Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Helicopter Mom

*Just a note...this is the article that I had published in the Reporter this week, but the idea originally came from a blog by Michelle Symes, who writes "Boularderie Blog" (a link to which is on the side of this page). She actually wrote about this topic more succinctly than I did, but I used her idea to try to get my own point across. Just wanted to give credit where credit was due. Check out her blog, it's really good. And while you're at it, check out the link to Lianne's blog, too. Hers is "Bloggideeblogblog". Lots of laughs on both blogs, a really good read.*

I always thought I'd be the "cool mom". I'd have the house that all the kids wanted to hang out at, and be the mom who threw all the cool birthday parties, who listened to cool music, and who everyone felt they could talk to.

Cut to a few years later, and I am definitely not the cool mom. I'm a helicopter mom. The term "helicopter mom" was coined by my friend and fellow writer Michelle Symes, and she defines it as "a mother who hovers over her children." Maybe it's that I watch the news too often, or maybe it's one too many episodes of "Law & Order", but somewhere along the line, neurotic paranoia took over, coolness was thrown out the window, and the result was this consistent hovering.

Now don't get me wrong, my kids aren't cloaked in veils when we go out, and I haven't made my oldest son start wearing a helmet to school (yet), but I'm more strict than I perceived myself to be. You can judge for yourself, and I'll be interested to hear if I'm on the same page as other parents of an almost-10-year-old.

I'm big on curfews, and my son has to check in with me every hour when he plays outside after school. I have to know who he's with, where he's at, and what he's doing, and these variables have to be approved in advance. Homework and chores have to be done before he goes out to play or watches TV. He's not allowed to go skating or swimming or ride his bike to the mall unless I or my husband are with him, and I don't care if he's the only kid who's not going. He's not allowed to sit in the front seat of the car, watch "The Simpsons", ride a dirt bike, shoot a pellet gun, get sneakers with little wheels on them, listen to 50 Cent, play "God of War", shave his head into a mohawk, or say the word "stupid". And I make him buckle up, dress warm, wear sunscreen, finish all his supper, do his school work over and over until it's done properly, and play with his brother even when he doesn't want to. To top it off, if the rules are broken, the severity of the infraction determines how long he has to say goodbye to his TV, his PS2, toys, playing outside, or maybe all of those things. Period. That's just the way things work around here. And when my other little boy is old enough, those same rules will apply.

These are the reasons why I find it hard to gauge my parenting boundaries. Am I on the strict side? Or am I just like everyone else? Normally I wouldn't question myself, but when I see and hear what other kids his age are doing, it makes me wonder. Most of his friends are allowed to own and watch and do all these things that he's so desperate to take on. He considers it a huge injustice to be the "only one" who doesn't have those same permissions. I don't feel like I'm smothering him, but just hearing the words "motorized scooter" is enough to send my blood pressure soaring and want to lock him away in a tower until he reaches the age of majority. I hate to make him the neighborhood nerd, but I'd rather him come home at night with all his limbs than let him run loose for the sake of being "cool". But how do you know when "fair and firm" turns into "Drill Sergeant Mom"?

That's the problem, you don't know. All I can do is my best. If I let my son do fun things that are safe and age-appropriate, that's just going to have to be good enough. I keep telling myself he'll thank me for it when he's older, because only then will I know if all this discipline and behavior modification has paid off. These days, he can be saucy and defiant, and I think he's attempting the world record for being grounded. I wish I didn't have to be such a party pooper, but if it means that someday I'll have a 25-year-old son who is respectful, street smart, has good manners, a good education, and no criminal record, I'll count my efforts as successful.

Until then, I'm staying true to my directives. "Eat your corn, clean your room, change the channel, put on a sweater, wear your helmet, and be back in an hour, or else."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Anger, Sorrow & Perspective

Last week, on an Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan, during a bitter cold spell in the West, two little girls were killed. I say they were killed, not just that they died, because their parents caused their death. Their Mom and Dad had argued that evening and the mother left the two toddlers alone with their drunk father. The father was so intoxicated that he took the girls outside in diapers and t-shirts, somehow dropped them in a field, and forgot all about them. The temperature outside was nearing -50. When the father was being treated at the hospital hours later, he asked where his kids were, and only then were authorities alerted to the horrible events of the night before and the tragic consequences of his actions. The little girls were 1 and 3 years old.
As you might imagine, I could go on for hours about this tragedy. But I won't even start on the gross negligence of people who expose their young children to an environment filled with drugs and alcohol. Or the irresponsibility of a mother who leaves her kids with someone too drunk to care for himself, let alone two babies in diapers. Or a father who would take his kids from their beds at night to roam the streets, drunk, in frigid temperatures. And I won't even begin to go off on someone who would drop their babies in the snow and walk away. Who forgets about them for hours, as they perish in the middle of a field. Nor will I comment on a community so accustomed to abhorrent behavior and substance abuse that these parents were allowed to engage in this kind of activity, at their children's peril, without any intervention. Where this tragedy is not only accepted, but tolerated, and even justified. "It's not his fault, he has a drinking problem. He's very sorry." Couldn't I just snap when I hear that. That excuse would never fly with Children's Aid here in town, nor with the people who live in Port Hawkesbury, or in any other responsible community in the civilized Western world. No, I won't write an article about the parents or the community. My blood is boiling, and once I start ranting, I won't be able to stop. God knows I've lost enough sleep over it already.
Life is unfair when people lacking the character and heart to care for children, are blessed with that privilege and then abuse it. There are people in this world who would have cherished and protected those two little girls, some of which have, through no fault of their own, lost the opportunity to do the same for their own children. It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it. When I think about families like that of Karissa Boudreau, the little girl who disappeared in Bridgewater, and all the other people who have lost their own children, it breaks my heart. And then I hear about selfish people who throw it all away? It disgusts and infuriates me.
My kids are noisy and hyper and can be, quite frankly, extremely annoying. I've told them countless times to be more quiet, to stop running. My grandmother always says, "Let them run. If they couldn't move or speak, you'd wish they would." Never before has that wisdom hit home more than this past week. I'll keep the newspaper clipping of the story of those two little Saskatchewan girls on my fridge, to remind us every time we get frustrated, how lost we'd be without that same noise and chaos we complain about.
It can be difficult to see your children's beauty as they're swinging from the light fixtures and dumping boxes of Froot Loops on the living room rug. But let us all have the presence of mind to provide the protection and care that every child deserves, even when life challenges us. Let us all ensure the safety of the kids around us and make changes where necessary, even if it means sticking your nose where you otherwise wouldn't. As parents, let us remember that kids are the light in our lives. And when it gets tough, remember those mothers and fathers who would do anything to hear that yelling and thumping.
"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got 'til it's gone...."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Dear Britney

Dear Britney,

Apparently you haven't been keeping up with your correspondence. I wrote to you months ago, but I'll assume, given you had "other things" to do, that you didn't get a chance to read it. Allow me to try again.

It's a shame someone like me has to write this letter, but you're in desperate need of an outside intervention.
Though your music was never really my cup of tea, there was no denying that you were an excellent performer with many talents. Vocal talent? Er, maybe not so much. But so what if you could be the poster girl for pitch correction software? Your trademark lip-syncing techniques, blush-inducing dance moves, and million dollar porcelain veneers, more than made up for the weaknesses in your voice. You might have been the most iconic and famous young girl in the world, and I was rooting for you.
I guess there is truth to the old adage, "nowhere to go but down".
With a huge, savvy public relations machine to shield and spin your various indiscretions, your early slip-ups were cited as "typical young Hollywood". Unfortunately, the speeches doled out by your "people" didn't hold much water as your wild behavior escalated. How you managed to get tangled up with Kevin Federline I'll never quite understand, but next thing I knew, you were buying small dogs together, racing to the alter, and popping out babies like they were going out of style. And still I gave you the benefit of the doubt.
And then came the Fed-Ex fiasco. At the beginning of your relationship, no one would have predicted that Kevin was the stable one, but it didn't take long after your separation for the truth to come out. Within a few weeks of being single, you embraced the partying lifestyle with more enthusiasm than Robert Downey, Jr. By rights, you should still be hungover. To list all your bad behavior would result in a bad case of carpal-tunnel, but let's recap a bit, shall we? Emerging "commando" from a car in full view of the world media, shaving your head, attacking photographers with everything from umbrellas to new Mercedes, binge drinking, half-hearted attempts at rehab in a number of different facilities, bare-footed excursions to gas station bathrooms all over Malibu, missing important court-ordered proceedings, that disastrous VMA "comeback" performance, the newly-acquired British accent, need I continue? On and on it went, until your everyday antics left Mary Hart and Billy Bush foaming at the mouth in anticipation of your next adventure. I just assumed someone would intervene eventually; this very public psychotic break was becoming difficult to watch, especially now that Child Services was breathing down your neck. Surely someone will step in and shake the stupid out of this girl, I thought.
I was wrong.
Britney, you lost custody of your kids. You lost custody of your kids for goodness sake! Let that marinade for a few minutes. Has it sunk in? At all? Your last episode resulted in an internationally televised police showdown, custody dispute, and hospitalization. In recent days, you've had numerous mental breakdowns, all captured by the watchful eye of the paparazzi. Don't you think this has gone far enough? Your antics point to either mind-numbing stupidity, or severe addiction and mental illness. I surmise the latter. For that reason, I suppose it's pointless to try to reason with you at this point.
However, someone has to do something. Dr. Phil was too busy flushing all his rapidly-diminishing credibility down the toilet to actually be of assistance to you. Your mother should have taken you by those nasty extensions and dragged your behind out of the spotlight and back to the Louisiana bayou, but she's too busy selling the story of your 16-year-old sister's recent pregnancy and waiting by the mailbox for her "Mother of the Year" award. The judge in your custody case could have issued an order for the paparazzi to stay away from you and your kids. And with all the assorted "boyfriends", "managers", "assistants", and "cousins", someone from your camp should have sought help for you long before you reached this tragic state. You might never be able to recapture your former glory, but at least with some help, you could overcome your addictions, balance your meds, and possibly be able to see your kids again someday.
You have reached a point where even the tabloids and those who thrive on your misery, aren't interested in making light of your situation anymore. To most of the public, unless you're dead or cured, it's just more of the same. Now is the time to get your act together and get some serious help. Suck it up and admit yourself into a reputable rehab center or psychiatric facility, a strict one. Who knows, a nice long stay in the country, free of photographers and chaos, might be just what the doctor ordered. Feel free to drop by anytime (for a modest fee, of course), as I doubt I'll hear any objections from those living in this house, without mentioning any names.
We're all pulling for you Britney,

Gina & everyone I know