Monday, January 26, 2009

Guest Bloggers!

Hey all! I wanted to let everyone know that I will occasionally be hosting Guest Bloggers on my site! This will give you an opportunity to read about perspectives other than my own (although freakishly similar, go figure.) I'd like to introduce my sister, Megan Rose; high ranking PR exec., fabulous writer, and mom extraordinaire! She's a hoot!

The Current Sad State of Human Interaction

Breaking News!! Third in line for the throne, the cute red headed soldier, Prince Harry, is single. Not really news in itself, I guess…but what is news (apparently) is how he found out…nope, it wasn’t a phone call late at night from a love that was fed up with his flirtatious ways…it wasn’t even a “Dear Harry” letter explaining that she just couldn’t be a part of his life anymore…it was that his girlfriend changed her relationship status on Facebook. Really?

Sigh. This makes me sad. The state of the human race is at stake…isn’t it? The dawn of the social media movement is really the curtain call for the face to face interaction of yesteryear. Maybe it is therapeutic. Maybe being able to hide behind a computer, phone or blackberry and tell everyone what you are doing or thinking (in 140 characters or less please) helps people bond. Maybe terminating friendships, quitting jobs or telling someone off is better handled via this new revolution. It certainly is easier- check your convictions (and spine) at the door and go ahead and hit send.

Social media has opened the door for regular Joes to opine in the world. I am not opposed to this. The question I have is what is the cost of this phenomenon? Many things take place when a conversation happens face to face, namely, that you can see the other person’s reaction. Oh- and accountability. That is an important one. Happy faces :) have taken the place of genuine, light up the room smiles. “LOL” has taken the place of hearty bellowing laughter. Am I the only one that thinks this is sad? Or- am I being like my grandparents who refuse to learn how to use a computer and email?

Can a value for people and relationships be fostered through this new medium of the 21st century? For me, I am still not sold on it. No text message will take the place of a firm hand shake and no status update will take the place of a good venting session with a friend over a glass of wine. I guess time will tell how it will affect us- for the good or for the bad. As for me, I will cautiously advance with these trends all the while holding firm in the knowledge that is time tested and mother approved- true relationships are formed without the intermediary of shiny PDA’s.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Kids; Junkies?

My nine-year-old son has a problem. He thinks about it constantly, asks for it incessantly. Begs for it during the week, makes deals to use it, thrashes and sobs when we take it away. No, not alcohol as one might suspect, or drugs as one might fear. No, my son is addicted to his Nintendo DS.

I do not say addicted lightly. This $140 dollar metal poptart has stolen my sweet son, who used to have other interests and cared about his family. But wielding his DS, our family could be perishing in a fiery inferno, and my son would look up long enough to say, “I just beat level three mom and dad! It was so much easier than I thought!”

My son has also dragged his sister into this sick and twisted gaming world. My seven-year-old was oblivious to video games until about six months ago. It started innocently enough, with that gateway-game on the XBOX 360, Cloning Cycle. He showed her how to play it. How to get ahead. How to make the little guy jump and dive. How to score points. Suddenly video games were on her Christmas list. Her birthday list. My video-dealing son got her hooked and moved in for the kill: he introduced her to the big-time DS.

Although my daughter does not have her own DS system, she wants one. She plays her brother’s and they fight over who gets to play it first or who played it longer. Their thumbs are starting to dislodge from their joint sockets, allowing for 360 degree thumb rotation. So much better for multi-tasking those buttons, but those same kids can’t pick their socks off the floor.

Our family has a no-tv-or-video-games-during-the-school-week-policy. We do let our son use the DS when he is in the bathroom, for a variety of really good reasons that I won’t mention here. But to keep things fair, we figured we also had to allow our daughter to play it while on the commode, but no more than 10 minutes at a time. There has been an amazing spike in the number of times my children need to use the restroom now. They must be eating and drinking machines at school, because they announce they need to use the restroom about 50 times a day. They grab the DS on their way to the bathroom. “Wait a minute! You can only use it to go #2!” I yell. “I better see some poop in that toilet!”

Things hit a real low for my son the other day, when my husband and I discovered for the second time (gasp), that he has been sneaking his game-heroin at night. Playing it in his bed while we think he’s sleeping. So that’s why he wakes up in the morning, groggy, miserable and bag-eyed. And I thought his pillow was too stiff.

My husband and I staged an intervention. Their 20-month-old sister was there to attest to the turmoil these games have caused in her life. More than once she has fallen down the stairs or ate some foreign object from beneath the baseboard heaters, because her siblings were too absorbed in the DS to look after her. We would have called in our pet guinea pig to testify that he too was ignored and abandoned due to the children’s obsession with gaming. But we got rid of Shadow a while back because….you guessed it….the kids couldn’t be bothered to look after another living being in the house. My husband and I each fought back tears as we choked out how much we loved them (our children) and how scared we were for their future, should this addiction continue. “Your grades will suffer!” we chanted. “Your eyes will pop right out of your head!” we cautioned. “You’re becoming kids we don’t even recognize! We can’t take it anymore!” we bellowed.

We threatened to send our son to Amsterdam, where there is a video-game detox program, ready to help and lend a hand. My son wasn’t quite ready to move across the country. We researched the contact information for On-line Gamers Anonymous, and read the signs and symptoms of game-addiction. My husband and I have wracked our brains trying to figure out where all our strict parenting went wrong…is it us? Is my son predisposed to addictive activities? Or perhaps is it a brain disorder like some claim?

I’m sure we’re not the only parents dealing with this childhood sickness. You may be thinking I’m over-reacting. I suppose you could be right. In fact, my good friend Pam actually plays video games with her sons; helps them beat the tough levels, helps them kill those virtual foes who simply throw the fireballs too quickly for a seven-year-old thumb to react. Apparently she is one of those “cool moms” that embraces things her children do; one of those parents who enjoy partaking in their children’s fun. She claims she teaches them such novel childhood lessons as being a good sport, taking turns, handling disappointment when they lose. She’s even been known to get so lost in the DS games herself (trying to help my son and her sons beat a level) that she actually told my son to shut up. I don't blame her. I’ve no doubt my addicted son was jones-ing for the DS-bong, nervously tapping his foot on the floor, waiting his turn to try and beat the level, repeating the phrases, “IcandoitletmetrynoIcandoityoudiditwrongletme-tryletmetryletmetrynorealyIbetIcandoit..” in eerie monastic monotones over her shoulder, and she snapped. I suppose the thrill of the video-kill could do that to a person. Or worse.

Have you heard about the 17 year-old teen in Ohio, who killed his mother and shot his father in the head, because they wouldn’t let him play Halo3? I know, it sounds too far fetched to be true. But the kicker is that the only thing he took from the house after the incident, was the Halo3 game. Okay, so not all video-game-playing kids are this sick. It only takes one jack-ass to upturn the apple cart and spoil it for the rest. But I have to admit, after reading this article, I might be peeking through my hands when my son says to me, “Close your eyes mom, I have surprise for you.”

Halo is also a game my son wants to play. He keeps asking when he can play games that are rated “M.” I keep telling him that when his is an “M” I’ll let him play M games. “What does that mean?” he asks me. I paused. Thought. And replied:

“You can play “M” games when you can explain to me in significant detail what ‘the dignity of the human person’ means.” This has stumped him for awhile, and he keeps insisting, “It just means be respectful to others, right?” Well, there’s more to it than that. I figure by the time he’s 15 or 16 he might understand it, and then we can revisit those “M” games. Right after his volunteer hours with the food pantry, homeless facilities, and battered women shelters.

And if you were all still concerned about the state of our economy, apparently not all businesses are going under. According to the Wednesday edition of the Wall Street Journal, Gamestop Corp. is alive and well, thanks to their sales of new and used video games. Sales from games are expected to reach $2 billion dollars, up from $1.6 billion dollars last year at this same time. If you are unemployed, you might want to apply at Gamestop, because apparently, in these tough times, what us American's need to fight off the recession and get our minds off the cost of groceries and our late mortgage payments, is a little gaming distraction. And I'm pretty sure they are an equal-opportunity employer, although a skater t-shirt and a body piercing probably wouldn't hurt your interview image.

Well, as a concerned parent, I'm trying. Trying to put the focus of life back where it belongs; in school, family, faith, and friends. (Not necessarily in that order.) I'm glad to know that my husband and I are on the same page, dedicated to protecting our children and helping them aquire some perspective.

The other day my son was looking for his DS, couldn’t find it anywhere. It wasn’t where he put it. It wasn’t charging. It was a weekend, and he needed to use the restroom. He was beside himself. I walked into my bedroom to help my son look, and find: my husband playing the Nintendo DS in our bed. “Have you been in here playing this the whole time?” I asked. “What kind of lesson does this teach the kids?” I grumbled.

“I don’t know..” he replied. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Money Matters

My son has been hounding me to come up with a list of things he can do to earn money. He would like to amass wads of cash, not to give away to a local shelter, or buy something nice for the mother who cares for him 24/7, or even to save up for a really big item that would be beneficial for a boy his age—say a new mattress for his bed, or efficient lighting by which to study. No, my son would like wads of cash to purchase games for his Nintendo DS. This cursed thing was brought by (who else) Santa, even though I was previously pretty specific about what I wanted each child to have. (Damn Santa.) This hand held video contraption is now my kryptonite, closing in on my other arch nemesis, the XBOX 360. Buying video games is now the sole reason my son wants to engage in any sort of physical labor or has even a slight interest in performing a duty with a purpose.

My son needs this list of money earning activities because he doesn’t receive an allowance. Although he is nine, we haven’t started the allowance thing for a number of reasons. For one, I don’t feel right about giving him money to do chores. Chores in my book, are things you do

because you are part of a family and everyone has to pull their own weight. Dishes, vaccumming, putting your laundry away, wiping the dust from the baseboards, these are all things I feel my kids should do because I let them live here. No one pays me to cook dinner and pick my underwear off the floor, why should my kids be any different? The opposite side of that argument is that I also don’t feel like I should give my kids money just to give them money. Allowance isn’t a basic human necessity and I’m not handing money over to them simply because other parents are doing it, or to teach them the “value of a dollar,” or any other rhetorical crap parents use these days. You know when it comes right down to it and Johnny is short $1.23, the majority of parents will chip in, thereby defeating the purpose of managing money to begin with, so allowance these days doesn’t really teach kids anything. Besides, last I looked nobody was handing me money for the freedom of it, so there you go.

Even if my husband and I decided to give our children allowance, what's a reasonable allowance these days anyway? Surely it has to be more than the $5 bucks a week I got when I was nine. I found this allowance calculator helpful. It suggested that allowance be $1 for every year of age per week, so in my son's case, $9 dollars a week. But wait, that's $432.00 per year, for my son to buy things as he pleases! I don't even spend that kind of money on whatever I want. Why does my nine year old have more money than I do, and he doesn't even work? (I do work BTW.)

No, I want my kids to earn the money somehow, but not by doing chores. This leaves me to come up with a list of activities and the dollar values associated with each. I don’t want the kid to have to shovel snow for 50 cents an hour, but also don’t think that clearing the front walk is worth 10 bucks. As much as I complain about all the things there are to do around my house, I’m really having trouble coming up with a list of things for my son to do.

  • Chop Firewood? No, too dangerous. (Even though my husband has given my son a hatchet and lets him cut kindling, I’m not going to be around when CPS comes to inquire about my son’s missing digits.)
  • Make Dinner? Only if we wanted to eat frozen waffles with peanut butter, and granola bars.
  • Iron Clothes? Requires too much attention to detail, namely, not burning the item of clothing while he focuses on the steam coming out the top and wondering how it’s doing that, and looking to see where the water will go in…
  • Babysitting his sister? This task can only be completed if its no longer than 15 minutes at a time, there is no external stimuli such as tv, music, and definitely not video games, and if they are both secured to one room with only baby toys. Then again, how much is 15 minutes of babysitting worth?

I found some more helpful suggestions on Moneyinstructor.com. A lemonade stand. Good one, but it's 20 degrees outside. Washing the car. Another good one, but the resulting water would turn our driveway into an ice-rink. Pet grooming. This would have been a keeper idea, save for the fact that we no longer own any pets, because my children wouldn't take care of them in the first place. Gardening. Wrong season. Argg.

I remember being a kid and asking for a list of things to do to earn money. I remember that this lasted well into my young married days when my parents hired me to faux paint various rooms in their house. I think it’d be great if we could return to those days, earning a little allowance for yourself by doing things for the neighbors. You could fund little outings with your spouse with this ancillary cash. Here’s what that might look like:

Husband: “Hey honey, you want to get a sitter for the kids on Saturday and catch a movie, maybe dinner?”
Wife: “That sounds great! How much do you think we’ll need?”
H: “Well, $35 for movies, $25 for dinner at Wendys, and $300 for the babysitter for four hours, that comes to…$360.00 total.”
W: “Hmmm. Okay. I’ll hit up the Smiths on the corner and see if I can clean their bathrooms for 10 bucks each; then I’ll call the Waverlys and skim their pool and scrub their cool-decking for 10 more bucks; and I’ll check with my parents and see if I can get a $15 IOU for any weeding my mom might need come summer. What about you?”
H: “I think I’ll call up Harold and see if I can chop a cord of wood for him. That would net me about $25. Then I’ll call up my sister and see if I can re-caulk her shower stalls and switch out all her lead plumbing to copper. That should get me about $100. I think Grandma needs some errands done, so I’ll only charge her $30 for my time. What’s that leave us with?”
W: “210.00.”
H: “We’re $150 dollars short. Those damned babysitters make so much money!”
W: “Do you think our son could do it? Babysit for the others, I mean?”
H: “What, and leave a nine year old in charge of two other kids for four hours at night?”
Silence.
H: “That sounds like a great idea! We’ll offer to pay him $20—our son does want to earn money after all—which gives us an excess of $150 bucks! Want to go away for the weekend?

Well, I’m no closer to coming up with a good list for my son, even though I told him I had a list ready. I suppose I need to be grateful he wants to earn it, rather than assuming I will simply buy it for him. Perhaps as this generation of children get older and enter the work force, it won’t be work-for-pay, but work-for-videogames. Maybe video games will become the new currency and will replace the Yen, Euro and dollar bill. At least this is what my son wants to work for. And millions of boys just like him no doubt.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"News" Years Resolution 2009

The new year has begun and to help ensure that I am more successful than last year, I have decided to make only one New Year’s Resolution. I’ve been thinking about blogging, but honestly have been feeling a tad overwhelmed at the state of our current world and life situation. It’s difficult to be funny when there isn’t much to be funny about. So...

My New Year’s Resolution for 2009 is to be more unaware of what is happening in the world. It would have been to become part ostrich and burry my head in a hole in the ground for hours at a time, but the former resolution was easier. For example:

If a world war breaks out because of the conflicts in Gaza and Israel, I don’t want to know about it until bombs start landing in my yard. If Russian professor Igor Panarin’s prediction comes true and the United States as we know it breaks up because of a civil war due to our country’s moral decline, and the East Coast comes under British rule, I don’t want to find out until they start making me eat scones and crumpets for breakfast every day. If my stocks continue to tank, leaving me with no retirement, and no way to effectively pay for my children’s college education, I will consider my children’s non-admission letter to the university, plenty of notice.

If one more person in my family gets sick or is hospitalized, or if any more of my friends or friends’ family gets cancer, or if anybody else dies, please do not give me the details. Simply tell me to put your name on my ever-growing list of things to pray for, and I’m on it.

If more houses on our street get broken into, by whom everyone assumes is a teenager looking for things to steal, sell, and purchase drugs with, I don’t want to be informed until that said teenager is standing in my living room holding a beer, my watch and my $10 earrings. At which point I will offer that teenager my $20 earrings along with the kid’s lunch money and promise to help him/her post their stolen items on Craigslist, right after my husband kicks his or her arse.

If my house continues to be valued at less than I paid for it, eventually reaching the point where I will never be able to move, let alone pay off a 60-year mortgage, I will consider myself as finally having some roots, so keep me in the dark.

If I hear about one more filthy rich person who has bilked thousands of people out of billions of dollars so they could own a dwelling big enough to house a small nation, and sip martinis on their yacht collection at 9:30 in the morning, I will have to jump off the roof of my paltry $350,000 dollar home into a pile of burning leaf mulch. So don’t let me hear about it.

And on the local front, if I bend my ear to any more petty squabbling about how South Easton residents are inferior to North Easton residents because our pocketbooks aren’t as fat as the Northies, and the trailer park in the Southie section brings us down, or how the two zip codes in town define us, I’m going to have to remind everyone-especially the crusty-uppers who care about such matters, that they are living in EASTON after all, and not in a quaint brownstone in Back Bay, or in Dover or Wellesley. I’ll have to remind them that it’s easy to be a big fish in a small pond, and if they really want to throw around dollar signs, they need to relocate to the ocean.

But I won’t be receiving anymore such news. I won’t because I’m eliminating all information from my daily routine and lifestyle. I’ll have to stop watching all television (except for the Food Network), and cease reading all newspapers. I will no longer be able to frequent any restaurant with a t.v.-which pretty much limits my choices to Wendy’s and Subway. Now, the fact that I am trying to make a tiny living out of writing for such mediums does present a conundrum, but I’ll have faith in myself to figure it out. Limiting my restaurant choices and places I can frequent will help me save money, help me save calories, and both will make my body healthier and my husband happier, which will lead to marital bliss. (All those things being ancillary New Year’s Resolution bonuses.)

It’s so drastic! You scoff. Just Relax! You cry. Believe me, I have tried. My first thought was to start looking for prime real estate somewhere in Canada or Montana perhaps, some remote mountain location with a snuggly, warm cave and a thriving forest on which to provide for my children. Something a reclusive family would be proud to call home. Alas, my husband simply wasn’t on-board. So I changed my mental parameters, and came up with my resolution to be less involved and informed about the world. It’s a win-win situation for everyone: our family saves on media expenses, my illusions for hope for the world remain intact, I can continue raising my children without wondering what kind of world they will inherit, and we don’t have to move. Whew.

Now, for those who are worried about my mental synapsis slowing due to lack of informational stimulation, have no fear. I have found plenty of media outlets to keep me healthy and challenged. These Web sites offer only good news, positive news, things that make a human glad to be human. For those who are also interested in browsing these sites, you have four to choose from: The Good News Network, Happy News, Heroic Stories, and Only Positive News. A couple you’ll need to subscribe to, but I figure that since I’m not paying for the Globe or Wall Street Journal, I have a few bucks I can throw towards that. In fact, I bet they accept freelance writing…..hey…wait a minute….
my aforementioned conundrum, solved.

I’m curious to hear about your New Year’s Resolutions. Losing weight? Eating your way towards health? Quit smoking? Swearing? What is it that is motivating you this year? Post your New Year’s Resolutions and share your good news!

(Photo credit B&W poster, 3500cm2 project curated by Lorenzo Benedetti, for Blue Room in Rome)