it seems she has a different dialect from her brother where every sentence must start with either "Oh my God" or "like"; and sometimes with both. Every sentence out of her mouth was said with a certain fast tempo and intonation made famous in 1983 somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. I had to keep reminding myself that it is in fact 2009 and we were actually in Northern California, not Southern California.

But the trouble with tweens does not stop with the language barrier. No, there are many other reasons to want this transition phase to be far, far away or maybe even nonexistent. Over dinner without the kids, my sister-in-law filled me in on what is stressing her lately. Apparently she is now dealing with her tweenage girl at parties playing "Truth or Dare" and wanting to pair up to go to the movies without adult supervision. So far, my sister-in-law has been keeping a short leash on her daughter. At first I kind of laughed to myself that my sister-in-law was overreacting. Who hasn't played "Truth or Dare" or some version of "Spin the Bottle" in middle school? I know I was going to parties and the movies with boys in middle school and it was all innocent stuff.

But then my sister-in-law filled me in on the "Lipstick Party". If you don't know what this is, stop now and go look it up. I don't want to be the one to break the news to you of what is to come for your kids when they are the tender age of 11, but needless to say it is a little more advanced than what I was expecting for this age group. Oprah exposed Lipstick Parties, also known as "Rainbow Parties" awhile back, but I missed that show. And since I never went to a party when I was 11 where boys were collecting lipstick marks on a certain part of their anatomy, this bit of information was a little startling to me. And no, it is not a myth. My sister-in-law does not watch Oprah either and she was well versed on this topic. I actually consider my sister-in-law to be pretty socially naive, so I fully believe that if she is aware of this, it is happening.

So with that shocking lesson on what today's tweens are up to, I left dinner that evening wanting to go home and freeze my kids at the age they are now - forget just putting them in a closet until they are past their teens. I am so not ready for this. And how terrifying to think that my son will be 6 soon. I only have 5 more years to try to figure this all out. And I should probably be prepared well before then. So, as I keep this troubling revelation on the back burner to simmer, I am going to embrace my 5 year old's afternoon meltdowns when he needs a nap and lack of independence with brushing his teeth or combing his hair. He cannot grow up slow enough.