Friday, October 28, 2011

Costume Conundrum

Is it just me, or does Halloween seem to get bigger and bigger, and last longer and longer each year?  We've already been to several Halloween events already, and the kids' "treat box" is currently overflowing with all manner of sugary joy.  I would normally be disgusted by the kids slobbering over the treat box like pigs that had just heard "Zoooweeee!!!"... except that I myself have been guilty of rummaging around it in it for the choicest goodies over the last week.

Tonight is trick-or-treat night in our neighborhood, and my son is very much looking forward to adding more booty to his trough of junk food.  One would think that, with so much candy suddenly pouring in, the kids would stop begging for treats in the checkout lines of stores and at the windows of banks, but alas, the plethora of candy seems to have actually raised my children's awareness of how much junk food is readily available.

If I go through the drive-thru at the pharmacy, my son will shout, "Do they have lollipops?  I think they have lollipops!!  I want one!!"  If I'm in the grocery store, the kids will keep their eyes peeled for any candy that might be lying about "for the taking."

"I bet they have Halloween candy!" has become my son's new battle cry. 

This gets tiresome, but not nearly as tiresome as the obsession over Halloween costumes that has been going on for the past month.  Apparently, to children today, the choice of costume has a significant bearing on one's social standing.

I don't remember it being such a big deal when I was a kid.  I have fond memories of Halloween when I was little: I happily went out as a punk rocker year after year—a costume which required little more than some bright clothing and colored hair spray.  I remember one year when a friend of mine defaced a gown with some ketchup and went trick-or-treating as a bloody bridesmaid.  That was perfectly acceptable back then.

Now it seems that the Halloween costume has become some sort of crazy indicator of social status.  I saw this trend when I was a teacher too—the popular kids would show up in school with Scream masks that dripped blood down the inside (have you seen those things? They're dreadful!).   Or they would have fancy superhero costumes expensively modeled after the star of a recent blockbuster film.

The shy kids would arrive in dubious homemade costumes that were difficult to identify.  "Awww, look... it's an elephant!" an unwitting teacher would say, only to have the child don an injured expression and yell, "I'm not an elephant... I'm a kitty cat!"

I think last year was my final chance to outfit my son for Halloween before pop culture dominated his little mind completely.  I had found an adorable costume at the thrift shop, paid three dollars for it, and happily dressed up my boy as a dragon.  Evan proudly announced "I'm gonna be a dragon for Halloween!!" to anyone who would listen for an entire month leading up to the big day.

Unfortunately I was rather uneducated about the details of imaginary animals at the time, so it wasn't until Evan went to school in his costume and all his teachers said, "Awww... what a cute dinosaur!" that I realized I had been mistaken.

Evan donned the familiar injured look and announced that he was, in fact, a dragon.  My husband took the opportunity to laugh at my ignorance and blame me for possibly scarring our son for life.

"How was I supposed to know it wasn't a dragon?" I asked.

"It doesn't have wings!!" my husband replied.  "That should have given you a clue!"

"Well, not all dragons have wings, do they?"  Um... yep... they do. 

Apparently NOT a dragon.

To make matters worse, we went trick-or-treating with friends last year, and my son's best friend went as... you guessed it... a dragon.  With bright, shiny wings.  I could see Evan looking at his friend's costume with envy, so I pulled a ridiculous explanation out of my ass.

"Evan, your friend is a flying dragon, but you're a fire-breathing dragon.  You don't need wings. Isn't that cool?"  He bought the story and even added the "fire-breathing" description to his "I'm a dragon!" chant.  This lasted right up until we started canvassing the neighborhood and were greeted at every door by a well-meaning adult who said, "Awww...look!  A dragon, and a dinosaur!!  How cute!"

Apparently I'm the only moron who didn't know a dinosaur when she saw one.

Well, this year there will be no mistaking what my son is for Halloween—for the past several months he has been obsessed with Spider-Man, so I shouldn't have been surprised when he demanded to be Spider-Man for Halloween.

We searched for costumes online, and I let him choose the one he liked the best (which, fortunately for me, cost a mere $9.99 on Ebay).  Unfortunately, when it arrived I noticed a significant flaw in the design—where there should have been some sort of transparent fabric for eye holes, there were merely tiny pin-holes.  My son looked awesome but couldn't see to save his life.  He insisted he was fine, posed for a picture, then promptly stumbled into a nearby wall.

What the heck?!
So, what I really should be doing right now, instead of writing this blog post, is sewing the white mesh fabric I purchased into the eye holes of his Spider-Man costume.  I also have to use a Sharpie to draw webbing on a pair of cheap red gloves I bought for fifty cents (Evan saw another child in a Spider-Man costume, and the other kid's costume had gloves.  Needless to say, he had to have them too).

Eh, I have a couple more hours.  Plenty of time.

You know, this all seems like a whole lot of unnecessary fuss for what used to be a one-night event. My son is already telling me what I should be for Halloween next year.  Apparently he thinks I should dress up as Tinkerbell.

"But, then you couldn't wear a shirt," he said.

"Tinkerbell doesn't wear a shirt?" I asked.

"Nope," he answered, "she just wears nipples."

Ahhh.... I see.  Nipples.  Silly me.  And here I was, thinking that I might just get away with being a punk rocker next year.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

A Bad Case of "Mom Hair"

Bedtime is always a nightmare in our house—the children fuss and whine, ask for snacks, beg for water, complain that they're hot, and just generally stall in every conceivable manner possible.  To make matters worse, they also use nighttime as a chance to employ their most effective mind-control tactic: the "Wail of Torture."

Every parent knows what I'm talking about here—it's that siren-wail that sounds like a cross between a fire engine and a wolf baying at the moon.  It can shatter glass and is sure to damage the hearing of any adult within a thirty foot radius. Each child has his or her own variation, and I firmly believe that nature helps each individual to hone his or her particular screech so that it produces maximum annoyance in the parents.

My children are particularly gifted at the Wail of Torture, and they frequently use it to beat my husband and I into submission.  I am ashamed to admit that my torture tolerance is fairly low, so after enduring about two minutes of ear-shattering misery, I generally fold and say, "Okay, okay!  You want a snack?  We'll find you something!  Just please stop screeching!!"

I've gotten so used to anticipating the wail that I was taken by surprise when my son said to me the other night, "Mommy, I don't like it when you put my pajamas on for me."  No screeching, no crying, no wailing!

I saw the opportunity for a teachable moment (and the distant hope of saving my hearing) and jumped all over it. I praised him heartily for using words to describe how he was feeling.  I said, "Evan, I really like it when you use your words to say what you don't like.  It's so much more helpful to me than when you yell.  I really, really like it when you just tell me what you don't like."

Apparently my praise inspired him, because Evan looked thoughtful for a moment, then said in a firm voice, "Mommy, I don't like your hair.  It's messy."

Wellllll..... that tactic worked like a charm, now didn't it?!

I suppose I shouldn't fault him for being honest.  I glanced in the mirror and was immediately shamed by my reflection.  If I hadn't shampooed my hair just that morning, I might have expected to run my hands through it and find a small family of birds living somewhere amongst the mop of unruly frizz.

I've never had good luck with my hair—it's the kind that's not really straight but not really curly; it's very thick with a lot of waves, and if I don't make an effort to straighten it or tame it somehow it just gets bigger and bigger until I could rival Helena Bonham Carter on the red carpet.

Someone get this poor woman a stylist!
I've always been under the impression that going to an expensive salon and getting a "quality" haircut would fix my styling misery.  So when my friend organized a group trip to her favorite ritzy salon this past weekend, I was pretty excited.

My stylist's name was Joey, and he was well-coiffed and perfectly pomaded. I was surprised to see that he was wearing more makeup than I was, but  I decided to take that as a sign that he knew what he was doing.  I settled in the chair with a smile.

He took my hair elastic out, and a giant mop of frizzy tangles tumbled around my shoulders. I think a few butterflies may have taken flight too.  He frowned at my reflection in the mirror and said, "Okay... so, exactly what are we doing today, hmm??"

I sighed and told him that my hair was in massive need of an overhaul.  I probably launched into more detail than was necessary, but I felt the need to explain why I looked like an extra from a disaster movie.  I told him that, as a stay-at-home mom, I don't get out much, and I don't have the opportunity to get my hair cut on a regular basis.  I shamefully described my philosophy on hair care: wait until I notice that my hair looks generally terrible, do a quick calculation and realize that it's been four months since my last haircut, and book the first available appointment at the local Holiday Hair.

The shame.

He told me he would get everything taken care of, and soon he was artfully snipping away, chopping off all the dried out ends and tidying up the entire situation.

Once he had finished cutting, we discussed styling options.  I told him that my hair just doesn't cooperate.  He asked me what products I use.

"Um, excuse me?" I said.

"Pro-ducts.  What products are you using?" he asked again, speaking slowly as if I might be slightly hard of hearing or mentally challenged.

I thought about the cabinet in my bathroom that's jammed with styling creme, hairspray, curling mist, smoothing gel, pomade, body-building mousse—none of which I use—and frantically tried to remember what any of them were called.  I came up blank.

"Um, I don't really use anything," I said sheepishly.  He gave me a withering look and was about to suggest something when I offered, "but I have a whole drawer full of every styling product imaginable.  It's just that I never remember to use any of them."

He frowned at me and said rather accusingly, "You're not one of those moms who wears those awful track suits and sweatpants out in public, are you?"

Um, guilty.

My mind called up the image of my dresser drawer that barely closes because it's stuffed to the gills with "yoga" pants, and I blushed.  I felt the odd need to apologize.  "Being a stay-at-home mom just isn't very... glamorous, I guess."

"You could make it glamorous," he replied optimistically.  "Do your hair in the morning.  Put on some makeup.  Dress up.  Look nice for your husband when he gets home."

Truth be told, those were all things I once swore I would faithfully do.  I vowed never to be one of those moms that just lounged about in shapeless workout attire, sans makeup, looking like a candidate for What Not to Wear. What had happened?  When had I become that person?

I pondered this as Joey gave me a fabulous blowout and styled my hair to perfection.  It fell around my face in bouncy waves, and I instantly felt beautiful.  I thanked him profusely and promised him that I would clean up my act.  I owed it to myself (and to my extremely expensive haircut) to maintain the new look.

But regardless, just a couple of days later, there I was—wearing my comfy pants and sporting a hairdo that could have worked on a scarecrow.  And my son called me on it.  My four-year-old boy!

*sigh*  Something had to be done.

So yesterday I got out my straightening iron and my curling iron.  I moved the junk on my bathroom counter out of the way and cleared a work area.  I set out bobby pins and styling products—I was determined to look pretty for my boys.

Just as I was getting warmed up (literally), my son ambled into the bathroom to see what I was doing.  Before I could shout, "Stop!", he reached up and grabbed my curling iron by the barrel.  He gasped and reflexively pulled his hand back, cradling it against his body.

I just felt terrible.  Evan didn't cry or whine; he insisted he was fine.  I took a look at the angry red patch on his hand and decided it would be best to keep an eye on him to make sure he was okay, so I unplugged my styling tools, put my hair back in a ponytail, and went to join my kids at play.

Attempt to look good=failed.  Back to square one.

I frolicked with my little ones, but the fun was tainted by paranoia—did my son frown at my baggy sweatshirt?  Did he glance at my hair and look quickly away?  Was he going to be ashamed to be seen in public with me in a few years?

Does my appearance really matter that much when I'm in the house most of the day?

Is this really that bad?

Ack, well, perhaps it is.

I don't have all the answers, but if anyone has a brilliant idea about how to look beautiful and put-together while caring for two children, I will be the first to take notes.

In the meantime, I think the next skill I will teach my son will be how to say, "Mommy, you're pretty just the way you are." 

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Friday, October 7, 2011

When Toddler TV Attacks!

I think we can all agree that toddler television is generally intolerable.... although some shows are clearly more irritating than others. We endured a particularly rough patch when our 4-year-old son Evan was younger and had an all-consuming love affair with Elmo.

His constant obsession with the furry red guy really pushed the limits of our endurance for tolerating high-pitched, squeaky creatures that talk in the third person, and every time we'd hear Elmo exclaim, "Oh yay!" we'd have to steel ourselves against the urge to stick sharp objects in our ears.

At some point we have most likely owned every Elmo video that was ever made. These videos are obnoxious at varying levels; one of the worst is "Elmo's Potty Time," which features horrendously catchy tunes exalting the joys of peeing and pooping.  In the trenches of potty training, these songs swirled around and around in my head like an excremental carousel featuring crapping mules and pissing stallions.

Others, like "Elmo Being Green" are more tolerable, as "Being Green" features Paul Rudd repeatedly making an ass out of himself while dressed in a giant round Earth costume.

 You've got to admit it—that's entertaining.

But regardless, they are all pretty dreadful. 

So you can imagine my excitement when Evan was finally old enough to sit through a full-length movie, and we were able to enjoy Pixar's movie Cars.  And enjoy it we did—about five hundred times in a row.  Within a month we could recite the whole damn movie from beginning to end, and we had accumulated enough Cars paraphernalia to open our own themed gift shop.

We then moved on to Toy Story and Ratatouille, and of course the many incarnations of Thomas the Tank Engine. It didn't take us long to learn that Evan's love affairs with movies followed a pattern: if he saw a movie he liked, that movie would completely consume his psyche for the next few weeks.

There would be movie quotes made at the dinner table, drawings of his favorite scenes lovingly taped to his walls, and requests filed for any merchandise that might feature his favorite characters (we dropped a couple hundred bucks on a Thomas the Tank Engine toddler bed when Evan was in his Thomas phase).  

And, of course, he would ask to watch the object of his affection nearly every day during this honeymoon period, which pretty much meant we were stuck buying every movie he became fixated on.

Unfortunately, once the novelty of each new film wore off, Evan would quickly move on to something else and dump his previous favorite like a jilted lover. He barely had the attention span of George Clooney in a room full of models, and we began accumulating movies faster than bargain-shoppers at a liquidating Blockbuster store.

You'd think we'd catch on and just say, "No more movies—you have enough."  But nope... we're kind of suckers that way.

So we began developing a problem. Our movie storage bins were literally overflowing, vomiting DVDs of Thomas and Elmo and Buzz Lightyear and Big Bird all over our family room floor, where the cases were getting stomped on and the contents damaged.  This also caused a significant safety hazard, as occasionally an unwitting family member would slip on a DVD case and go crashing into the nearest piece of furniture (this was usually me). 

Something had to be done.

And that's when we discovered Netflix 
(insert angelic choir of oohs and aaahs here).

Netflix provided my son with a veritable smorgasbord of shows and movies—he could watch anything from Care Bears to Diego to Spiderman to *ugh* Power Rangers.  He loved this new variety, and since he was able to navigate Netflix by himself, we were spared the endless drudgery of searching through multitudes of mixed-up DVD cases to find the exact movie he was jonesing for at the moment.

It was freaking great.  ....

Until it wasn't. 

Did you know there are no parental controls on Netflix?  I once caught Evan pulling up an episode of South Park while my oblivious parents smiled and sat down with him to watch what they thought was a harmless kids' show!

I also caught Evan watching the original Batman once... the one with Jack Nicholson.  I put a stop to that right away... the last thing I needed was my son running around shouting the Joker's famous quote, "This town needs an enema!"

Basically, once Netflix came on the scene, it became a lot more difficult to police what Evan was being exposed to—especially since a lot of the stuff on Netflix is obscure made-for-tv shlock that we've never even heard of, so we had no way of really knowing what was appropriate. 

Well, the other night Evan happened upon an adorable looking movie called "Impy's Wonderland."  It was rated TV-Y and described itself as a child-friendly film about the last dinosaur on earth, who lives happily on a little island with his animal friends until he gets lured away by a trickster who promises him fame and fortune. 

Cute, right?

I sat down and told Evan we could try watching it.  

Well, the beginning was just charming.  The characters were adorable.  There wasn't a shred of violence, no one called anyone else an idiot or told each other they were stupid, and the movie actually seemed to have a decent plot.  

I hunkered down on the sofa with Evan and relaxed into watching what I thought was going to be a really nice family film—one that wouldn't lead him into a "What the heck?" streak, cause him to yell "Step off, MAN" at his daddy, or inspire him to randomly shout exclamations like "Freaking swine!"...(which, by the way, has become my personal favorite of all his inappropriate outbursts—both for its shock value and its mysterious origin.)

So all was going swimmingly; we were enjoying our movie and snuggling together on the sofa, and I was thrilled to have found something that was both age-appropriate and enjoyable (a rare combination).

As expected, about halfway through the film Impy was lured from his island by a trickster who promised the baby dinosaur fame and fortune.  Surprisingly, I was pleased to see that even the villain wasn't at all offensive (not even a shred of questionable language)!

So you can imagine my surprise when Impy's daydream of stardom began and the movie took a startling turn from wholesome to horrifying.  I've included the segment below—believe me, you'll want to watch it.  Aside from its obvious shock value, I've added some captions so you can really experience what was going through my mind while I was viewing it with my kids.

The scene begins with Impy being shown around the amusement park, and, well.... you'll see where it goes from there.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, click here

Eventually the scene mercifully ended, and I just sat there with my mouth hanging open.  I was beside myself and completely unsure of what to do. I tried the "pretend it never happened" approach and stayed as quiet as possible, hoping Evan wouldn't remember much about the offending scene.

But as luck would have it, Impy's Wonderland became not only Evan's newest favorite film, but it also inspired him to repeatedly sing various interpretations of Impy's performance (which, for those of you who didn't watch the video, was a horrible rendition of "Sex Bomb.")

Obviously Evan doesn't understand the real lyrics, but that didn't stop him from inventing his own.  So for the past week we've watched Evan go back and forth between shaking his bum and singing "Six butts, six butts, you've got six butts," and jumping around shouting "Sick bum, sick bum, you're a sick bum."  Oh, and the third variation: "Six balls, six balls, you've got six balls!"  

As horrible as these interpretations are, Evan actually has a decent sense of pitch, and thus most people can figure out exactly what song he's trying to sing.  Sigh. 

The toddler television army had launched a subversive surprise attack, and we were woefully unprepared.

Score: Toddler TV-1   Parents-0 

I'm not sure I have the stamina for a rematch.  

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