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October 25th, 2009

Teen Spirit Doing Well at Gap Year University

Smartmom_big8
Teen Spirit’s first semester at Gap Year University (GYU) is moving
along nicely. Well, it’s not like they send out a progress report or
anything. But from what Smartmom can tell, Teen Spirit is learning a
lot about himself and maybe even life.

Of course, there are no formal classes at GYU. And there are neither
classrooms nor professors. Like the School of Hard Knocks, another Gap
Year college, the learning takes place in the real world. The
instruction? It’s whatever you pick up on the way.

At GYU, the only requirement is getting a job. Teen Spirit took the
most basic course he could find: Grunt Work 101, which turned out to be
a job at a warehouse in Red Hook for 30 hours a week.

And what a great learning experience that was. TS had to get to work
on time, follow orders and spend the day on his feet packing and moving
boxes. He came home from work exhausted, hot and sweaty.

Work. Real Work. What could be better?

There were other learning experiences, too. He tried to open a bank account, but found out
that you need a passport or driver’s license to do that. He had to
figure out where to get his checks cashed in lieu of a bank account.
Aside from the First Bank of Mom, he learned that there are check
cashing places all over the city that charge a fee.

And he had to learn how to save his new money, and that what used to
seem like a lot of money isn’t all that much after you buy yourself a
new Xbox and pay for your own food, transportation and entertainment
expenses without an allowance.

He is not, however, being charged rent. Not yet anyway.

Alas, the job at the warehouse was a temporary stint. And now that
it’s over, he’s looking for a new one — and in this economy that can be
a bit daunting.

So that’s a learning experience, too.

You’ve got to network and make phone calls. You need to check
Craig’s List, talk to friends, write a resume and to learn how to
present yourself in a job interview.

What about the social life at Gap Year University? It’s not like
there’s a student center or a cafeteria. And there don’t seem to be
school dances or clubs. Luckily, he has plenty of friends who are still
in high school and quite a few friends at local colleges.

And the food.

Teen Spirit has been making good use of the family’s panini maker,
something he disparaged just months ago as “terribly bourgeois.”

You can’t say much for dormitory life at GYU when the dorm room is
actually the room you grew up in and the kids down he hall are his
parents and his sister, the Oh So Feisty One.

So in a way, Smartmom, Hepcat and OSFO have become Teen Spirit’s suite mates.

He and Hepcat have even developed all kinds of fun nightly rituals
like watching David Letterman and Craig Ferguson and ordering
cheeseburgers from Purity Diner at midnight.

They’re practically a fraternity.

At GYU, Teen Spirit has really thrown himself into his music and is
writing a lot of great songs for his solo act as well as his band, Bad
Teeth.

So all in all, what does Smartmom think about GYU? Would she recommend it to her friends?

Sure. Why not? The price is right. While she’s not sure if it would
score very high in US News and World Report, it does seem to be the
right place for her creative and independent son.

And the best part is that he’s definitely coming home for Thanksgiving.

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October 18th, 2009

Hepcat Is Not Taking This Couch Search Lying Down

Smartmom_big8
Here's this week's Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper:

So Smartmom popped the question by cellphone.

“You wanna go look at couches?” she asked.

There was a long silence and then a big surprise. He was all for it.
They decided to meet at 2:30 at Room & Board on Wooster Street.

Smartmom kept her expectations very low. She figured they’d look
around, Hepcat would feign disinterest, and they’d be on their way.

Smartmom got to Room & Board right on time. Hepcat didn’t. Great. Now he was going to make her wait.

So friggin’ passive aggressive, she thought.

At 2:58 she considered leaving just to spite him. Instead she decided to just be very Zen about the whole thing.

Hepcat walked in at 3:05.

“So where’s the couch?”

“Don’t worry about the Andre. Just look around, see what you like.”

The Zen was working. She just browsed. Hepcat browsed. She didn’t
express any opinions. He didn’t express any opinions. They quietly went
from couch to couch. They sat. They looked. They moved on.

Indeed, Room & Board has many couches with many names and
personalities. There’s the Anson, which Hepcat thought looked like the
inside of a Lamborghini. The Brooks is post-Modern, while the Clarke is
slightly nautical. The Hahn is whimsical, while the Melrose is very
sleek. And the Kinsey is, er, very 1950s.

On the second floor, a rather friendly looking couch caught Smartmom’s eye — the Townsend.

“I may not be as stylish as the Andre or the Hutton,” the Townsend seemed to say. “But I’m very comfortable! Great for watching TV and reading.”

Smartmom was intrigued enough to sit down on the Townsend. It was low
and roomy in a soft chenille fabric with a classic modern form.tried lying down on it — it was perfect for napping.

She
tried reading on it — it was perfect for perusing The New Yorker and
The Brooklyn Paper.

Then she wondered what Diaper Diva, her sister the movie set decorator, and Manhattan Granny, who likes Bauhaus, say?

But Smartmom knew it didn’t really matter; this was her and Hepcat’s
decision. Besides, a couch is isn’t just about décor, it’s about
comfort and family time. It’s about intimacy and touch. It’s about
doing something different, having something new. Together.

“Hey what do you think of this couch?” she called over to Hepcat.

“Not bad,” he said sitting down. “It is very comfortable. And I like the arms. They’re flat. You can put things down on them.”

The longer they sat on the Townsend, the more they liked it.

“Let’s sleep on it,” he said.

“The couch?” Smartmom said.

“No. Let’s give it some time. See how we feel next week,” he said.

“You wanna come back next week?” she asked shocked that he’d actually return to a furniture store.

Smartmom couldn’t wait for their next date at Room & Board.

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October 11th, 2009

Smartmon: A New Couch is Smartmom’s Divan Life

Smartmom_big8
Smartmom is still stressing about the green leather couch. The
problem isn’t just that Hepcat doesn’t want a new couch. It’s that he
doesn’t want to do the thing that would give Smartmom pleasure.

In fact, this saga about the couch isn’t really about the couch at
all. It’s about something that is at the very center of any marriage
that makes it past the 10-year mark. Sometimes you not only have to do
what your spouse wants — and not just to make him or her happy, but
fully and without reservations.

That’s a good trick.

In other words, marriage can be Machiavellian; the ends (a happy
spouse) do justify the means (doing something that you don’t want to do
only because it makes your spouse happy).

Maybe that’s why Smartmom’s couch troubles have resonated with many of her readers and friends.

Over red wine at Bussaco, Best and Oldest shared the story of buying
her couch. She wanted a “shabby chic”-style couch, but her husband is
into black leather Modernist furniture. It took them two years to pick
out a couch that both of them liked.

And guess what?

That couch didn’t wear well and now — 10 years later — it’s time to shop for a new couch. Fun.

Church Rabbi, Smartmom’s friend who is pastor at Old First Church, e-mailed to say that he wants to come and sit on her couch.

“By the way, our Ikea couch is 18 years old. And it’s in great shape. No springs.”

Why was his couch in such good shape, Smartmom wondered? Must have something to do with God, she decided.

Even Divorce Diva had some helpful ideas for Smartmom.

“I just finished watching an ‘I Love Lucy’ episode on DVD and will
now put myself into Lucy scheming mode and figure out how to get rid of
your couch,” she texted. “You and I could dress up as burglars and
steal it.”

Smartmom loved the idea of the two of them masquerading as of
bandits sneaking into the apartment and taking the couch down three
flights of stairs.

But where would they put the couch? They’d probably have to walk it
a few blocks away and leave it in someone else’s garbage. Buddha knows
that if Hepcat found it in their garbage, he’d just bring it back
upstairs.

Divorce Diva had another Lucy-style idea: have Diaper Diva — who
happens to be a set decorator for movies and commercials — rent the
green leather couch for a set and just let it fall off a truck.
Accidentally.

Smartmom thought that was a great idea, too. But she wasn’t sure if
Diaper Diva would want to get into the middle of Smartmom’s living room
woes.

Still, Divorce Diva’s ideas got Smartmom thinking. Why didn’t she
just set the couch on fire or have Housing Works thrift shop take it
away?

Smartmom appreciated all the feedback from her friends. It helped to
put things in perspective. Indeed, thanks to Best and Oldest, she
learned that she and Hepcat weren’t the only couple who’ve ever had
trouble agreeing on a new couch.

And thanks to Church Rabbi, she learned that they weren’t the only people who had an Ikea couch that lasted 18 years.

She also learned that she wasn’t the only one who secretly
fantasizes about disappearing furniture — books, Hepcat’s clothing, old
magazines, you name it — from the apartment.

But disappearing the couch isn’t really the point. Truth is,
Smartmom knows she could probably twist Hepcat’s arm and get a new
couch, even the Andre, the mid-century modern one she picked out at
Room & Board.

So, what is the point?

Easy. Smartmom wants Hepcat to give her what she wants. She wants
him to bend over backwards — and even buy a couch he doesn’t love —
just because it would bring her pleasure.

It’s not enough to get what she wants. She wants Hepcat to
understand how much what she wants means to her. And to do so without
having to be told what it means to her.

It’s not that Smartmom wants to be treated like a queen. But she
does want devotion — and undying passion. Smartmom wants Hepcat to
shower her with love, appreciation and the Andre couch.

She doesn’t just want to win this fight, she wants him to give her
what she wants — and like it. Not the couch, of course, but the feeling
of doing something one doesn’t want to do simply because one’s spouse
wants it.

So Smartmom is a romantic at heart? You got it?

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October 4th, 2009

Smartmom: Couch Chronicles II

Smartmom_big8
Here's this week's Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper:

So Smartmom spent a long weekend in Michigan with her friend,
Divorce Diva. The time away gave her lots of time to think about her
life.

There’s nothing like sitting on a porch facing a really big lake
like Lake Michigan to help you think long and hard about the state of
your marriage.

And the meaning of the green leather IKEA couch that is so cherished by Hepcat, as she wrote about last week.

Why wouldn’t Hepcat agree to buy a new couch? Why was he so attached
to the old one? What was wrong with the Andre, the couch Smartmom
picked out at Room & Board? And why is this such a source of
conflict between them?

And that’s when she realized that a couch is a perfect metaphor for marriage:

• A couch is where you sit for years and years — like a marriage.

• A couch can be a source of comfort and relaxation — like a marriage.

• A couch can get worn out and dirty; it can even be dangerous and
hazardous like when its springs start to stick out — like a marriage.

• A couch can be recovered — like a marriage (if you choose to work on it and accept that it might need the work, that is).

• And a couch could simply be replaced — like, well, you get the idea.

So Smartmom really worked the metaphor of the couch/marriage in her
head sitting in a wicker chair on the porch of a beautiful old cottage
facing Lake Michigan.

And then another metaphor appeared. From the porch, Smartmom had a
clear view of the famous Mackinac Bridge, that five-mile span across
the straits of Mackinac. It’s the longest suspension bridge in the
Western Hemisphere, and it connects the lower and upper peninsula of
Michigan, our weirdest geographical state.

Before the bridge, the only way for people and goods to get from one
peninsula to the other was by ferry. Traffic sometimes stretched 16
miles — and to make matters worse, there was no year-round boat service
because the straits often freeze in the winter.

Interestingly, it was the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883
that inspired Michigan locals to dream about connecting their state’s
disparate parts. It took decades, but they did it: On November 1, 1957, the Mackinac Bridge opened.

Fifty-two years later, the engineering achievement of uniting Michigan inspired Smartmom.

For Buddha’s sake, she thought, there has to be a way to bridge the gap between her own and Hepcat’s vision of the living room.

If the lower and upper peninsula can form one Michigan, surely
Smartmom and Hepcat can figure out what to do with their green leather
IKEA couch — and all the other “issues” that ail their marriage.

Getting away from Brooklyn really was a good thing. The anger she
felt toward Hepcat about the couch definitely receded after a few days
of bike riding, long walks and talks by the lake, fossil hunts and
beach fires.

Indeed, the living room — and the leather couch — seemed very far
away when she and Divorce Diva spent an idyllic day on Mackinac Island,
a Victorian summer resort without cars.

By the time Smartmom had flown from Traverse City to Chicago and
then from Chicago to LaGuardia, she barely remembered that she and
Hepcat had had such an ugly argument about the couch.

But as soon as she walked into the living room she saw the couch and she felt the rage well up inside of her. Again.

She resorted to her metaphors. A couch is like a marriage. Certainly there’s a way to bridge their difference.

And then something mysterious happened. She sat down on the couch as
she has done for 18 years (luckily, she didn’t get stabbed by the inner
springs). The Oh So Feisty One came into the living room and sat beside
her. They hugged. Hepcat sat next to her, too, and she told them about
her weekend in Michigan.

Smartmom knew that it was going to be OK. This couch was not a
referendum on the state of their marriage. It was a metaphor. It needed
work, it needed TLC and it probably needed to be replaced. But that
didn’t mean all was lost.

Somehow, like the engineers who built the Mackinac Bridge, they would find a way. Smartmom was sure of it.

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September 6th, 2009

Smartmom: The Family Returns and Bonds with Teen Spirit

Smartmom_big8 Here's is this week's Smartmom from the award winning Brooklyn Paper:

Smartmom, Hepcat and the Oh So Feisty One got home from California
last Thursday at 7 am. They’d taken the redeye from Oakland and
Smartmom didn’t sleep a wink. Instead, she’d spent the entire night
alternating between 36 free channels of DirectTV watching mostly the
House and Garden channel and CNN.

Arriving home, she was exhausted — and nervous — about the state of the apartment after last week’s report of Teen Spirit’s raucous party. That’s why she told OSFO to go in first and report back.

“Everything is fine,” OSFO shouted down the stairs.

Phew. The apartment was tidy. All the dirty dishes had been put
through the dishwasher and all the dirty clothing that Diaper Diva said
she saw covering the hallway floor was in a big blue IKEA bag in Teen
Spirit’s bedroom.

Later, Smartmom told Teen Spirit what Diaper Diva had said about the
messy condition of the apartment. Naturally, he questioned her
judgement.

“Well, you know how neat she is,” he said.

Indeed, Diaper Diva and Bro-in-law are compulsively neat. Not like
the relatives over on Third Street who tend to be a bit more, er,
creative in the housekeeping department.

Smartmom was thrilled to be with Teen Spirit again. And she felt
like the time apart had done them a world of good. She had long talk
with him about his job, his plans for the year and a little about what
his friends are up to.

It was one of the best — and longest — conversations they’ve had in
eons. He also played three new songs for her and she was overjoyed.
They were so good, she wanted to cry. But she didn’t let on. Instead
she looked down at her lap and took in the magic of his music.

Smartmom felt very lucky.

The two weeks that Smartmom, Hepcat and OSFO were in California were
the first time Teen Spirit had ever stayed by himself in the apartment.
It was kind of a learning experience. Sure, he did all the typical
adolescent faux pas: he threw a party and caused a stir when a dozen
beer cans got tossed from the fire escape.

But a lot of good things happened, too.

Teen Spirit decided that he wants to learn how to cook.

“I want to be like Dad, the way he has a whole bunch of specialties,” he told Smartmom.

He also realized that he needs to learn some of the basics likes how
to boil eggs and rice. In general he needs to get better acquainted
with the kitchen.

“I never found the can opener,” he told Smartmom. “I mean, you left
me all those cans of baked beans, but I couldn’t find the opener.”

Male kitchen blindness strikes young.

Smartmom handed Teen Spirit three can openers that were in a
utensils jar on the counter. But she felt bad that his bean craving had
gone unmet.

Teen Spirit is learning about other important stuff, too, like, where to get a check cashed when you don’t have a bank account.

“These are life lessons,” Smartmom told him this morning when she
showed him where sign to on the back of a check, his first paycheck.

“My dad always used to say, ‘Remember to write “for deposit only” on the back,’” Smartmom told her son.

After their conversation, Smartmom decided that this Gap Year
University thing was going to be great. He thinks so, too. He told her
that doesn’t feel ready for college and that when he’s ready, he’ll go.

In the meantime, he says, he may want to take a course in Roman history at one of the city community colleges.

Smartmom smiled inwardly. She knows it’s super important not to meddle and to give him plenty of space.

Room to grow. That’s what she’s going to give him. Plenty of room to grow.

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August 23rd, 2009

School Gets In The Way Of OSFO’s Summer Reading Fun

Smartmom_big8 Here's this week Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper:

Smartmom doesn’t get the point of summer homework. Isn’t summer
supposed to be about recreation, relaxation and fun? Isn’t it a time to
do things other than school work? Smartmom thinks there’s plenty of
time for school work during the other 10 months of the year.

But Smartmom has nothing against summer reading. And the Oh So
Feisty One has been reading quite a bit this summer. At the moment,
she’s hooked on a book called “Peace, Love & Baby Ducks” by Lauren
Myracle.

But every day she whines, “I have to find ‘Tangerine.’”

That’s the young adult book by Edward Bloor that is assigned to all
the incoming seventh graders at her middle school. It sounds like a
decent book. But why does she have to read it this summer?

In addition to “Tangerine,” OSFO has to pick from a list of approved books for another reading selection.

Unfortunately, none of the books she has read this summer are on
that list. Sure, the list includes a great group of books. But she’s
read a bunch of them and some of them don’t interest her at all. At
least that’s what she tells Smartmom, who knows that the very fact that
they’re on the list makes them less interesting to OSFO because she’s
got that anti-authoritarian streak she inherited from Hepcat.

Whatever. Smartmom wondered if “Peace, Love & Baby Ducks” could
be substituted for her summer reading book. Why not? It’s a perfectly
fine book, maybe even a tad literary.

“No, it’s not on the list,” said OSFO, the oh so literal one.

“Well, maybe we should call the principal to get special dispensation …”

OSFO wasn’t having it. Finally, she did pick a book from that list,
“The Cat Ate My Gymsuit” by Paula Danzinger, something she’s already
read.

From Smartmom’s experience with summer reading (and she’s had
plenty), it’s not like the books are integrated into the curriculum
even though the kids are required to write a two-page essay about each
book.

In fact, Smartmom has never heard about those essays once they’re
handed in. Smartmom wonders what happens to those essays. Do they go
into some gigantic folder called Summer Reading? Are they sent to the
recycling?

More important, why do the schools insist on insinuating themselves
into the lives of their students 24/7? OSFO’s life already revolves
around school. So does Smartmom’s. But like OSFO, she enjoys the
two-month break from school schedules and homework.

Sure, the American educational system is way behind other countries,
which have longer school days and school years. But what’s wrong with
letting life be the educator for a few months of the year?

That’s what summer is all about. It’s a chance to spend time with
family and friends and to experience new people, places and things.

It’s also a time to discover the pleasure of unassigned reading.

Smartmom doesn’t remember any summer homework when she was a kid.
But that was back in the 1970s when progressive education was in vogue.
Summer meant family vacations on Fire Island, Maine or Martha’s
Vineyard. During one memorable summer vacation, the family visited the
Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

For years, Smartmom went to sleepaway camp, where she had the chance
to exist outside of the strictures of family and school. There she
learned to folk dance, to play the guitar and the lyrics to every
protest song imaginable.

It was a great time — and a welcome break from school and family.

This summer, Smartmom decided to read Dostoyevsky. During the rainy
days of June, she read “The Idiot,” the story of the epileptic Prince
Myshkin (and Dumb Editor’s favorite of the enigmatic Russian’s doorstop
books).

On Block Island, she dove into “Crime and Punishment,” the great
novel about Raskolnikov’s remorseless crime. And in the bright
California sun, she read “The Brothers Karamazov.”

It’s been a heavy summer full of nihilism, human psychology and the
spiritual, political and social world of 19th-century Russia

What if Smartmom had required reading? She’d never get a chance to wrap her head around The Brothers K.

Luckily, Smartmom doesn’t have to write a two-page essay on her
summer reading. But OSFO does and she better get going. It’s mid-August
and it’s time for OSFO to get cracking.

Anyone have a copy of “Tangerine”?

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July 19th, 2009

Smartmom: Teen Spirit’s Graduation

Smartmom_big8 Smartmom dressed carefully the morning of Teen Spirit’s high school
graduation. She put on her Spanks and a pretty blue and black patterned
dress paired with a smart J. Crew jacket. She wanted to look just
right. Not too middle aged, not too hip.

The Oh So Feisty One wore a dress she’d bought the day before at
4-Play, a stylish dress shop for tweens and teens in Park Slope.

“I bet I’m going to be more dressed up than Teen Spirit,” she told
Smartmom, looking absolutely scrumptious in a strappy floral dress.

“It doesn’t matter what he wears,” Smartmom told OSFO. “He’ll be in a cap and gown.”

But Smartmom hoped that Teen Spirit would don one of his
grandfather’s ties and a clean white shirt for the occasion. Even
Hepcat decided to dress up in one of his Hawaiian shirts that he saves
for special occasions.

It was, after all, a very special occasion. So special that the
family could barely contain its excitement. There were times when they
never thought they’d see this day. Teen Spirit’s high school career
wasn’t anxiety-free. There were twists and turns and more cliffhangers
than “The Perils of Pauline.”

After all was said and done, Teen Spirit was set to graduate from
the Institute for Collaborative Education on June 23 at the Great Hall
of Cooper Union — and Smartmom and Hepcat were proud.

When Smartmom got to Cooper Union, she saw ICE principal, John Pettatino.

“What are you doing here?” he said.

Her heart fluttered in panic until she realized that he was joking.
He quickly switched gears and gave Smartmom a big, warm hug. He’s big
on hugs. In fact, he’s famous for standing in front of ICE on East 16th
Street in Manhattan and welcoming the kids every morning.

Smartmom savored the atmosphere of the Great Hall, where Abraham
Lincoln addressed a crowd in 1860. Abe Lincoln, Teen Spirit’s
graduation — this was a historic place, no doubt about it.

She looked around for both her mother and her stepmother. Smartmom
was pleased that two of Teen Spirit’s three grandmothers were able to
attend this momentous event. Bro-in-law was also on hand, although
Diaper Diva was unable to be there due to a work commitment that she
couldn’t get out of.

Smartmom warned her relatives not to expect a typical graduation
because ICE is not your typical high school. A progressive school with
a creative approach to education, the staff is unusually passionate
about and dedicated to its students. And it’s just not your typical
“High School Musical” kind of place.

She also warned them that it might be long.

“Bring a book,” she told her mother.

Smartmom was surprised when she heard the strains of “Pomp and
Circumstance” as the graduating seniors made their way down the aisle.
Expecting something a bit more avant-garde, she thought back to her own
graduation from Walden, a small private school on the Upper West Side,
more than 30 years ago. The 30 seniors in her graduating class walked
down the aisle of the gymnasium to a recording of Papa John Creach
playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the violin. That version of the
song still makes her cry. In lieu of a commencement speaker, she and
her fellow students were each allotted one minute to speak their minds.

That’s when Smartmom read from the last page of “The House at Pooh
Corner,” the part her Dad loved: “But wherever they go, and whatever
happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the
forest, a little boy and his bear will always be playing.”

But Teen Spirit’s school out-Waldened Walden. When it was time to
give out the diplomas, ICE teachers spoke about every single student —
that’s 50 kids — for three-to-five minutes.

Teen Spirit was lucky that Roy Nathanson, the school’s superlative
music teacher, a jazz musician and the founder of the Jazz Passengers,
was chosen to speak about him.

“Who the hell did you think they’d get to talk about you?” Nathanson apparently told Teen Spirit after the graduation.

Nathanson talked about Teen Spirit’s strong identity as a singer,
songwriter, performer and musician. He called him “a scientist” in the
recording studio and said that he “knew more about that stuff than just
about anyone in the school.” He was proud that Teen Spirit had met all
his graduation requirements and managed to graduate on time. That means
that “you have the discipline to keep your car on the road.”

Smartmom got teary. But that’s what’s supposed to happen at your son’s high school graduation, right?

Smartmom watched incredulously as Teen Spirit in his black cap and
gown walked across the stage to receive a hug from Principal Pettatino,
a yellow rose from the assistant principal and an envelope from the
guidance counselor.

After the ceremony, Teen Spirit disappeared for a bit to hang out
with some friends. Later, they found him outside. He was already out of
his cap and gown and set to begin his life as a high school graduate.
And he was wearing a white button-down shirt and a tie. One of his
grandfather’s.

It was, indeed, a very special day.

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July 12th, 2009

Smartmom: What’s The Matter With Kids Today? Computers!

Smartmom_big8 Here is this week's Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper:

The Oh So Feisty One and her good friend Luvbud were having a
sleepover, but there weren’t any sleeping bags in the living room or
bowls of popcorn on the rug. They weren’t even in the same place. OSFO
was at home and Luvbud was three blocks away in her own bedroom;
they’re hanging out via iChat.

It’s so freakin’ futuristic.

Here’s how it worked: OSFO stared at a live image of Luvbud on the
screen of her computer while Luvbud stared at a live image of OSFO on
hers. Each computer has a tiny video camera that makes this all
possible.

From their remote locations, they both watched a re-run of “Saturday Night Live,” and they had a blast.

They watched a sketch where Alec Baldwin pretends to be the fourth
Jonas Brother and tries to convince the other three to rename the band
The Donut Brothers. Luvbud laughed hysterically. Smartmom could hear
her voice coming through the small speakers of OSFO’s iBook. When the
skit was over, Smartmom heard her say, “That was great.” OSFO concurred.

During the show, Smartmom walked through the living room in her bathrobe with a towel turban on her head.

“Hi, Luvbud,” Smartmom said into the computer.

“Go away, Mom,” OSFO said. She hates it when her mother interferes
with her iChats. Especially when she’s wearing her bathrobe. It’s so
embarrassing.

The Jonas Brothers had just finished performing their hit single,
“Tonight,” and OSFO asked, “Did you see that?” Then they both started
making fun of the Jonas Brothers. They’re not big fans.

People dreamed about having a picture phone as a futuristic fantasy
(or nightmare) ever since it was introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair.
Smartmom remembers hearing about it at the 1964 World’s Fair at
Flushing Meadows. Again, it sounded so cool. Smartmom never thought
she’d live to see it in her lifetime

But now with iChat and Skype, the picture phone is real and the
future is now. It’s fascinating to observe how tweens are using iChat
and Skype to interact socially. For instance, OSFO will iChat with a
camp friend for hours on end. She’ll walk her friend via the computer
through the apartment and show her around. “Here’s my bedroom, here’s
the living room. There’s my brother…”

Smartmom tries to imagine what it would have been like if she could
have visited with her summer camp friends via iChat. She used to write
long letters to Jessie, her best camp friend, who lived in Roslyn, Long
Island. Every few months, she’d take the Long Island Railroad and visit
her in her big suburban house. It was fun and exotic for a city girl
like Smartmom to visit the ’burbs, where she and her friend would go
shopping at malls, get fribbles at Friendly’s and play with their
Labrador in the backyard.

How different it would have been if they could have had virtual
dates via computer. It might have taken some of the specialness out of
those trips to Long Island. Then again, it might have been really fun.

Lately, OSFO has been having playdates with school friends like
Luvbud via iChat. They do homework, play games and visit Web sites
together.

This, however, was OSFO’s first virtual sleepover, and Smartmom
wondered how it was going to go. Were they going to keep the iChat
going while they slept and then watch each other eat Cinnamon Toast
Crunch in the morning? Would Smartmom have to get up in the middle of
the night and tell Luvbud (via computer) to turn off her light and go
to bed?

OSFO just announced that she and Luvbud are going to try to stay up all night.

There it was, the old “we’re going to stay up all night routine,”
Smartmom thought to herself. It reminded her of the time she and Best
and Oldest had a real sleepover and tried to stay up all night. They
were 11 or 12 and they almost didn’t make it. In fact, they got so
tired that they took turns sleeping. Still, they were determined to see
the sunrise.

Finally, at 6 in the morning they had the crazy idea to have a
picnic in Riverside Park. Smartmom’s dad, Groovy Grandpa woke up and
discovered them missing. As they walked back to the apartment Smartmom
saw her dad leaning out the window. “Come back,” he hollered from the
ninth floor.

That was scary.

Now OSFO and Luvbud were watching the Jonas Brothers sing “Video
Girl.” Smartmom didn’t hear Luvbud. Maybe she’d fallen asleep. After
all, it was 12:54.

“Luvbud,” OSFO yelled into the computer. “Luvbud.”

“Did she fall asleep?” Smartmom asked, hoping that this virtual sleepover would be over before it began.

“No,” OSFO said, thoroughly annoyed.

“Luvbud,” OSFO said one more time into the computer. OSFO’s friend was definitely fading.

“Time for bed — iChat or no iChat, I’m still your mother,” Smartmom told her high-tech daughter.

Smartmom thought back to when the picture phone was just a gleam in
some inventor’s eye. Now, it was happening for real in her living room
and bringing with it a host of parental complications.

The next morning, Smartmom found OSFO asleep in her loft bed without
a computer. Later, she asked her what happened to her “virtual
sleepover party,”

“Luvbud’s battery ran out,” she said. Smartmom couldn’t help but smile.

“Well, at least you got a good night’s sleep,” she told her child.

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June 28th, 2009

Smartmom: Teen Spirit’s Surprise Party

Smartmom_big8 Here's this week's Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper:

Teen Spirit turned 18 last week, but Smartmom and Hepcat couldn’t figure out how to celebrate the big milestone.

They suggested a birthday dinner at Daisy’s Diner, his favorite
local restaurant, but Teen Spirit already had plans to party with his
friends.

They suggested a birthday breakfast at Donuts Coffee Shop on Seventh
Avenue, his favorite breakfast spot, but Teen Spirit had a gig with the
Mighty Handful that day.

The birthday and the day after passed by, and Smartmom and Hepcat
barely saw their son, who was now eligible to vote and serve in the
military.

On Saturday night, Smartmom got an e-mail from one of Teen Spirit’s
good friends. “Teen Spirit’s Surprise Party” was on the subject line.
That got Smartmom’s attention.

“[Teen Spirit] requested that someone throw him a surprise party for
his birthday and I said absolutely not. Naturally, this means that I am
throwing one! I have an idea for a plan, but I have to run it by you
first.”

Smartmom knew what was coming, but she was glad that her son’s friend was “running it by her first.”

“I am going to come over tomorrow in the late morning/noon and take
him out of the house. Around 1:30, people will start showing up at the
house. Then, at 2 pm, I will bring him back. Surprise! Then we will go
to Prospect Park to have a picnic and play music for each other. Is
this plan all right?”

Smartmom had a mixed reaction. Her heart was warmed because Teen
Spirit told his friend that he wanted a surprise party. But then she
wondered guiltily whether she and Hepcat should have planned one. But
she knew deep down that he didn’t want his parents (gross, cooties) to
throw him a surprise party.

Still, it surprised her that he wanted a surprise since he’d been playing his birthday down. Smartmom didn’t know that he cared.

Smartmom was also touched that his friend was going out of her way to give Teen Spirit his wish.

The only thing that made Smartmom nervous was that an unspecified number of kids were coming over to the tiny apartment.

Sure, Teen Spirit has a great group of friends. But the idea of 10
or 20 of them in her dining room was unnerving. What would they eat,
what would they drink? Would they drink?

Smartmom got right back to the friend, telling her that she was on
board with the surprise party, but needing more information —
primarily, how many kids should she expect.

“Right now on Facebook, it says that 13 people are coming, but
that’s just Facebook,” the friend wrote back. “It is safe to say
somewhere between 13 and 20.”

Facebook? The invite was already on Facebook? And 13 people had
already RSVP’d. Yikes. Now Smartmom was panicked. She immediately went
out to Seventh Avenue to buy all of Teen Spirit’s favorite party foods:
tortilla chips, spicy salsa and Mug Root Beer. Since he doesn’t like
birthday cake, Smartmom bought two pounds of rainbow cookies at D’Vine
Taste.

The next day, Smartmom had an early appointment and left Hepcat in charge.

“I’ll watch over this surprise party thing,” he told Smartmom
bravely. The Oh So Feisty One was determined NOT to be home during Teen
Spirit’s surprise party, and she scurried out of the house bright and
early to be with friends.

Unfortunately, Smartmom wasn’t home at the moment of the surprise,
but Hepcat said that Teen Spirit’s friend called from the street and
the party of about 12 kids squeezed into Teen Spirit’s tiny bedroom
with balloons and yelled, “Surprise!” when he came in.

When Smartmom got to the apartment, the kids were eating chips in
the living room and packing up things like juice boxes (how retro) for
their picnic in the park. Teen Spirit looked happy.

“This restored my faith in my friends,” Smartmom heard Teen Spirit say.

Smartmom was pleased. How lucky he is to have a great group of
friends and one friend in particular willing to go the distance to make
his birthday wish come true.

The party was over, but so was a lot more. Teen Spirit’s childhood was over, too.

Surprise.

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June 14th, 2009

Smartmom: Time for the Prom

 Smartmom_big8

Here is this week's Smartmom first published in the Brooklyn Paper. 

Teen Spirit was dead set against going to his own senior prom. This
Smartmom learned the day after she wrote a $350 check to pay for prom,
senior breakfast, yearbook and graduation.

“No way am I going to the senior prom,” Teen Spirit told Smartmom. “It’s ridiculous!”

“But I just sent in the check,” Smartmom said.

Teen Spirit seemed pretty unconcerned about his mother’s huge output of cash in these dark, economic time. The bum.

“I hate the idea of prom,” he told her.

That made sense. Smartmom couldn’t really imagine Teen Spirit at a
prom — even if it was a groovy prom like the kind they have at his
progressive public school, which does just about everything in a
non-traditional way.

“I’m sure it’s not going to be a normal prom,” she told Teen Spirit.

But normal or not, he wasn’t going and that was that. As you can
guess, Teen Spirit is just not a prom sort of guy — not even in an
ironic way.

So Smartmom just mentally kissed that prom money good-bye. She
figured the senior committee probably needed the money anyway, and only
part of it was for meant for the prom. The rest could go to the
graduation ceremony, the senior breakfast and printing costs of the
yearbook.

Smartmom didn’t give it another thought until it was time for the prom at her friend’s daughter’s private school.

Smartmom got to “eavesdrop” on that whole adventure. She heard about
the girls waiting around to be asked by a boy to the prom, which made
her think, “What a throwback. How anti-feminist. How weird.”

Why couldn’t girls ask boys?

She heard about the girls spending boatloads of money on pretty
party dresses. That sounded fun. Smartmom wondered if the Oh So Feisty
One would enjoy that.

She heard about a group of kids renting a stretch limo to go to the prom in Manhattan.

She heard about the mothers of boys buying corsages for the girls
and pre-prom parties where parents got together and took pictures and
drank wine.

The whole thing sounded so over-determined. The parents were worried
about what would and wouldn’t happen on prom night. Would the kids be
safe? Would they drink too much? Would they stay out too late at the
after parties?

Would they practice safe sex if that sort of thing was going to happen (and it is happening, you know)?

Smartmom worried for the kids. After the big build up and
hullabaloo, what if they didn’t have a good time? Wouldn’t it be
awkward — all the slow dancing and stuff? The whole thing sounded like
an earlier time when things were more formal and ritualized.

And it seemed like an awful lot of energy and agita for something that was supposed to be fun.

Smartmom thought back to her own high school days. Unfortunately,
there was a big hole in her memory where a prom should have been. She
thought and she thought and she thought. She tried to summon up a
memory a fun festive party, a fluffy prom dress, and a fragrant
corsage.

Nothing. Nada. Nicht.

That’s because there was no prom. Graduating from high school in
1976, her classmates (herself included) didn’t believe in such
programmed events.

It was the 1970s. Smartmom and her female classmates met in a weekly
Women’s Group, where they discussed sexism, sexist high school boys and
teachers. They even organized a full-day event for International
Women’s Day.

It’s not like she didn’t like parties. Smartmom and her friends went
to plenty of wild parties in large pre-war apartments in buildings on
the Upper West and East Side, where they drank too much Bohemian beer
and made out with boys on beds strewn with overcoats (in that order).

Smartmom even had a boyfriend who could have taken her to the prom.

But they didn’t believe in proms at her progressive, left-leaning
private school. Proms were elitist, bourgeois and sexist. Right?

So on the night of her friend’s daughter’s prom, Smartmom found
herself envying the kids who were doing the traditional prom thing. It
all seemed so quaint and vintage. It even sounded like fun.

Suddenly, Smartmom understood why she had unthinkingly paid for Teen
Spirit’s prom without asking him. It’s called magical thinking. She
wanted him to go to the prom, so she wished him to go to the prom.

And then her wish came true. A few days after the private school prom, Teen Spirit came into the kitchen.

“Hey, did I tell you, I’m going to the prom?” he said nonchalantly.

“You are?”

“But I’m only staying one hour. One of my friends begged me to go,” he said.

“What are you going to wear?”

“I’ll wear dad’s seersucker suit …”

“And grandpa’s white shoes?”

“Yeah,” he said.

Smartmom was thrilled. It was the first time they’ve been in agreement about anything in ages.

“Should I have it dry-cleaned?” she said.

“Whatever,” Teen Spirit said by way of yes.

So Teen Spirit is going to the prom. Smartmom tried to be blasé, but
she was happy that Teen Spirit was doing something traditional to mark
the end of his high school career.

And in the process, he was making up for that thing she never got to do. Even if it was elitist, bourgeois and sexist. Right?

Posted in Smartmom | 5 Comments »

May 31st, 2009

Smartmom: The Meaning of Things

SM Here's this week's Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper.

The meaning of things has been much on Smartmom’s mind of late.
Since Groovy Grandpa’s death last September, Smartmom, Diaper Diva and
their stepmother, MiMa Cat, have been going through his things and
struggling to decide out what to keep and what to give away.

The process is wrenching, but necessary. For Smartmom, there are
memories sewn into every one of his cashmere sweaters, his Ralph Lauren
polo shirts, his Perry Ellis suits. Needless to say, Groovy Grandpa was
a snappy dresser, and a random item of clothing can evoke a birthday
dinner at Po, a weekend at his country house, or a trip to Belmont, a
Racing Form under his arm.

She could even smell her father on some of his clothing, and that
gave her pleasure, but also made her immeasurably sad. No wonder grief
experts caution the importance of waiting until you’re ready before
going through a loved one’s clothing and personal effects.

MiMa Cat found it difficult and upsetting to see the clothing in his
closet every day, so a few months ago, Smartmom and her sister did the
deed. They saved some clothing for Teen Spirit, who loves to wear his
grandfather’s suits and elegant shoes; they gave some to Hepcat, who
loved Groovy Grandpa’s taste in outerwear, and they packed up the rest
for the Housing Works Thrift Shop.

Even now, it gives Smartmom pleasure to see Teen Spirit wearing one
of Groovy Grandpa’s ties, one of his button-down shirts, a pair of his
white bucks or wingtips. And to see Hepcat in one of the Barbour
raincoats that Groovy Grandpa brought back from a trip to Scotland is
special beyond words.

In the back of one of Groovy Grandpa’s closets, Smartmom discovered
boxes and boxes of old jazz 78s that Groovy Grandpa had collected when
he was a teenager living in Los Angeles. Smartmom could just imagine
him, a connoisseur of great music and an inveterate collector, going
from record store to record store in West Hollywood picking out his
favorite music by Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Lester
Young and Sidney Bechet, and then dragging them home in a shopping bag.

Smartmom knew that those treasures had traveled from LA to his
college days in Berkeley then cross-country to the city of his birth,
and later across the Brooklyn Bridge to his apartment in the Heights.
Apparently those records meant a lot to him.

Smartmom had a fight with Diaper Diva that day. MiMa Cat didn’t want
the 78s and Diaper Diva wanted to take them to Housing Works then and
there. Smartmom wanted to just leave them in the back of the closet to
delay the inevitable.

“We shouldn’t make any decisions yet about the records,” she told Diaper Diva. “Let’s just wait.”

There are often differences among family members about what to do
with a loved one’s things. Some, like Hepcat, are wildly sentimental
and can’t bear to part with anything from the past. Some are completely
overwhelmed and just want to give it away and sell it.

Some like Smartmom, become paralyzed and find it too difficult to make what feel like irrevocable decisions.

But that day in Groovy Grandpa’s apartment, Diaper Diva was on a
mission. It’s not that she’s unsentimental — it’s just that when she
starts a job, she likes to see it through to the end. Undeniably, there
were tears and ugly words were exchanged through gritted teeth. No fighting, no biting, the twin sisters can launch in and out of a heated argument faster than a speeding bullet. Finally, the sisters reached a
compromise and put the boxes in Diaper Diva’s Volkswagen Passat; they
would decide over the next few days what to do.

Smartmom thought about keeping them, but she has no room in her
too-small apartment, which is teeming with things Hepcat insists on
saving from his past.

In the end, Smartmom and Diaper Diva gave the 78s to a good friend
who has a 78 player in his country house. He promises to take good care
of them and let Smartmom and Diaper Diva come up anytime to listen to
them or take them back if Teen Spirit decides that he wants some of
them.

Smartmom has come to the conclusion that you can’t save everything,
nor would you want to. It’s important to be selective about it and keep
things that will be meaningful to herself and her family.

For Hepcat, she saved the best of her father’s photo books.

For Teen Spirit, she saved all the beat poetry books and the works
of Rimbaud and Verlaine. But also the shoes and the seersucker jackets.

For the Oh So Feisty One, she selected the fussy but gorgeous red
cut glass wineglasses that belonged to her middle namesake, Groovy
Grandpa’s mother, Ethel.

As for Smartmom, she took every single notebook (with his copious
and unfortunately illegible notes about what he was reading) and every
single photograph and slide he ever took, including his interesting
(and secret) art photography that she is a great appreciator of.

As the archivist of her father’s mind, she has also kept all of his
unpublished creative work. Most importantly, a book of poems for
children that he wrote in 1994 called, “Animals You Haven’t Met Yet,”
rhymes about made-up animals like the Aunteater:

He hasn’t any interest

In your uncles or your cousins

But never let him near your aunts

Because he eats them by the dozens.

Words don’t take up a lot of space. But in those wonderful poems
Smartmom has more of her father — his humor and his creativity — than
she could ever hope to keep.

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May 24th, 2009

Smartmom: Plenty of Women Can Be Just As Happy Without Kids

Smartmom_big8 Here it is: this week's Smartmom from the award-winning Brooklyn Paper.

The grass is always greener. Ain’t that the truth? Smartmom has
spent plenty of time convinced that friends and strangers have a better
life than she does.

But who’s to say? What makes one person’s life better than another?
Money? Looks? A published book? A husband who makes the bed and fills
the dishwasher?

In her new book of essays, “It’s Not That I’m Bitter (or How I
Learned to Stop Worrying about Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the
World),” Gina Barreca writes about envy, finding a bra that fits, and
life as a childless woman. In her sharp essays, she shows that maybe
the grass is green enough no matter what choice you make because it’s
how you think about things and laugh about them that matters.

Smartmom knows all about grass-is-greener syndrome. When she was
toting baby Teen Spirit to Mommy and Me classes 16 years ago, Smartmom
envied her twin sister Diaper Diva, who was living the swinging life of
a Manhattan single on Columbus Avenue. She had an exciting job in the
film business and copious time to eat in restaurants, see first-run
flicks (in movie theaters!) and hang out with friends.

At the same time, Diaper Diva envied Smartmom’s
married-with-children life. She was eager to meet the right person and
have a baby. Meeting the right person was easy enough; Diaper Diva
married Bro-in-Law in 2000. But the “having a baby” part wasn’t as easy.

The newlyweds moved into a lovely two-bedroom co-op on Prospect Park
West and fantasized about furnishing their extra bedroom with an Oeuf
crib and a Design Within Reach rocking chair. But those weren’t the
cards they were dealt.

As a result, Diaper Diva felt a pang of sadness and anger whenever
she saw a pregnant woman walking down Seventh Avenue. It seemed like
every conversation at Connecticut Muffin was about bedtimes or
breast-feeding. She felt like every woman in the world — every woman
except her, that is — had a baby.

Diaper Diva and Bro-in-Law tried and tried and tried. Finally, they
made the best decision of their lives and adopted Ducky, the
almost-5-year-old redhead who is about as smart, spunky and adorable as
they come.

But Barreca, a professor of English and Feminist Theory at the
University of Connecticut, has a different take. In the essay, “Why
Childless Women Make Good Mothers,” she deals head on with the fact
that she didn’t have children: “I look like somebody’s mother, I sound
like somebody’s mother and, heaven knows, I act like everybody’s
mother. I advise, I worry, I scold, I applaud, and then I worry some
more.”

As a professor, she mothers 150 kids every year.

“They line up outside my door at all hours as if I were some kind of
emotional ATM,” she writes. Usually, she admits, she’s asked about
matters pertaining to the English department or the university. “But I
also hear stories about family difficulties, relationship problems and
financial predicaments. I also give fashion advice (‘Don’t pierce what
can’t easily be unpierced’ is my latest mantra),” she writes.

Barreca calls what she does “incidental parenting,” and she writes
about how much she enjoys the motherly relationships she has with
students and the children of her friends.

Smartmom knows that there are many such women who would make
fantastic moms, but never got the chance. But Gina’s humorous and
analytical take on things helped her overcome whatever emotional pain,
whatever grass-is-greener worrying she might have faced in the face of
her own childlessness. Indeed, without kids, she can be as neurotic as
she wants to be without fear that “a minor under my aegis will carry
lifelong scars.”

Smartmom can totally relate to that. She’s often modeled
less-than-exemplary behavior, particularly when she’s fighting with
Hepcat about his clutter in the living room.

Sure there’s pain, but there’s poignancy, too. “If childless women
make good mothers to the young, we also make dandy mothers to mothers,”
she writes. Just ask Best and Oldest. Unlike Smartmom, Gina doesn’t
judge or evaluate B and O’s parenting skills against her own.

She listens and she thinks: “Please let everybody be OK,” she
writes. “And thank you for allowing other women to accept the burden of
motherhood while I just get to teach kids about literature and the
inherent dangers of piercing.”

So much for grass-is-greener syndrome. Barreca humorously hammers
home the idea that the choices we make do add up to something. Barreca
could have adopted. Diaper Diva could have decided not to. Everyone
chooses a different path, and with a lot of insight and humor, it leads
to different, but equally rich, lives.

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May 18th, 2009

Smartmom Raises Her Glass To New Bar — The One Across From The School

Smartmom_big8 Here's this week's Smartmom from the award-winning Brooklyn Paper:

What a bunch of teetotalers in Park Slope. That was Smartmom’s
reaction upon hearing that there was a brouhaha brewing on Park Slope
Parents list-serve because the owner of Bar Toto, a restaurant that
serves — gasp — wine and beer, planned to open a new restaurant across
the street from PS 107 on Eighth Avenue.

It turned out that only one person was making noise about the
restaurant, which most everyone else was eagerly looking forward to.

“I have no children currently enrolled at 107, however nor would I
want my children entering and exiting the building with a bar in plain
sight,” wrote the man, whose name Smartmom is concealing only because
she’s nice.

The response was swift from other parents in the group.

“There are two other bars within one block of 107 — and I never had
to shoo away beer-drinking second graders from my stoop,” wrote one
pro-Bar Toto person. “I also never noted any raucous adult drinking,
especially between the hours of 8:30 am and 3 pm. I have seen many 107
students eating at these establishments with their parents in (gasp!)
plain view of the bar!”

Eighth Avenue Mom also posted in favor of the bar.

“I have no problem having my child see people enjoying a glass of
wine in a sidewalk cafe,” she wrote. “I see no harm in having my child
enter or exit school with a bar ‘in plain sight.’ We live in New York
City; there are bars everywhere. More important, I would prefer to
welcome a new business rather than take the opposite approach:
protesting before it opens on the specious notion that it is inherently
bad.

“It’s not as though our neighborhood has been over run with nuisance bars,” she concluded.

About 10 parents added their approval. The original poster, apparently shamed, did not respond publicly again.

Still, the mini-crisis was plenty annoying. Heavens to Betsy! Can
you imagine a restaurant that serves wine and beer opening near a
school in New York City?

Think of the moral fiber of those poor children. They might see
someone drinking a glass of wine. Their tender sensibilities could be
destroyed forever.

Smartmom had such a negative reaction to the notion of a “Park Slope
Temperance League.” She is leery of the demonization alcohol that has
grown out of the culture of 12-step-programs.

Yes, alcoholism is a bad thing; it ravages lives and destroys
families. But there is such thing as responsible drinking. A glass of
wine with dinner is not “The Lost Weekend.”

So let’s be reasonable. Bar Toto across the street from a school is
not a public health issue. A bar/restaurant is not a crack den. For
Buddha’s sake, it’s a popular local eatery. A bistro. Think steak
frites, paninis, Caesar salad and, yes, wine.

And not every glass of wine leads to a raucous frat party on the street.

The man who got his knickers in a knot about Bar Toto can rest
assured. The State Liquor Authority has regulations about these sorts
of things. Hard liquor can not be served within 200 feet of a school,
but a restaurant can get a beer and wine license.

Smartmom is living proof that it’s not such a big deal for the kids
to see the adults drinking. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Smartmom’s dad
would have a glass of Scotch when he got home from the advertising
agency (she can still hear the tinkling of ice cubes). Her mother would
join him on the white couch in the living room with a mix of gin and
orange juice.

It’s not like they got crazy drunk or anything. It just smoothed out
some of the sharp edges that accumulated during the day. It was her
parents way of getting some R&R before dinner.

On New Year’s Eve 1969, Groovy Grandpa let Smartmom, Diaper Diva and
their friend, Best and Oldest, have a sip of champagne as the ’60s
turned into the ’70s. Gag. It tasted like medicine.

They were only 11 years old, but Smartmom will never forget what fun
it was to taste a grown-up drink on that memorable night — even if it
was awful.

So was Smartmom damaged?

Well, everyone knows that she’s damaged. But it’s not because she
was surrounded by adults who drank hard liquor, or because she played
bartender and sipped champagne on New Year’s Eve.

For one thing, she never developed a drinking problem. She remembers
drinking beer at the West End Bar, a defunct jazz club near Columbia,
when she was in high school. And there must have been alcohol at high
school parties. When she got to college, she used to go to a happy hour
at a Holiday Inn and drink White Russians with her best friend. But
Smartmom liked the free shrimp and the mozzarella sticks more than the
creamy drink.

Yes, Smartmom is the first to admit that she likes her Chardonnay
and her weekly Margaritas with her writer’s group at Le Taq. Smartmom
likes to be light-headed and loose; she likes to feel a little buzz
every now and then.

And Teen Spirit and the Oh So Feisty One have seen Smartmom and
Hepcat finish off a bottle of wine at dinner, and have seen Hepcat’s
single malt Scotch bottles like Balvenie, Oban, Lagavulin and Laphroaig.

Will they be damaged?

Probably not. But they will learn to drink — and post on Park Slope Parents — responsibly.

Posted in Smartmom | 1 Comment »

May 10th, 2009

It’s Mother’s Day But Who’s Crying? Smartmom, of Course

Here's the latest Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper.

Like Smartmom herself, quite a few Park Slope moms are getting ready
to send their first child to college or on a gap year next fall. It’s a
major transition and one that is likely to bring tears to their eyes.

“It’s the end of all the fun we had together as a family,” one friend told Smartmom the other day. “The end of all that.”

Smartmom listened with empathy, but for the life of her, she
couldn’t remember the last time that she and her crew actually had fun
as a family. Who has the time or energy for family Scrabble games or
sing-a-longs by the Casio piano?

Smartmom and family do co-exist in an interesting way — and there’s
nothing like a Monday night spent watching “House,” “Gossip Girl” and
“Heroes” to make them all feel bonded and close.

But it doesn’t make her sad that Teen Spirit is about to graduate
high school because she knows that he is ready to move on. And so is
she.

Still, Smartmom wondered if she was only going to miss the laughter,
the fun, the good times — or was she going to miss the stress and the
agitation; the meltdowns and fights.

At the thought of all those less-than-pleasant moments, Smartmom
began to feel an emotional pang that spread across her chest like
heartburn (no, she wasn’t having a coronary, just a little heartbreak).
And then she understood what was going on.

Smartmom was having an empty-nest attack. She’d heard about them.
They can hit you when you least expect and cause tears and heart
palpitations out of the blue. One friend started crying so hard
listening to the “Pinocchio” song in the car, she had to pull over. For
another, the breakdown came in Little Things Toy Store. Still another
got emotional at the smell of Pino’s Pizzeria.

Smartmom didn’t think it would happen to her, but there it was:
stark emotional pain at the thought of losing her first born to
adulthood. She felt pierced by the sting of mortality: where did the
time go? Who is that tall handsome man in the living room?

Then, like some mild form of post traumatic stress disorder,
Smartmom experienced a rapid montage of flashbacks: she remembered all
the times that she shut herself in her bedroom to avoid the high-volume
sound of Teen Spirit’s musical improvisations; all the times she felt
barraged by the large group of friends he brought home for a sleepover;
all the Saturday nights at 4 am when Teen Spirit forgot his key and she
or Hepcat had to get out of bed to open the front door.

These hallucinations were vivid and sensorial: she could practically
smell the cigarettes on his jean jacket; see his eyes roll when she
expressed her opinions; and feel manipulated when he acted so sweetly
when he needed spending money.

The more she thought about it, the more she realized just how much
she was going to miss Teen Spirit’s high school years. Who was she
going to worry about? Who would she observe and analyze endlessly? How
would she fill all that vacant anxiety time? She’s been his mother for
18 years — how was she going to survive without him?

The more she remembered, the worse she felt. Like her friends, she
was getting emotional at the drop of a hat. While one part of her
welcomes this major transition and is curious about what kind of life
Teen Spirit is going to invent for himself, another part of her is
scared to death that he’ll decide to live far away and won’t write,
visit or call.

Perhaps the hardest part is learning to accept that he’s going to be
on his own and she won’t have any control anymore. More than anything,
this transition is about letting go and taking a leap of faith that
everything will work out.

All this reminded Smartmom of another friend, the mother of twins,
who sent her girls off to college last fall. For months, she was an
emotional wreck about life without her girls. She was scared, nervous
and unsure of who she would be without them. She didn’t have a picture
of what her life would be like after they left.

But off they went. Things were hard at first. But after a while, her
friend got used to life in her empty nest. She enjoyed hearing about
the experiences that her two daughters were having at different liberal
arts colleges in New England. But she also enjoyed the extra pockets of
time she had to devote to her creative work and her husband. She
regained a bit of herself in the process.

That sounds nice, but Smartmom isn’t there yet. For the time being,
she knows she has to brace herself for frequent empty-nest attacks.
It’s anyone’s guess what will bring them on: tripping over one of Teen
Spirit’s shoes left in the hallway; a big mess in the kitchen after he
makes a snack; another fight about that English paper that’s due.

Come to think of it, she’ll probably have one on Mother’s Day — her
last one with her boy before he goes off and starts his life.

Posted in Smartmom | 2 Comments »

May 2nd, 2009

Smartmom in the New York Times: Parallel Play with Children

7_playground Lisa Belkin in her Motherlode blog over at the New York Times quotes a big hunk of my upcoming Smartmom column. I didn't know a thing about it until my friend emailed me: You're in the Times! Here's an excerpt from Belkin's piece. Read the rest over there:

"Over at the blog The Brooklyn Paper,
Louise Crawford writes about reaching the same conclusion several years
ago. I wish I had this essay to give to that troubled grandmother a few
weeks back, so she could pass it along to her son (NOT her
daughter-in-law). Crawford, a Park Slope parent, blogs every Tuesday
under the name Smartmom, and refers to her older child as Teen Spirit
and her younger child as the Oh So Feisty One (or OSFO)…

Posted in Smartmom | 1 Comment »

April 26th, 2009

Smartmom: The Problem? She’s Not Bad Enough

Smartmom_big8 Smartmom has just discovered that it’s very cool to be a bad parent right now.

And she’s not talking about run-of-the-mill bad parenting. You know
the kind of bad parents you read about in the Daily News and the Post
who commit horrendous crimes like murder, incest, neglect and all the
other cruel and awful things that parents (some parents!) do to their children.

Nope. Smartmom is talking best-seller bad: the kind of bad parenting
that sells books; makes parenting blogs tick and convinces ordinary
parents that they’re doing a pretty good job just by virtue of not
being that horrifically bad.

It’s the kind of bad that means money. And as everyone
knows, Smartmom has an agent, a book proposal and dreams of publishing
her genius insights into the maternal condition. So all of these
best-selling bad parenting books are making her mighty jealous and
quite sure that she may have missed the boat on yet another parenting
trend.

Today, there are many flavors of bad parents (soon, they will need
their own special section at the Community Bookstore). First, there are
the hipster bad parents. You know, the groovy bad parents who rebel
against the status quo of perfect parenting, like that alone is their
badge of honor: “I’m a bad parent and proud of it.”

On babble.com, which calls itself the community for a new generation
of parents, there’s even a popular column called Bad Parent (soon to be
a book collection) with story after story about all the bad things
parents do.

OK. How bad is bad?

Smartmom knows from bad. Really. And while she doesn’t really like
to broadcast it unless she’s on deadline and has nothing else to write,
she might be willing to spill the means if it means a coveted book
contract. So here goes:

• Smartmom lets the Oh So Feisty One order out Chinese when Hepcat makes scallop risotto.

• Smartmom and Hepcat only require Teen Spirit to text them if he’s
going to be home after 4 am in the morning on Saturday night.

• Sometimes they forget to make breakfast. OK. That’s pretty awful,
except that there are usually some English muffins in the fridge and a
couple of boxes of Raisin Bran in the cabinet. Can’t the kids just do
it themselves?

Smartmom isn’t sure she’s really bad enough to sell a bad parenting
book or pen a Bad Parent column for babble (if the Web site would even
have her!). But the truth is, the stuff on babble’s Bad Parent isn’t
really all that bad. There’s the parent who lets her baby watch six
hours of television a day (can you imagine?) The one about the parents
who walk around naked all the time (how naked?). The dad who is forcing
his kids to play soccer (is that like forcing OSFO to take piano
lessons?).

But here’s a whopper: the dad who makes his kids wait in the car while he gets a lap dance?

Now that’s bad.

Years from now you can be sure there will be loads of memoirs
written by the children of those parents who wrote for the Bad Parent
column. There are already a plethora of memoirs about bad parents,
written by people who survived terrible childhoods. Heck, half of
English literature is about children surviving rotten childhoods.

Certainly one of best bad parenting memoirs is “The Glass Castle,”
Jeannette Walls’s look at her dysfunctional, nomadic parents. It’s like
she was raised by wolves and she goes into excruciating detail about
being uprooted constantly from one town to another, not being fed,
wearing shoes held together with safety pins; and using magic markers
to camouflage holes in her pants.

But somehow she survived it all and still has compassion for her
parents, who were clearly mentally ill. And she wrote a best-selling
book about it, which you can put on your shelf with all the others:
“Running with Scissors,” “Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy
Childhood,” “A Child Called ‘It,” “Mockingbird Days,” and on and on.

Dang. Smartmom’s parents may not have been perfect, but they’d never
qualify for the bad parenting Olympics, that’s for sure. Scratch that
idea for a memoir.

And look at Lenore Skenazy. All she did was let her 10-year-old son ride the subway by himself.
Why didn’t Smartmom think of that? Think of the media frenzy could have
incited if she’d only told OSFO to take the train all by herself to
Manhattan Granny’s. Like Skenazy, she could have been the talk of the
town and the proud recipient of a book contract.

Yup, Skenazy has written a book called “Free Range Kids,” where she
writes about “giving our kids the freedom we had without going nuts
with worry.” Since the publication of her book, she’s been driving
Smartmom crazy with her Twitter tweets about ridiculous examples of
overcautious parenting like “A school just outlawed all human contact
including — hugs, high fives — lest someone get hurt. Sheesh.”

You don’t need the full 140 Twitter characters to spell self-promotion!

Skenazy is not alone. Smartmom just heard about another new book
called, “True Mom Confessions,” a compilation of bad parenting
confessions that originally appeared on a blog with that very name. The
Web site received something like 500,000 confessions!

And there’s at least one more bad parenting book to look forward to:
“Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and
Occasional Moments of Grace” by Ayalet Waldman, who caused a stir when
she admitted that she loves her husband, hottie author Michael Chabon,
more than her children (Dumb Editor note: So do I).

So what gives? Is this bad parenting fad just a swinging of the
pendulum? A healthy reaction to the emphasis on pitch perfect parenting
and over control or the conspiracy to make Smartmom feel like she’s
missed yet another publishing boat.

Oh, it’s clearly the latter!

Damn.

Posted in Smartmom | 2 Comments »

April 19th, 2009

Smartmom: Pining for a Foreign Affair

Smartmom_big8 Is it spring break already? Wasn’t winter break, like, two minutes
ago? Smartmom and OSFO just got back from Crystal Springs Spa in New
Jersey — and who has the money to spend on another vacation?

Even a one-day one in New Jersey!

Despite endless talk of dark economic times, Smartmom has heard about quite a few people going on vacation to exotic places.

How do people do it? Caribbean cruises? Beach resorts in Puerto Rico and Cancun? Quick jaunts to Paris with three children?

Is it those Frequent Flyer miles that Smartmom can never get her act
together about, or do other people just have money in Ponzi-proof
brokerage accounts that enable them give their children those great,
jealousy-provoking vacations?

Smartmom wishes she could give her kids that kind of life. It would
be nice to get out of Brooklyn every now and again so that they could
go to the real Grand Canyon instead of the hamburger joint on Seventh
Avenue. Or they could learn to speak more French than La Bagel Delight
(that is French, isn’t it?).

Heck, she wishes she could be even half as worldly as her friend,
Best and Oldest, who manages to spend many weeks every year in Europe
with her kids.

Smartmom and her twin, Diaper Diva, traveled extensively when they
were young. Her father was transferred to the London office of his
advertising agency when they were 4-years-old and the family took a
real ocean liner to and from England and lived in a duplex near
Kensington Gardens for six months.

Smartmom remembers trips to Buckingham Palace, the British Museum,
St. Paul’s Cathedral, Harrods and a wonderful toy store called
Henley’s. They even made friends with an adorable little English girl
named Emma.

Those kind of memories are indelible. You never forget playing
wedding with your sister at Canterbury Cathedral or reading “When We
Were Six” in a farm house in Scotland.

Sadly, trips to other parts of the world have not been part of Teen
Spirit and OSFO’s childhood repertoire. And that, no surprise, makes
Smartmom feel guilty. She wishes that she and her children were
citizens of the world; the kind of people, who effortlessly know their
way around the airports of the world; who’s passports are covered in
country stamps.

Truth be told, Teen Spirit and OSFO don’t even have passports. Which
isn’t to say that they’re a bunch of stick-in- the-muds. The family
does travel to Northern California to visit the family farm twice a
year, and Hepcat did take Teen Spirit on that amazing cross-country
road trip when he was 10. Highpoints included the Andy Warhol Museum in
Pittsburgh, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Rocky Mountains and the
Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

But it’s just not Europe or Asia.

Sure, there have been plenty of good reasons for staying close to
home: Work commitments. Making money. Not making enough money.

Initially, the main reason they didn’t travel was because traveling
with young children isn’t all that fun. Smartmom knows that trying to
do grown-up sightseeing with kids under the age of say, 9, can be a
disaster. Hanging out in playgrounds in Greece or Italy isn’t the point
of a vacation.

If they wanted to do that, why leave the Third Street playground?

But Smartmom knows that where there’s a will — and imagination —
there’s a way. And Smartmom’s kids aren’t little anymore. Lately, she
has fantasized about getting Eurail passes and taking them to the great
cities of Europe. That’s what Hepcat’s mother did when he was a
teenager, and Hepcat and his sister had a great time. Hepcat still
remember the pain of the ingrown toenail he had when they were visiting
the Matisse Chapel in Provence.

OK, so now Smartmom is on board, but there’s one problem: money is
low and anxiety is high. Smartmom and Hepcat, both freelancers, aren’t
sure where that next freelance job is coming from.

So this year’s spring vacation is a staycation like many of the
others. OSFO already went with Diaper Diva and Ducky to “Dora the
Explorer Live! Search for the City of Lost Toys” at Radio City Music
Hall and there are plans to see the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and
Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. Maybe they should schedule a
day at the Metropolitan Museum to see the great art of the world.

It’s the next best thing to being there, even if it isn’t quite.

Posted in Smartmom | 1 Comment »

April 13th, 2009

Smartmom: The Goddess of Carnage

Here's this week's Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper:

Last Friday, Smartmom and Hepcat went to see “God of Carnage,” the
Broadway hit by Yasmina Reza about two Cobble Hill couples that meet to
discuss a playground fight between their sons.

The play has been translated and Brooklynized with references to the
Cobble Hill Playground and a Smith Street Korean market that sells
inexpensive Dutch tulips.

And yet there’s something universal about parents getting together to discuss and defend the behavior of their children.

Who hasn’t been in that situation? When the Oh So Feisty One was in
kindergarten, she got hit by an icy snowball thrown by a classmate in
the PS 321 playground. The school nurse called to say that OSFO would
probably need stitches on her chin. Smartmom raced over to the school
and took a bloody OSFO to the doctor. Smartmom was furious with the
aggressive young boy who had caused OSFO so much pain; she fumed the
whole car service ride to the doctor’s office.

She did, however, manage to soothe OSFO in between fumes.

Turns out, OSFO didn’t need stitches, just a big Band Aid. Phew.
That night, Smartmom called the mother of the boy who threw the ice.
She told her in excruciating detail what her boy had done and how her
girl had suffered.

But the boy’s mom didn’t seem to care all that much. Sure, she
sounded concerned and clearly she was glad to hear that OSFO was OK.
But there were no profuse apologies. No talk of disciplinary action.

Smartmom was miffed. That mom’s kid nearly caused OSFO to have
stitches, and the mom didn’t make that big a deal about it. Smartmom
wanted shock and awe (or at least, “Awww”). She wanted the Big Apology.
She wanted remorse with a capital R.

Smartmom was slow to forgive — both the boy and the mom. But OSFO moved on quickly.

“He has impulse-control issues,” OSFO told her. “That’s all.”

Apparently, playwright Reza actually experienced a situation like
the one portrayed in the play, in which a boy gets hit by another boy
and loses two front teeth. Random playground violence, major dental
work and stellar actors playing over-determined contemporary parents
makes for a lot of laughs, physical comedy and over-the-top comedic
hostility.

At first, the couples are oh so polite. They drink espresso, they
enjoy the hostess’s clafouti, and browse the fancy art books stacked on
a stylish coffee table.

But then things get nasty. Very nasty. It’s a constantly shifting
battle, a nasty square dance. The husbands gang up on the wives and
visa versa.

Ultimately, the couples begin to attack one another and the fault
lines in each marriage are exposed. The conversation devolves into an
adult playground fight and the grown ups are nearly consumed by the
volatility of their hostility and rage.

What the actors expose on the stage is what lies beneath the surface
sheen of hyper-correct parenting and child perfectionism. And what’s
underneath: insecurity, fear and anger. These days, parents try to do
the parenting thing to perfection because it’s something they can
control. But can they really control everything?

Smartmom now sees that icy snowball situation in a new way. Why did
she even bother to call that boy’s mom? In the olden days of the 1970s,
kids had to solve their playground problems by themselves. Back then, a
playground fight wasn’t viewed as some kind of referendum on the kid‘s
parents. It was a playground fight. C’est tout!

In these times of parental over-involvement, even an innocent
playground fight becomes one more excuse to over-manage the kids and
spout platitudes about parenting and appropriate behavior. But the
truth is, you can’t shield your kid from the reality of a playground
fight or the possibility of a minor injury.

Smartmom enjoyed “God of Carnage,” and it made her think about
OSFO’s chin in a new way. Now she’s glad she didn’t pick a big fight
with the mother of that ice thrower all those years ago.

One less person to avoid on Seventh Avenue that’s for sure.

Posted in Smartmom | 3 Comments »

April 5th, 2009

Smartmom: Teen Spirit Is Almost 18

Smartmom_big8
n just a few months, Teen Spirit will turn 18. That’s the end of
childhood, right? It’s the age when a boy can become a soldier and vote
in a general election. He still can’t drink (legally, that is), but he
can buy cigarettes and start working at the Park Slope Food Co-op as an
adult member of the household.

Yeesh.

It’s weird to have a child who is at the end of childhood. That
means he’s close to completing that idyllic stage of life that he will
discuss again and again in bars, on first dates, in marital counseling
and in memoir writing workshops.

His childhood may well be blamed for everything that goes right and
wrong in his life, in his relationships and in his career. It will also
be idealized and exaggerated. Events will be inflated; deprivations and
high points will be exaggerated; parents and sibling will be demonized
and glorified (though not always in equal measure).

For now, Smartmom is eschewing the “seems like yesterday” clichés
about Teen Spirit’s ascent to full manhood. That said, she is allowing
herself a few looks back. How is it possible, she has asked herself a
few times this week, that it was nearly 18 years ago when she was
wheeled into a delivery room to have her emergency C-section at Lenox
Hill Hospital? To this day, she remembers singing, “Yes Sir, That’s My
Baby” as she lay in the recovery area.

Smartmom can remember the day they moved to Park Slope when Teen
Spirit was a tiny 3-month-old. He was cute as a button — she and Hepcat
called him their Maurice Sendak baby, thanks to his perfectly round
face and his halo of blonde hair.

Truth be told, Teen Spirit was the cutest baby ever. No kidding.
People used to stop them on the street to compliment their little boy.
They were even asked on a few occasions if they were interested in
having him model. Teen Spirit is actually on the cover of a corporation
annual report wearing only a cloth diaper.

It’s funny to think back to that time. It’s like the Garden of Eden
of Smartmom and Hepcat’s life together — before high school, middle
age, and the realities of a 20-year marriage.

A lot of things didn’t turn out as they expected. For one thing,
Smartmom and Hepcat never planned to stay in their small three-bedroom
apartment this long. They didn’t think Teen Spirit’s tiny bedroom would
be big enough for a 5-year-old.

Now at 17, Teen Spirit sleeps with his head touching one wall and
his feet touching the other. Smartmom and Hepcat can hear his foot taps
in their room, which is right next door.

But Teen Spirit never complained or went through that phase where he
compared his life to the more-opulent lifestyles of his friends, who
live in Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights brownstones. He’s always been
comfortable in his own economic skin and doesn’t pine for material
possessions or name-brand clothing. Quite the contrary, Teen Spirit
dresses in clothing he finds on the street (washed first, most of the
time).

Teen Spirit has always been very attached to their building on Third
Street, especially when a boy named Eddie moved in downstairs when Teen
Spirit was 3. The two quickly became best friends. For years, “I’m
going down Eddie’s” was a constant refrain as the boys played non-stop
in one or the other’s apartment.

The other refrain? “I’ll chain myself to a lamppost,” Teen Spirit
would say whenever Smartmom and Hepcat were looking for a new home in
whatever affordable neighborhood they were considering at the time.

Sadly, Eddie and his family moved away when he was 12, and it was a
sad day for Teen Spirit. Smartmom always expected to follow their lead
and move to a small town somewhere where they would have a big
Victorian house with lots of space for everyone.

But Smartmom could never wrap her head around living anywhere else
but Brooklyn. She never even got around to moving the family to
Ditmas Park or Kensington, where she could give Teen Spirit a backyard
and at least a small piece of that childhood idyll: watching the
flowers grow, the dogwood tree bloom or the neighbor’s weird chain link
fence.

Smartmom and Hepcat aspired to the American Dream, but Teen Spirit
got the Brooklyn Dream instead. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

How cool was it to have his best friend living right downstairs?
There’s a special closeness that develops between childhood neighbors
in a New York apartment building.

Teen Spirit got to play on the sidewalks of Park Slope. Those summer
nights were fun. Especially when the parents barbecued on the street
and the kids made ’smores.

Teen Spirit never had to depend on his parents to drive him around
except when he needed band equipment schlepped all the way to Red Hook.
And he never had to worry about getting into a car with a drunk teenage
driver.

From a young age, he had the freedom to walk wherever he wanted.
Seventh Avenue. Prospect Park. Fifth Avenue. At the age of 14, he was
riding the subway all over the city.

He got to watch his freelancer father agonize over work in his
office (a.k.a. the living room). He got to see his mother sweat over a
hot computer in her office (a.k.a. the dining room).

And think of the food. The cuisines of the world are available 24/7.
Hey, what do you feel like tonight: Indian, Chinese, Thai, Grand
Canyon?

Finally, he absorbed that worldly vibe that comes from living in New
York City, which includes a comfort level with a diverse cast of
characters, an interest in how people are different, and
appreciation for the colorful and the unusual side of things.

So with the end of Teen Spirit’s childhood right around the corner,
Smartmom is pretty sure that she and Hepcat gave Teen Spirit a
childhood to remember. It may not be the pastoral childhood that
Smartmom imagined, but it was a childhood Brooklyn-style.

And that makes him ready to be a man.

Posted in Smartmom | 2 Comments »

March 29th, 2009

Smartmom: Hepcat Building up Some Resentment

Here is this week's Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper:

In honor of the Oh So Feisty One’s 12th birthday, Hepcat and
Smartmom decided to buy her an IKEA loft bed as part of the total room
makeover she’s been wanting for ages.

A loft bed would be just the thing to make her tiny bedroom seem a
whole lot bigger. She’d have room underneath for a dresser, a desk and
even a beanbag chair.

OSFO was stoked.

So one recent Saturday, Smartmom drove OSFO over to Red Hook, had a
quick lunch of gravlax and Swedish meatballs, and then went a-hunting
for loft beds.

Smartmom had her heart set on the Tromso that had a steel gray frame
with an attachable desk. Sleek, streamlined, it seemed perfect for a
bedroom/work space.

“It’s disgusting,” OSFO said when she saw the model in the IKEA bedroom showroom. “I hate the color.”

Instead, OSFO made a beeline for the Morrum, a black and white wooden loft bed that is, truth be told, quite snazzy.

Smartmom lobbied some more for the Tromso, but soon realized that
the Oh So Decisive One had made up her mind. They trekked down to the
self-service furniture area and found the Morrum in two incredibly
heavy boxes that they couldn’t lift without the help of a nice, beefy
IKEA employee.

Once home, Smartmom remembered the last time they bought a loft bed.
It was for Teen Spirit’s tiny bedroom when he was 6. It came in a
million pieces, and Hepcat, who grew up on a farm and loves to put
things together, almost went out of his mind.

Hepcat doesn’t remember it that way. All the groaning, cursing and
sighing is just part of his process. But over the years, Smartmom has
lost her stomach for it. She didn’t think she could endure another
scene like that.

Smartmom is smart. Sometimes. She called Urban Express, an
IKEA-approved company that for a relatively small fee — $80 — will
assemble a Morrum loft bed. Bingo. Smartmom made the call and arranged
to have them come over the very next day.

But Hepcat was fit to be tied. Hiring a company to assemble IKEA
furniture was an icepick to the inflated tire of his masculinity. He
said it was like paying someone to tie your shoe.

But Smartmom wouldn’t back down. She knew that Hepcat’s plate was
full; he was in the midst of preparing for a show of his photography at
the Old Stone House (opening April 1, by the way — though Smartmom
failed to get Dumb Editor the details by the end of the day Tuesday).

To get ready for the show, Hepcat has printing to do. Matting to do.
Framing to do. And when that was all done, he has to lug the pictures
over to the Old Stone House and hang the damn things. Smartmom figured
he was busy enough without having to put together a loft bed.

The very next day, Urban Express came and went. Two men put the
Morrum together. OK, so they didn’t do the best job. Some of the screws
weren’t tightened enough, and one of the slats broke when Hepcat
climbed onto the bed.

Needless to say, Hepcat felt vindicated. He couldn’t believe what a
careless job they’d done. He ranted. He raved. He waved the broken slat
like a victory flag. He had to do some screw tightening.

Oh, and they argued. Smartmom wanted him to admit that she’d done a good thing by calling Urban Express. He refused.

Egos were bruised. Unpleasant words exchanged. Situations like this always bring into play the big differences between them.

Hepcat, raised on a farm, almost never asks for help. Smartmom,
raised in an apartment building with a less-than-handy dad, is more of
a “call the super” kind of gal.

But the bed was up, the job was done, and it all happened, somewhat effortlessly, in less than three hours.

Later, when OSFO got home, she was thrilled. Her bedroom did feel
twice as big. She loved the way her new loft bed looked and spent the
next few hours in it.

Smartmom was happy for her girl. But she still had a sad feeling
inside. She and Hepcat, married for almost 20 years, still fought like
newlyweds.

Does this mean that they have bad marriage or are they just locked into an eternal argument about how to get things done?

Good question and one that will probably come up again and again. In
fact, they still have to put together OSFO’s computer workstation that
goes underneath the Morrum. It’s called a Mikael. It doesn’t look too
hard to put together. Hepcat has his heart set on it.

This time, Smartmom won’t get in his way.

Posted in Smartmom | Comments Off on Smartmom: Hepcat Building up Some Resentment

March 22nd, 2009

Smartmom: So What If Smartmom Ain’t So Smart?

Smartmom_big8
Here's this week's Smartmom from the Brookyn Paper.

Smartmom is terrified. What if people find out what a bad mom she really is?

Will she be fired from the now-Murdoch-owned Brooklyn Paper? Will
Dumb Editor accuse her of being a hoaxer? Will her readers finally stop
reading?

Well, it’s not like she’s a really bad mom. It’s just that, as you
know, she has this job writing a column called “Smartmom.” Which might
lead people to believe that she’s smart about being a mom.

And maybe she is. Sometimes.

All of this came to mind the other night, when the Oh So Feisty One
and Smartmom went to see the fluffy and fun, “Confessions of a
Shopaholic,” about a writer named Rebecca Bloomwood, who
writes a popular column in Successful Saving Magazine called “The Girl
in the Green Scarf” about the economic perils of debt and instant
gratification.

But Rebecca has a secret: She has $16,000 on her credit cards
because of her incorrigible need to splurge on Christian Louboutin
heels, knee-high red Pucci boots and a glittery array of designer
handbags.

Smartmom could relate.

No, Smartmom isn’t a compulsive shopper (if anything, she
pathologically hoards boxes of Amy’s frozen pizza and macaroni and
cheese in the freezer).

And she truly is a mom; her children really are 12 and 17. And
believe it or not, everything she writes in these columns is true — if
sometimes amplified a bit.

But it’s the mistakes, the constant parenting mistakes, that lead
her to wonder what she’s doing with her byline on a column named
“Smartmom.”

It all goes back to that fateful day at the now-defunct 10th Street
Tea Lounge, when Dumb Editor offered her the promise of fame and
fortune as a Brooklyn Paper columnist.

During that hyperactive interview, Smartmom never pretended to be a great mom or anything.

She told Dumb Editor that she and Hepcat were just muddling through.

She didn’t soup up her resume to include degrees in early childhood education or psychology.

She explained to Dumb Editor that the column would not be portrait
of successful parenting. Quite the contrary: Smartmom and Hepcat were
making every mistake in the book — and their kids were thriving anyway.

He seemed to be OK with that. Something about Smartmom being the
“everywoman, struggling with career, family, volunteer work, fame,
need, anxiety, etc.” Smartmom recalls Dumb Editor being a bit more
eloquent, but you get the idea.

Still, sometimes Smartmom wonders if the parenting police are going
to come after her for all the big ticket mistakes she’s makes on a
regular basis. The cops will be like Derek Smeath, the debt collector
in “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” Like Smeath, the parenting cops could
really have a field day with Smartmom’s recent transgressions:

• Smartmom actually likes those shorty-shorts that OSFO wears with
the Aeropostale logo on the butt. She even allows her to wear them. But
maybe that’s not such bad parenting after all. Smartmom believes in
letting OSFO define her own style and be herself, which is actually
good parenting (phew). Goodbye, 1970s-era feminist values. Hello,
healthy self-esteem.

• Smartmom actually let Teen Spirit order a mushroom and onion
hamburger from the Purity with extra BBQ sauce when he was hungry at 11
pm after missing dinner at 7 pm. Yeah, she knows, she’s reinforcing one
bad behavior with another. But a boy’s gotta eat.

• She even knows that Teen Spirit is a smoker, but she doesn’t know
what to do about it. It brings her pain and anguish especially since
her father died of cancer. It’s not that she doesn’t talk to him about
it all the time. But what’s a mom to do?

The mistakes that Smartmom makes are all over the map and she’s the
first to admit them. There was the time she let Teen Spirit miss a day
of school because he thought he needed a “mental health day.” Or when
she encouraged OSFO and a pal to watch “Slumdog Millionaire,”
forgetting just how dark and sad that movie can be.

And who can forget the time she went to the Grand Cascades, that hotel in New Jersey with OSFO and neglected to bring a first-aid kit and basics like children’s chewable Motrin?

And there’s more. She and Hepcat could be firmer in the discipline
department. They could say “no” far more often. They could worship
their children a little less.

Indeed, they are guilty of just about all the sins of contemporary
parenting over-attachment, enmeshment, and too high an opinion of their
spawn (a word Wise Gal would use).

So maybe there’s a lesson in all this. The fictional column, “The
Girl in the Green Scarf,” struck a chord with her “readers” — even
though it was written by a chronic over-spender.

In the same way, Smartmom strikes a chord with the readers of The
Brooklyn Paper precisely because she’s not perfect and knows she
doesn’t do the parenting thing that well.

Maybe the imperfection allows the readers to recognize parts of
themselves in her, which enables them to empathize a bit. Smartmom
discusses universal concepts and no matter how she deals with them,
people can learn a thing or two about what they’re doing right — and
wrong. They can sit back, relax and realize that maybe, just maybe,
everything’s going to turn out alright.

Not a bad trick. Anyone want to make a movie?

Posted in Smartmom | 1 Comment »

March 8th, 2009

Unthinkable: Smartmom Catches a Bad Cold

Smartmom_big8
From this week's Brooklyn Paper:

It was highly unusual; the moms of Park Slope almost never get sick.

But last Tuesday, they were dropping like flies. Smartmom got a
cellphone call from Divorce Diva, who had such a bad case of laryngitis
that Smartmom could barely understand her tortured whisper. But she did
manage to decipher the following.

Apparently, she’d been on vacation with her daughter, her fiancée
and his children and she felt so sick that she had to sleep in the car
while they were enjoying themselves at a skating rink in Philadelphia.

Later that day, Warm and Funny e-mailed to say that she too had fallen sick while on vacation.

Then, the unthinkable: Smartmom developed chills during her
Alexander Technique session at Alexander Junction. Afterwards, she
ordered hot water at ’Snice and sat sipping it in her coat, hat, gloves
and scarf.

But nothing seemed to warm her up

When she got home, she crawled into bed — under three blankets and one patchwork quilt. But still: brrrrrr.

When the Oh So Feisty One got home from school, she was in shock. She couldn’t remember the last time her mother was sick.

Of course, it did happen. Once. It was back in January, 2005, when
Smartmom had a runny noise, sore throat, vertigo, an earache, body
aches, and dizziness.

In other words, she felt like the list of symptoms on a cold medicine package.

The times when Smartmom has been sick have been few and far between,
but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get headaches, stomachaches and other
fleeting ailments from time to time.

It’s just that she either soldiers through or ignores what she’s feeling.

Don’t worry. She’ll just sit here in the dark, as the old Jewish mother/light bulb joke goes.

Last Tuesday was an exception. Feeling alternately feverish and cold
with a host of flu symptoms, she got into bed with “Wings of the Dove,”
the long Henry James novel she’s been trying to finish for weeks. She
tried to read, but all she felt like doing was sleeping.

And that’s what she did, off and on, for the next five days.

Every morning, she woke up and thought she felt better. Every day,
she realized that she was still sick and had to get back into bed.

How did the family react?

Teen Spirit sounded sincerely concerned when he breezed through the
apartment every 20 hours or so on route to his internship at Showpaper,
a band rehearsal, or food with friends at Donuts.

OSFO was willing, here and there, to leap up to get Smartmom cups of
hot water, Advil and Theraflu. Thank Buddha that someone raised that
kid right.

Hepcat seemed a little vexed by the whole thing. (He’s really bought
into Smartmom’s martyr act, no doubt.) It’s not like Smartmom waits on
him hand and foot or anything — they have a very modern marriage, which
means they eat too much takeout, allow their apartment to have that
post-tornado look, and go weeks without clean clothes.

But still, no one can deny that Smartmom makes the family’s world go ’round.

Holy granola, if Smartmom is sick, who’s going to wake OSFO so she can take her 5:30 am shower?

Who’s going to keep the house stocked with milk, orange juice and breakfast from the Met Food?

Who’s going to take the dirty clothes all the way down to the
washer/dryer in the basement and bring them back up when they’re done?

Who’s going to fill and empty the dishwasher?

Who’s going to remind Hepcat to make dinner?

Who’s going to clean up after dinner?

Who’s going to…?

OK, so Smartmom feels indispensable. Sometimes she even feels like an underappreciated domestic slave (just like her friends).

But this time, Smartmom and her gang had no choice but to succumb to this ruthless bug.

Most of all, they were glad to be able to commiserate with each
other by phone, e-mail, text, Facebook and even comments on The
Brooklyn Paper’s Web site during their time of need.

Divorce Diva called, laryngitis and all, with hourly reports about
her condition. What seemed like a common cold morphed into full-blown
strep.

Then her eyes were swollen shut and she rushed to the doctor.

“You won’t believe it. I have strep in my eyes!” she told Smartmom hoarsely.

Warm and Funny, meanwhile, texted Smartmom that she received a diagnosis of bronchitis.

Later, she texted to say that the antibiotics did nothing to alleviate her symptoms.

Her fiancée was traveling, and she had to think of all sorts of creative ways to get her son to and from school.

Smartmom even posted on Facebook about how she was feeling, and got a bunch of nice responses from friends:

“Stop trying to work, etc. surrender, spend a few days in bed, with
periodic baths, a lot of fluids, chicken soup and some occasional
gentle stretching,” said Charlie. “Empty your head. Take two Advil at
9:30 and go to bed (large glass of water at bedside).”

Smartmom was very moved by his words. She also appreciated all the
Facebook friends who told her to order spicy Thai soup from Lemongrass
Grill.

Strangely, Smartmom’s flu, like the economy, seemed to get worse
before it got better. On Sunday, she dragged herself to St. Ann’s
Warehouse to see “Mabou Mines Dollhouse,” an avant-garde rehashing of
Ibsen’s classic play.

In this version, all the women are played by actresses over 6-feet and the men are all played by dwarfs.

Much as she enjoyed Ibsen’s feminist masterpiece, she started to
have the chills again and had to leave at intermission. When she got
home she had a fever of 101.

Back to bed she went. But first, she texted Divorce Diva and Warm and Funny.

“Relapse. Fever is 101. This thing really lingers on.”

Once again, Smartmom lay under three blankets and a patchwork quilt.
Once again, she had give into it big time and stop fighting.

Maybe it was a good lesson for all. Moms need to get sick every now
and again. It’s not good to model too much stoicism (martyrdom is so
unattractive).

Moms need to show the kids that it’s OK to break down. Otherwise,
the next generation will have weird expectations of women. They’ll
expect them to be superwomen when it’s perfectly fine to be the real,
flesh and blood human kind.

So what if nothing gets done? Maybe it’ll teach their spouses and their kids to do things for themselves.

Posted in Smartmom | Comments Off on Unthinkable: Smartmom Catches a Bad Cold

March 1st, 2009

Smartmom Needs A First Aid Kit

Smartmom_big8
From this week's Brooklyn Paper:

Even though Teen Spirit is just a few months shy of 18 and the Oh So
Feisty One is just weeks away from her 12th birthday, Smartmom knows
that she still has a lot to learn about being a mom.

Funny. You’d think she’d have mastered momdom by now. But just about
every day she does something or other that makes her wonder if she
knows anything at all.

During the winter break, Smartmom took OSFO and three girlfriends to
the Grand Cascades at Crystal Springs in New Jersey, a hotel/spa with
an incredible Biosphere pool.

Four girls and Smartmom sharing one hotel room.

Right there, Smartmom wondered if she was some kind of lunatic. She
prayed that she’d be able to sleep comfortably; that all the girls
would get along; and there would be no fights or wild behavior.

Scratch that last one.

Of course there would be fights and wild behavior: they’re tweens for Buddha’s sake.

Nonetheless, Smartmom prayed that no one would get hurt going down
the three-story slide at the Biosphere pool; no one would hit her head
on the ceiling while jumping on the bed; and that there’d be no food
allergies.

On the second morning, one of OSFO’s friends woke up sick. Smartmom
knew right away that something was up when this usually effusive and
enthusiastic girl looked droopy and sad.

First, Smartmom wondered if the girl was homesick, then she realized that she could barely talk and had a fever.

Trouble was, Smartmom didn’t have her trusty ear thermometer or any Advil or Motrin.

No problem, Smartmom thought: I’ll just run out to the Met Food (oops, that’s on Seventh Avenue back in Park Slope).

In a panic, Smartmom went down to the lobby, but the hotel shop was
closed and the woman at the front desk said she didn’t have any Advil or Motrin. Within seconds, Smartmom spotted an attractive young mother checking in.

“Do you have any chewable Motrin, Advil, or Tylenol with you?”

“Yes, I do,” the nice woman replied.

Relieved, Smartmom felt like kissing her. She figured it might take
a while for this obviously capable, woman with the
fancy luggage and ski gear to track down the pills, but within seconds,
she had a plastic bag in her hands with grape-flavored chewable Motrin,
Benadryl and Tylenol Cold Medicine.

It was right on top in her suitcase.

“And here’s some for later,” she said handing Smartmom three more pills.

Boy, was Smartmom impressed. Now that’s a real organized, smart mom (Dumb Editor note: I wonder if she can write on deadline).

Needless to say, Smartmom also felt embarrassed and a little
ashamed. Why didn’t she think to bring a first-aid kit? She was, after
all, in charge of the health and well-being of four 11-year-old-girls
and anything can happen.

Walking back to the room cradling six purple Motrin in her hand,
Smartmom vowed to create a really cool first aid kit when she got back
to Brooklyn.

This was going to be the first aid kid to end all first aid kits.
Smartmom would buy Advil, chewable Motrin, Benydryl, cold medicine, natural remedies, witch hazel, alcohol, bandages, gauze roll, tape, knee and elbow bandages,
anti-itch ointments and Bacitracin, hand gels, wipes, eye wash, a first
aid guide, an instant cold pack, tweezers…

She’d even throw in a
package of Ricola cough drops and a can of Progresso chicken noodle
soup.

Smartmom, like that perky, super-well-equipped and cheerful
smart(er) mom, would be set for any and every eventuality. Just like
that smart mom in the lobby.

Later that afternoon — after hours swimming in the Biosphere pool —
OSFO came up to the room limping. The Oh-So-Limpy-One pointed to her
big toe and walked slowly to the bed. Grimacing in pain, she rocked
back and forth.

Smartmom tried to be very present and not let her anxiety take over
(Omigod! When did she last get a Tetanus shot? Last year? Phew!).

Smartmom stared at OSFO’s toe. She asked all kinds of pertinent questions. Did you step on anything? Did it happen in the pool?

The Oh-So-Limpy-One continued to moan.

That’s when Smartmom knew that she had to go down to the lobby again and see if the gift shop was open.

Nope.

She looked around to see if there were any cool moms in the lobby.

Nope. The only other people down there were a young childless couple in ski gear and a pair of cute twentysomething guys.

Nervously, Smartmom approached the brown-suited hotel employee at the front desk

“Do you have any Band Aids and Bacitracin?” Smartmom ventured nervously.

“Yes, we do,” she said handing her a teeny, tiny United
Healthcare/Oxford first aid kit with the world’s tiniest Band Aids and
some cream.

“Yuck,” said OSFO when Smartmom showed her the white first aid cream.

“It’s not Bacitracin,” she said.

Smartmom refrained from getting impatient. She was sure that the
super-well-equipped smarter-than-Smartmom mom would never do that.

Smartmom tried to channel that woman’s obvious grace as a mother.

She washed her daughter’s wound. Carefully. She rubbed a tiny bit of
anti-bacterial cream on the Oh-So-Limpy-One’s wound. Carefully. She put
the teeny, tiny Band Aid on. With care.

Yes, she had it in her to be the super mom she wanted to be. Just like the lady in the lobby.

It would just take a little practice, that’s all.

After 18 years.

Posted in Smartmom | 1 Comment »

February 15th, 2009

Smartmom Still Loves Hepcat

Sometimes. Just sometimes. Smartmom thinks marriage is a completely crazy concept.

Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re capable of sharing
a cramped, rent-stabilized apartment and raising a pair of iconoclastic
kids.

Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you can share a bathroom, a closet, and a checking account.

Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re proficient at conducting the business of your lives together.

In other words, just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re any good at being married.

Twenty years ago this July, Smartmom and Hepcat got married at the
swank Lotus Club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It was a lovely
wedding complete with an African mbira player, a Mexican polka band and
a very angular jazz pianist.

Their friends had a great time. Their relatives had a great time. Even Hepcat and Smartmom had a great time.

But neither of them, for the life of them, can remember a word of
their wedding vows. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was because their
flower girl was having a hysterical crying fit during most of the
proceedings.

Smartmom thinks they signed on to love and honor one another. She’s
pretty sure interfaith Rabbi Bert didn’t saying anything about obeying.

Thank goodness.

Whatever they said, they said it in front of a loving community of
family and friends. Then, Hepcat, looking unbelievably handsome — and
young — in his father’s double-breasted tuxedo, stomped on the light
bulb (in place of the customary wine glass) that marks the end of the
ceremony and the beginning of the couple’s life together.

Trouble is no one ever sat them down and told them what to expect.

No one gave them the “Idiot’s Guide to Being Married” for a wedding present.

No one told them that sometimes they’d feel like a set of conjoined twins

No one prepared them for the fact that they’d spend a small fortune
on couple’s counseling. Or that one day, they’d be too tired — and
distracted — to contemplate sex.

Ah, back before their wedding day, it was all so simple. Who cared about hampers, invoices, and middle school applications?

They enjoyed the same East Village restaurants; dancing at the
Palladium and walking through the permanent collection at the Museum of
Modern Art.

And they had sex — and lots of it.

And then life happened. They lived through a high-risk pregnancy, an
economic upheaval or two; the illness and death of relatives and
friends; the continuing adventures of being parents; working too hard,
not sleeping enough, delayed paychecks, COBRAs and all the rest.

They learned that there was more to life — and marriage — than the
giddy fun of being a couple in the first throes of pre-marital love.

This was much on Smartmom’s mind recently in the aftermath of a
heated argument with Hepcat about, er, something — it has already
slipped her mind.

It could have been about cleaning up the living room, or that their
communication skills (even after all these years) are not exactly top
notch.

Smartmom got to thinking how hard it is, sometimes, to be married.

She even wondered why she bothers with the whole enterprise anyway.
Maybe it would just be easier to move to her own minimalist white
apartment with blank walls, white carpets and loads of sunlight.

So Smartmom took a long walk as she often does when she needs to
think alone. It was an icy cold January night and the temperature
outside was bracing. As she walked, she felt the rage dissipate and
some soft feelings return. She even found herself thinking about some
of the things she loved about Hepcat in the first place.

Miraculously, it all came back in a lyrical montage: Hepcat’s
distinctive square chin, intelligent face and wicked sense of humor;
the first time he showed her his family’s California walnut farm; the
hand-painted Ford pickup truck he used to drive around New York City;
the time he asked, just a few months after they met, what she wanted to
name their children; the way he held both of their children after her
C-sections in the delivery room. Singing softly, he stared into their
eyes; the way he … well that’s private. You can’t be a blabberpuss
about everything.

Sure, he drives Smartmom crazy. They didn’t fight over the silliest
things and lose sight of why they got together in the first place.

But it’s all part of the package. Part of that imperfect concept. Marriage.

Posted in Smartmom | 1 Comment »

February 8th, 2009

Smartmom Takes on Her Critics — Including OSFO

Last week, Smartmom’s good friend Divorce Diva called to express her sympathy.

“About what?” Smartmom asked.

“About those nasty comments you’re getting online,” she said.

“What nasty comments online?”

“Haven’t you seen them?” Divorce Diva asked ominously.

Smartmom could only imagine what kind of response her last two columns — which focused on her obsession about writing about her children — had elicited.

So one day last week, Smartmom poured herself a large tumbler of
Oban, a really terrific single malt Scotch that her dad bought for
Hepcat, and braced herself for the barrage of less than enthusiastic
public opinion.

Holy Mcgeegee, Smartmom said aloud to no one. She almost fell off
her chair. “There’s some major venom out there towards me,” she thought.

Usually, she has a thick skin to ward off this kind of sniping.

But this time it felt different. This time it really got to her.
Probably because these people were insulting her right (as a mother) to
write (about her kids). And they were saying some pretty nasty things
about her as a mom.

“These kids will need years of therapy,” one reader wrote in.

“You’re taking out your frustration with your children — your
daughter’s discarded UGGS and your son’s inability to clean up the
kitchen — by writing about it in The Brooklyn Paper. That’s terrible,
terrible parenting. When your kids move out for college and never talk
to you again, at least you’ll know why.”

Whoa. Smartmom felt faint. She tried to summon up her mantra, but it
didn’t work. People were accusing her of exploiting her children for
the sake of her column and that made her mad, unhappy and a little bit
defensive.

Where is all this hate coming from, she thought? In Park Slope,
everybody talks about his or her children. Incessantly. You can’t have
face time with anyone without the conversation veering into stories
about college applications, SAT scores, dirty bedrooms.

Practically every conversation begins, “You won’t believe what my kid did this week…”

Kidtalk is the language of the Slope. What conversation doesn’t include some variation on these themes:

• How’s your kid?

• How does your kid like school?

• How are his teachers?

• What extra-curricular activities is she doing?

• Who are his or her friends?

How would people feel if there was a gag order on all kidtalk? What
if there was a huge flashing sign on every corner: “No Kidtalk Allowed”?

Why, there would be silence from Flatbush Avenue to Green-Wood
Cemetery — and it’s already pretty quiet over at the cemetery. For
instance:

• Park Slope Parents would be blank. Parents would have to go back
to reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and crawling on the floor in
imaginary play rather than itemizing their every child-rearing dilemma.

• Couples wouldn’t have anything to talk about on their date nights at local restaurants.

• Friends would sit in stony silence over coffee at Sweet Melissa.

• Book groups would actually have to discuss “Great Expectations” or
“Bolano’s 2666,” rathwe the latest kid
travails.

• Parents on the sidelines of soccer games would actually have to cheer for the kids rather than chit chat about children.

You get the idea. You might as well put a muzzle on every parent around if kidtalk is verboten.

OK, OK. Writing a column, a book, or a magazine article about one’s
kid is different from talking about them to friends, acquaintances,
teachers, psychologists, learning specialists, doctors, lawyers or
anyone else you come into contact with.

Even when she’s not writing, Smartmom knows she spills the beans
about her kids to friends and neighbors. And they spill their kid
beans, too. And those conversations are impromptu and probably
instantly forgotten.

When she writes it for her column or her blog, it does lose the
patina of privacy as it makes its way out into the world. But she also
has more time to think about it and craft her sentences. She gets to go
into a little more detail maybe. She even gets to think aloud and share
what she’s learned and what she still needs to know.

It’s not all that different from what goes on at Sweet Melissa, Bar
Reis, the backyard at PS 321, on Park Slope Parents, and blogs like Hip
Slope Mama, A Child Grows in Brooklyn, and Brooklynometry.

Without kidtalk, parents wouldn’t get to share their stories and
hear from others. They wouldn’t be able to kvell or whine. They
wouldn’t be able compare, contrast, and contextualize their children’s
experience. They wouldn’t be able to measure their own parenting; they
wouldn’t be able to act like experts or learn something new from time
to time.

They wouldn’t get to laugh with neighbors and friends about their
trials and triumphs. They wouldn’t get to cry on a trusted friend’s
shoulders or unload their stress and parental agita.

In other words, the oral history of childhood would be lost to silence.

Parents might implode with the sum total of their ingested experience aching to come out.

Smartmom bravely read all the comments in The Brooklyn Paper. She
found herself hyperventilating. She found herself feeling a combination
of guilt, angst, anger, and exasperation — and then she came to this
comment:

“Writing about how you are not writing about us is still writing
about us!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I didn’t turn the house upside down looking
for my pink wig. It was on my bookshelf and I didn’t ask you for any
help!!!!”

It was from the Oh So Feisty One. She was back online letting her
opinions be known using words and exclamation points. Smartmom felt the
pride well up in her. She had done one thing right. She’d modeled to
her daughter that it was OK to express her opinion and let the world
know what you think about things.

When done in an honest and fair way, it’s the most powerful thing in the world.

She had done her mother proud.

Sure, Smartmom has had her moments of wondering if she’s doing the
right thing. Thick skin or not, she’s human, porous, and open to
criticism. And like everyone else she wants to do the right thing.
Speaking of the right thing, Smartmom thinks Dumb Editor should offer
OSFO a column. The girl sure has a lot to say.

Posted in Smartmom | 5 Comments »

January 25th, 2009

Smartmom’s Kids Hate the Column

Here's this weeks Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper:

Smartmom’s kids hate her Brooklyn Paper column and they want her to stop writing about them. Now. Cease and desist.

The Oh So Feisty One and Teen Spirit have had it: They don’t want their lives plastered across the pages The Brooklyn Paper anymore.

Teen Spirit has hated the column for ages.

“Lies, all lies,” he has said from time to time. Now, he doesn’t even read it. Smartmom overheard him on the phone recently telling a friend: “Please do not mention my mother’s column to me. Ever.”

For a long time, OSFO has enjoyed being mentioned in the column. She loved the one about her Build-a-Bears and the pictures of her and her friends with their Build-a-Bears in the playground at PS 321.

But more recently she was miffed about the Turquoise Turmoil column — and the fact that her picture was on the front page didn’t help matters. OSFO was so mad that she wrote a comment to the Brooklyn Paper’s online edition: “THIS IS NOT HOW IT WENT AT ALL!!!!!!!!!”

That was nine exclamation points!

Later, she asked Smartmom why she wrote about her without asking her permission. But she didn’t stop there.

She wondered why Smartmom wrote about the time Diaper Diva changed Ducky’s diaper at the Cocoa Bar without asking her.

Then she asked her why she wrote about Teen Spirit’s smoking when Teen Spirit asked her not to write about it. It was like she was building a case against Smartmom and her penchant for using family members as fodder for her stories.

“That’s why I said it was about a friend of mine whose son was a smoker,” Smartmom confided guiltily.

“But you still wrote about it,” she said.

Yes, she still wrote about it. And she didn’t really have a good excuse. Why didn’t she just write about something else? Why did she have to do the smoking piece? Was it really necessary?

These difficult thoughts percolated in Smartmom’s mind. Maybe she was using her family and friends for the sake of her columns. Maybe she was being presumptuous thinking that her family wouldn’t mind being characters in the sit-com of her mind.

Like many writers, Smartmom uses her world as inspiration. But if it’s a story about OSFO or Teen Spirit, who’s story is it? Who does it belong to? Is it Smartmom’s story or does it belong to them?

These are interesting questions. Perhaps Melville wondered whether he had the right to write about Moby Dick or was it Moby Dick’s tale to tell.

Wait, that was fiction.

But what about “Mommy Dearest?” Did Christina Crawford have the right to tell-all about her mother?

Well, of course she had the right to write about her childhood — especially if she was raised by an abusive celebrity mom.

Buddha knows, Smartmom is not an abusive celebrity mom. But she does believe that it’s kosher to write about the parts of her life that include Teen Spirit and OSFO just as long as she’s thoughtful and fair.

Besides, you can’t be a writer if you have to censor your imagination. It just doesn’t work if you have to leave too much out.

On the other hand, Teen Spirit and OSFO have reached an age when privacy is very important. It’s everything. And it’s just not right for their mom to be such a blabberpuss.

Frankly, Teen Spirit never tells Smartmom anything anymore. In fact, when she asks innocent questions about school and friends, he accuses her of prying.

OSFO shares a lot more. But there are plenty of times when she simply answers one of Smartmom’s queries with, “That’s none of your business.” It’s not the nicest way to say it, but it does get the point across. And frankly, it’s probably true.

Dang. There she goes writing about her kids again. How can you be a writer when you have a gag order from your kids about what you can write about?

And yet, as a parent Smartmom must respect their wishes and not compromise their privacy in any way. It’s a tough place for a writer to be.

So what is Smartmom going to write about now? The snow on her window ledge?

If she can’t write about her kids, she’s a goner. She’ll get fired from The Brooklyn Paper. Her agent won’t want to represent her. Nobody will read her blog anymore. She’ll be done for. Finished. So what’s a Smartmom to do?

Well, it’s this writer’s job to explain her world to the world. And if that world includes her children, her husband, her friends and neighbors, then that’s the story she has to tell. It’s all about the way she writes it, the words she uses, and balance of honesty, fairness and love that she brings to the mix.

It her story — and she’s sticking to it.

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November 23rd, 2008

Smartmom: Turquoise Turmoil for OSFO

Here you have it, this week’s Smartmom from the award-winning Brooklyn Paper.

Smartmom admits it: She’s a coward!

    This all goes back to last week, when the Oh So Feisty One showed up at school with a large streak of turquoise in her hair. The entire class of middle schoolers made fun of Smartmom’s girl.

So what was Smartmom’s first reaction? You guessed it — panic.

Before she even had a chance to talk to OSFO, Smartmom made an
appointment for her girl at Medusa Hair Salon to get the turquoise dye
taken out in time for the next school day.

Talk about putting the colorist before the conversation.

“Everyone hates my hair and they keep making fun of it,” OSFO told
Smartmom. “Everyone is asking, ‘Why did you do it?’ and telling me that
I shouldn’t have done it.”

But OSFO wasn’t looking for Smartmom to make it all go away. She was
looking for support because she didn’t WANT to make it go away.

“I just called Medusa. You can cover it up if you want,” Smartmom told OSFO.

“No way!” OSFO shouted out. “That would be cowardly. Besides I like it and I want to keep it.”

Smartmom fell silent. You could have heard a plastic glove with Manic Panic dye on it drop.

And there it was: Smartmom was the coward, the person whose
self-esteem relied on the opinion of the group. Naturally, she had just
assumed that OSFO would want to undo what she’d done. How could she
have thought otherwise, considering that back to ninth grade at the New
Lincoln School, she and Jean Flegenheimer spent lunchtime making
collages in the art studio because they felt so unpopular?

But OSFO is not Smartmom. Sure, she was upset (who likes to be the
subject of negative attention?), but she’d already decided that she was
not going to be bulldozed by her class’s assessment of her new hair
color.

Smartmom simultaneously felt shame and pride. Shame because she had
revealed her own insecurities by offering OSFO an out before they’d
even talked about her feelings — and proud that her daughter refused to
plead guilty in the court of sixth grade opinion.

Whoa. Smartmom had some growing up to do and a lot to learn from OSFO.

Tellingly, Hepcat’s reaction couldn’t have been more different. He
was routinely ridiculed at school for being different. Growing up in a
small farm town in Northern California, his sartorial choices
frequently prompted incredulity and hostility from his classmates. He
sums it up this way:

“Like all real New Yorkers, I was the weirdest kid in the small town I grew up in. That’s why I moved to New York.”

He learned at a young age from his large extended family that being
different was a good thing. A clan of farmers, engineers, doctors, and
artists, they’re all proud of their iconoclastic and unconventional
ways.

So while Smartmom was making an appointment at Medusa, Hepcat was bolstering OSFO’s decision to follow her own star:

“She’s got a strong sense of herself. Sure, she pushed the envelope
more than she expected. But it’s one of those experiences that will
give her a good sense of herself. It will make her a little more
assertive and a little more independent.”

Later that night, Hepcat told OSFO that he was really proud of her.

“There’s nothing better than making choices and sticking to them,”
he said. “From this position, you can win people over and get them to
come around.”

The next day, OSFO was nervous about going to school. But Smartmom
noticed that she was wearing the blue Paul Frank hoodie that matched
her hair color. That was bold. As she readied to leave, Smartmom could
tell she was a little bit scared. Smartmom began to speechify …

“Your hair looks beautiful. It takes a lot of courage to be different … ”

At this OSFO ran for the door. Clearly, she’d rather deal with a
roomful of sixth graders than have to hear her mother make yet another
speech.

Then Hepcat called out, “Have a great day, I love you!” The door
slammed and Hepcat and Smartmom sat thinking of their sixth-grade
selves and how OSFO was years ahead of them.

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October 26th, 2008

Smartmom and Hepcat Need to Get A life

Photo2editSmartmom and Hepcat had the night off. Sort of. Teen Spirit, as always, was busy with friends and the Oh So Feisty One was iChatting with a camp friend who lives in Massachusetts.

They could have done anything — within reason, of course. They could have gone to the Pavilion to see Oliver Stone’s “W.” or “Burn After Reading.” They could have had dinner at the Stone Park Cafe or gone to Bar Reis for a Scotch.

But no. Smartmom wanted to go to Rock Obama, a benefit show organized by Lily Isadora, a 15-year-old singer-songwriter, with seven local teen bands.

Hepcat was, most decidedly, not in the mood. Napping on the couch, he was in for the night. But Smartmom was jonesing to hang out with a bunch of underaged rockers, who were coming together in support of the next president of the United States. And her son’s band, The Mighty Handful, wasn’t even playing in the show (though, let’s be honest, she knew she’d probably see him there).

“I’m tired,” Hepcat told her. “Besides, we have no business being there.”

Smartmom knew he was right; Hepcat is the sensible one when it comes to giving the kids their own space. Face it, Smartmom really only wanted to go because she knows that in a few years, she’ll have an empty nest — and it already gnaws at her. But of course she didn’t say that to Hepcat. Instead, she made the argument that she really wanted to go to the event because her favorite bands would be playing.

“Radiates! And Calamus! Banzai and Lily Isadora!” she said.

“You’re a groupie,” Hepcat said.

“Yeah, I’m a groupie,” Smartmom concurred. “But it’s for a good cause.”

Hepcat got up from the couch and agreed to come along

When they got to the Lyceum, they ran into their 17-year-old next-door neighbor.

“There are a lot of ninth graders in there,” she said grimacing.

“Ninth graders,” Smartmom whispered. “We really will be the oldest people in the room.”

Once inside, Smartmom and Hepcat were relieved to see some of their middle-aged friends. Lily Isadora’s parents looked exhausted from setting up and chaperoning the crowd. Smartmom’s good friend, Stone House Doyenne was there as was Seaside Diva, who was taking money at the door and stamping hands.

Smartmom went down to the performance space, where kids were moshing to the sounds of Banzai, one of Smartmom’s favorite bands. She couldn’t see a thing and the noise level was oppressive. Then she looked up and noticed that most of the middle-agers were watching the show from the upstairs projection booth (smart kids).

Upstairs it was civilized; the sounds were muted and they had a good view of what was going on below. They even got to sit on comfortable chairs. Good deal. It was like being in a Sky Box at Madison Square Garden and watching a game in style.

Sort of.

Ah yes, the parental booth. Smartmom had a healthy distance on her son who was downstairs enjoying the show.

It gave her a thrill to be able to spy on him — and listen to the bands she is so fond of. Then again, one of his friends told him she was there so he knew he was being spied on.

From her parental Sky Box, Smartmom had a nice overview as she thought about the passage of time. Teen Spirit looked manly wearing his grandfather’s double-breasted suit jacket and black lace-up shoes. He’s even sporting a mustache-less beard these days.

Smartmom saw Teen Spirit’s childhood best friend. They were inseparable when they were students in pre-school, where they promised that they’d always invite each other to their birthday parties. Tall and handsome, he was playing volleyball with a Poland Spring plastic bottle.

Smartmom felt, you guessed it, wistful and sad about the passage of time — but also excited that Teen Spirit and his friends are on the cusp of the rest of their lives.

She wondered if they see it that way. Probably not: they’re so in — and of — their adolescent moment.

By the time she and Hepcat left the Lyceum, Smartmom was glad they’d come. She may be a Brooklyn teen band groupie, but Teen Spirit will graduate from high school next June, his future, as yet, undecided. These are the salad days of his life and Smartmom wants to be around him — even at a distance — as much as she can before he moves on to the next stage of his life.

Whatever that is

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October 12th, 2008

Smartmom Does Some Babysitting

Here’s this week’s Smartmom from the Brooklyn Paper:

When Diaper Diva asked Smartmom if she’d take 4-year-old Ducky for a
day and a night, Smartmom said yes without thinking. But later, she
panicked a bit.

While Smartmom spends loads of time with the beautiful red-headed
Ducky, it’s usually with Smartmom’s twin, Diaper Diva, around. In fact,
Smartmom and Ducky rarely spend any one-on-one time together. Sad to
say, Ducky can be quite shy around Smartmom. Sometimes she even seems
to resent her presence because Smartmom and Diaper Diva talk and gossip
endlessly, and that’s so boring for a kid.

And when the Oh So Feisty One is around, Ducky hardly notices
Smartmom at all. That’s because the two of them are thick-as-thieves
and they’ve been playing like pirates since the first day they met four
years ago.

In some ways, the mutual admiration society that is Ducky and OSFO
has caused Smartmom to be the odd aunt out. Naturally, that makes
Smartmom feel a little guilty. She knows that the aunt/niece
relationship is an important one, and her sister is truly one of the
world’s most-beloved aunts. Diaper Diva became an aunt when she was a
single Upper West Sider and she threw herself into auntdom with abandon.

Grrrrr — she’s still so darn good at it.

By the time Teen Spirit was two months old, she had three photo
albums dedicated to her adorable nephew. And her relationship with OSFO
is closer than close. In fact, OSFO routinely tells Smartmom that she’d
rather live with her aunt than at home on Third Street.

Smartmom became an aunt at a time when she was fairly overwhelmed
with motherhood, work and life in general. She was thrilled at Ducky’s
arrival and has delighted in her presence since she first set eyes on
her, but her own children take up most of her time, worry, aggravation
and thought.

So this day and night with Ducky felt fraught for Smartmom. Yes, it
was a much-needed chance to spend quality and quantity one-on-one time
with Ducky AND a chance for Smartmom to prove her prowess as an aunt.

But Smartmom was scared. What if she failed? What if it turned out that Ducky didn’t like being with her at all?

Smartmom walked over to Prospect Park West nervously. OSFO was off
at a sleepover date in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and wouldn’t be
available for hours. She worried that there would be a scene when
Diaper Diva and Bro-in-Law left the apartment.

When Smartmom arrived, Ducky was still in her pajamas playing baby,
a game she plays when she is feeling shy. Smartmom decided to play
along and held her in her arms like an oversized newborn. Ducky giggled
and cooed. But when Smartmom offered Ducky a pretend bottle, Ducky
bolted up.

“I’m not a baby. I want you to read to me,” she said grabbing “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” from her bookshelf.

From that moment, everything was fine. Ducky barely noticed when her
parents left. Once they were gone, she seemed to delight in Smartmom’s
presence and was enthusiastic to start their day together.

“Let’s go to the park,” she said grabbing a soccer ball. “Maybe
we’ll have a picnic,” she added getting a bag of Pirate Booty from the
breadbox and a couple of Burt and Ernie juice boxes out of the
refrigerator.

The pair enjoyed themselves in the Long Meadow, at the Third Street
Playground, and the Community Bookstore where Ducky spent more than a
half hour staring at the huge and bewitching lizard they have in the
back.

Then they were off to an intimate lunch at Joe’s Pizza, where
Smartmom did what she never did for her own kids. She let Ducky spend
$5 in quarters on the junky toys in the gum machines.

Now that’s the way to win a niece’s heart.

Four super balls and four weird figurines later, OSFO joined them at
the pizza place and the happy trio was off to the Chocolate Chip
Chamber Music at Old First Church. Founded and directed by local piano
and flute teacher Helen Richman, the series features professional
musicians in engaging and interactive mini-concerts designed for 2- to
6-year-olds.

Perfection. Ducky ran into school friends at the show and everyone
enjoyed “The Wonder Winds Save the Day,” featuring the wonderful Sylvan
Winds on clarinet, oboe, bassoon, flute and French horn. The show was
clever, fun, and perfectly timed and Ducky seemed to especially enjoy
the delicious chocolate cookies at the end.

Back at Ducky’s apartment (where the three were going to spend the
night), Smartmom bathed the girl (with OSFO’s help), heated up chicken
nuggets and macaroni and cheese and popped on her favorite DVD,
Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

Smartmom was thrilled. And tired. It had been years since she spent
this much time alone with a toddler. But nothing could be more
gratifying or special. Especially the book before bed and a huge
goodnight hug and kiss for the niece she loves so much.

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October 5th, 2008

Smartmom: A Great Depression or a Little Depression

Here’s this week’s Smartmom: from the Brooklyn Paper.

So it’s the old “what do you tell your kids when bad things happen” thing all over again. The recent Wall Street meltdown and the subsequent cries of doom and gloom about the nation’s economy are pretty scary for any kid paying attention. How do you explain it without making your kid feel really, really scared?

Truthfully, Smartmom has become a bit of a pro at explaining scary world news because, frankly, there’s been so much of it during OSFO and Teen Spirit’s childhood.

The 2000 election, 9-11, the Iraq War, subway bombings in Spain and London, terrorism throughout the world, Abu Ghraibthe list is long. And now this.

Indeed, Teen Spirit and the Oh So Feisty One are coming of age during dark times in our nation’s history. It’s not exactly consoling to tell them that they’re living through important historical events. Sept. 11 is, of course, a defining moment in OSFO and Teen Spirit’s childhood. If Teen Spirit and OSFO didn’t completely understand what was happening on that day, they were aware that thousands of people had died, that children in the neighborhood lost their parents, and that the sky over Brooklyn was raining tiny pieces of paper for days. Since then, they have heard about it over and over again.

OSFO, who was only 4 at the time, was home with Smartmom because her pre-school was set to open the next day. Teen Spirit was in his fifth-grade classroom at PS 321.

When the first plane hit, Smartmom was in the kitchen listening to the radio wondering why a private plane would do something so stupid as to fly into the World Trade Center. But when the second plane hit, and it dawned on her that New York was being attacked, Smartmom tried to quell her own panic so that OSFO wouldn’t catch it.

So what did she do: she polished OSFO’s nails while she listened to the radio. The smell of the nail polish calmed her as did this simple act of normalcy.

Later, she called her father and stepmother whose apartment has a view of Lower Manhattan and listened to their panicked cries as they watched the buildings fall. At the time, Smartmom didn’t have a TV — an earnest attempt to limit television viewing. So Smartmom and OSFO went downstairs where Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz were, of course, watching the events live on their huge television set.

OSFO and the Kravitz children saw the images of the towers falling again and again. But what OSFO remembers most is that the Kravitz’s split screen television showed the Power Puff Girls and the terrible events at the same time.

“I just remember wishing we were watching the Power Puff Girls instead of the towers falling,” OSFO told Smartmom recently.

In the weeks after 9-11, Smartmom read cogent advice from Mr. Rogers on his Web site: “Children sense when their parents are really worried, whether they’re watching the news or talking about it with others. No matter what children know about a crisis, it’s especially scary for them to realize that their parents are scared.”

Well, OSFO certainly saw her mom scared and talking about it over and over again on that day. Now Smartmom understands how important it is to limit television viewing during such a crisis.

“Our children need us to spend time with them — away from the frightening images on the screen,” Mr. Rogers wrote.

“Focus attention on the helpers, like the police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics and volunteers. It’s reassuring to know there are many caring people who are doing all they can to help in this world.”

During 9-11 it was easy to focus on the heroism of the firefighters who risked their lives to help others. This time, not so much, what with all the lack of leadership coming from our elected leaders.

So how should we tell the children about the worst financial crisis (potentially!) in history? OSFO heard that there was going to be another Depression and it really freaked her out (and iving with Smartmom, she’s heard plenty about depression). True, in fifth grade, she studied the Depression and knows all about unemployment, fireside chats, and breadlines. But after that, it gets vague.

So Smartmom assured her that we wouldn’t be living on the street or eating at a soup kitchen, no matter how bad it gets (though she did not tell the child that she was lying about that last bit). She did tell her that the economy was in trouble but that people with lot of expertise were going to solve the problem (OK, so she lied again).

Teen Spirit has been following the situation much more closely. But still, like any kid, he wants to be reassured.

“We’re going to be OK,” Smartmom told him and that seemed to help.

Times like these, it’s important to listen to your kids and answer their questions in an age-appropriate way.

It’s also a good time to give them extra comfort and physical affection. Finally, it’s important for Smartmom to remember to take her Zoloft and not drink too much of Hepcat’s El Pico coffee. She must stay calm even if she is scared out of her wits.

No need to worry the children.

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