Monthly Archives: May 2009


A friend of mine just had his second child. His first is three and a half years old, and he told me that he felt that this amount of spacing between his two children would help to prevent the worst of the sibling rivalry. While I wanted to be sensitive and understanding to someone who was still in the glow of new parent bliss, I couldn’t help but let a little peep of disbelief escape my lips at the thought of someone thinking they were going to escape sibling rivalry. Well, actually, it was a bit more than a little peep. Or even a big peep. It was more like this:


Just one, but that was enough to make him pause and say, “So you don’t think that’s possible?”

Although I hated to burst his bubble, I kind of already had, so I just shook my head sadly and said, “No.” I could have added that I knew siblings who were born ten years apart, as well as ones who were born ten months apart (“Irish twins,” we used to call them), and that the level of animosity between them was the same: intense. The truth is, thinking that there is some way to avoid sibling rivalry is the same thing as thinking that there is some way to avoid death: think it all you want, but in the end, you’ll be just as dead.

Having thus destroyed his dreams of family harmony, I felt like I should at least offer him a few words of comfort–something along the lines of: “Don’t worry–it only lasts a few years.” Alas, however, it seemed as if my ability to lie was all used up for the day, and I couldn’t even do that. Because, actually, if anything, I’ve noticed that the sibling rivalry thing just gets worse. Or at least more creative: the kids who were only pinching each other in grade school are practically hiring hit men to take each other out once they enter high school.

So why, you may ask, does anyone have a second child? If it causes that much strife, why not stop at one? The answer, of course, is the same one we give for every disagreeable thing we do to our children: it’s for their own good.

If there is one thing that is certain in this world, it’s that, at some point, you are going to have to deal with unpleasant people. And what better way to prepare for that then by having siblings: the most unpleasant people of them all?

Think about it: the room-mate who used your toothbrush after every one of her bulimic episodes, and then denied it? At least she was actually using it to brush her teeth. And the coworker who stole your lunch every day? At least he wasn’t farting on it and then telling you about it five minutes after you finished eating it. (Not unless you work at Dominos.)

Seriously, I am convinced that much of who we are–how we handle responsibility, stress, and unfair circumstances–can be traced to our early interactions with our siblings. You show me someone who can endure an ambush-style job review, and I’ll show you someone who grew up with not just one, but several older sisters.

Of course, just like with all of the other things we do for our children, the benefits of having siblings is something that most kids will only appreciate years down the road (if ever), And, I must admit, that when I have to physically separate them for the duration of an entire eight-hour road trip, I have trouble seeing it too.

Someday, however, I am sure that it will all be worth it: one day they will look at the siblings we gave them and then turn and thank us profusely.

Did I just hear someone say “Ha!”?

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The other night my husband took our daughter Clementine to see the Plain White T’s perform on campus–a truly selfless act for which I will be in his debt for approximately the next three hundred years.

Not that the Plain White T’s are so bad. (Although their hit song, “Hey There Delilah,” has one of those moronic, looping melody lines that get stuck in your head for days. The kind of song that you find yourself singing under your breath every time your windshield wipers hit a certain speed.) But still: that’s just one song–not enough to taint an entire concert.

No, the reason I owe my husband for the rest of my natural life (and beyond) isn’t because of “Oooooh, what you gave to me; ooooh, it burns when I pee,” (or however that song goes)–they could have played nothing but that song over and over again all night and it would not have mattered one bit. Actually, they could have conducted a highly thoughtful and cogent discussion on the state of the current economy, and that wouldn’t have mattered either. As a matter of fact, nothing the Plain White T’s did would have made any difference to my husband’s concert-going experience at all, because from where he sat the concert consisted of only one sound:


(This is the sound made by twelve hundred preteen girls screaming in syncopated adoration.)

A lot.

My first thought, when he described the concert to me, was to feel bad for the band. After all, the Plain White T’s aren’t just some jumped up Disney concoction like the Jonas Brothers or Hannah Montana; it only seemed reasonable to assume, then, that when they were first sitting around in their garage and dreaming of hitting it big those dreams didn’t include things like, “Yeah, man, and the chicks are going to go crazy for us–at least until they get old enough to start wearing bras.” A few words with my husband, however, relieved me of my concern. “No,” he said wryly, “they seemed well aware of who their audience was.” Meaning that they said the type of things up on stage guaranteed to elicit more screaming, rather than less. Things like:

“Hey, you guys know what? We were just in”–looks at cue card—“Kingman, and they said that the kids in Flagstaff didn’t know how to rock…*” (rest cut off by screaming). (*Satire alert: this is not an actual Plain White T’s concert quote.)

Here’s the thing: I must confess, that even though I was once a preteen girl myself (long, long ago–back before the term “preteen” even existed), I’m still at a loss to understand the screaming thing. While logic tells me that it must be some kind of defensive strategy leftover from our caveman days (can you think of a better way to drive off a Sabre-toothed tiger?), that doesn’t help explain why, then, those screaming attacks are only used when girls are confronted with something they want to get closer to, not when they are confronted with the things they want to drive away. They don’t scream (at least not like that) at their little brothers; they scream like that at Rob Pattinson. And Daniel Radcliffe. And even, oddly enough, the guy from Napoleon Dynamite. And they definitely scream at bands.

This presents something of a dilemma for parents who are also music lovers: do we tell our daughters to shut up, or do we just let them enjoy the show (screams and all)? In the end, I have to say that I agree with my husband’s decision to let our daughter scream, although I’m sure that it was frustrating for the people who actually came to hear, and not just see the Plain White T’s.

Both of them.

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1 In the 90s, the big status symbol was to be “stressed.”

“How’s it going?” you’d ask someone, and they’d say, “Dude, I’m so stressed,” and then they’s list all of the “stressors” in their life: papers to write, girlfriends to break up with, room-mates to clean up after. You were supposed to shake your head in commiseration, and then say something like, “You think you’re stressed? Check this out.” And then you’d list all of your stressors. (Personally, however, I always preferred to pretend that they meant “I’m so stressed” in a positive sense. “Right on!” I’d usually reply.)

This decade, however, isn’t about stress–it’s about being busy (or maybe it’s about both, and the stress is just assumed). Ask someone how they’re doing these days, and they’re likely to whip out their Blackberry and recite that day’s schedule: “I’ve got the dentist at noon, the accountant at one, two music lessons, a soccer practice and a pedicure. Then I have to go to the grocery store, because we are completely out of food…”

The only difference that I can see between the 90s version and this one is that, in the 90s, at least we didn’t feel bad about it: we were proud of our stress. It made us seem important. It made us seem busy. Nowadays, however, we actually are busy, and we feel guilty about it. Especially when that busyness involves our children.

This is because, supposedly, being too busy is one of the symptoms of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” the condition whereby the modern child–due to their hectic, over-scheduled lives–have become cut off from the natural world. I can see their point: my kids do spend a lot less time out wandering the woods then I did when I was their age (or rather, in my case, wandering the fields–I grew up in an agricultural community). And they do have a lot more scheduled activities then I did when I was a child–between the music lessons, soccer practice, Cub Scouts and whatnot (I’m sure I’m forgetting something), they are probably five times as busy as I was at their age.

And yes, I could see how this could be misinterpreted as a bad thing–how it paints a picture of an overly ambitious mom shuttling her kids from one activity to the next, the kids in question looking longingly over their shoulders at the beckoning woods as they are forced, yet again, into the back of the minivan. But, the thing is, it’s not like that: given the chance, my kids would fill their schedule with even more activities–there would be horseback riding lessons, karate, and Japanese language classes on top of everything else, with a barely a break in the middle for a quick playdate and then off we’d go again.

Some people say that this is because kids these days have shorter attention spans, and therefore need to switch from activity to activity like a remote spinning through 600 channels. Maybe. But maybe it’s also because it’s kind of fun to be busy.

I know that I’m supposed to feel bad about all of the activities; I’m supposed to be wringing my hands in despair at the fact that every single waking minute of my children’s lives is crammed full, but somehow, I just can’t. Who knows? Maybe my anxiety plate is just so full already that I don’t have room for anything else. I mean, really: I’m supposed to worry about falling school test scores, the economy, swine flu, and nature deficit disorder? Really?

Of course, maybe this is all just practice for the next decade–the “worry” decade. That makes sense; a few years from now I’ll probably ask somebody “How’s it going?” and, in the most pained way possible, they’ll answer me, “Dude, I’m so worried.” To which, hopefully, I’ll be able to respond: “Right on.”

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Organize It

I always thought that once my kids got old enough to go to school, the era of the playdate would be over.

I really believed that once they started school, and began to make friends with the kids in their classrooms, that eventually all of their friends would be school friends, and therefore all of their friends would live in our neighborhood–just like it was back when I was a wee, paste-eating elementary school-er myself.

Obviously, however, all those years of eating paste have left my brain completely addled; how else could I have failed to make the connection between the long line of white SUVs I see waiting outside the school every afternoon and the fact that nobody lives in the same neighborhood as their school anymore. (There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule–like us–but for the most part, it’s wall-to-wall SUVs. Sometimes I think that the only reason there are still a few of us left without them is that, somehow, we were gone the day the SUV fairy came by. Probably out on a bike ride or something).

My missing SUV aside, what that long line of cars really means is that my dream of the decline and fall of the playdate empire has been premature, to say the least.

I don’t know what I was thinking: after all, I already knew that the days when “playing” simply meant rounding up a group of neighborhood kids and seeing whose house you could get thrown out of first were as long gone as the days of a kid on a bicycle delivering your newspaper. And I knew that they were both gone for precisely the same reason: most kids aren’t even allowed to leave their own living rooms unsupervised anymore, let alone their houses.

In fact, even if my kids’school friends did live in the same neighborhood as us (and they don’t–two of them don’t even live in the same zip code), they still probably wouldn’t be allowed to walk over to our house on their own–as I mentioned before, most kids these days aren’t allowed to do anything on their own (at least until they turn 16 and get a car that is, at which time it seems that they suddenly have no restrictions whatsoever).

It’s bizarre.

We all claim to want strong, independent kids, but I guess that some parents think that these are traits that can be “organized” into children–as if there was some sort of “Independent Thinking” club you just needed to make sure that they all signed up for in kindergarten. (“Did you get the new “Independent Thinker” t-shirt? Remember: we all have to match.”)

Maybe I’m just grumpy because three years after my last child started school I’m still being asked to get in the car and drive across town so that my kids can “play.” Meanwhile, our own neighborhood is filled with kids my children have never met, either because they don’t go to our school or because, like us, they, too, are always off somewhere else (probably at playdates on the other side of town as well). The worst part of it is that, in those few moments when both sets of children are actually present in the neighborhood at the same time, my kids always resist my suggestions to go out and “play” with them by saying, “But we don’t know them.” And they’re right: they don’t.

I could, I suppose, make the introductions myself, but that would mean that first I would have to go and meet the parents–my neighbors. Who has the time for that? After all, I need all of my spare time so that I can catch up with my friends. By email. Because, of course, we don’t live anywhere near each other either.

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