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How To Build A Better Parent

No one likes to be told what to do. (Just ask a toddler if you don’t believe me.) But that hasn’t stopped anyone and everyone from proclaiming that you are not raising your children in the correct manner. There are books which chastise you for not being more French or feline. Newsstands are chock full of glossy instructional manuals. There was a time when parenting articles were bundled with home economics and fashion articles in ladies’ magazines. That will no longer do. The magazine industry (in all its floundering glory) has produced copious parenting titles. One needn’t purchase a magazine or book however; simply turn on the computer and enter the blogosphere/chat rooms/message boards that long to be heard.

Of course many of these sites are less interested in telling you what to do and much more concerned with daily affirmation. Are you having some doubt about sleeping in the same bed as your baby? Fear not, there are thousands of people out there poised to support your decision. Does using a pacifier make you feel less than? Give it 10 seconds, and someone will vote you virtual mother of the year.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of noise out there. There are as many people lining up to cut you down, as there are to boost you up. Parenting is a lonely job. There is no boss to hand out an “atta girl” there are no annual reviews or even colleagues. There are hundreds of tiny (and not so tiny) decisions you must make at all times. A little person, even a verbal little person, cannot offer much feedback as to how you’re doing. It takes a village just to quell the loneliness. So naturally, we’re disposed to hearing the chatter (by the end of the day the chatter of adults sounds like a freaking symphony to our ears!) But if there’s any danger in our weakened state, it is that we often only hear what we want to hear. If we are sleep deprived (and shower deprived) and are still being woken up every 3-4 hours by a three month old, we want to hear that we are and will be okay. We probably do not want to hear that we have to let the baby learn to self-comfort. We can’t bear the idea of listening to the baby cry itself back to sleep once let alone every night for a week. Just tell us that we’ll live through this. Well, you will, of course you will, but parenting isn’t really about our survival it’s about helping children grown into healthy, happy, strong adults. However it’s easy to lose sight of that when you haven’t slept for three months.

Put a post-it-note on your computer for when you find yourself shopping online for a perfect parenting book or trolling chat rooms at 2:00 AM. Have the note simply state: “I know what I’m doing” then in tiny script just below “see print-out.” See print-out?

Print-Out:

How To Build A Happy, Healthy, Strong Person

  • Adults are in charge – Flight attendants instruct adults to place the oxygen mask on their own face first for a reason
    • A fulfilling life of your own, outside of your parenting responsibilities is key to allowing your child to grow and to modeling the appeal of growing
    • Adult activities (working, fitness, classes, socializing, dining, bar hopping) should not include children
  • Do only what is necessary for your child
    • A preschooler can pick up his/her own toys. Once children reach school age he/she can make their own breakfast and get dressed. A middle-schooler can do his/her own laundry and cook one night a week. And so on
    • Competence is the primary ingredient in self-esteem
  • Redefine “every advantage”
    • Don’t give your child what you didn’t have, give them what they need
    • Money & stuff is never helpful, life skills and a moral compass are

 

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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It’s A Mall World After All

American chain stores are learning to ship internationally, and the world breathes a collective sigh of relief.  No longer will Parisians suffer the indignities of a couture wardrobe devoid of an Ann Taylor blazer.  The days of British men muddling through with authentic country apparel are almost over, J.Crew will be just a click away.  And the Italians?  Their long suffering over hand-blown Venetian glass is screeching to a halt; Crate & Barrel is coming to the rescue.

Hey, I’m all for an accessible and enjoyable shopping experience.  I love a good basic (in the form of ceramics or T-shirt) as much as the next gal.  But it strikes me as just a bit odd that we are exporting our chain stores to the most artistic and (at times) stylish parts of the world.  (By “most artistic” I don’t mean to suggest that other nations have a lock on talent, but they do have a culture of supporting the growth and success of artists.)

It took me a couple of years to understand the British love affair with the Gap.  They see it as a mid-scale product, where as we see it as a place to periodically peruse the racks jammed with markdowns ending in $.98.  But what the Gap lacks in ingenuity it makes up for in their branding of themselves as “American.”  Foreignness can be fun; in food and fashion.  Coveting a look for its “otherness” is certainly understandable.  But coveting goods which are unrecognizable as “American” is a bit confusing.  Many of the chain stores reformulating their software to accommodate international shipping are known for their blandness.  The ubiquity of white ceramics and housewares in Crate & Barrel can make the store seem like the set of Wonkavision.  The whole point of the design at Ann Taylor is for women to blend into the workplace.  It’s hard to imagine a French woman walking (on very un-American heels) along the cobblestone streets to her place of work; passersby stop and smile, one older shopkeeper puts down his broom, leans against his doorway and with a gauloises dangling from his lips, utters; “ooh la la, zee mademoiselle looks tres magnifique c’est matin, Ann Taylor, non?”  I just can’t picture it.

My romanticized naïveté is also to blame for my insisting that somebody made a mistake in research or a typo is at fault; but Lane Bryant simply could not be shipping to France.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Style

 

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C’est Magnifique!

Have you heard the news?  The French are way better than us.  No really.  They are all thin, are good parents, and have as many ways to tie a scarf as we have cable channels.  And that’s just the French, you should get a load of the rest of western Europe.  Now before we all slink back to our McMansions to drown our inferiority in a box of wine; let’s think this through.

Europe is old.  Really really old.  They are the grandparents at the family function, in their appropriate attire, watching the young over-sugared Americans run amok through the catering hall.  It’s not exactly that they are better, it’s that they know better.

They know that food is to savor, not to eat on the subway or in the car.  They know that flavor always trumps portion-size and that good ingredients don’t need sugar or batter.  Meals are social and not a shared experience between the diner and the television.  They also invest in beautiful clothing that lasts a lifetime.  Therefore their size must stay relatively constant.

The French are also in it for the long-haul when it comes to parenting.  They aren’t so interested in ensuring their cherub never knows a moment of woe.  They are committed to raising well-rounded, competent human beings.  They have no need to be their child’s friend, as they relish their adult life.  They do not dress like their children either as they have those gorgeous clothes in their closet.  There is a division between the adult world and the child world that we once actually had in this country.  Perhaps it was the blush of youth, but before we knew any better we were confident.

In New York, a city filled with posh private schools, European parents (here on business) are sending their children to public school.  They find the notion of fancy cafeterias and homogeneous classmates, abhorrent.  Public schools were good enough for them…(you may be old enough to remember hearing that in your house!)  For those who are concerned about their children keeping up with their French, they send them to one of the several bilingual public schools in the city.  Street smarts and competency are more important to them than amenities.  They’ve been around a while, they know what it takes to make your way in the world.  Competency and self-esteem can not be bought.

Let us not despair just yet.  Might I suggest, sitting down for a leisurely cafe au lait, and consider integrating just a bit of La Belle Vie into your own life.  If the idea of stopping at the market every other day for fresh ingredients is a bit daunting, try for just one additional trip a week.  Is the idea of owning one black pencil skirt for twenty years too foreign?  Instead, before you pick up another black skirt at BananaGapTaylor, count to ten.  If letting your child take responsibility for their own homework is just too much of a leap, consider having them cook one night a week.  Take their personal education as seriously as their formal education, and have them sit with you while you pay the bills.

Confidence comes from trying new things.  Succeeding will never be as educational as trying.  Draw inspiration from the French but don’t let them get you down.  They have their own idiosyncrasies; the whole country smokes and they are always on strike.  But they do have the courage of their convictions, and that really is worth emulating.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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Pow, Poo, Ooblee-pooh*

If you have waited in line to make a purchase in a chain store lately, I’m pretty certain you have been called forward by the nonsensical phrase; “the following customer.”  I admit, the first few times I actually waited to hear what came next.  The befuddling phrase does get my attention, I’ll give them that.  “The following customer will receive all of her items free.  Come on down Brenda!”  “The following customer really shouldn’t be buying those leather pants.  Sorry Brenda.”  What’s even more curious than the incomplete phrase is the fact that it has caught on like wildfire.  Is there some sort of chain store customer service standard of practice national convention.  Was there a vote?  How else do we begin to explain how so many salesclerks (not working for the same parent company) are spouting the same gibberish?  The trouble maker in me sees a wonderful opportunity for foul play.  We could sneak into the next (c.s.c.s.s.o.p) national conference and persuade them to beckon the customer forward with Ubbi Dubbi or Pig Latin.

I’m all in favor of creating or adjusting words.  Language should stay current to fulfill its mission.  But used incorrectly (which no doubt I’ve done several times already) just makes me nuts.  When did Americans decide that the word “anyway” needed an “s” on the end?  (Twenty years ago or so, if memory serves.)  Why?  What purpose does it serve?  It’s not just teenagers who add the letter, NPR commentators do it as well.  I can (mostly) ignore words such as “ironic” and “awkward” being thrown into the conversation willy nilly.  (Just so we’re all clear though, “ironic” is not synonymous with “coincidence.”)  Misuse is not the same as flat out cuckoo.  When I thank someone, what does it mean when the thanked replies “no problem?”  Who exactly has the problem?  I don’t even understand the origin of that reply.

I find myself starting to navigate my world as if I was in France.  I have mastered French at the level of a 4 year old slow learner.  Most of my request for directions, food and shoes in my size are pretty much dependent on gist.  As I go through my day in these United States, I must use all my senses.  Luckily, I know a smattering of sign language too.

My personal daily Nell ministrations aside, I worry about the apparent unconsciousness of this bastardization of language.  Like anything, if you’re going to do something, do it with intent.  My assertion of unconsciousness is egged on by the recent spate of “period” television.  I personally do not have memories of the Mad Men or PanAm time period.  But I will bet the farm that no one was slapping on an extraneous “s” to “anyway” in the 1960s.  I also don’t think people tossed around phrases like “workaholic” or “postpartum depression.”  It’s just a hunch.  Maybe I’m too binary, but what this says to me is that there isn’t anyone working on these shows who was alive during the portrayed period.  Not surprising by the way, is the fact that the British do a far better job at avoiding anachronism on the The Hour.  They did invent the language after all.

*Arthur Laurents’ slang for West Side Story (1956)

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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