Currently viewing the tag: "Parenting"

 

I dropped my nine year old daughter off this week for her first year at sleep-away camp –or boarding camp, as we used to say. It wasn’t without a lot of dread mixed in with all the practical and emotional prep. I’d told her about this all-girl’s camp, which I went to with my sisters when I was young, pretty much since the day she was born. Instead of lullaby’s, I sang her camp songs. Kooky, right? Not so much. Apparently, I’m not alone with my fond memories of summer in the sticks away from home. Many of my friends and even relatives have sent their kids to the camps they went to. Generational or legacy camps such as mine, each unique in their location, activities, songs and lore, are not at all unusual. But whatever they feature, wherever they are, they universally share (along with the lanyards, hikes and bug bites) the valuable life skills of bonding and self-reliance.

Just the other night, my sister recounted what a colleague said who had daughter at the same camp. “What’s with all the tearful goodbyes and having to go back every year? It’s like a cult or something,” she said. Definitely someone who’d never been to summer sleep away camp.

Anyone with fond memories of camp will agree, that though it wasn’t as dramatic as a “cult,” it was some of the best times of their childhood. Here’s a list of the positive life changing things your child will gain by leaving home for those weeks that aren’t necessarily articulated in the the camp brochures:

1. Independence

For my child (and most kids) this is the first time away from home for any extended period. How they are helped through this difficult transition with the support of great counselors, camp staff and their own critical thinking will ingrain a sense of security as they approach future change.

2. Intense shared experiences

Sharing personal and physical space with up to 8 kids, all diverse in personalities and background heightens their experience. Climbing a rock face, swimming in ice-cold ponds, slipping on moss-covered creek stones, getting thrown from a horse are all things that will burn indelible images into their conscience. It’s these “firsts” that their buddies are witness to, which they support them through, that will engender confidence.

3. Life-long friendships

Even after the years pass and the world has its way with us all, inside, we’re still those pure-hearted kids, who made real “BF’s” with those, who by luck of the draw, ended up sharing our bunk-bed. Thanks to Facebook, we are all re-connected with those dear old friends. It’s as if no time has passed. What a gift to give your child.

4. Personal Responsibility

We do so much for our children that our parents didn’t. From driving them to school, to spending entire Saturday’s on the soccer field, to throwing themed birthday parties, to supervising their homework and Internet activity. Let’s face it, the habit is all-consuming. It’s a necessary learning step for kids to manage their own day-to-day minutiae. Simply brushing teeth, doing cabin chores and arriving at scheduled activities on time without being prompted or “nagged” instills individual competency.

The first time your child shirks a cabin duty, shows up for swim class late, or fails to get along amicably with another camper, it will be met with consequence and disapproval by their group, further imbuing social accountability. What better “prep” for college or that initial job?

5. Athletic Achievement

Photos of smiling faces on zip-lines, climbing rocks or serving a tennis ball, abound those glossy camp pamphlets but they don’t explore those epic underdog stories of valor and accomplishment that have originated for decades at summer camp. Each child is made to challenge their fears, to learn a new skill, to compete individually and on teams, and to support their friends to do the same.

6. The Cure for a “Picky” Eating

Each meal is served in the mess hall with maybe a few options. So what if the sandwiches don’t have the perfect amount of mayo or the exact bread from home? Go ahead, skip that intro lunch! Following a full afternoon of outdoor activities, come the dinner bell,  your kids will voraciously eat, without complaint, whatever is put in front of their faces.

7. Emotional Growth

Leaving home for the first time is exciting and scary and thrilling and sad. So much has to happen to get to “good-bye.” But what your child gains, though their parents are not physically present, is the sense that they can survive, that they will be supported throughout with letters and care packages from home, and they will be received with open arms to help them transition back to the “real” world at the end of their journey. A feet-first jump into self-reliance, with  life-long friendships and remember when stories to share.

With all my worrying, lists and efficient packing strategies to make sure that my daughter had just enough insect spray, stationary and underwear safely stowed in her trunk, after a quick “Bye, Mommy!” without a tear, she ran up the hill to play with her new “bestie” without looking back. Ironically, the next day, I received a call from camp that she’d fallen and broken her wrist that first night — they were taking her to the E.R. So much for those perfect waterproof nametags! Anyway, the good news is, she’s fine, a trooper. She’s got a 6 week cast and can’t ride horses or swim, but her letter says she’s having a blast — “This is the best camp ever!”

Pam Alster, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl.

 

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The story of Etan Patz, a six year old who disappeared in 1979 on his way alone to a New York City subway ride to school, is a headline you’d now be shocked to see, not only because of the every-parents-nightmare nature of it, but because nobody would let their child walk solo on a city street.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/nyregion/man-claims-he-strangled-etan-patz-police-say.html?_r=1

Today, the Department of Child Services would arrive at the family’s door of the assumed forsaken kid and instantly remove him to foster care.

How times have changed. If a teenage girl is seen walking by herself nowadays, it feels like: What’s wrong with this picture? Somebody should be chaperoning that poor abandoned soul. It can be mind numbing how much we arrange playdates and shuttle our children to and fro, door-to-door. How we all sit hyper-observant at the park, gripped by fear, that some pervert lurking near a trashbin might vanish with them. Even supervised after-school activity, necessitates our due-diligence about the expected full-time surveillance.

A stark contrast to the era when our parents said, “don’t come back until the street lamps come on.” Yeah, that’s right, kicked out for the day. If you actually went to someone’s house whose mom would allow gangs of kids to trample in muddied and maraud the food bins, she’d be laying on the sofa with a cold rag on her forehead, a cigarette in the ashtray and watching Days of our Lives. There was no “snack time” and friendly supervised play.

I’m not romancing the past, but let’s face it, present life demands full engagement to be a responsible parent. It’s exhausting, this Matrix we’ve created. We are appropriately horrified by stories like Etan Patz’s, but because of them, we tend toward a disproportionate response, to believe that every grown up in sight without a child in tow is a pedophile or kidnapper. The idea of children riding bikes by themselves down the street to meet friends is quashed by images of chopped body pieces found in a crate on the outskirts of town. 

No doubt, our kids already miss the freedom and boredom we had. And though we deride our own parent’s lack of participation, survival and creativity came out of those unsupervised hours. Our children’s summers, for sure, won’t be filled by ambling over flower-covered hills to re-unite with a best friend, arriving at the park for a pick-up game of baseball, or for a full day of swimming at the public pool. It will be parsed into strictly regulated minutes by grown ups instructing them on how to be visibly safe, engrossed, and happy.

I don’t know, maybe we’ve dipped in too deep again. Like my one of previous posts, have we over-corrected to the point of immobilzing natural growth, curiosity and imagination, having taken every ounce of quiet away from ourselves in the process? Perhaps we’re doing the best by this generation with the hovering, the indoor playgrounds, the plastic, the smart phones. But with summer looming, I wonder, are we ultimately doing more harm than good?

Pam Alster, former stand-up comedienne, Lifetime TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her forthcoming debut novel Robin’s Blue. www.pamalster.com

 

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The thing that strikes me most after having viewed Lena Dunham’s much touted new HBO Series Girls is: we’ve done it again, we’ve overhauled feminism and sexual revolution and general freedoms to produce the opposite of whatever we intended: an age that is disconnected and immobilized.

Let me say upfront, I applaud Lena Dunham’s accomplishment in writing, producing and starring in her own show. No easy feat. I like it, and as I’m preparing to watch the fourth episode in queue on my DVR, I’m enjoying it even more as it develops. Please be sure, it’s not her I’m critiquing here, it’s society.

As the mother of an almost eight-year old girl, I am attuned to the present-day experience of youth and the direction my daughter will be heading. What the world looks like from their post-college view is of great interest to me.

The portrayal of the overall naivete of these 20-somethings is more disturbing than their hyperbolic narcissism and inability to pay the rent. (Not that my generation didn’t have their moments of complete self-involvement and poverty.) The thought: How do they avoid getting murdered everyday? is followed by, well, the Lord looks out for babies and fools.

In the first episode, Ms. Dunham’s character, after being financially cut-off from her parents, stops by unannounced to engage in a disturbing booty call with a guy who refuses to return her texts. Not distressing because it’s kinky, or hot, or cavalier, but because she talks nervously about her financial woes through the whole escapade while he describes pervy underage rape images into her ear — which one can only glean that he learned, not from a genesis of fantasy within his sensual soul, but from where all memories of his conquests are more certainly culled from: the island of You Porn, where wanton waxed, bleached and implanted females live. There’s nothing titillating about it. It’s just plain sad.

And then there’s the friend who represents the virgin “trend,” as my nurse practitioner at a recent OB/Gyn appointment described it. She’s even more disheartening. This girl’s so distracted by reality TV shows and her self-comparison to any and all of the four Sex In the City characters, that she’s forgotten to start her own life.

Young women who chose to abstain from sex until their mid-twenties was the subject of one of Oprah’s final season’s shows, and it was treated as an almost mental illness by the professional panel. Even more unsettling about this burgeoning “type,” is the notion that, due to hormones in the food supply and whatever other environmental variables, this generation is menstruating almost two years earlier on average than previous ones. So this “choice” of virginal behavior defers their adult sexuality to well-beyond puberty, which, at the current rate, ends by eighteen.

When I was growing up… Harrumph! I didn’t know one person who remained a virgin past their first year of college. By that time we were not only talking and reading about sex — Our Bodies Ourselves, the Hite Report, the Happy Hooker, anyone? — we were comparing notes, experimenting with our own anatomy, making it our business to know how to achieve orgasm. Maybe it was feminism. Maybe it was irresponsible, destructive behavior. Maybe we were inappropriately over-sexed teens and entirely unsupervised. Maybe we were normal.

Girls makes it seem as if early to mid-twenties is the first time any of these people realize that they are actual women, it’s as if they’re still in high school. Though they are seemingly obsessed with their vaginas, very few of them know where it is, much less how to use it. What’s worse is that the only adventurous, worldly friend in the crew, is so ethereal and oblivious, she not only gets pregnant, she’s reckless enough to miss her own abortion “party.” A tragic message of promiscuity — if anyone considers going through an experimental stage, all brain function and discretion will be removed to the point of self-annihilation.

Parental fear that their budding adults are going to garner a disease, produce an unwanted child, become porn actors, or –oh my heart! – altogether grow up, is nothing new. But it does seem as if we’ve become so intense about saving our offspring from the ills of the world, that we’ve terrorized them by the thought of any true carnal experience, instead of allowing them to organically feel their way through it.

If Girls is evidence of anything, it’s that we “grown ups” need to chill the F*@! out. What’s the worst that can happen, our kids will make ridiculous mistakes, learn from them and then end up being responsible adults like us? There’s no way to avoid the very real separation that occurs in families during the teen years, but I intend to educate my daughter as much as possible before she stops listening to me. And frankly, I hope she knows more about herself than these girls do before entering college to a life of drunken frat parties and boys who’s seemingly only sexual experience comes from web-based porn.

It’s a testimony to Lena Dunham’s insider description of today’s young adult that I’m compelled to comment. And though I worry about the fate of my child’s generation, I also understand that we survived disco, the birth of AIDS and the drug-fueled-money-binge 80’s, the fervor of rehab and the explosion of internet porn. I’m confident we’ll muddle our way through this current stupor.

Pam Alster, former stand-up comedienne, Lifetime TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her forthcoming debut novel Robin’s Blue. www.pamalster.com

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I was at a kid’s party and Teenage Dream came on the Sirius XM pop station. Surveying the room, the seven years olds were singing let you put your hands on me in my skin-tight jeans as free and easy as the Spongebob Squarepants theme. One of the mom’s was outraged by the overt sexual nature of the lyrics. “This music is entirely inappropriate,” she said, her face contorted with judgment, as if the kids not only understood the machinations of baby-making and the implications of pubescent lust, they were colluding with Katy Perry’s fantasy to have the same happen to them.

Have no fear all you terrified moms out there who are trying to dissuade your children from becoming prematurely worldly, your child has no idea the conotation of those words, seemingly blurted all over the airwaves. It’s just a tune.

Think back to the songs you were bopping to when you were eight, even twelve –seriously, listen to the lyrics on the old school or classic rock stations, you’ll be OMG! That’s what he was saying? What a perv. I’m just now getting what Robert Plant was grinding about and it’s been forty years on loop. And what of the urbane themes — Michael Jackson or Prince anyone? My point is, put a beat to it and the truth of their poetry is lost on the general populace.

Rest assure, you’re kids will figure “it” all out in the same time you did, when they’re on the other side of paying a mortgage. In the meantime, as we say in the writer’s room, don’t hang a lantern on it. There’s enough to torment yourself with: running with scissors or setting the house on fire to start. If you’re visibly shocked over a Maroon 5 ditty, they will only demand an explanation. I can already picture their glazed over faces as you try to explain yourself out of that one.

Pam Alster, former stand-up comedienne, Lifetime TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her forthcoming debut novel Robin’s Blue. www.pamalster.com

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I can’t tell you how many times a week I say did you go to the bathroom? before I leave the house with my child. Not because my daughter is incapable of monitoring her bodiliy functions, but because public restrooms are, in general, disgusting. So much, in fact, that I’m shocked when I come across one where there’s an unclogged seat, actual toilet tissue, and the sink doesn’t look like I’d just skirted a plumbing accident. I’m extra floored when paper towels are available instead of the miserable short-circuiting hand-dryer — of course, the updated version of that being the Dyson hurricane blower that’s enough to rip the rings off fingers — neither, in reality, able to perform the act of drying.

The thing that literally bugs the crap out of me, pun not intended, is the perpetual ladies room line. I could be almost anywhere — where I hear crickets from the silence — and end up waiting for a stall. Architects, contractors, our society have not quite figured out that more women go to the bathroom on average, more times than men. Come on. I want that study, please!! But it’s not rocket science people, is it?

While I’m at it, I’d like to instruct the general misinformed on the correct use of the “handicap” stall. To those who think the seat is only for someone in a wheelchair: it’s not a parking space. Personally, I refuse to leave that slot open when I need to pee on the off-chance someone with a scooter might arrive. As far as I’m concerned, “whoever” can schedule her potty visit like the rest of the adult world. Get in the queue like everyone else ladies! It’s maddening, when after waiting an eternity, you realize an idiot at the front of the long line has taken it upon herself not to do the due diligence to check if there’s a pair of feet under each door, holding up the works for the rest. Believe me, when the frustrated crowd figures it out with the “courtroom murmer” of is anyone even in there, the collective rage is palpable.

And, lastly, the hipsters who came up with the brilliant design idea of coed washrooms need to have their heads examined. Really, is this a glimpse into our dystopian future or merely a flimsy attempt to save space? Frankly, I don’t appreciate having to share the primp zone with some other girl’s date at the communial sink. Not to mention inevitable emergencies –it shouldn’t take much to stretch your imagination — menstrual cycles, IBS, men’s sloppy aim. Still think it’s a hot trend? Anyone? Seriously. Anyone? I didn’t think so.

Pam Alster, former stand-up comedienne, Lifetime TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her forthcoming debut novel Robin’s Blue. www.pamalster.com

 

 

 

 

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We endured the salon trip. The waiting, the waiting and the waiting. Foiled bleach, hand-applied color, fancy cut and blowdry. We passed on the short bob and opted for a couple inches off the bottom with long layers to prevent tangles. I watched the dazzled eyes of the other little girls at Baskin-Robbins afterwards. Mouths agape, like “wow, look at the rainbow,” their stares said. And I felt a teensy bit guilty, as if this indulgence would come back to bite me. But so what, it’s hair color, not a nose job. My daughter loves it. And well, so do I.

Pam Alster, former stand-up comedienne, Lifetime TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her forthcoming debut novel Robin’s Blue. www.pamalster.com

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I’ve suffered years of whining from my tortured seven year old. “It hurts,” she screams everytime I brush her hair. I’ve bought expensive adult shampoos, conditioners and detanglers without success. Since the day she was born with her full head of dark waves, she shrinks at the sight of a comb.

If you knew my history with hair, you’d genuinely feel for me. Having grown up in the 70’s with curls cropped so short, one would could call it a ‘fro, I was obsessed with obtaining the long, straight, shiny, ready-to-wear hair that donned every girl on the cover of Seventeen. The Conair blowdryer became my savior, and hence, launched my next thirty years of labored frizz-taming and hair straightening.

We now live in the age of indecipherable native descent, mixed backgrounds with brown skin and blue eyes permeate the airwaves, hair is more of a personal statement than a uniform. It’s a dream I have for my daughter, that her she’ll profit from her naturally long, wavy tresses with effortless self-esteem and low-maintenance. But the universe has thrown me curve — her over-sensitive scalp and pleading inflexibility.

I gave my daughter options: endure the daily grooming or surrender to a short, fashionable haircut. The sort, indeed, where Mommy whisks her to an actual salon for the whole grand experience. This negotiation fell flat for years –my child, defiant, insisted that she could have her mane without price. But finally, after a recent morning, when, I’m sheepish to admit, I failed at being Jesus, spiralling into a shrieking Medusa over a pigtail tussle, she quietly caved. “OK, Mommy, but I want a bob, like Charlie Beth’s, and I have to get some pink or purple strands, too, or no deal.”

When I conveyed my victory to a friend, she said, “Are you going to let her do it?” And I said, why not, this is not a decent into teenage rebellion, she’s seven, it’s more Hello Kitty and rainbows.

So, pink hair it is. The appointment’s made, we’ll see if the bride shows at the altar. I’ll keep you posted.

Pam Alster, former stand-up comedienne, Lifetime TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her forthcoming debut novel Robin’s Blue. www.pamalster.com

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You’re on the phone reporting, what is nowadays referred to as a “bullying incident,” at your kid’s camp, and forget the offending rat’s name. In mid-sentence. No amount of memory search will produce it when asked, as if someone has deleted a file from your over-processed mommy brain. “Can I call you back with that?” you say.This lapse can easily be chalked up to multi-tasking, which includes family scheduling, career, personal upkeep, walking the dog and that incessant buzzing that eminates from the refrigerator. Instead, it becomes, OMG, early stage Alzheimer’s.

You obsess further. It’s no secret you came of age in the eighties. You luxuriated in the naivete of the post-disco era: casual sex, drug-fueled nights followed by hair-of-the-dog-chased-with-Excedrin mornings, and an unhealthy sense of narcissism, all seemingly, without consequence. Before AIDS, Wall Street and rehab snapped the entire generation back into lock-step. It’s a wonder that you even became a decent contributing member of society and aren’t loitering, soiled sign in hand, at a freeway entrance begging for a meal.

How do you pull off this supermom-sandwich-generation thing without dementia?

You panic about the recall failure. Not really. But you think, you should get it checked out, see a neurologist or something. Maybe it’s what you have coming after all that self-indulgence. Perhaps root color and botox only goes so far, there are dead brain cells to be accounted for! You feel great, though, don’t you? Sure there’s that clicking in your left knee and that occasional lower back pain but nothing like your parents at this age, who actually looked old.

Like many of your contemporaries, it was feminism before family. Career first, keep the maiden name, put off pro-creation until your ovaries sent you screaming into a Beverly Hills clinic to fix the cosmic error. Now that babies have returned to accessory status, hipsters everywhere are sporting them as effortlessly as iPhones and Uggs. You’re jealous. What do young moms know about short-circuiting?

It strikes you, that while trashing yourself in the great Me experiment, yours was also the first generation to embrace the work-out. Thanks to Jane Fonda’s mid-life crisis and her leg warmers, you’ve still got it going on. All these years of muscle-toning and aerobics has to mitigate some deterioration, even in the cerebral cortex.

It’s going to be OK, you tell yourself.

At Bootcamp you see women twenty years younger, who have no sense of how beautiful they are, finding it difficult to keep up. You think to yourself, they have no idea how long I’ve been at it. You wish them well. In the meantime, you’ll pass on the neorologist appointment and get the new laser to fix the sun damage instead. To hell with a few dropped thoughts. You’re not that hard on yourself anymore. Long live Jane Fonda.

Pam Alster, former stand-up comedienne, Lifetime TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her forthcoming debut novel Robin’s Bluewww.pamalster.com

 

 

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