Greetings From Camp! I Wanna Go Home! or How to Rip Out Your Mother’s Heart in One Small Letter

My daughters left for sleep-away camp on Monday.  They come home on Sunday.  A short one week trial of sleep-away camp to see if they’d like it, to give them a gentle nudge towards independence.  (At least that’s the way my hard core camp husband sold it to me.)  Here’s the thing about sleep-away camp that I wasn’t prepared for – I wouldn’t speak to my kids for 6 days.  In my mind somehow I forgot this.  I’ve been away from them before but I’ve always called home to talk to them and hear a recap of their day.  Nope, that’s just not how things work at camp.  So every night my husband and I have pathetically waited for the pictures of camp to be posted on the photo site and then go through them with a fine tooth comb looking for a sign of our girls and more importantly to find some proof that they’re having fun.  A smile!  Arms around a group of girls!  Eating marshmallows!  All good signs.

Then today we came home to find two letters, one from each of them which must have been written on their first day of camp.  We read the first one:

All good right?

Then we opened the second one:

And our hearts fell to the ground.  And we laughed.  Thank goodness we have the pics of her smiling like crazy at camp or I’d really be worried.  Instead I think I’ll be proud of the fact that she has obviously mastered the art of Jewish Guilt. And my husband?  The one who went to summer camp for 7 weeks at the age of 7?  He is 100 times worse than I am and I think will be touring the Columbia University campus this fall to see how they can commute to college in 10 years without ever leaving home!

The Bittersweet Inevitability of Growing Up – A Weekend Spent with Peter Pan and Toy Story 3

my daughter and her beloved monkey

My daughters finished 2nd grade and now at 8 years old they have declared themselves to be “tweens.”  I personally thought the whole tween thing was for ages 10-12, the real prepubescent years with middle school and all those horrors.  But no, Time Out Kids had an entire tween issue and right there on the cover it said ages 8-12 and if it’s in print, especially full color giant sized print, my daughters take it as gospel.  They will go to sleep away camp for one week this summer, for the first time.  Next year they will be in 3rd grade, starting standardized testing and being a part of the “upper” grades.  Whether I truly think of them as tweens or not doesn’t really matter, the sad truth is they are growing up and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

As if this weren’t already weighing on my mind we spent a weekend taking in two great shows that hammered in the nostalgic, heart wrenching reality of childhood’s inevitable demise.  On Saturday night we went to the Papermill Playhouse’s production of Peter Pan and on Sunday watched Disney’s Toy Story 3 in IMAX 3D.    Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan – the boy who refused to grow up and gave up a chance at a real family and real love as a result.  Like all good stories Peter Pan changes as the reader ages.  When I was in 4th grade I played Peter Pan in a school performance.  On the most basic level the musical is wonderful, full of witty and rich songs, colorful characters and perfectly drawn characters.  But when you’re a child the sad character at the end is really Wendy who got old and is now a boring old mom who watches her daughter fly away for an amazing adventure in Neverland.  Seeing the play as an adult I just felt bad for Peter at the mercy of his petulant, immature ego and constantly looking for new lost boys to follow him and new little girls to play mother to his pretend father.  (The other thing that was glaringly apparent seeing the play as an adult is that both Peter and Captain Hook are perhaps two of the biggest narcissists that ever walked the stage.  But that’s a an examination about manhood vs. boyhood that deserves its own post, or Master’s thesis!)

I watched my daughters intently during Peter Pan.  They were completely entranced.  The flying of course is always spectacular and as I said the execution of the show from cast, to choreography to direction was flawless.  But at the end both of my daughters couldn’t understand why Peter would go back to Neverland rather than stay with the Darlings and have a real family.  To them Neverland didn’t seem like a fantasy come true – it seemed like a place with kids who needed someone to take care of them.  I never thought of it that way, after all the entire conceit of Neverland is that never growing old is the ultimate wish, but it’s more of a wish of an adult looking back than of a child looking forward.

Toy Story 3 was another matter.  While the mother’s quiet dismay at sending her son Andy off to college plays in at the every end of the film it is Andy himself who has to make the brutally conscious choice to give up the symbol of his childhood, Woody the cowboy, and leave childhood behind for real.  While of course I cried like every adult I’ve spoken to who saw Toy Story 3, my daughters cried even more.  Now, one of my daughters always cries at movies when they get the least bit sad or sentimental and always has.  It’s one of the reasons she hated going to the movies.  She does not like having her emotions manipulated.  But, she gave into it this time and just sort of went with it instead of being scared by it.  For my daughters the thought of giving up their beloved stuffed Monkey or blanket was horrifying.  They could not fathom how Andy could give up his most prized toy friend to another child.  And because the movie was so beautifully done you could see that Andy couldn’t quite deal with this decision either.  It’s one thing to make that inevitable march towards adulthood because that is where the thread of time is pulling you, and another thing entirely to make a wide-awake decision to abandon a cherished part of your younger self.

As a mom I am constantly torn between wanting my daughters to mature and take on more responsibility – pour your own cereal and milk into a bowl for god’s sake! – and then wanting it all to slow down and be thankful that they still want to crawl into our bed in the morning and cuddle.  They also seem to be struggling with wanting to remain in that fuzzy babyish realm of childhood and move forward into the adolescent world of making their own decisions, keeping secrets and taking on new responsibilities.   Spending a weekend with Peter Pan and Toy Story 3 made it abundantly clear to them and me that while growing up cannot be avoided it’s not something any of us need to rush.  And yes, my daughter already told me her stuffed monkey will be going to college with her.  I don’t doubt it.

The Serendipity of My Family’s Library

The first time I held a Kindle in my hand I almost dropped it.  I have small hands and keeping the Kindle in its little cover required some maneuvering that I am not used to while reading.  I finally figured out the most comfortable way to hold the thing and read my way through Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs easily enough, (though not knowing what page I was on while reading was MADDENING!)  Now, I knew that I wanted to read Lorrie Moore’s book before I headed to Mexico on this trip so I purchased it instantaneously and quite satisfactorily.  All in all the Kindle experience worked fine for me.  But, then I finished the book and I didn’t know what I wanted to read next.  I could’ve looked at Amazon’s recommendations, I could’ve downloaded The Help which my sister in -law was reading the old fashioned way, but staring at that blank gray screen I felt totally disconnected from the experience of choosing a book.  And for me picking my next great read is part of the whole reading process.

I grew up in a brownstone in Brooklyn NY.  What does this have to do with reading?  Well, brownstones were built back when people had libraries in their homes.  Entire rooms with floor to ceiling shelving just begging to be filled with books.  Our library even had a billiard table in it that my parents promptly moved to the basement.  This room with its leaded glass bay window, mahogany paneling and built in cushioned benches was the epitome of an old fashioned home library (oh yeah, that’s also where our TV was lest you think the hours spent in there were only for serious bookworming.)  Fortunately my parents had a lot of books.  Real books not those weird fake ones that people fill their McMansion libraries with nowadays.  Continue reading

Mom in Toyland Part 2- Melissa & Doug and Some Thoughts on Apartment Friendly Toys

As a city mom I dread two big holidays – Hannukah and my daughters’ birthday.  That’s horrible you think?  Yes it does sound really mean, downright Mommy Dearest material, but hear me out.  We live in about 1,000 square feet give or take a closet.  When I think of presents I think of space, or lack thereof.  At one point our coffee table consisted of two Exersaucers lined up in front of our couch.  (yes, twins means 2 Exersaucers)  Now that my girls are almost eight I have regained some degree of adultness in our living room, though if you peak inside our cabinets they’re filled with Polly Pockets, board games and arts and crafts supplies.  Still, when I think dream present I think gift card!

So, it was with a discerning city mom eye that I hit the Toy Fair.  I planned on visiting some booths for tried and true apartment favorites.  Melissa & Doug are top on that list.  In case you don’t know all about Melissa & Doug and their fabulous wooden, completely non-toxic and outstandingly well made toys let me start by saying this, Melissa & Doug made my daughters smart.  Well, maybe they didn’t make them smart (I’ll take credit for that and even share some with my husband) but Melissa & Doug helped us see how smart our daughters were.

When my girls were about 16 months old they didn’t have many words.  Maybe one or two, though they never stopped babbling.  “It’s because they’re twins,” everyone said, except our pediatrician who had twins and instead said, “get a speech evaluation.” But I digress…

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Mom in Toyland – Part 1 Playmobile and Madame Alexander

One of the best things about being a mom is your chance to reread your favorite childhood books and play with toys both old and new. But, one of the best things about being a mom blogger is getting to go the Toy Fair! Last week the Toy Fair hit New York at the Javits Center and I dropped off my daughters at The Westminster Dog Show with their grandmother (knew those pet allergies would come in handy) and headed to the fair to decide my own Best in Show.  First stops, Playmobile and Madame Alexander.

Certain companies evoke the kid in me like no other and Playmobile is one of them.  I had the big fort/camping set when I was little.  I am endlessly fascinated by incredible attention to detail that Playmobile executes in all their toys, the quality of the pieces that can be handed down over and over again, and way in which their toys facilitate imaginative play.  What caught my eye at the fair was their new school.  First of all it has such a pleasing, colorful, happy feel.  This is the school your kids wish they attended.  The details abound – a skeleton figure and microscope in the science lab, a working abacus on top of the real chalkboard for doing math, a little child bathroom and a Principal’s desk with a coffee pot.  Details, always about the details.  I immediately wanted to pick up the pieces and start playing.  It’s also fully fashioned all the way around like all Playmobile toys so that you could really get a bunch of kids playing with this at once – something I’m always looking at as a mom of twins.

One of my other favorite things about Playmobile is how their attention to the little things makes them great teaching tools too.

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Snow Day Means Show Day!

I’m not a fan of the snow day.  I’d rather trudge my kids to school (or better yet have my husband do it!) and let someone else occupy their day.  But, a snow day on a Wednesday in NYC means a chance to catch a Wednesday matinee on Broadway during one of the slowest theater going days of the year.  We scored $40 tickets to Billy Elliot, a musical I’m not completely sure my daughters will understand but that will surely entertain them for 2 plus hours.    And considering we got 3 tickets for the usual price of 1 I don’t really care if they don’t completely follow the story or even if they get bored between musical numbers.

Am I depriving my daughters of enjoying all of this once in a season snow extravaganza?  What about sledding in glorious Riverside Park you ask?

Well, that will probably be tomorrow’s after school activity.  (Please let there be school tomorrow!)

But today, while the snow is swirling and wind is howling, spending the afternoon in a warm music filled theater seems like the perfect way for a cold weather hating mom to spend a New York City snow day.

Live Blogging My Call With Katie Couric

Katie CouricI am on a conference call with Katie Couric, discussing kids and the recession:  Children of the Recession.

So far introductions all around.  CBS News is concentrating on how the recession is impacting children. 6:30pm Evening News, and the Early Show.   Go to cbsnews.com to view all of these insightful and important stories launching this week.

In LA abuse and neglect cases on the rise, ER visits are up – is it better reporting or is it a true social crisis?  Most experts say it is a direct increase related to in home stress.

How are kids manifesting the psychological impact of their parents’ stress.  The schools are taking on the job of grocery store, psychologist, office supplies, wardrobe supplier.  Kids know what is going on.  They need to talk about it and be a part of it.  Can kids learn effectively with this kind of stress going on?

This focus by CBS News is really important because there hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to kids and family and the recession.  For example, 20% of families are forgoing medical care or dental care because of the economy.

11:29 am:

Healthcare:  Huge increase in families going to free or mobile clinics who never thought they’d use one, but now they’ve lost their job and/or insurance.

SCHIP medical insurance will only cover about 1/2 the eligible children.

Are small grassroots efforts making a difference?  Safe Families is one example of a small group which has grown to seven cities.  They take in kids on a temporary basis while their parents get on back on their feet.

Would Michelle Obama want to take this up as her mission as First Lady?  In this rescession, if she is focusing on family wouldn’t this be a natural extension?

Tomorrow on the Early Show they are going to be covering how to talk to your kids about the economy.

11:40

What’s your local idea?  What’s going on in your home/school/region?  Do you have a resource you want to share?  Are you in need?

11:45

How is the economy impacting nutrition and grocery shopping?  21% of families are buying more generics and cheaper food.  Are they buying less healthy food?  More fast food?  Or is this an opportunity to get back to healthier eating at home?  More vegetables and fruit?  Duke University says that cheaper food usually means fattier, less healthful food.  Will this also effect school lunch?

11:52

I get a question in!  How about our public schools bearing the brunt of the impact on children?  Record number of Kindergarteners in NYC public schools.  Huge increase in kids leaving private schools for public.  Can the schools be expected to deal with this influx of kids and yet have the same budgets, keep class size down, and not lose what makes a school special – an art room, music, science, etc.  There’s a story there…

Now we’re talking about the other side of fear – shame.  What is the support available for parents?  How can they not be isolated or feel like they personally failed.  Will people be willing to talk about it?

The childcare case workers that are now overwhelmed?  Are there services being provided for them?  Some regions are actuallly cutting these workers because of budget cuts just when more of them are needed.

12:00 pm

Check out the Evening News with Katie Couric for all of these stories.  On cbsnews.com you can find the links and stories and follow the series, Children of the Recession.  Get help, get resources and get involved.

How are Katie Couric and her staff dealing with covering these stories?  She feels like now more than ever this kind of journalism is necessary.  This is the work she is truly proud of.  They are trying to tie it all together with bloggers and local resources and form a plan of action.  In my opinion, this is why network and big journalism is necessary.  Who else can do this?  Who else will relentlessly pursue these issues and tie all of these resources together?  Right now, it’s Katie Couric and CBS News.  So, good for them, good for us.

This is an original beccarama.com post

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Kicking Your Kids to the Curb Madlyn Primoff Style

There’s not a mom on this Earth who didn’t hear the story about Madlyn Primoff, the mother who dumped her daughters on the side of the road when she just couldn’t stand another second of their bickering.  And among the moms I’ve spoken to – every single one of them laughed, or at least smiled at the thought of it.  Of course this mom took it too far by driving off and leaving one of the girls stranded, but aren’t those parenting experts always admonishing us moms for making empty threats? How many times can a parent say, “don’t make me pull over this car?” when the kids know nothing of the sort will happen.

Now here we are watching the media jump all over this mom not just because what she did was horrible but because she doesn’t fit the profile of the kind of mom who would actually give in to maternal rage.  She’s an Ivy League grad!  She’s a lawyer!  She lives in the wealthy New York suburbs!  Aren’t women like that supposed to be enlightened, deep breathing, green tea drinking 21st century moms?  Well, the short answer is NO.  Motherhood is hard because its runs counter to all of that Zen advice.  It is constant, it can be monotonous, it is tenacious and despite all of those parenting books it does not come with instructions.  In those moments where you feel like you just cannot hear your kids in the backseat, or in the other room, or at the kitchen table, go at each other with full whine on it is incredibly hard not to just lose it.

The trick of course is to not give in and kick your kids to the proverbial or literal curb.  By all means pull over the car.  But, get yourself out and take a break from your kids.  Enough to scare them into calming down but not enough to warrant your arrest for child abandonment.  And if that fails thank this mom for doing what she did because now she has given all us moms the ultimate scary story.  Don’t fool around in the backseat or mommy could lose it just like Madlyn Primoff.  I usually shield my six year old daughters from as much news as possible, but this story I’m going to be sure they read.