Friday, December 29, 2006

And THAT'S why we quit calling it a penis

This post...wherein I explain to you the pitfalls of teaching your children the technically correct names for body parts, and wherein all the people who cautioned me to use euphemisms get to laugh their asses off and blow raspberries at me whilst saying, "I told you so!"

In my last post I mentioned how my husband and I began parenting with intentions of doing it All Right as we knew it. This included not being shy about naming body parts. And teaching our daughter to be comfortable with her body as was by modeling being comfortable with our own bodies. There'd be no complaining about body shape, size or features. Instead we'd love and embrace who we were.


Go ahead, snicker. I know you once thought it sounded pretty good in theory too, didn't you.

I secretly laughed and not at all secretly teased friends who could barely say "wipe your *blush* *drop to whisper* lu lu," to their girls and who gave their sons' penises names reminiscent of Pee Wee Herman, which I found lots more skeevy than the actual word itself.

"It's just a body part," my husband and I said, "Nothing at all wrong with calling it what it is. One should be no more concerned about calling a vagina a vagina or a penis a penis than calling an elbow an elbow."

More experienced parents---read: those with children who had hit the verbal stage and beyond---shook their heads and rolled their eyes at our naivete. We pooh poohed them and stuck to our optimistic theory.

I blame Eve Ensler and the great "own your body parts" movement of the 90s.

So this is what happened as a result of our modernity, and is why we have resorted to those self-same euphemisms we once scoffed at:

We had just moved and were hearing tons of advice about places we just had to go. Nearby was this diner that everyone raved about. I'm a big fan of diners, and had a huge milkshake craving. So, one evening after an exhausting run to Ikea (another traumatizing post for another day) we decided to take Patience---then two and a half and quite the prolific talker---and our tired selves out to eat.

The diner was an open space with tables situated in the center, and booths along the edges. Our table abutted a half wall, and directly next to us was a couple clearly on a date.

"First or second," I hazarded a guess to my husband, "They're trying to figure out why each is still single, what's wrong with the other person, but they aren't touching hands or making too much eye contact yet," I whispered. He and I turned our eyes and ears to the couple.

Patience followed our rude, staring gazes.

The three of us sat silently, shamelessly eavesdropping. My husband and I occasionally waggled our eyebrows at one another over something said, but otherwise we were the uninvited guests at their date.

Now and again, we'd have to tell Patience to sit, no standing, or move the sugar container further from her reach.

Eventually, she got bored, and we were too tired to adequately entertain her, plus the food was taking so long we joked that they must have had to run out to milk to cows to make the shakes.

As she is wont to do, Patience took matters into her own hands and decided to entertain herself.

In a rare show of friendliness, she began waving at the couple on the date. They smiled and waved back.

She smiled, and encouraged, added to her performance. She squeaked, "Hello! Hello! Hi hi!"

They smiled, and waved again.

"We're here to eat!" she told them.

They laughed and said they were there for the same reason.

My husband and I smiled, but also ducked our heads and shrugged, saying, "Sorry, hope it's not a bother...?"

They assured us it was not.

Our food arrived, and Patience was momentarily diverted. The couple resumed their talking, stopping here and there for a bite or sip of a drink.

After a few minutes, Patience pushed her food away and announced, "All done!"

I handed her the little Elmo train toy she usually liked to play with, but she chunked it to the floor. I felt little twitches of warning and, sotto voce, told my husband, "Eat fast!"

Patience decided to resume her smile and wave game at the couple next to us. I could tell they no longer thought it was quite as cute. I tried to engage her in our table with bites of food, drinks of shake, little rhymes, and so forth, totally unsuccessfully.

Child is relentless when her eye is fixed on a task.

The couple was now ignoring her, so she decided to redouble her efforts.

"Mister," she called to the man, "Mister!" he turned to look at her. "Did you know..." she said coyly, "Did you are a BOY?!?!"

This got a laugh and nod.

She smiled and nodded in satisfied success. She banged her fork on the table to impress him further.

"Loud!" she cried.

"Yes, loud," he agreed. Her smile grew bigger. Then she became very serious, her eyes narrowed, and she pursed her lips.

"You are a boy. This have a PENIS!" she told him.

He looked startled and at an utter loss for words. My husband and I gasped, speechless, trying to decide the best way to address this.

The man's date let out a slight chuckle and quickly covered her mouth, but it was too late. My precious, cherub-faced daughter's eyes fixed on her new target.

"You!" she said loudly, "You are a girl!"

We all waited, breath held, my husband and I gestured madly at one another. He started to rise from his chair...

My daughter's mouth opened.

My husband started around the table towards her.

My daughter took a deep breath.

I reached my hands towards her, a plea.

She said, pointing a finger to the lady, voice ringing loud and clear through our side of the restuarant, "NO PENIS FOR YOU!"

Silence draped over all of the nearby tables.

The waiter froze in handing food to the table on the other side.

Someone snorted. Someone guffawed. Someone giggled.

And then, the entire restaurant exploded laughing, including us, even though, a little bit, we were absolutely horrifically embarassed and internally covering our faces with our hands.

And that, my friends, is why we quit calling it a penis.

What do we call it now?

Why, boys have boy bits, and girls have girl bits, but most importantly, they are Privates and Not Mentioned in Public.

* For those who wondered, the dating couple laughed the hardest and told us, "Thanks for breaking the ice." It was their first date, and going rather awkwardly. Afterwards, they smoothed out. I hope they got married because OMG what a story for the reception!

Image source: Roland in Vancouver

All text and images exclusive copyright 2006 by Julie Pippert.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Parenting as if I might get hit by a bus tomorrow

A Perfect Post - December Thanks Masked Mom!

Everyone is fond of espousing their preferred parenting techniques. I notice people are especially fond of sharing these techniques when your children, or rather you, aren't behaving how these people think you ought. Even more so if they are utter strangers, and still more likely if you did not ask at all.

Say, for example, you have four children with you at the store, three of whom are practicing for their audition for the Broadway show The Whining Sisters. And say, for example, you state, in utter exasperation, "I will get all of you the light up ring pops if you sit in the cart quietly while we finish shopping!"

In this case, a stranger might pipe up and say, "Bribery doesn't teach them to be good for goodness' sake! The well-known Dutch author and parenting expert Dr. Hasnochildrenofhisown says if you model behavior and blah blah blah and still more blah that has no actual meaning in a real life situations!"

After you finish modeling "if looks could kill," you model "restraint" and say simply, "I'll make sure we look up that book next time we go terrorize the library with our presence."

Then you model "creative cursing" and "incomplete sentences" by muttering, "Stinking...succotash...with flapping...hinges and dog dog dog dog dog dog dog."

Now, I started out this parenting gig with excellent intentions. I was going to do it all right, you see. I was not going to make those mistakes, of course. My children and I would work as well together as peanut butter and jelly. They'd be models of "why you should stop birth control" and I'd never even raise my voice. I read reviews, did some research, and selected the One True Expert who Had All the Answers and who would Guide Me Toward True Parental Gnosis.

I began my quest for Parental Gnosis by trying to follow The Book. The Book, in my case, was Dr. Sears. I wanted to parent in a loving way that had structure, but never made my kid feel bad.


I know. Laugh away. It's cool. I know you are laughing with me because if you are a parent, I bet you dollars to low-fat Weight Watchers one point carrot cake (doughnuts being out) that, at least with your first, you too never wanted to make your child feel bad.

But then...the child pulled the cat's tail, or dumped your egg carton on the kitchen floor (more than once) (because you are a slow learner), or black markered your beige suede side chair or whatever it was that rendered you terribly human with a really loud voice and angry words.

You saw your small child cower in surprise, and yes, perhaps a tiny bit of fear of this Deranged Parent, and part of you grieved while the other part of you reeled in shocked triumph.

The Nice Voice and Nice Words had reached a power limit, and you found the new power: Mad Mom who Means Business and You Better Freaking Believe It or Else Serious Logical Consequences and I'm SO NOT KIDDING.

You discovered the power of kneeling eyeball-to-eyeball with your mischevious tot and saying, in a low, calm but serious voice, "This is a not do blah blah blah again or..." and you let your voice trail off while your eyes make threats.

You discovered the power of bribery. The power of limits and boundaries. And your parenting evolved.

At least mine did. My husband's too. By the time the second one came along, we both swore---in the same way we did to Always Lovingly and Always Kindly Parent our First Precious Angel---to not repeat the mistakes we made in that initial well-intended quest to be Perfect Parents.

For example, the second one would learn that the crib was not for clothing storage! it was a bed! for her! she had her own bed! in her own room! where she slept! without mom and dad! sometimes! before kindergarten...

Among other lessons.

We restyled our parenting and renamed it "parenting our way out of a paper bag." Our main technique was something we co-opted from the military called, "flying by the seat of our pants." We'd start out with a plan, and as much intel as we could, but we understood the enemy was crafty and might change directions and tactics at any moment. We promised to back one another up, and keep in good communication. We promised to never leave one another behind, and agreed that sometimes strategic retreat is sensical---live to fight another day.

This man-on-man style of parenting works well, usually, when we are together. But oh-so-often I am alone, and I have to resort to Zone Defense.

At these times, I ask the children to do more for themselves and each other. I might have soapy hands, washing dishes, and be unable to refill a water cup, so I say things like, "Mom's busy, you'll have to do for yourself."

And from this evolved my current style, known as, "Parenting as if I might get hit by a bus tomorrow."

Do you feel it? That sharper sense of mortality? Ever since you grew up and became a parent? Did you find new fears and concerns in life? Do you look at corners of desks and tables differently now?

They say it is because you have made yourself responsible for another life. You feel like you have something to lose that is more important than yourself.

They are right, I think.

If I allow myself to ponder the demise of myself, I am more concerned for the welfare of my children than I am for the loss of me.

"Whatever shall they do?" my mind wails, mentally wringing my lily-white hands, "However shall they go on?"

I think of my husband. Heretofore, I had not realized he was color blind or outfit impaired, but he is. He's excellent at brushing hair, but not so good at the styling of it, and his favorite food to make for the kids is mac-n-cheez with sausage.

Braiding? Precious little Easter dresses with bonnets, Mary Janes, and gloves? Regular portraits? Cupcakes for school? Not so much.

These are my strengths, not his.

His strengths are greater patience, and a greater willingness to rumble around and play with the kids. His concern is that the children be happy.

Thus began my teaching my children how to go on, on their own.

Every day I talk them through each thing I do. I teach them how to do it, and explain the importance of doing it. I ask them to do it for themselves.

And they are very good at it. They are tremendously independent and do so much.

Both children can get food for themselves from the pantry and the refrigerator.
I keep healthy food within easy reach, and tell them frequently the importance of eating healthy food first.

They can dress themselves, and Patience can even change Persistence's diaper. She can clip her own and Persistence's nails. They know the bedtime and morning routines, and Patience will tell Dad clearly if he makes lunch the way she expects. We're working on learning time, and how to read a calendar.

They are "sharpening their saws," and I am doing my best to help.

Not to be morbid (again) but I know that were I to be lost, they'd lose their female model. I have asked friends and family to please ensure they know how to do things they'll need to. They have extracted the same promise from me. It feels creepy, but also reassuring and responsible.

And that got me thinking (again, more).

Would my husband really let my kids go snarly-haired, ragtag dress, lunchables in the lunch kits every day, cavity-ridden teeth, off schedule for well-child check-up and so on if I were not around?

I seriously doubt it. I'm sure he'd step up to the plate, but as we all know or can imagine, doing parenting solo means some things get compromised.

I compromise many times every day, and that's with another parent bracketing the ends of each day.

And that got me thinking (yet again, even more).

Does the loss of a mom versus a dad matter to a different degree, in a different way?

Up to this point, I had pondered losing a parent in the same way: a tragic loss.

But perhaps, just perhaps, it's not an equitable loss.

I'm sure type of personality for the parent, age and gender of children matter in the weighing of it all, but it strikes me that in general, at my kids' ages, you tend to see more moms doing the little things that grease the wheels for a comfortable life.

Why is that?

Do moms naturally "mother?" Can dads fit into this same role, and do many of them simply step aside not because of a lack of ability, but because the job is already being performed?

Do these little things I value so much---eating how I deem "right," knowing certain manners, keeping tidy, and so forth---really matter?

Does a child in a schoolyard look more obvious if missing a mother, versus a father?

Do fathers worry about how their children could get on with things they (the fathers) would teach, if the father himself wasn't around?

My husband says that in all honesty, he doesn't think about it. Heart-wrenching Michal Keaton movie plots aside, he says it doesn't occur to him---at least not in the way it does to me---to worry about being mortal. He has a will, and a life insurance policy, and has set up as much as is possible were the unthinkable to happen. So with those safeguards in place, he shut that drawer and exists solely in the "parenting day by day" mentality.

I'm the only one who worries about teaching...just in case...I get hit by a bus tomorrow.

Lest you think that everything I do is governed by this mode of thinking, let me assure you it is not my overiding thought. It is merely a passing one.

My "hit by a bus" parenting is really more in the way of not wanting my kids to grow up, move out on their own and suddenly realize, "Oh SHIT! I have NO CLUE how to wash laundry/cook healthy meals/clean a house/pay bills/fix a garbage disposal/repair a tire/and so forth."

I recall plenty of young adults I knew being utterly mystified about the practicalities of life. For some, it never even occured to them to wonder how these things were done, or they had no idea they had some responsibility in such-and-such area because it was always magically done for them.

Although my parents spent ample time rendering me quite capable of many accomplishments, I still find myself forgetting tasks such as, "Oh rats! I'm supposed to drop ice and soap in the disposal once a month," after paying a repairman $55 to clean it. That's simply the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other things I forgot or never knew.

I know I can't do it all, all of the time, perfectly. I don't expect that.

I understand that, as with parenting, life is compromise and some things are more important to each of us in different ways at different times.

But I want to ensure that my girls have the basics down. I think, in general, my husband and I are pretty good at that portion, even though we might fly by the seat of our pants most of the time.

More than anything, I want them to know that, even if they didn't or don't have a specific person (say, me) to show them how to do something (say, make monkey bread), they are very competent and can figure out how to do it themselves.

And that's what I really mean by "parenting as if I might get hit by a bus tomorrow."

All text and images exclusive copyright 2006 by Julie Pippert.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I am a Total Hypocrite about Porn Star Barbie

My sister and I were Barbie fanatics growing up. We had such fun playing. In fact, we had so much fun playing together---one of our times of playing nicely---and we played with so much imagination that I remain pro-Barbie to this day. The story was the key to me. Was Barbie dressed the part? If so, then all was good.

I never noticed her proportions. I never noticed whether blonde, blue-eyed Barbie was the Cool Chick. Actually, my favorite Barbie was Hispanic Barbie. I adored her black hair, brown skin, and melting black eyes. (The melting part might have been literal once or twice as Barbie aided me in a science experiment. In fact, Skipper bears a few, sad scars to this day, although she hasn't let it get her down if her still-chipper smile is any indication.) I named her Connie.

Back then, Barbie was a doll who had lots of clothes, accessories, and play toys. She wasn't a political statement as far as we were concerned. Many of our friends weren't even interested in Barbie.

Back then there was very little TV at all, and even less TV designed for kids. We had grown past Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street, and had begun our Little House on the Prairie and Nancy Drew stages.

Barbie was often a prairie girl who lived in a Lincoln Log cabin. She tended horses, chickens, grew crops, and occasionally hired Ken to help out with a few things. It never occured to us that Barbie wouldn't own her own farm.

Barbie was also a SuperSpy, one of my childhood ambitions. She sneaked under plastic barbed wire wearing a Wonder Woman outfit and protected us against Nuclear War, which those Russians were always trying to export to our country---or, more importantly from my POV, frequently ended my SRA reading time at school for a duck and cover drill (fat lot of good that would do, although it might have made interesting research fodder for future archeologists).

Other times Barbie was a modern city girl. She decorated homes or was a famous journalist, maybe a teacher. All while wearing wrap-around handkerchief skirts, fashionable wide-brimmed hats, and even gloves sometimes. When evening struck, she rode her bicycle to the disco, wearing black spangly outfits with lacy capes and spiky heeled boots.

Unrealistic as the size of her waist and hips, I know. But fun.

The point is, we dedicated an unbelievable amount of time to fun Barbie play. I swear to this day it is the source for my over-developed imagination.

It won't surprise you to learn, then, that I played Barbie long past an age I am willing to admit to. Okay so I was playing Barbie only today.

I have a good explanation for that.

My mother brought a large, plastic storage tub full of the Barbies, clothes, and furniture she saved from our childhood. I'm to pass it along to my little girls.

Over my cold, dead body.

That tub---representing a small portion of our Barbie paraphenalia (whatever happened to our Barbie camper?---is my Walter Mitty.

It is my Rosetta stone, I realized today, as I opened it and pulled out each familiar object. Looking at these wonderfully preserved toys, I caught a sharp glimpse, a flashback, of who I was thiry years ago and how that helped form who I am today.

I dressed my Connie in the outfits I recalled as my favorites, and was ecstatic to see the Ken Olympic Skier outfit still complete. I marveled that the gold, orange, and brown mushroom print bed was ever beautiful to me, although I still found the yellow pantsuit with half-skirt, bolero jacket and hat attractive. After fingering inflatable furniture, spinning Barbie's bike wheels, and even combing Connie's hair, it occured to me that so much of what I rememebred wasn't a dream, or fiction, the story of someone else, as it so often seems, especially the further from childhood I go. My past is actually my past, my story.

Searching for further anthropological evidence of my childhood, I pulled out my Barbie Caboodle Kit and saw that even as a child, I was methodical, organized, and meticulous. The dolls, outfits, and accessories were arranged and in great condition.

I had suspected all of it, but here it lay before my adult eyes: my childhood, untouched for well over twenty-five years, my memories in hard proof.

What I didn't expect---beyond the neatly paired shoes, carefully sorted clothes (Barbie's here, Ken's here, accessories here)---and didn't remember was the collection of Barbie lingerie.

Perhaps to my puerile eyes and mind it was simply underwear, minus the Electric Company logo.

To my adult eyes, it was, "Oh MY GOODNESS, MOM! What were you thinking!" I gasped and laughed, holding up a hot pink racy teddy meant for Barbie. I dug deeper. Were these satin ladies boxers? "Good GRIEF, is this a French Maid's outfit? Are you KIDDING?!?!" and, "A sheer nightgown and robe set? What the...did you buy me porn star Barbie?"

My mother, sister and I stared, and dug deeper, finding more risque Barbie lingerie. We laughed and laughed. My sister and I had never realized, nor had my mother. Maybe back then we didn't have Victoria's Secret to tell us that all of this was S-E-X-Y. Maybe we were just playing, innocently.

Maybe innocence is the key.

My opposition to those Bratz dolls, lingerie for first graders, padded bikinis for 5 year olds, and all the other sexed up and sassy toys out there for little kids seemed suddenly so...hypocritical.

I re-weighed the evidence.

I considered: do we need to view toys not from an adult perspective, but rather from a child's perspective?

How often do my kids use toys in ways other than how intended?

Frequently. I thought ruefully of the boxes (that had housed toys) Persistence became attached to during Christmas.

This is actually my rationale for allowing Barbie in the house.

So why not, then, go for the Bratz and Bratz cousins?

Is it simply because Barbie feels safer to me, because she is so familiar, such a part of my childhood?

Maybe so.

However, I have decided that both points of view are necessary: I have to view toys both from an adult and child's perspective.

So the Bratz and toys of that ilk are still Banned in this house.

As for Barbie, I think she'll remain housed in a tub for most of the time. I'd hate her to take over my daughters' play time. They have so many other, diverse interests that I want to encourage. Patience did get that bug vacuum and science kit for Christmas. Better not let that sit idle. She left it out to play with Barbie, and now we have an Unidentified Bug loose in the house.

copyright 2006 by Julie Pippert

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Friday, December 22, 2006

It was a green-sheeted bed, not a tuffet

It was a green-sheeted bed, not a tuffet. And I, alas, alack, oh no, am nowhere near a Miss Muffet.

I've learned to keep a stockpile of food in my nightstand. Persistence had already woken me at 5:30--as usual---demanding, "Eat! Now! Eat!" Half-awake, I'd reached over to the nightstand shelf, grabbed a baggie of multi-grain Cheerios, and handed it to her.

I rolled over, one-quarter aware that Persistence had dragged her new chunky animal ABC puzzle into my room and was dis-and-re-assembling it by the love seat.

"Safe, eating, playing," my mind mumbled, and resumed sleep.

Later, seconds it felt like, but probably more like an hour and a half, something soft tickled my cheek.

Barely aware, I reached up a hand and swatted at it.

I pulled the quilt back up to my neck and nuzzled my face into my pillow.

Tickle tickle, the soft thing went on my cheek again.

I scratched my cheek with my fingernail, and squeezed my eyes shut, fighting wakefulness.

Tickle tickle, it went again, this time also teasing my mouth.

My lips pinched shut. I rubbed my face with my hand, and thought pretty thoughts. Jude Law. Fixing me dinner. Handing me a rose. Taye Diggs. Rolling with his hips across a dance floor to smooth me into some Corinne Bailey Rae slow dancing. Mmmmmmmmm

Tickle tickle.

Irritated, I cracked an eye.

And that's when I saw it!

An ENORMOUS black spider, right in front of my face.

Both eyes flew open and I shot up in bed to see Patience, dangling her toy rubber (aka Jelly) spider on a string over my face. She giggled.

"Got you, Mom!" she laughed, triumphant.

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Vocabulary word of the day: Strephosymbolia

My daughter reads and writes backwards. Very, very well. In fact, if you hold up something of hers to a mirror, it's perfect. On the upside, she's in good company with the likes of Da Vinci and Einstein.

On the downside, uh, um, it's backwards.

It's been interesting explaining that the light switch says "on" rather than "no" and other funny things.

Everyone said to us, oh all kids reverse letters, it's no big deal. Don't worry. Relax. She'll grow out of it. Except, she's not reversing letters. She's doing it all perfectly backwards, consistently.

So, my mommy gut kept tickling me, regardless of all the reassurances. Still, I told myself, she's a leftie, to her, this is natural. She's imitating how we all read and write across our bodies.

Her mirror writing skill developed, and solidified. I talked to lefties, and ordered "Raising Your Leftie in a Rightie World" or some such title (a couple of weeks ago...still haven't recieved it). I tried making sure I sat across from her during writing lessons. I'd try to intervene, carefully demonstrating the "right" way while trying to not make her feel as if she was doing it wrong.

Patience, though, is a sensitive perfectionist who is highly resistant to being taught.

There is not enough wool in the world to cover her intelligent eyes.

She got it. Got that she was doing it all backwards. If she hadn't figured it out, and hadn't gotten it from me, she certainly got it from other people who gasped and exclaimed, "Oh WOW! She writes perfectly BACKWARDS!"

I'd feel concerned again. I'd express my concern. And once again, be reassured that nobody cares until third grade.

When my daughter began refusing to write or work on reading at all, and her motivated curiosity deteriorated into staunch avoidance and refusal partnered with a huge frustration, I said, enough, we have a problem.

I called a licensed professional who interviewed us and said, tentatively, that it sounded like it potentially could be classic strephosymbolia.

That means: dyslexia.

She arranged for about four tests, which we went to yesterday. It took about an hour and a half.

At the end, the doctor told us she would have the results in about a week. She gave us some information and a few homework assignments. We're to have Patience writing her name frontwards by the next appointment.

When we went to the appointment, we had a few potential reasons for the backwards writing. They were:

(a) we stink at teaching our kids to read and write
(b) we're doing it wrong
(c) we lack teaching skills
(d) Patience is a leftie
(e) Patience is dyslexic
(f) we stink at teaching
(g) we're doing it wrong
(h) architecture and writing degrees do not actually come in handy for teaching reading and writing to young children

We left the office to take Patience to get her promised ice cream cone (read: bribe). As we walked to the car, Patience said, "That was not fun AT ALL," as if we had truly betrayed her. We all climbed in the car and sat silently.

If there was a photo of us sitting there, with talking balloons over our heads, they would read:

My husband: I think we just signed up for puppy kindergarten.

Me: I think we're about to get told options a, b, c, f, g and h are correct and I have a feeling the "therapy" is going to be teaching us how to teach better.

Patience: Parents have a stupid idea of "games and activities." There was not a single moonwalk there. I'm going to ask for cheese sticks too. These nutcakes owe me.

The discussion began with my husband saying, "Why do I feel like we just got diagnosed as the problem?"

To which I replied, "Because I think we just did."

There is no feeling in the world like being told, "Oh yeah, with regard to this aspect of parenting? You guys are falling down on the job."

Which is NOT AT ALL what the doctor said.

It is what we inferred with our guilty parent hearts.

Our goal with the testing is to discover why, and if that means "us" then so be it. We will be glad to know. Our goal with the tutoring is to discover how, and if that means "we change" then so be it. We will be glad to.

Already, I've done activities 1 and 2 of 3 today. Already, Patience is easily writing her name frontwards.

Apparently, as probably most parents know, you have to give them a starting point on the correct edge of the page. Further, apparently, writing it and having them trace it with a marker is key. Additionally---and here's where I feel really stupid---it's really important to do this with lefties.

I think we know who is disabled here. LOL

Yeah, I have that mixed emotion building into baggage thing going on here. Oh yeah.

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tipping, the Teacher Gift, Cards for all, and I DON'T want candy!

My mother is a teacher. Every year, hordes of students gave her "teacher-y" gifts. Frames with pencils, wall plaques about best teacher, decorative rulers with cutesy 1+1=2, and more. When I was in high school, I noticed our Christmas tree had an apple theme, and I realized that my family never had to bake due to the wealth of cookies and cakes my mother received at the holidays.

It's all nicely meant, and graciously received. My mother was very appeciative, and felt compelled to display the items in her classroom or in our home. Most of all, she felt compelled to keep them.

When she and my stepfather downsized to a new house in their dream town, she purged, and told me she was amazed at how much stuff it ended up being, in the end.

I asked her what she thought of all of these gifts, and she said, in all sincerity, that they really weren't necessary.

I knew for sure they weren't necessary. To be honest, I don't think my mother is too keen on apples.

So when our turn came to ponder a teacher gift, I really went back and forth about whether to do it at all. In one class, a nicely organized mom coordinated donations from everyone for a hefty amount gift card. In another, everyone was doing something individual and I felt a little peer pressured to do something (especially when all the moms asked me every day, "What are you getting Mrs. So and so?").

If I buy gifts for people outside my family, then the boundaries get really blurry. Do I buy only for the teacher, and what about the director, assistant director, language teacher and music teacher? Them too? Or leave them out? Then what about the volunteers? All of the sudden I could easily be facing at least $50 to $100 in extra gifts. If I'm getting for teachers, it's to show my appreciation, and in that case, then what about the postwoman, garbage men, and so forth? Now I'm well over at least $100 and I can see clearly how people end up going into debt over the holidays, or must at least be rich enough to spend thousands (which I am not).

I remembered back to my mom, and know the heartfelt letters and drawings from kids were the ones that really meant the most to her.

So I started having the kids draw a card, and write a special message about how much their teacher means to them.

All of the sudden this year, that seemed like not enough. Or I suddenly lost my confidence about why that was a good thing to do. I don't know why.

Maybe it was because the other moms were once again talking about what to get the if it was a foregone conclusion that we had to get something, something tangible. I'm sure if I'd said, "Oh we're doing a special homemade card," they would have reacted quite nicely about it.

But I felt guilty. Was that Not Enough?

Is a teacher gift necessary, obligatory, like tipping has become?

When out to eat, I understand that my waiter expects, period, at least a 15% to 20% tip. Sometimes I feel like the service is worth about no percent. But I tip anyway. When I asked people what they did about tipping, most said, "Oh, I just give 20%, isn't that what you're supposed to do?"

I might be one of the last dinosaurs who gives a merit based tip. I'll range from an offensive dollar or 5% or less to a fully appreciative 15-25% tip.

The complication in some situations is my lack of cash. I usually pay with my debit card. In this case, tipping extra people who add to the service (such as the hair washing person at the salon) becomes difficult. I understand how restaurants spread the tip among servers, bus boys, and bartenders, but I'm not too sure about places like hair salons. I think each is very different.

What about other people who provide service to me? Painters? Yard people?

I'm stretched simply paying for the service itself; I don't really have extra to ladle on top.

And yet...if I don't gift all the relevant people in the school, or tip or gift all of the people who provide a service to me, do I fall down the scale of Customers Who We Value and Like and Do Good for?

I listen to people who gift and tip simply everyone. "The garbage men LOVE me," says a neighbor, "They'll pick up anything of mine. I give them homebaked banana bread and a Target gift card every year."

I think of the times the garbage men have left trash at my house.

"I always tip the postman," says a friend, "And she never leaves my packages in the rain, or else she wraps them in plastic first."

I think of the sodden packages I've found on my front porch.

It feels awkward to me, paying or gifting everyone I come into contact with in the world. In some cases, it feels a bit like...bribing someone to do the job I'm already paying them to do.

I'm really not mean. Not really. I don't simply think people ought to do what they ought to do with no gratitude. I'm happy to pay for the service and thank them. I just don't like thinking I need to go beyond my actual means to provide gifts and tips to ensure that I get decent service.

It was the rare author who ever thought to thank me in his or her book, much less to my face. "Gee, I'm really grateful you took the poorly written total lack of organization with no facts checked manuscript I turned into you and turned it into a highly-polished well-regarded piece of work that earned me more money in a quarter than you received in a year." They certainly never gifted or tipped me, although they got a gift and card from me.

And I never expected it. I felt proud of doing a good job, and between that and my paycheck, it was usually enough (depended on the author and the project).

I'm not saying that teachers expect a gift. I'm not even saying anyone does. I'm just not sure. Perhaps they don't expect it, but perhaps some notice and mark its absence?

And I haven't even touched on the passing out of gifts to classmates. My kids came home from their last day of school with bags and bags of Oriental Trading Christmas themed junk and tons of candy, which has turned them into hellspawn for days. Not to mention, half or more of the candy and food had peanuts in it, which is a HUGE no-no in my peanut allergy house. While I appreciate the gesture, it has caused more trouble than enjoyment. And I didn't reciprocate. It never even occured to me to consider sending gift bags in for my children's classmates.

I understand you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I'm all for that philosophy. I'm even more for letting people know how much I appreciate the job they do.

I can't help but wonder, though: Is gifting out of control? Or are these simply people with plenty of money and tons of holiday cheer and spirit? Can words work for that? Or must it be a tangible gift or money?

In the end, the biggest point for me is I can't afford to do this. But am I costing myself more by not doing it?

Note: In appreciation for allowing me to use their images, each photo or image is linked back to its source.

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Speak English, for goodness' sake (insert eyeroll here)

(Here's where I get all ranty and self-righteous and stay or go, but if you stay and disagree, remember your hold your mom's hand with those typing fingers.)

Lately there's been another resurgence of the English only (trying to find a word other than BS here...give me a sec...errr) preference.

But it's gone beyond preference.

In my own state---aka The Red Republic---a city well north of me passed an ordinance requiring landlords to act as immigration police. At almost the same time, Hazelton, PA was passing the same ordinance. This ordinance, which exemplifies many ongoing through the country, would allow the city to fine businesses and landlords who employ or house illegal immigrants. Further, it required city documents to be in English (only). It was one of the toughest ordinances out there, and was passed by the mayor, himself the descendant of immigrants.

Nicely, it spurred racism, especially when a local bar posted a sign stating that only "legals" would be served there.

And that---at heart---is what it is: Anti-brown legislation.

The US eventually embraced Irish immigrants, and even (verbally) said "not cool to discriminate" against African Americans. But we haven't given up segregation and racism at all. It's alive and well, and now the spotlight is focused on Hispanics.

The racism is couched in beautiful language, as rationale for evil often is, and focuses on touchpoints such as "protecting our nation and culture" and "security" and "law-abiding" and "illegal immigration."

If you do a google search for "illegal immigrant+law" you can find about 45 hours (at least) of reading material about recent actions to "stamp down" on illegal immigration.

Idaho is employing anti-mafia laws to attack businesses that employ illegal immigrants:

Officials in Canyon County, Idaho (search), say that illegal immigrants are costing their county millions of dollars in medical and welfare benefits — millions of dollars the county wants back from agricultural companies, officials say, that knowingly employed undocumented workers.

In an unprecedented move, Canyon County is suing several local businesses under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.

"It's an organized, orchestrated invasion, economic invasion of the United States," said Canyon County commissioner Robert Vasquez. “They're costing the county money in medical indigency welfare cases, and also in crime and other statistical data that we've compiled"

The RICO Act was originally designed to target organized crime, and it has been used a number of times to accuse companies of conspiring to lower wages by hiring illegal immigrants. But the lawsuit filed by Canyon County in U.S. District Court in Boise takes the conspiracy theory to a whole new level.

The Idaho Farm Bureau (search) says companies in need of laborers often walk a fine line between proving worker eligibility and being accused of discrimination.

Texas has vigilantes patrolling the border, taking who knows what actions against anyone near the border with brown skin.

Here is where politics---and the current "skinny jean trend" of the political platform---butts head with law.

At the end of October, a federal judge blocked Hazelton, PA's ordinance that fines businesses and landlords:

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the city of Hazleton from enforcing a pair of ordinances targeting illegal immigrants, just hours before the measures were to go into effect.

The measures, approved by the City Council last month, would have imposed fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and denied business permits to companies that give them jobs. They also would have required tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit.

U.S. District Judge James Munley ruled that landlords, tenants and businesses that cater to Hispanics faced "irreparable harm" from the laws and issued a temporary restraining order blocking their enforcement.

The clear and obvious plan, as Judge Munley pointed out, is to make it not worth an immigrant's while to move to the US. Additionally, I believe it is intended, by causing citizens financial pain, to increase intolerance of immigrants, and decrease assistance to immigrants. With racism to face, no work to be had or place to live, why bother coming?

And yet, immigration is on the rise (see stats below, at the end of this article).

During college, I wrote a monograph about immigration. I traveled to Mexico and spent a week at the main immigration center. I spoke to the American citizens who handled the process, learned about the process, and spoke to people hoping to immigrate. My paper was published, and I felt a hollow victory.

At 20 years old, I had a bitter taste in my mouth, and a crystal clear understanding of why people traveled illegally to the US. I understood why they were driven to stand for days outside the immigration facility, hoping for a chance to get the paperwork. And I understood the bigotry they faced not only from the process itself, but also from some of the people I spoke to who handle the process.

When I compared the immigration process for Hispanics to the experience of other immigrants from Canada and Germany (all pre-9/11), I found odd discrepancies, in practice, if not in theory. It all cost the same---a frustrating expense to the Anglos and a near-impossiblity for many Mexicans I spoke to---but somehow the Europeans generally got to go through the process while living and working in the US, whereas the Mexicans were not allowed across the border until all medical and other paperwork was completed.

It's primarily anecdotal, my knowledge, but somehow I don't think it is too distant from data. All you have to do is check the cost for someone to immigrate against the annual average earnings of a person from the home nation.

Immigration does cost. The last survey I read had it at about $29 billion per year. However, this isn't the number people are yelling about. What you hear about---in between soundbites about how you deserve a break today and are owed a life full of marvelous objects of fun and leisure---is how immigration costs you in jobs and housing.

I agree a process is necessary.

However, when the current process leads to an increase in breaking the procedural law, why is the first and loudest answer to clamp down on the "law breakers" instead of review and revise the process?

Don't worry, I've heard answers for this. It usually begins with how I don't understand. It generally encompasses an explanation of the administrative costs, and a point about how immigration is regularly reformed. The denoument is typically "and that's why it must be the way it is."

The reform I find is actually more laws to stem immigration and increased budgets to prevent illegal immigration (which is allegedly on the rise).

I'm sure there is a lot I don't know or understand. For example, I don't know how heavy immigration affects the countries supplying high numbers of immigrants to the US. Could it be a sort of "urban flight" situation?

I don't know the best solution. What we have now isn't working for either the immigrants or the country and its services. For example, costs are high to the immigrants and to social services.

However, there are things I do know.

I do know we should not, must not, confuse our feelings about illegal immigration (and---for those who do have these feelings---feelings about immigrants themselves) with a cultural-cling movement. English only isn't the solution. Neither is racism.

I know that every week when I go to the local postal business center, they have both Spanish and English speaking employees to service their large Spanish-speaking population. I know that in line ahead and behind me, every time, are men who bring their paychecks to the wire transfer service there to send money home.

I'm not supposing. I'm a nosy rosy. I listen in. I ask. They are sending money home. They are coming in for help to understand complicated paperwork, all written in English, with no translation available. One man was shipping a second-hand bike home to his son in rural Mexico.

They aren't simply immigrants. They are people, trying for the same life we all think we deserve.

This Christmas, consider these people, far from home:

For many Mexican immigrants living in the United States, the holidays have come to represent a time of sadness.

Separated by a border that has become harder and harder to cross, many immigrants must make the agonizing choice between staying away from family south of the border or risk not being able to return to their jobs in the United States.

Last October, the U.S. Congress enacted the Secure Fence Act, which marked the first steps toward building a 700-mile-long fence across part of the U.S.-Mexico border. As a result, undocumented workers - many of whom just want to work and send money back home - are finding it more difficult to cross back.


Some facts:

* Roughly 10 percent of Mexico’s population of about 107 million is now living in the United States, estimates show. About 15 percent of Mexico’s labor force is working in the United States. One in every 7 Mexican workers migrates to the United States.

* Mass migration from Mexico began more than a century ago. It is deeply embedded in the history, culture and economies of both nations. The current wave began with Mexico’s economic crisis in 1982, accelerated sharply in the 1990s with the U.S. economic boom, and today has reached record dimensions.

* Of the 13 Democrats from Texas in the US House of Representatives six are Hispanics and three are blacks, including two women.

* In Richmond, California 61.4 percent of home loans made to Hispanic borrowers were higher-cost loans.

* 75 percent of Hispanic farm workers suffer from skin diseases

* Latino immigrants will send $45 billion home this year, up from $30 billion in 2004. Yet they tend to be poor by American standards, with the majority earning less than $30,000 a year, according to a survey by the Inter-American Development Bank.

* The Federal Reserve has devised a remittance program to bring Mexican migrants who send money home into the mainstream banking system, regardless of their immigration status.

You can read more at:

Immigration Primer

Use your own best judgement at these sites:



Center for Immigration Studies

My personal POV about language:

My children attend a bilingual school. They are taught in both English-only and Spanish-only. If I run into someone who doesn't speak the language in which I am fluent, or one of the other three I have studied, I think it is a two person challenge. I don't consider myself to be in any superior position, and that the other person must adjust to accomodate me.

And more food for thought, which you really must go read, is Jen at One Plus Two, and her post: Mangoes Roasting On An Open Fire

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

My Soul Is Ripped With Riot Incited By My Wicked Diet

My enemy, my scale.

Have I mentioned I am dieting? Joined Weight Watchers (again)? Am being weighed in weekly, and journaling every morsel (solid and liquid) that enters my mouth?

No, I haven't? Because that would be too tedious for words, wouldn't it. Anyway, who wants to admit that when it comes to discussing muffin tops I don't mean a cakey breakfast treat.

But, it's true, I am dieting.

I have to lose the baby-gone-toddler weight I picked up with this last pregnancy and breatsfeeding-appetite-run-amok. I didn't realize, apparently, that having two children didn't mean eating for three.

This time of year is especially hard for dieters and all of us Weight Watcher folks are hitting meetings with a fragile edge and hint of desperation. We huddle in a circle and discuss how to fend off the Homemade Fudge Coworker, the Frosted Cookie Neighbor, and the worst of all: fill your plate holiday buffets with open bars.

The leader adds extra enthusiasm and hands out bravos for any little thing to boost our confidence in our ability to Keep on the Program, and not have to shamefacedly present our "opt out of weigh in" coupon.

I am down about 16 pounds with More Pounds I Don't Dare Discuss to go. I follow my mantra of one day-one-week-one pound at a time. And eat my 24 points like a good girl. In fact, let's take a moment to pause and reflect about where I am in the diet process.

In addition to the usual holiday melee, I have two kids to host birthday parties for. Forget my favorite way to de-stress---skip those mixed drinks! so many points! opt for a light beer (gug ick blech) or wine instead. Or my favorite way to avoid those little point sucking delicious foods---keep them out of my house! no! away, bad goodies! I want to eat this chopped up zucchini for a snack! I am surrounded, in my own home, which has been invaded with chips! dips! pizza! cake! and ice cream!

So, this weekend, if you see a lady in a red shirt clutching a small nylon black bag (my weight loss starter kit) don't offer any cheese puffs. I'm a recovering foodaholic, and this post is my mental anchor and that black bag is my physical anchor.

My Current Progress on the Twelve Steps of Dieting:

Step 1: Honesty
After many years of denial, I admit I am powerless over food. Food owns me. It beckons on every corner like that naughty friend you had in college who dragged you out to frat parties on the night before a test. I let food in my house, my car, and worst of all, my mouth.

Step 2: Faith
I believe in food. I believe it is delicious. I believe in grilled mahi mahi with julienned asparagus tower. I believe in steak au poivre with garlic mashed potatoes. I believe in anything called "appetizer" and beg those saintly creations to pass my faith along to the divinity known as Chocolate and his earthly son known as Dessert.

Step 3: Surrender
But I see the error of my past faith. I surrender, WW (that is Weight Watchers, not Wicked Witch). I study, review and follow your principles, and wait for you to work miracles in my life, wasitline, and wardrobe.

Step 4: Soul Searching
I search my soon-to-be polyunsaturated soul, and find it filled with bittersweet chocolate drizzled over fried ice cream on top of a caramel fudge brownie. This soul leads me into temptation, but luckily I handed myself over (Step 3) and am delivered from beautifully braised and carmelized evil.

Step 5: Integrity
I know that scale maintains the strictest of all integrity: utter cruel honesty. I model myself---to the best of my cream puff center ability---on the necessary but heartless machine that tells me whether I am moving toward gourmet satori.

Step 6: Acceptance
I accept I will always love cheese covered fries, mozarella sticks, mini quiches, and tea cakes. I accept that these tiny treats are much larger than I. I accept that I need something larger than them to help me fend off the danger they bring into my life.

Step 7: Humility

Each day I clutch my angel cake charm necklace and count my sins: two two-bite brownies instead of one, a mini sugar donut, hash browns, extra scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream...and beg forgiveness. I pray to the gods of small things such as appetizers and finger foods and the gods of large things such as pot luck dinners and holiday buffets to help me through this trial known as the Holiday Season without losing the progress I've made.

Step 8: Willingness

I'm willing to admit the harm I've done. I've harmed my thighs, rear, and tummy. I've harmed my poor black skirt that stretched out of shape. And I've harmed my children's psyche when I begin crying as they poke my muffin top and giggle, "Oooohhh doughy."

Step 9: Forgiveness
Someday I'll forgive myself for all those forays to Sonic for the Sweetheart cherry chocolate milkshakes. Someday...

Step 10: Maintenance
When I complete this diet...I'll be on it for the rest of my life...maintaining my healthy weight...

Step 11: Making Contact I Maintain for the rest of My Natural Life...I'll try to believe this is a Good Plan...that has some way...

Step 12: Service
And I'll keep it up, and keep it off...forever...

As you can see, I have a few steps to go. But I'm trying for true enlightenment or is that true lightenment?

Either way, each night, I fall to my knees, clutch my hands together and chant:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;

He maketh me to lie down on vinyl-covered gym mats.

He leadeth me to flavored calorie-free waters;

He restoreth my goals.

He diverteth me from the path of midnight snacking for my health's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the alley of the Vendors of Pastry, I will fear no weevil; for thou art with me;

My diet and exercises, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me

Spread with veggies and low-fat protein;

Thou steameth my fish in foil,

My resolve runneth over.

Surely, if I follow this living plan all the days of my life,

My hips will be slim forever.


Off to dance off the frosting I licked while preparing tomorrow's Care-A-Lot Castle cake...

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Epiphany, Four Wise Men and a Duck

When my husband and I got married, quite a while back actually (going on 14 years), we did that thing, finally, that everyone had nagged and nagged us to do: went to a store and registered for china, crystal, and other things of that ilk.

We were only in our mid-20s and honestly had never given any of that any thought. We didn't entertain like that, and neither did any of our friends. We perused all the shmaltzy shelves of stuff. It was our first foray, really, into the Breakable Zone. We were so young that we were afraid to pick up any of it, although the saleslady encouraged us to overcome our "look with eyes, not with hands" instincts our parents had hounded into us for our entire lives.

We spent days, seriously, sorting through patterns and brands. We wanted classic, yet interesting.

Eventually, finally, we settled on a pattern of china and crystal. We wrote it all down on the little form the store had.

Yes, back in those days there was no "quick gun" to zap a product number with. You used pen and paper, and some poor hapless clerk had to methodically enter it into the green-screened personal computer. Then some poor hapless sales person had to figure out how to load the continuous ream of paper into the humongous printer and spend about half an hour printing out your two page gift list.

It was not easy or convenient.

However, we had done it, and we had set expectations that people would gift us from that list. One might say we felt entitled. We had seen other weddings, and the gifts received, plus we had The Gift List. We were looking forward to the bounty.

After we returned from our honeymoon (St. Marc sur Richlieu, Hostellerie Trois Tilleuls, Quebec---really, go, it is fantastic. We went back at our 10 year anniversary and it was even better. They have a full-blown spa now.) we unpacked and then set about unwrapping gifts.

With tremendous disappointment.

One place setting of china, which, upon a little reflection, we decided we barely felt lukewarm about. Forty forks. Two sets of wine glasses for a total of 24, none of which matched or were our pattern. Something that appeared to be a crystal trash can. Five candy dishes. And other sundries, pretty much none of which were on our list.

But registries back then were hard to come by and use. Nobody could tell who had bought what, because in general, people just asked my mother what our pattern and brand was. Then they went any place and got it.

But that's not even the point.

I bet people thought about what they wish they had gotten when they married, or what they got and loved, or what would be good for us.

I think people bought from the heart, not from the list.

And to my everlasting regret, we missed that. Big time. For far too long, when we reflected back on our wedding gifts---which we called The Wedding of Forty Forks and liberally cracked jokes about and used as dining out humor for years---we felt a little gypped and a lot disappointed.

How dare we. The shame has me wanting to delete this entire blog post, and hide under a bush for ten years, during which time I am to receive Nothing At All Period as punishment for ingratitude.

As we matured, we began appreciating the things we received, and, believe it or not, the things we didn't receive. We matured enough to develop an understanding of our own taste and needs, and bought accordingly. Our actual china is very arty and hilarious. It's the Skating Chefs by Guy Buffet, and the name alone entertains our guests before they even see the fun and funky art.

I think somewhere in the midst of all this I developed a strong distaste for gifts lists, a distaste which has hardened into heady dislike since I have become a parent. I identify gift lists with entitlement and expectation, and feel sure that to some degree it leaves a giftee with a vague disappointment (however brief) and feeling of loss (however small and potentially unconscious) for the items not bought off the list.

Many people like lists. They like to know what to buy, how to give the perfect gift. They want you to tell the catalog, page and item number, or store, shelf and brand. They want to get you exactly what you expect.

This focus, in my opinion, is missing the point. In fact, this time of year I believe it derails the entire meaning of Christmas.

I acknowledge it comes from a good place, in general. I'm not opposed to ideas, suggestions, or guidance, when requested, although I heartily dislike being handed a gift list simply on principle of expectation that I will be buying something. No matter how well intended, however, I believe the desire for a specific gift list and anxiety over buying the exact thing off the list---achieving The Perfect Gift---can lead to a bad place: entitlement, expectation and ingratitude.

I noticed after my daughter spent ample time for the family circling items in multiple toy catalogs that her behavior and expectations hit a level of entitlement I wanted to squash like a cockroach.

“I’m going to get everything I want, aren’t I, mom?” she queried, honestly concerned, “I would be so sad if I don’t get the such and such or so and so…”

That very week we went down to the charity toy store and donated items, and helped to sort toys in preparation for the families to come and select the gifts they wanted. We talked about want versus need, and deserve versus privilege. We talked about gifts, and I told her about my favorite gifts.

“Which one did you like best, Mom?” she asked.

“The one that came from the heart,” I told her.

“Which one is that?” she asked.

“All of them,” I said.

“Moooooommmmmmmm,” she whined.

“Listen,” I said, “One time my friend gave me bubble bath and lotion. I was touched that she wanted me to pamper myself. One time your aunt gave me a lottery ticket, and I was touched she wanted me to hit the jackpot. Grandma and Grandpa gave Dad and me the gift of music one year.”

That year, my in-laws gave us a package of symphony performances called Repartee at the Boston Symphony. It included a cocktail hour, with short speech from an expert about that night's performance, plus, of course, the actual performance. We discovered new composers we liked, met new friends, and all around enjoyed a great time. What a gift that kept on giving. In fact, the best gifts I've ever gotten have frequently been things I never would have thought to ask for. They were things from someone else's world, that somehow related to me, and that enriched my life, with their thoughtfulness and added dimension to my world.

That’s when it hit me; I suddenly understood and could verbalize why I buy the gifts I do. I tend to buy books and music because I love books and music. I love being in book and music stores. I look through all the books I know and love, and think of the people I know and love. I gift them with what I value, and within that, what I think will appeal to them.

It’s not off a list, but it’s a gift from the heart.

And hopefully, then, valuable, anyway.

As my husband and I discussed this last night, the next level of meaning struck me.

How often in life do we feel angry, disappointed, hurt or bitter because what we expected isn’t what we got? How often in life do we create “life gift” lists, and then feel a huge letdown when we don’t get what we expect, or think we deserve?

Life throws curveballs, as do gift giving occasions.

I think the epiphany here is to find the value in what you get, not focus on what it was that you wanted. Therein lies appreciation, peace, and enjoyment.

Hopefully my family and I can grow into four wise men with an attitude of gratitude. Hopefully we grow wise enough to appreciate what we have.

In the end, all my daughter wants as a gift is love, same as the rest of us.

Still, I think I’ll make one more store run and get that pink duck sponge, since she has decided that’s all she’d really like.

Note: Since I'm using someone else's photos here, the photos link to that person's eBay store. Click if you want duckies.

If you want to do some good:

This is a series of raffles in order to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy Research. You pick which item(s) you want to win and we'll draw one winner at random for each item. The more tickets you buy (by sending a secure payment via paypal) the more chances you have to win. Place as many tickets as you wish to purchase on as many items (or just one or a few for a better chance at winning) as you'd like to win. It's in honor of Tanner, the precious nephew of Her Bad Mother.

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ain't too proud...forfeiting medals

I'm not too proud to do a lot of things.

I'll shop in resale shops for me and the kids.

I'll go out in public with no makeup or hairdo.

I'll act goofy to make a kid smile.

I'll pull weeds if it will help someone out.

I'll speak up if I have something to say.

And I'm not too proud to stand corrected, or amend an opinion.

That's what I'm doing today.

As a result of me blogging about my Chapped Hide Olympics (the worst customer service of 2006), I got two good resolutions.

First, Tracy Prescott, a director at Home Depot, posted a comment at that entry desiring to resolve whatever issues I had with my rebate at Home Depot. She and I exchanged a few emails and I had the rebate check in my hand yesterday and it is in the bank today. What is that, barely two weeks later? How rockin' is that!

Second, I have a personal contact in the AT&T executive offices now who is working to show me that AT&T does give a shit whether I am a customer (or not). Krystal has followed through on absolutely everything she has said to me, and has done her level best to ensure that I am a satisfied AT&T customer.

Many thanks to these ladies and can I have a WOO HOO for the power of the written word?

The pen is a mighty tool.

Krystal, Tracy, I regret to inform you that you must forfeit your Gold and Bronze awards (respectively) from the Chapped Hide Olympics. You can move over to the Businesses who Work to Treat Customers Nicely side.

You'll be in GREAT company over there with Bed, Bath and Beyond (the Beyond stands for Go Above and Beyond to Make Customers Feel Like Royalty) and Barnes and Noble (the Noble stands for A Full Stable of Noble Employees who Treat Customers Nobly).

These two stores not only regularly offer actual sales and good discounts and coupons, their employees are always knowledgeable, friendly, helpful, and seriously will offer assistance (happily and nicely) in ways you barely dare dream of at other stores.

Thanks to these stores (which carry all the things in the world I love most: kitchen gadgetry and organizing accessories and decor at B3, and BOOKS! Books! Books! at B&N) I was able to complete my Christmas shopping in a day with awesome presents and seriously way under budget.

But I'll shop there any time of year.

(On the flip side, Bank of America still sucks rocks. In fact, my resolution to THAT matter is to CLOSE MY ACCOUNT. I transferred all the money this week. I'll shut down the account this week. They ripped me off, and have been utter asses about the entire situation. So as far as the Chapped Hide Olympics, they now get the Gold. Don't worry about the other medals. I have had a number of people contact me with information about new contenders.)

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Should I stay or should I go? Should I commit or should I blow?

My daughter is easily frustrated when trying new things. Like me, she often finds things easy, and expects them all to be thus. Plus, like me, she expects perfection. And, again, like me, she'll often stay in her comfort zone where she has mastered things and can perfect them.

So it's up to me, as her mother, to push her (and myself) to try, and try again. It's up to me to convince us both that it's okay to need to keep trying and work to as good as YOU can do.

I think I've succeeded a little bit better with her than with myself.

On her own, I've heard her say, "Oh well, that's okay, I tried, I'll keep trying and next time will be better."

Recently, her gymnastics coach moved her class up to the next level, with more challenges. She's outside her accomplished comfort zone now, and is being challenged. Thus she initially resisted, tremendously.

"I hate gymnastics," said the child who only last week said gymnastics was her favorite thing to do EVAH. When it came time to go to class, she said, "I don't want to go." When I pressed why, she said, "I don't feel good."

I fell for it the first time. The second time, I was suspicious. I could think of no good reason I knew, so I pressed her for her good reason. We finally got to the truth, "Coach keeps asking me to do all these thngs I CAN NOT DO!" she cried, frustrated, tears leaking out of her eyes.

We talked, and she returned to her classes, and, with practice, getting better and better at the new activities.

Last week she came home shining with accomplishment, and the weekly award for achievement, "I got an award!" she cried, full of excitement and enthusiasm, her words blurring together quickly as she rushed to tell me her success, "It's for the vault! Squat-on! I did it!"

We were all really glad we asked her to persist. And I began thinking about the entire concept of "keep at it versus cut and run."

How do you know when the right time comes to leave versus work through the tough spot?

My mother was very sensitive to me saying, "I'm unhappy" and that was all I had to say to quit. I left behind me a string of things I regret and miss. I think many times I really wanted her to tell me how I could keep doing my activity in spite of whatever the obstacle was. I think sometimes I wanted a reason---outside myself and my temporary frustration---telling me to keep at it. My prime example is the viola.

In eighth grade, I moved into school number six. My previous school was very academically-focused. My favorite activities---history club and orchestra---were respected. Both were very large groups, lead by popular and dynamic teachers. There were probably 50 or more kids in the orchestra and over 30 kids in history club. We went to competitions, had field trips, and everyone enjoyed themselves. After years of solo viola lessons, I loved finally being part of a large orchestra. When we moved, this time we moved cities, and I left behind not only my school friends, but also my town friends...I left behind an entire lifestyle. It was devastating.

My new school didn't even have a history club, and orchestra was about six kids, all of whom were very mocked and frightened. I entered school with my usual confidence, sure that I'd make friends. Only, this school had a bad feeling to it. After a couple of weeks passed and I still hadn't met a friendly person or seen a friendly face, I decided maybe this time wasn't gong to be okay. One day, as I approached my locker bank from around the corner, I heard my locker mate crying to her friend, "She's a NEW girl, and she plays one of those INSTRUMENTS. Oh my GOD what if someone thinks it's MINE? I'd just DIE. They'd think I was a LOSER."

Although I was amazed and appalled, I thought, maybe I need to alter a little to fit in. So I ditched the viola, for good. And made changes to myself I am still trying to work out. All for nothing, in the end.

I wonder what might have happened, had I stuck with the viola in some way, maybe private lessons. As an adult, looking back, I see a wealth of potential creative solutions to this incident, and I can't help but wonder about this quitting and other quittings and what might have happened had I been asked---by myself or a parent---to stick it out and work it out. Perhaps I needed help figuring out who I was, and how to be true to myself.

However, the tough thing about young people is knowing what their truth is...they are still unwritten in so many ways.

Some things seem simple, such as sticking with gymnastics, despite my daughter's worry about being able to do the next challenge. But what about the day, say five years from now, when she says she's tired of gymnastics, and wants to focus on soccer? Or what about three lessons into piano, when she says, "I don't think I like doing this." Maybe she decides she wants to work for a year before going to college. Perhaps she asks me for advice about sticking with a friendship or relationship.

I hope wisdom comes to me in each of these moments, because in all truth, I am still personally trying to find my way when it comes to 'try harder or quit while I'm ahead.'

Many people find it difficult or impossible to walk away. Sometimes I think that I've had too much practice and find it too easy. It seems that sometimes I don't show much wisdom when choosing whether to leave or stay. So I want my children to find a better way of answering, "Should I stay or should I go?"

Have you ever stuck with or quit something you regret? What's your method of determining whether to work it out or quit while you're ahead? How do you pass this along to your children?

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Day of reconciliation

In 1980, on this date, John Lennon was murdered. In remembrance, Yoko Ono asked that today be a day of reconciliation.

Reconciliation technically means, "the act or condition of being reconciled." It asks you, the dictionary does, to see "penance." Penance includes the horrifying concept of self-mortification, along with contrition, confession and absolution.

Believe it or not, I believe the first step to reconciliation is actually self-mortification. Then I believe the next step is self-acceptance and self-forgiveness.

I believe this because, as Cindy Wigglesworth says, the ego plays games of superiority, victimhood, and judgement. You need a level of self-awareness to be able to forgive and reconcile, because first you must understand and forgive these things within yourself.

You've heard that we most despise in others what we most despise in ourselves, right? This is called projection. When you have reconciled within yourself, you make space for understanding and forgiveness.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are actually acts of self-indulgence in the end.

When you reconcile, you restore to friendship or harmony, you settle, you resolve.

Imagine how important it is to resolve, to restore harmony. Imagine how much we could get accomplished in that case.

At home, with my children, when we are in conflict---fighting over wearing a jacket, what to eat, who gets which toy, etc.---our time and energy is focused on the conflict, and generally the main attention is on the concrete, when the real issue is the feelings. How quickly we can settle things when I ask, "What about this bothers you? How do you feel?" Both sides have a point, and in conflict resolution, it is so key to acknowledge both points of view, address them and find an acceptable solution. I frequently find that once we've validated the feelings, suddenly, the toy or object battled over is no longer so important, and usually the kids find a solution on their own. I wonder, in the end, if the toy or jacket or green beans were ever really the issue at all, or only the excuse, the outlet.

I wonder that about larger issues in our world today.

I heard Cindy Wigglesworth on the radio. She was talking about the Day of Reconciliation today. I did a little reasearch to learn more about her, and found some really interesting points by her about the necessity of spiritual intelligence for mature leadership.

She says:

The life conditions and problems we face as a species, as countries, as organizations and as individuals demand increasing complex/elegant solutions. The type of mature leader who can respond to such situations is a "Tier 2" leader—embodying an advanced stage of personal development. These high levels of adult development are inseparably linked to spiritual intelligence. Thus, mature leadership requires spiritual intelligence development.

She goes on to list some of the issues we face through them and tellme what you think might realy be the underlying cause of some of these issues, which cause so much of the conflict in the world right now:

Our life conditions on Earth today are amazingly complex and stressful.

* The demand for oil and other fossil fuels is rising as India, China and other countries industrialize and become high growth high consumption economies. Competition for energy resources increases tensions in the Middle East. Other oil supplying countries like Venezuela and Nigeria become larger political players than they would be otherwise. Thus energy, economics and politics are tightly linked and tensions are magnified.

* The US has been a dominant world power since WWII. Its economic power has led to US tastes from food to fashion permeating even remote and poor parts of the world. This creates a feeling of being “taken over” by everything American. It adds more irritation to the mix—a greater sense of threat is felt by other cultures and other value structures—perceiving that they are “under attack” by “Western” values.

* There is continuous contact with many different cultures thanks to travel, television, Internet and other media that create the opportunity for exposure to “foreign” ideas and the result is a lot of irritation and even outright aggression toward the people carrying the “toxic” ideas.

* Polarization of viewpoints has increased in US and global politics. Filters preventing people “hearing” each other have strengthened along with the feeling of threat that these other ideas are “toxic.”

* Climate change is creating disruptions of old patterns and will eventually cause migrations of people away from rising water levels, away from areas no longer having acceptable weather patterns (e.g. drought ridden) or to safer or cooler climates. The opportunity for conflict will be enormous as survival fears are triggered.

* Other ecosystem changes create more pressure as fishing stocks are depleted and some farmland—especially in underdeveloped parts of the world—has been degraded by poor farming practices.

* Poverty, political instability, civil wars and dictatorships or theocracies in some countries create hot beds of disease (e.g. some parts of Africa), devastating genocides and a readiness to go to war (Iran, Korea).

* There are more stages of development simultaneously existing on the planet than ever before. In Spiral Dynamics language we have cultures at center of gravity Purple, Red, Blue, Orange and Green interacting with each other and finding each other’s value systems appalling (see Table 4 and Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Chris Cowan for more information).

* Even within the “developed world” an organization has to deal with employees who are at various stages of development: Red, Blue, Orange, Green and perhaps a few at Yellow. This makes being a leader and communicating to all levels incredibly difficult.

* Secular scientific (Orange) worldviews have tended to reject spirituality (Green) and traditional religion (Blue/Purple) with the result that those who consider themselves spiritual or religious are pushing back against “cold capitalism” and insensitive science and medicine. In some cases the sense of Blue alienation is leading to increasing demand for religious government (Iran) or for war against the secular (Orange) world.

* People will generally only be “led” by people at their same level of development or just a half stage above them—or by someone who can speak effectively to their stage (unless they are forced to comply by brute force or other coercion).

You've probably heard about emotional intelligence. Spiritual intelligence is one more level up.

Go read her article. It's fascintating and provides insight into the spiritual intelligence we all need to achieve reconciliation.

My biggest hope and wish---what I really want from Santa and what I pray for---is that our leaders today develop the emotional and spiritual intelligence we need for them to lead us and our world the right way, to build the best world possible for us and our children and so on.

In the words Cindy uses to conclude her article, I wish for this type of leader:

[a] leader who will be able to navigate the difficult times, to encourage and inspire others, to speak so they can be heard, and to stay peaceful in the midst of it all. ...[a leader with] spiritual intelligence - since the skills of spiritual intelligence are intricately linked to the higher stages of development. Such leaders will be able to act with love (Wisdom and Compassion). Mature leadership, high SQ leadership, is not about warm and fuzzy feelings. It is deep compassion manifesting in wise action. It is a profound personal integrity—an alignment with purpose and values. The high SQ leader understands the natural emergent processes at play and can work with them for the best outcomes, all while he/she stays focused on the big picture—remaining untriggered by old egoic reactions.

So, on this day of Reconciliation, I can think of no greater gift for Mad Hatter and Jen than this: peace and reconciliation through spiritually intelligent leaders.

With that, we can have a firm foundation to improve on the resulting issues such as homelessness, inadequate medical care, disease, human trafficking, starvation, war, and so forth.

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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