Tag Archives: American

Spirit of 1976, A July 4th Memory (reposted)

I’m reposting last year’s Independence Day blog, just because it’s one of my favorites.  (Also still immersed in my “revise and resubmit,” so no time for a new one!  Happy 4th!)

bicent_disney2[1]It’s the bicentennial.  Our country is 200 years old which seems deeply significant to me because I am ten.  I feel this solidarity with the United States of America because we are both these perfect round figures.  I feel this bond with all ten year olds all over the country.  It’s as if we kids are the true Americans.  I don’t tell anyone I feel this way.  It is too momentous, too poignant to speak of.  To be ten.  To be an American. On July 4th, 1976.  It is a feeling I cannot explain.  It only is.

About a month ago—around my own tenth birthday—red, white and blue hats, flags, posters, beer mugs, buttons, t-shirts, sweatbands and sweat socks that say “1776-1976” went on sale and are subsequently everywhere.  My parents don’t buy any of it; they think the memorabilia is silly.  Are you a better American just because you wear a t-shirt that says so?  Still, when I ask for a Spirit of ’76 button and hat, they say yes.  Since I am a child, I’m allowed to be silly.

Since I am ten, and believe on some level that my being ten is as important as America turning 200, I think at first that when they say Spirit of ’76, they mean 1976.

My friend Tom—who is more a friend of the family than a real friend—is also ten.  My parents and his grandparents go way back; they have us out to their summer home on Fire Island for the July 4th weekend.  Tom and I might not otherwise be friends but we are routinely thrown together by circumstance.  Since we are kids, and there is a beach with sand and waves, since there is ice cream and a house with a cool balcony, this is okay.  Since we are not teenagers, the fact that we are different genders is not awkward.  Besides we’re not just the same age; we’re both ten year old Americans on the Bicentennial.

We arrive on the Island on Friday. Tom meets me and my parents at the ferry with his little red wagon and helps us carry our things to his grandparents’ home in Ocean Bay Park.  He and I take turns pulling the wagon as we chat.  We are eager to get into the waves, to go to town for ice cream, to see a movie, to do everything by ourselves, which we are allowed to do here on the Island, because there are no cars.

The independence makes me feel giddy.  Tom and I wake up at six for the next two mornings and go to the beach alone.  The adults are asleep, but told us we could go the night before.  No one told us to be safe.  We wade in up to our knees, looking for jelly fish, looking for special shells.

Later in the day we go to town in Ocean Beach to buy ice cream and Wacky Pack cards which we will trade later.  Tom gives me his bubble gum.

Saturday evening, while the grownups are having cocktails and recovering from a big day, relaxing on the beach, Tom and I are given five dollars apiece and sent back to town to see a movie which came out about a year ago: Jaws.  This is a big deal; to see a scary movie, a scary beach movie, without grownups to take us.  We walk along the beach to the theater: a big white house with a screen and folding chairs.  Ten dollars is enough for tickets, popcorn and sodas for us both.

The movie is truly terrifying.  Not just to a pair of ten year olds who know they’ll soon be walking home on the beach, but to everyone.  No one is jaded yet when it comes to horror films.  No one can predict that one day there will not only be Jaws 2, 3, 3-D and 4, but also Michael, Jason, Freddy, Chuckie, Saw and all their sequels.  We are not desensitized to the formula.  This stuff is all new.  So that every time the music reaches a crescendo and there is an attack, everyone in the house screams.  Loudly.   People call out urgent words of caution to the actors.  No one shushes anyone.  We are all in this together.

Later that night, I am afraid to go to the bathroom.  Fire Island is itself a sandbar, which means that in many homes, when you peer into the toilet, you are looking down a deep hole and can see the sea.  After seeing Jaws, peeing under these circumstances seems like a foolhardy thing to do.

I hold it in for as long as I can, then say some kind of prayer, sit and go.  No shark comes, so that the next morning, still alive, still gloriously ten, I am able to help the nation celebrate its bicentennial.  And at night, Tom and I run wild on the beach with a bunch of other kids.  We’re all holding sparklers which we’ve ignited ourselves.

Happy Independence Day to all.

Reposting: Just What Kind Of Mom Are You Anyway?

This post originally appeared in March 2012.  I’m reposting it today for Mother’s Day.    Enjoy!  Hope my followers who are also moms had a great day!

images[1]Boy we American mothers are hard on ourselves!  No matter how much we do, it’s either too much, or not enough.  We work, work out, shop, cook, do laundry, clean (sometimes), garden (sort of), manage everyone’s schedules, carpool, volunteer for school events, remove splinters, banish spiders, read stories, perform monster-purging rituals, walk the dog, rescue the cat, and—if we’re lucky enough to have partners who help out a lot—find time to secretly re-fold, re-wash and re-neaten the stuff our helpful partners folded, washed and neatened. (We still appreciate it, fellas.)  THEN, when we actually find time to sit (HAH!) and put our feet up, we have to read all these new books about how much better people from other developed nations are at mothering, how much more time everyone else has to enjoy la vie!, how much better everyone else’s kids are—whether at playing the piano, not getting pregnant, or eating coq au vin—AND how much more fun all those moms are having without us.

American bookshelves are buckling under the weight of all the parenting advice, each expert swearing by opposing tactics.  Even though American parents know What to Expect at every stage of the game, we still don’t trust our instincts.  It still seems that our neighbors, our sisters, the French, the Dutch and the Chinese are doing everything better.  But no one tries harder than we do to parent right.  We nurse on demand, then on schedule; we switch to formula so our partners can share feedings; but worry about what’s in the formula; we switch to soy, then abandon soy because it shares properties with estrogen.  We co-sleep, then Ferberize, then count to three for Magic!  , we tame our spirited children, bless skinned knees, give time-outs, then take them back in favor of “positive discipline.”  We say “good job!” because we want our kids to have high self-esteem, then stop saying “good job” when we read that empty praise leads to anxiety.

And, what’s that you say?  One in three American children is overweight or obese, at risk for all kinds of bad stuff?   Well, we can’t realistically cut down on sugar or increase vegetables unless everyone else does too—otherwise our kids will feel deprived, miserable and be more likely to gorge on sweets when we aren’t looking. Plus, we don’t want to restrict our children’s access to the American bounty of trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup, because that might lead to an eating disorder.  So, we focus on health and sign our kids up for sports.  Then we read about head injuries from soccer and other sports, as well as the fact that our kids are overscheduled and lack the time to just play freely outside.  So we cancel the sports and discover that no one else’s kid is playing outside, because they’re either at soccer practice getting a head injury or inside playing computer games (with an IV feed of trans fats and high fructose corn syrup).  So we throw up our hands and let our kids go inside and play computer games.  Then feel bad about it.

It’s not just being American parents that makes this so hard; it’s being American parents right now.  Who hasn’t heard an older person—someone who raised kids in the nineteen-fifties or sixties, for example—marvel at how orchestrated parenting is today?  Whose mother-in-law hasn’t observed that, all we did was open the door in the morning to let the kids out and make sure everyone made it back for dinner at night?

Yes, I know, many of our mothers smoked and drank while they were pregnant, gave us a steady diet of red meat, whole milk and all the outdoor freedom we wanted and we turned out okay.  But things were different then.  People weren’t so worried about abductions or skin cancer or bullying or all the other things that keeps us heli-parenting.

Besides, as a parent, sometimes you have to go with the flow and do something close to what other parents are doing—get with the program, as it were–because rejecting the program is not always worth making your kids feel like freaks.  For example, a very loving, nutrition-conscious mother I know instructed her child’s teacher—anytime there was a class birthday party or another occasion involving cupcakes—to scrape the frosting off her child’s cupcake.  This way, the child wasn’t forbidden the cupcake, but was spared the oodles of extra high-fructose corn syrup that everyone else ate.  Win-win, right?  Possibly, but I can’t help wondering how the woman’s daughter felt about the whole frosting-extraction ceremony.  (Healthwise, I am with that mother 100%, but emotionally, not so much.)  Maybe the kid didn’t mind, but most would.  Not only was she not getting what other people were getting, but she wasn’t getting it in a very public way.  If she asked why, did her mother say, because I care about you more than the other mothers care about their kids?  And if that was the mother’s response, what was the little girl supposed to do with that information?

My point is that it’s often hard to break with parenting norms, even when you know it would be way, way healthier to do it your own way.  Because it’s not always fair to ask your child to be an outsider.  It’s a tough choice to make, but sometimes bad nutrition, for example, can be the better parenting choice in the long run.

There are so many opportunities to judge yourself as a twenty-first century American parent.   But here’s the good news.  Being American makes us inherently eclectic in everything we do, including parenting.  For example, a few days ago, when I wouldn’t let my son give up and walk away from the piano after making the same mistake in the same spot, six times in a row, I was a Tiger Mom.  Well, minus the verbal abuse.  What I actually did was sit beside him on the piano bench and make him play right and left hands separately until he got it right, then try the whole thing from the top.   He protested and protested; I insisted and insisted and finally got him to agree.  Theo felt proud and victorious when it worked out and I felt glad that I’d made him stick with it.

Last month, I was Cool(ish) Mom, when I took my daughter and her BFF to the mall and pretended I was shopping on my own when we were in Abercrombie and Fitch, so all the other eleven year old girls would think they were there on their own.

On Mondays, when my son and his friends have basketball and chess and my daughter and her friends have tap and jazz dance, I’m Carpool Mom.  When my daughter and I have long talks over emotional stuff she brings up at bedtime, I’m UP-ALL-NIGHT Mom.  I wear dozens of hats, as I’m sure you do too.

(And as I write this, I’m trying to think of an occasion where I’ve been French Mom: cool, hands-off, yet lovingly supportive with a fool-proof approach to nutrition that fosters a life-long love for, as opposed to obsession with food.  Kick-ass wardrobe.  But alas, sorry to say, I’m never French Mom though, after reading reviews of the book, Bringing Up Bébé (but not reading the actual book because I know it will make me feel even worse about not being French than French Women Don’t Get Fat), I often wish I were.  But c’est la vie!

And the other day, when my kids had been playing outside with the other kids from our idyllic little cul de sac, when they’d been playing for hours and it was beginning to get dark, I opened the front door and hollered down the street:

“Zoe!  Theo!  Dinner!”  And wiped my hands on my apron as I watched the two of them scoot up the road, shouting farewells over their shoulders.

Okay, so I didn’t have on an apron–I don’t even own one.  But still, at that moment I was Quintessential American Mom From The Middle Of The Last Century … back when people read Dr. Spock and left it at that.


[Please note that I will be away for the next five days and may only have sporadic access to the internet.]

Spirit of 1976, A July 4th Memory

It’s the bicentennial.  Our country is 200 years old which seems deeply significant to me because I am ten.  I feel this solidarity with the United States of America because we are both these perfect round figures.  I feel this bond with all ten year olds all over the country.  It’s as if we kids are the true Americans.  I don’t tell anyone I feel this way.  It is too momentous, too poignant to speak of.  To be ten.  To be an American. On July 4th, 1976.  It is a feeling I cannot explain.  It only is.

About a month ago—around my own tenth birthday—red, white and blue hats, flags, posters, beer mugs, buttons, t-shirts, sweatbands and sweat socks that say “1776-1976” went on sale and are subsequently everywhere.  My parents don’t buy any of it; they think the memorabilia is silly.  Are you a better American just because you wear a t-shirt that says so?  Still, when I ask for a Spirit of ’76 button and hat, they say yes.  Since I am a child, I’m allowed to be silly.

Since I am ten, and believe on some level that my being ten is as important as America turning 200, I think at first that when they say Spirit of ’76, they mean 1976.

My friend Tom—who is more a friend of the family than a real friend—is also ten.  My parents and his grandparents go way back; they have us out to their summer home on Fire Island for the July 4th weekend.  Tom and I might not otherwise be friends but we are routinely thrown together by circumstance.  Since we are kids, and there is a beach with sand and waves, since there is ice cream and a house with a cool balcony, this is okay.  Since we are not teenagers, the fact that we are different genders is not awkward.  Besides we’re not just the same age; we’re both ten year old Americans on the Bicentennial.

We arrive on the Island on Friday. Tom meets me and my parents at the ferry with his little red wagon and helps us carry our things to his grandparents’ home in Ocean Bay Park.  He and I take turns pulling the wagon as we chat.  We are eager to get into the waves, to go to town for ice cream, to see a movie, to do everything by ourselves, which we are allowed to do here on the Island, because there are no cars.

The independence makes me feel giddy.  Tom and I wake up at six for the next two mornings and go to the beach alone.  The adults are asleep, but told us we could go the night before.  No one told us to be safe.  We wade in up to our knees, looking for jelly fish, looking for special shells.

Later in the day we go to town in Ocean Beach to buy ice cream and Wacky Pack cards which we will trade later.  Tom gives me his bubble gum.

Saturday evening, while the grownups are having cocktails and recovering from a big day, relaxing on the beach, Tom and I are given five dollars apiece and sent back to town to see a movie which came out about a year ago: Jaws.  This is a big deal; to see a scary movie, a scary beach movie, without grownups to take us.  We walk along the beach to the theater: a big white house with a screen and folding chairs.  Ten dollars is enough for tickets, popcorn and sodas for us both.

The movie is truly terrifying.  Not just to a pair of ten year olds who know they’ll soon be walking home on the beach, but to everyone.  No one is jaded yet when it comes to horror films.  No one can predict that one day there will not only be Jaws 2, 3, 3-D and 4, but also Michael, Jason, Freddy, Chuckie, Saw and all their sequels.  We are not desensitized to the formula.  This stuff is all new.  So that every time the music reaches a crescendo and there is an attack, everyone in the house screams.  Loudly.   People call out urgent words of caution to the actors.  No one shushes anyone.  We are all in this together.

Later that night, I am afraid to go to the bathroom.  Fire Island is itself a sandbar, which means that in many homes, when you peer into the toilet, you are looking down a deep hole and can see the sea.  After seeing Jaws, peeing under these circumstances seems like a foolhardy thing to do.

I hold it in for as long as I can, then say some kind of prayer, sit and go.  No shark comes, so that the next morning, still alive, still gloriously ten, I am able to help the nation celebrate its bicentennial.  And at night, Tom and I run wild on the beach with a bunch of other kids.  We’re all holding sparklers which we’ve ignited ourselves.

Happy Independence Day to all.

Just What Kind Of Mom Are You Anyway?

Boy we American mothers are hard on ourselves!  No matter how much we do, it’s either too much, or not enough.  We work, work out, shop, cook, do laundry, clean (sometimes), garden (sort of), manage everyone’s schedules, carpool, volunteer for school events, remove splinters, banish spiders, read stories, perform monster-purging rituals, walk the dog, rescue the cat, and—if we’re lucky enough to have partners who help out a lot—find time to secretly re-fold, re-wash and re-neaten the stuff our helpful partners folded, washed and neatened. (We still appreciate it, fellas.)  THEN, when we actually find time to sit (HAH!) and put our feet up, we have to read all these new books about how much better people from other developed nations are at mothering, how much more time everyone else has to enjoy la vie!, how much better everyone else’s kids are—whether at playing the piano, not getting pregnant, or eating coq au vin—AND how much more fun all those moms are having without us.

American bookshelves are buckling under the weight of all the parenting advice, each expert swearing by opposing tactics.  Even though American parents know What to Expect at every stage of the game, we still don’t trust our instincts.  It still seems that our neighbors, our sisters, the French, the Dutch and the Chinese are doing everything better.  But no one tries harder than we do to parent right.  We nurse on demand, then on schedule; we switch to formula so our partners can share feedings; but worry about what’s in the formula; we switch to soy, then abandon soy because it shares properties with estrogen.  We co-sleep, then Ferberize, then count to three for Magic!  , we tame our spirited children, bless skinned knees, give time-outs, then take them back in favor of “positive discipline.”  We say “good job!” because we want our kids to have high self-esteem, then stop saying “good job” when we read that empty praise leads to anxiety.

And, what’s that you say?  One in three American children is overweight or obese, at risk for all kinds of bad stuff?   Well, we can’t realistically cut down on sugar or increase vegetables unless everyone else does too—otherwise our kids will feel deprived, miserable and be more likely to gorge on sweets when we aren’t looking. Plus, we don’t want to restrict our children’s access to the American bounty of trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup, because that might lead to an eating disorder.  So, we focus on health and sign our kids up for sports.  Then we read about head injuries from soccer and other sports, as well as the fact that our kids are overscheduled and lack the time to just play freely outside.  So we cancel the sports and discover that no one else’s kid is playing outside, because they’re either at soccer practice getting a head injury or inside playing computer games (with an IV feed of trans fats and high fructose corn syrup).  So we throw up our hands and let our kids go inside and play computer games.  Then feel bad about it.

It’s not just being American parents that makes this so hard; it’s being American parents right now.  Who hasn’t heard an older person—someone who raised kids in the nineteen-fifties or sixties, for example—marvel at how orchestrated parenting is today?  Whose mother-in-law hasn’t observed that, all we did was open the door in the morning to let the kids out and make sure everyone made it back for dinner at night?

Yes, I know, many of our mothers smoked and drank while they were pregnant, gave us a steady diet of red meat, whole milk and all the outdoor freedom we wanted and we turned out okay.  But things were different then.  People weren’t so worried about abductions or skin cancer or bullying or all the other things that keeps us heli-parenting.

Besides, as a parent, sometimes you have to go with the flow and do something close to what other parents are doing—get with the program, as it were–because rejecting the program is not always worth making your kids feel like freaks.  For example, a very loving, nutrition-conscious mother I know instructed her child’s teacher—anytime there was a class birthday party or another occasion involving cupcakes—to scrape the frosting off her child’s cupcake.  This way, the child wasn’t forbidden the cupcake, but was spared the oodles of extra high-fructose corn syrup that everyone else ate.  Win-win, right?  Possibly, but I can’t help wondering how the woman’s daughter felt about the whole frosting-extraction ceremony.  (Healthwise, I am with that mother 100%, but emotionally, not so much.)  Maybe the kid didn’t mind, but most would.  Not only was she not getting what other people were getting, but she wasn’t getting it in a very public way.  If she asked why, did her mother say, because I care about you more than the other mothers care about their kids?  And if that was the mother’s response, what was the little girl supposed to do with that information?

My point is that it’s often hard to break with parenting norms, even when you know it would be way, way healthier to do it your own way.  Because it’s not always fair to ask your child to be an outsider.  It’s a tough choice to make, but sometimes bad nutrition, for example, can be the better parenting choice in the long run.

There are so many opportunities to judge yourself as a twenty-first century American parent.   But here’s the good news.  Being American makes us inherently eclectic in everything we do, including parenting.  For example, a few days ago, when I wouldn’t let my son give up and walk away from the piano after making the same mistake in the same spot, six times in a row, I was a Tiger Mom.  Well, minus the verbal abuse.  What I actually did was sit beside him on the piano bench and make him play right and left hands separately until he got it right, then try the whole thing from the top.   He protested and protested; I insisted and insisted and finally got him to agree.  Theo felt proud and victorious when it worked out and I felt glad that I’d made him stick with it.

Last month, I was Cool(ish) Mom, when I took my daughter and her BFF to the mall and pretended I was shopping on my own when we were in Abercrombie and Fitch, so all the other eleven year old girls would think they were there on their own.

On Mondays, when my son and his friends have basketball and chess and my daughter and her friends have tap and jazz dance, I’m Carpool Mom.  When my daughter and I have long talks over emotional stuff she brings up at bedtime, I’m UP-ALL-NIGHT Mom.  I wear dozens of hats, as I’m sure you do too.

(And as I write this, I’m trying to think of an occasion where I’ve been French Mom: cool, hands-off, yet lovingly supportive with a fool-proof approach to nutrition that fosters a life-long love for, as opposed to obsession with food.  Kick-ass wardrobe.  But alas, sorry to say, I’m never French Mom though, after reading reviews of the book, Bringing Up Bébé (but not reading the actual book because I know it will make me feel even worse about not being French than French Women Don’t Get Fat), I often wish I were.  But c’est la vie!

And the other day, when my kids had been playing outside with the other kids from our idyllic little cul de sac, when they’d been playing for hours and it was beginning to get dark, I opened the front door and hollered down the street:

“Zoe!  Theo!  Dinner!”  And wiped my hands on my apron as I watched the two of them scoot up the road, shouting farewells over their shoulders.

Okay, so I didn’t have on an apron–I don’t even own one.  But still, at that moment I was Quintessential American Mom From The Middle Of The Last Century … back when people read Dr. Spock and left it at that.


[Please note that I will be away for the next five days and may only have sporadic access to the internet.]