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December 2009

NY Rangers Debacle

Large_new-york-rangers-playoff-win-game-1  For The Boy's big Christmas present, Santa brought him 4 tickets to a New York Rangers game. As faithful readers know, The Boy is an absolute, die-hard Rangers fan. I have even written in the NY Times about how his room is a shrine to the team, which you can read here.

He used his 4 tickets to take the family to the game, which was really nice, because he could have easily taken friends instead. Walking into Madison Square Garden was amazing. The place is alive and intense, with music pounding out from the jumbotron or whatever the heck that big score board/video player thing is over center ice. Our seats were great. And I didn't feel like a jerk in the huge Rangers jersey I had borrowed from my son - I was one of hundreds decked out in fan gear.

It would have all been perfect, except for one thing. The New York Rangers. They ....well, I won't tell you what the fans were cheering, but let's just say they were really, really, really bad. They lost to the Philadelphia Flyers 0-6. It was ugly. Even the Boy admitted that had he been watching it on TV, he would have turned off the game.

We stayed til the end of course. All in all, it was pretty fun to watch a game live.  It would have been even more fun if they had managed just once to get the puck in the net.


Sports, Sports, Sports

Men-watching-tv  One thing I forgot about having The Boy home is that the TV is constantly tuned to sports. Last night, he had a couple of guys over to watch basketball. The night before that it was hockey. The night before that was football. It's not just night time either - if The Boy is in the family room, chances are ESPN is turned on. This time of year, there seem to be a million highlight shows - best plays of the year, best plays of the decade, and that kind of thing. Of course, The Weatherman is in heaven to have someone to watch all these games with. 

But I keep remembering what I read once in an Ann Landers column: any man who has watched three consecutive football games can be declared legally dead. Bummer. I loved them so.


Parallel Play

3016929  I'm still in heaven because the whole family is home. And today one of my fantasies is coming true. My Daughter is working from home  - she has reports to write and has to link in to her office network, but does not need to be physically in her office. And since she is visiting, she is working from my home today. Yea!

So the fantasy is parallel play - she is setting up her lap top in my office. She will be at my desk, I will be at a small table nearby in the room. She'll write her report. I'll work on Chapter 3 of the book. We can even edit each other! 

This may not sound like a great time to others, but I'm a nerdy writer who loves having my kids nearby, so for me it's bliss.


Christmas Eve

Christmas-candlelight-living-desktop  My Daughter will be home later today and then I'll have the whole family together. Most of our holiday traditions remain unchanged. Despite the fact that the kids are in their 20s, we will still have stockings (the cats each have their own stockings too), The Weatherman will still read "The Polar Express" out loud, My Daughter and The Boy will exchange their gifts tonight in front of the tree. We'll still get up early tomorrow morning and the children (both of whom are considerably taller than I) will wait at the top of the stairs and ask, "Did he come?" Then The Weatherman will say, "I guess you better come down and see."

Then they will clamber down to the living room, where there will be a fire roaring in the fireplace, and - if Santa does come - presents under the tree. Later there will be more family and a big meal.

Hmmm.....some one sounds as excited as her children.....


Who Believes

Religion  If you're religious, you might want to pray for New Hampshire, Vermont and Alaska. According to a new poll, residents of these states are the least religious in the country.

Of course, measuring true piousness is a tricky business. The folks at Pew Research simply asked people to rate how important religion was in their lives. The most religious folks live in Mississipi (or at least the most self-proclaimed), where some 82 percent of folks say religion is very important to them. Next were Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana.

I figured my home state of New York would be pretty low on the list, but we weren't ridiculously below average. The average was 56 percent, and NY came in at 46 percent. The five least religious states - Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, New Hampshire and Vermont - all have very cold climates. My theory - maybe it's hard to keep the faith when you're freezing.


Deadlines

Deadline  One of the recurrent themes of this blog over the last year has been the challenging transition from journalism to writing a book. So many adjustments! Pacing, tone, chapters, feedback, etc., etc., etc.

Now we get to the concept of deadlines. In the newspaper business, a deadline is just that. I used to think of it quite simply: if I don't get the completed article to my editor on time, I'm dead. There was little negotiation about when an assigned story was due. Ever so often, I would ask for another hour or so to complete a piece. 

Well, my book contract says the manuscript is due on February 1. And I'm only on Chapter 4. Oddly, I'm the only one who seems worked up by this. "Deadlines in publishing are meaningless," said one journalist friend who has also published two books. My own agent doesn't seem particularly concerned, even though I keep telling her that I won't be done on time. She assures me she can get me an extension - it's no problem.

Well, Geez, I hope she's right. Meanwhile, since I am a very deadline-oriented person, I will focus on my other looming responsibilities. Ingredients for the Christmas cake: check. Christmas cards out: check. Greenery to decorate the staircase: Yikes! Gotta go....


The Boy Returns

P's stuff  The novelist Maxine Hong Kingston once wrote about her mother, who would nurse a headache all day when one of her relatives was traveling by airplane. The headache was due to the tension resulting from all that mental effort of keeping the plane up in the air. 

Of course I can relate. Yesterday, The Boy wasn't flying, but he was driving down from Maine, just as the last of the vicious snow storm made its way up the New England Coast. His car didn't have snow tires, and it was missing one headlight. He first drove his girlfriend to the Portland airport, and waited as the crew de-iced the wings before her flight took off. (For me, this produced a headache and a stomach ache, because I couldn't really relax until she had landed safely and he had pulled into the driveway.)

Is it any wonder my children call me "crazy pants"? Anyway, everyone is home safe and sound. And when I walked into the back hall this morning and stepped over all his stuff (see the accompanying photo) I couldn't help but smile with relief. (That ought to last about 4 hours until I start nagging him to pick it all up.)


RIP ATWT

As_The_World_turns_soap_opera_7  Wanted to briefly acknowledge the passing of As The World Turns, the classic soap opera that was just a little older than myself before CBS pulled the plug on it last week.

I used to watch this soap when I was in high school, and then briefly picked it up again in the mid-80s when I was home with my first baby. (Not all that much had happened in the interim.) The ups and downs of characters in fictional Oakdale kept me entertained during diaper changes. Later, when I was a reporter for the NY Times, I profiled the actress Helen Wagner, who had been on the soap since it launched. She was lovely and gracious, and though I interviewed her at her home, she also invited me to the set, which was great fun for a former fan.

It may not have been high art, but it is a part of Americana that is passing.


Switching Sides

In my 18 years as a journalist, I conducted thousands of interviews. So it was a little weird to switch sides recently, and find myself doing the answering, instead of the asking. Here's my first interview about mothers and sons, given to a group called Boys to Men, whose mission is to reduce violence and promote healthy development in adolescent boys.

We interviewed Kate Stone Lombardi, New York Times Journalist and author of an upcoming book on mothers and sons for this issue of the B2M e-newsletter. Kate lives in New York and is the mother of a daughter and a son. Additionally, Kate will be the keynote speaker at our Boys to Men Mothers Conference on April 3, 2010 in Portland. (For more information about the Mothers Conference, visit www.boysconference.org - conference information will be posted soon!)

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What is the best thing about having a son?

 There are so many wonderful things about having a son, but the most surprising was the dawning realization that my son had the same capacity for emotional connection that my daughter did. I wasn't sure what having a boy would be like, and he turned out to be deeply empathetic and sensitive. We also share the same wacky sense of humor, which is great fun. Having a son gave me a new perspective on understanding men.
 

What do you think defines "a successful man" and what can moms do to help our sons realize that?
 
A successful man is one who contributes something valuable to society and who can connect with his family and the people around him. Really successful men, I believe, reach a level of peace about themselves and who they are. Moms can play a huge role in helping boys understand and articulate what they are feeling. In doing so, they are laying the groundwork for the kind of emotional intelligence a man will need for this kind of success.
 
What are the challenges young men face today as they transition to becoming men?
 
Boys today are under enormous pressure because they get such mixed messages. On the one hand, our culture still demands that they be tough and macho. On the other hand, they are encouraged to be sensitive and talk about their feelings - basically to become more evolved guys. It's confusing for boys and it's confusing for their parents.  Even as I earlier described my son as sensitive and empathic, I wanted to add that he was 6 ft tall and played ice hockey. Society is grappling with this idea of a sensitive guy who still fits into an acceptable male model.
 
How can mothers support this transition?
 
First, mothers can provide a safe place for boys to cope with their emotions. Second, we often forget that mothers, as well as fathers, can be role models for their boys. In some ways, moms are uniquely qualified to help their sons reconcile the conflicting pressures that boys face today. 
 
Women know that being attuned to our own feelings and those of others doesn't mean that we emote all over the place. I don't break down weeping at the office if my boss doesn't like my work. Mothers can model for their growing sons when and where it's appropriate to be vulnerable - and when it's not.
 
What can the community do to support the healthy development of boys and young men?
 
Part of what I'm writing about is the pressure on mothers to push their sons away - cut the apron strings so he can "be a man" and won't be a "Mamma's Boy." I interviewed one mom who told me that her husband got angry when she comforted her crying four-year-old, because he had to learn to "man up." I think boys and young men would be better supported if they were not encouraged to separate so early and so completely from their mothers. Mothers have something valuable to impart to their sons, and it would be great if we could tone down some of the rhetoric that discourages mother-son closeness.

 


Black Ice

Winter-road-lk5  I'd always heard about black ice. But on Sunday, I experienced it for the first time. You can't see it. You don't know it's there. And suddenly, instead of a road, you seem to be on an ice rink, with absolutely no traction whatsoever.

The Weatherman and I were about 10 minutes from home - well, what would normally be  a 10-minute drive.  Conditions had gotten bad just before we got on the road, so while we couldn't see the black ice, we could see cars all over the sides of the road, some of them facing the wrong way. We live in a very hilly area, so driving the car up an incline was near impossible, but trying to coast down was really treacherous.

We were pulled over for a long time waiting for things to improve, and finally made a little progress by driving with half the car on the road and the other half on the muddy, icy shoulder of the parkway. It took us two hours to drive the 3 miles to our house. I've never been so happy to get home. I was pretty happy to get to a bathroom too!


The Power of Facebook

Facebook_logo  Traffic had slowed considerably on the website I designed to help research my book. For a couple of months, www.mothersonbond.com was hopping, and lots  of mothers were filling out the survey about their relationship with their sons. But things started to level off, and I wasn't sure what to do.

My friend Carin, a seasoned writer and researcher, suggested I take out an ad on Facebook. I've never taken out an ad in my life, but (and I don't mean to sound like a commercial here), the site made it incredibly easy, helping me target the demographic I was hoping to reach and making it pretty easy to design the ad itself.

Bingo - it's been only two days and I am hearing from Moms from around the country. I get especially excited when I hear from women from Kansas and Missouri and New Mexico and other states where I had little representation before this.

So phooey to those folks who say that Facebook is a waste of time and THANK YOU to all the moms out there who took the time to fill in the survey!


So that's what you've been up to....

Cats on Paul's bed  Whenever the Weatherman and I come in from an evening out, our two cats tend to come slinking into the room to greet us. They look sleepy and give the appearance that all they've been up to while we've been gone are some nice cat naps.

Not so, according to one recent study. Someone got the idea to affix cameras to 50 house cats' collars and track their activities. (Some people spend their time on cancer research, others look into kitty behavior.) The camera took a picture every 15 minutes.

It turns out that 22% of the cats' time was spent staring out the window, which doesn't surprise me in the least. My own two can stare for hours, achieving an almost zen-like state. Twelve percent was spent interacting with other pets, and in our household, I can only hope that Lawson and Maddy have been playing with each other and not tormenting the turtle. 8 % of time was spent climbing on chairs or kitty condos, and I guess it's during this segment that Maddy works her magic on my sofa, leaving it in shreds. 

Other interesting facts - 4% eating or looking at food. (I love the idea of looking at food as an activity.) 6% looking at TV, computer screens or other media. Only 6 % sleeping, which I still find hard to believe.


Outlets

Shopping1  Yesterday my friend Joanne and I went to Woodbury Commons, a kind of fake village in upstate New York made up of stores that offer deep discounts on name brands. I was nowhere on my Christmas shopping and hoping for some bargains.

Certainly I got some deals, but also an eye-opening cultural experience. The majority of shoppers seemed to be Russians, seconded by Japanese shoppers. If you closed your eyes and just listened, you would have thought you were at the United Nations. And you should see these folks shop. There's an entire strategy. First stop: one of the discount luggage stores. First purchase: a huge suitcase on wheels. Next you shop 'til you drop, completely filling the suitcase with your loot, and then wheeling it back to the tour bus that brought you there. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. 

Of course this says much more about the international economy than anything else. Anyway, I came home laden with packages - no suitcase for me - and absolutely exhausted. What an eye opener!


Ho! Ho! Oh!

Santagrinchtf7  The Weatherman and I got our Christmas tree yesterday. We bought it at a local church, and when we started chatting with the guy selling them, he told us that they lose about 15 trees every year to theft. People just pinch them in the middle of the night, and it's not worth it for the church to post volunteers to keep vigil all night long. (I might add that their profits go to different community groups serving people in need.)

I'd like to say I was surprised, but yesterday the cover story in our local paper was about stolen Christmas trees - someone made off with a whole bunch of them, stealing from a group that was selling trees to raise money to buy wheelchairs for disabled kids. The same day there was a story about 5 houses that had their Christmas lights stolen off their rooves and bushes, and - just to top it off - another home with  a manger in their front yard had the Baby Jesus taken.

Come on. It doesn't get any Scrooge-ier than that!


The Writing Life

6a00d834527abb69e201157222f639970b-320wi  I used to be really cocky about my writing. I thought I was talented and witty. Every other week I had a column on the front page of a section of The New York Times. I  blithely referred to it as  "my column," and happily listen to kind comments from readers about how much they enjoyed my work.

That was then and this is now. It was never "my column," but the NY Times' column, and what The Times giveth, The Times taketh away. That entire section is long gone, victim to the economics of print journalism.

My self-confidence has long since been replaced with nagging doubt. I'm very grateful to have gotten the book contract. But constant feedback and praise has been replaced with radio silence. It's scary. I have several friends who are professional writers, with published books behind them. And you know what? Not a one of them seems to feel any more sure of themselves than I do. As to my handful of friends who are still hanging on to their journalism jobs, as they say in N.Y. - fuggadaboutit.

OK - back to work. And just an update from yesterday. Jude still hasn't called. He must have misplaced my number.


Jude and Me

Jude2  So last night, when I was in Jude Law's dressing room....

Oh wait - did I need to add anything else to that opening sentence?! Thanks to my wonderful brother-in-law, The Stage Manager, we went to see Hamlet last night on Broadway. Jude (we're on a first name basis now) was astounding in the lead role. Absolutely riveting. Amazing. 

When we met him backstage after the play (did I mention that my brother-in-law is wonderful?) Jude was full of energy, incredibly handsome and very, very gracious. We chatted about how many iconic lines were in the play. We joked about how much easier it is to work from a good script. He talked about how relieved he was that yesterday was the last day he had to do both a matinee and the evening performance in one day. (The show closes Sunday.)

I'd like to tell you more, but I have to run out and interview one more person for the exec director position for the Food Pantry. If Jude calls while I'm out, tell him I"ll be around later....


Extracurriculars

FCCMLOGO  I'm off in a few minutes to go interview a candidate for the executive director position of our local food pantry. Our food pantry has always been an all-volunteer organization, but operations have gotten more complex as the number of hungry people seeking groceries has more than doubled in the last year.

Last night I was at another meeting for another group in which we discussed "adopting" a nursery housed in a nearby medium security women's prison. They have babies there ranging from 2 weeks to 7 months old, living the beginnings of their lives behind bars with their incarcerated mothers. These babies need clothing, toys and people to come in and play with them.

Then there is the local group trying to rehabilitate homes of low income elderly people - refurbishing bathrooms and staircases with ramps and the like, so these folks can stay in their own homes.

So much trouble all around us, and so little time and money.