Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mom, Do My Nails!

We have a nail bitter in our family. My middle son, now ten years old, has been biting his nails for a while. His nails and finger tips always look clean, but it is because they are always in his mouth. We've tried explaining how unsanitary it it to always put your fingers in your mouth, we've tried badgering and bugging him every time he puts a finger up to chew on it, we've tried bribery with a banana split, we've tried just ignoring it. Nothing has really worked and the habit is as bad as ever.

Until now.

I have hit on the perfect combination of motivation and nail polish.

First of all, he now wants to stop biting. Badly. There is a pair of fins for boggieboarding at stake. And he is just ready to get rid of the habit.

But this is not quite enough for him to quit. So I found Bite No More by SuperNail, which claims right on the package nothing less than 100% satisfaction to stop nail biting. It is a clear polish that is applied several times a day and tastes bad.

I showed him the polish and to my surprise he was completely willing to try it. So I painted his nails. Then we sat down to watch a movie, a time when he usually bites. Watching James Bond in an intense car chase, his hand rose to his mouth and his teeth came in contact with the nail. ACKK!! ICKK!! It tastes terrible!!

It worked! Every time he starts to bring his hand up, he remembers the terrible taste and stops himself.

I haven't quite gotten used to doing his nails several times a day. If I forget, he will remind me, "Mom! Do my nails!" It's a small price to pay for the nudge he needs to quit biting. Plus, his nails look nice and shiny, better than mine do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Update from Chestertown

I heard from my son yesterday. He told me all about how he learned to take water samples and test them, and how they found phosphate traces probably from fertilizers that had washed into Chesapeake Bay from agricultural land in the watershed. He is also getting to know more of the indigenous species.

Good. He's excited about what he is learning.

He also told me how his room is the "party room" because he has a radio and the other kids are coming in to listen to music.

Good and bad. Making friends is great, but having the "party room" could have different implications in a few years.

Nudge and StickK

I found this hot coffee jacket at the Washington DC airport the morning I left to come home. I think it is meant to discourage people from smoking a cigarette with their cup of coffee but it seems to me that the no smoking signs and rules in the airport already do that. What this coffee jacket does is remind those who do smoke that they really want a cigarette and they can’t have one. It is an unusual and cruel sort of torture. The coffee jacket (or should it be called a smoking jacket?) is probably a well-intentioned attempt at a nudge that backfires.

I am currently reading the book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The book is subtitled Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, but it is actually an economics book. More precisely, it is about the psychological aspects of economics, including choice and decision-making. It may sound like a dry read compared to, say, People Magazine, on a long flight, but it really is very interesting. Click here to see a short video by one of the authors explaining what the book is about.

A nudge is a little push, suggestion, or opportunity to make a choice that is beneficial. It can be as simple as putting fruit at eye level and the junk food on the bottom shelf. This can have some interesting applications in parenting, especially as kids get closer to teenage years and can benefit from a libertarian paternalism (a theory of government supported by the authors) kind of parenting. Now I realize that this term is most often used in a political sense, but can we draw some similarities between forms of government and forms of parenting? If you use nudges skillfully as a parent, your child gets more practice in making decisions that are good for them without restricting their freedom. For example, could re-merchandising the kitchen to make it easier for kids to find healthy snacks make a difference in what they eat?

Toward the end of the book, the authors offer several mininudges which I find quite interesting. They are to promote charitable giving, simplifying tax returns, quitting smoking and gambling, staying healthy, stopping teenage pregnancy, remembering to change the filter on your air conditioner, stopping nail biting and alcoholism, and stopping uncivil emails. However, one of the most intriguing nudges to me is the website, a website which allows you to make a commitment and then have either financial or nonfinancial consequences if the commitment is not fulfilled. The website was started by, you guessed it, an Economics professor! I plan to use this website as soon as I can figure out which commitment I want to stick to that badly.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Left on the Right Coast

Goodbye, see you in three weeks!

Yes, I left my son on the right coast today. The actual goodbye was unceremonial and mercifully short, which I'm sure was designed by the leaders of the program to lessen the pain for the kids, and maybe the parents too. I held it together pretty well as I said goodbye, telling him to have a great time, but then I went straight to my car with my head down and a few tears in my eyes. Or was that sweat? Hard to tell.

Moving him into a dorm room brought back a flood of memories for me, back to when I moved into my own dorm room. However, I was not eleven, I was eighteen. It was very strange. I felt like I was dropping him off for college, except when I really drop him off for college I don't think I will make his bed for him. But in addition to a very interesting and academic class he is taking, he will have a taste of the college experience; getting along with a roommate, living in a dorm, eating in the campus cafeteria, sharing a communal bathroom down the hall, having an RA living a few doors down, and keeping his room either neat or pigsty, whatever his fancy. If he takes after one of the RAs on the floor, it will certainly be pigsty-style, but I don't care because when I pick him up it will all be packed in his suitcase. Unless he takes a picture, I will never know.

My son's dorm room right after moving in while it is still neat

An RA's room on the same floor. Note lots of clothes on the floor. He better clean this up if a girl ever comes to visit.

My son's roommate. He was very worried about who his roommate would be, but I think these two will get along just fine.

Somewhat apprehensively, I then embarked on the drive back to DC without my human GPS, only a fly for company. Yes a fly. A fly that came into the car and didn't want to leave. And once the AC was keeping up with the temperature outside, I wasn't about to roll down the window. So I subjected it to my singing along with the radio and it stopped visiting the front seat. I'm proud to say that I successfully made my way back to the Washington DC National Airport, a pretty confusing series of freeway transfers, without a wrong turn.

My son chilling on his dorm bed, probably the only time it will be made. Hey, I'm realistic.

Waiting for the hotel shuttle, I discover how hot it really is here right now. So hot that after about ten minutes outside, I have rivers of sweat running down my legs. Pretty gross. I hope know one notices, then I see men in suits who are sweating profusely and then I know I don't look as stupid as they do.

What a big day for me. So now I am sitting in the hotel bar in DC, working on my blog, drinking an ice cold glass of pinot grigio and half listening to the gay bartender talking to his parents sitting at the bar, as they discuss exactly how you plug a DVD player into the TV. Could they PLEASE come up with some more interesting conversation? I know they are capable. Maybe after they finish the scotch or whiskey or whatever they are drinking.

I have an early flight in the morning, and I have the evening to myself. Sitting in a hotel room by myself sounds good in theory but it is not as interesting as sitting in this bar. And the bar is really dead except for the bartender's parents, so that's not saying much. Oh bummer, the parents just left. If someone mildly interesting doesn't walk in soon, I will be forced to go to my room and watch CSI.

Washington DC to Chestertown Maryland

Sitting near the harbor in Annapolis

Fish and Chips at Pusser's in Annapolis

A yacht with a great name in the Annapolis harbor

Thank god for the human GPS qualities of my oldest son, and the actual GPS that we rented with our car. We only took two wrong turns (or missed freeway connections) getting out of DC. We stopped in Annapolis for lunch at a fun restaurant right on the harbor. We crossed the Chesapeake Bay bridge (not the longest one, but still plenty long). We watched the country side turn into rolling green agricultural land with beautiful stately houses.

We found our hotel and then had to go out and purchase the items we could not bring with us: comforter, lamp, etc. I was looking for a Target, which is where I would have gone at home, but instead found Rose's, an incredibly inexpensive place where I bought everything we needed for $47. It would have cost at least $150 at home.

Then, on a recommendation from the woman at the front desk, we drove to Rock Hall, a small town nearby with a restaurant on the water called Waterman's. It was super fun, sitting outside, listening to a great live band, watching people dance and eat mounds of crab. My son had ribs and I had the local fresh flounder, all excellent food. We will certainly go back there sometime.

Well, now it is time to go and register for camp. When I say goodbye to my son I will be driving back to DC (without my human GPS!) to head home. It is both exciting and sad at the same time.

Getting into the crabby spirit in Maryland

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Trip to the East Coast

My oldest son and I are on the East Coast, where he will be going to camp for three weeks. I am here to drop him off, and then I will be going home and coming back to pick him up in August.

We have had an adventurous couple of days together, ones I will always remember. We flew into Washington DC last Thursday, arriving very late at night. Early the next morning we explored a bit of Crystal City, near the airport and very close to our hotel, to find some breakfast. What we found was a lot of men . . . men in fatigues, all manner of military uniforms, and plenty of other men in suits & ties. I have never felt I stood out so much as a tourist as I did that morning with my pink tshirt, biking capris, running shoes, and son in tow. We were near the Pentagon, but I never expected to feel SO out of place near all this official and very serious government business going on around. It is my country after all, but it did feel slightly foreign.

Standing out as tourists in a big way at Starbucks in Washington DC

I mentioned this out-of-place feeling to a friend who lived and worked in the DC area until 15 years ago. He said when he left DC and landed in Texas in his blue pinstripe suit, he realized he didn't fit in there and had a feeling like he had just gotten out of the hospital. That really made me laugh.

After breakfast we made our first foray into the Metro to make our way to where we were meeting a tour. I told my son that once he learned how to use a metro system, he could get around any metro in any other city. We spent time looking at the machines to buy tickets, we studied the maps, I taught him how to avoid getting on a train going the wrong direction (been there, done that), how to get on and off the trains, how to hold on to your ticket so you could get out of the metro. There is a lot to learn. He was completely fascinated by the entire process and asked why we don't have such a system in California. Good question.

Studying the metro map

We made it to meet up with our tour just in time. I decided that a three-hour tour on bikes run by Bike and Roll would be just the thing for us. We had a delightful and knowledge guide, Sara, who we followed all around the National Mall and various capital sites and monuments. We learned lots of interesting facts and made good time compared to the throngs of hot sweaty people we were weaving around on the sidewalks. Of course we were hot and sweaty too. The heat and humidity are definitely something to get used to.

My son's favorite parts of the tour were seeing the White House with the snipers on the top, and riding through some sprinklers along the way. I went through the sprinklers too.

Supreme Court Building

We took this picture making sure you could see the snipers. See them?

Afterwards, we went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where we were quickly overwhelmed by the mass of people, the very untidy bathrooms, and the sheer volume of displays, everything from the Hope Diamond to dinosaur skeletons to meteors to insect displays. While we enjoyed the air conditioning, we were soon just wandering through, not really focusing on anything. Although we wanted to check out the Air and Space Museum too, it was just too much. We had to go back to the hotel, take a dip in the pool to cool off, and get ready to meet some friends for dinner. Much to my son's delight, this included a long metro ride to the other side of the city.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where you can take pictures of anything, any time. Weird.

Our friends drove us back to our hotel late that night, and even treated us to a midnight visit to the Jefferson Memorial on the way. Who knew, the monuments are open late at night, are apparently very safe, much less crowded than during the day, and slightly cooler too. I think this is certainly the way to see them at this time of year.

As we flopped into bed, I felt like we got a lot out of our one whole day in Washington DC.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

What a Scream!

This last weekend was one I look forward to every summer: I kick out all the males in my house and a bunch of my good girlfriends come over for a night of fun and relaxation. We had a dinner of gourmet appetizers, some apricot daiquiris, and some wine. Then we tried out the Wii game Rockband, which my boys have been playing for about two weeks. We had to call my oldest son twice for tech support just to get it all started. We were terrible, but had a lot of fun laughing at each other. It turns out we have a few good singers in the group but no one who can play guitar or drums. Then, following tradition, we headed out to a local nightspot for some dancing to a live band near the beach. We all got back and went to bed much, much later than we do in normal life, happy knowing we could all sleep in as much as we wanted in the morning.

After lazing around all morning, drinking coffee and eating a little frittata whipped up by Em the Gourmet, we decide to get dressed and go on a walk. I go up to my room, relaxed, feeling good about going out for a little walk with my girlfriends in the fresh ocean air. I'm thinking what route we should take, as I open my closet and pull out the drawer that contains my workout clothes. I reach in to pull out a pair of pants . . .

and something moves.

black eyes looking back at me

I gasp in air, let out the loudest and most heartfelt scream my body has ever produced, and get the hell out of there. My friends are instantly panicked hearing this kind of scream and come running.

I can't speak. I finally get out the word "creature" and then the phrase "in my drawer."

Shannon instantly rises to the challenge of Crisis Management Coordinator. She goes to my room with my sister and they both bravely investigate what I am so freaked out about. She comes back out and announces, "You have a baby possum in your drawer!"


Working together, Shannon and my sister put a cutting board on top of the drawer, pull it out, and take it outside. All seven of us, still in our pajamas, follow them across the street and into the empty lot where Shannon carefully sets the drawer down and takes off the board.

The possum treats us to a good view of it's teeth and gives a little hiss for emphasis. We all back up. People on morning walks cross the street to avoid our motley crowd, apparently not at all curious what we are doing.

The drawer sits there with the workout clothes and the possum, while we all head back to the house and watch from a safe distance. The possum doesn't leave until we eventually dump the drawer out.

I continue to freak out. This is a young possum. Where is the rest of the family? Did it come in alone? How did it get in? I go online to investigate what the poop looks like so I can recognize signs of more creatures inside. Then I read that possum litters have 8 to 14 babies. My god, I think, I have to search the rest of the house! There could be 13 others and a mom INSIDE MY HOUSE! Then I read answers posted on a website in response to a woman asking how to get a possum out of her house. One suggestion is an elaborate homemade trap, another is shooting at the possum with a BB gun any time you see it in the house. Then I learn that they carry fleas that can transmit the plague and sometimes have rabies. That's when I decide I have TOO much information now and put the computer away.

My husband and boys, upon learning of the incident, think it is funny. I am not at all amused by their lack of sympathy and their failure to grasp the very serious nature of the problem at hand. My friends left (probably thankfully) and my family returned. That night when it started getting dark, I announce we are all going on a possum hunt through the house. We all go through the house very carefully and my husband, trying to hide his smirk, plays along. Thanks to my newfound internet knowledge, I find two places where a possum took a poo. I put it in a spotlight with the flashlight. My husband cleans it up after the boys carefully inspect it.

Possum poop

After much investigation and discussion, we decide the possum must have come in through a door that the boys had left ajar several nights ago. I have a feeling that no one dares leave that door open ever again.

We find no other possums. But I didn't sleep well that night, listening for evidence of something creeping around in the dark. In fact, I am listening pretty carefully right now. I think there could certainly be more in the house. My husband thinks I am just being paranoid.

So tonight I will play a little joke on him. I am going to put a small stuffed rat that belongs to one of my boys into my husband's drawer. I wonder what he will do?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Expert Advice

Sisters sometimes ask each other for advice and more often give it even though it was not asked for. I am certainly guilty of this with my sisters. But it was very strange for me when my sister asked me for advice the other day. . . not on usual girl stuff, but on what to do about Athlete's Foot. And I had plenty to tell her about it.

And the other day, I was reading the Sports Illustrated article on the MLB pitcher Tim Lincecum. And I enjoyed the article. This is very strange for me. My usual magazine reading tends more toward Food & Wine, Bon Apetit, Vanity Fair, National Geographic, and Time.

If you told me ten years ago I'd be dishing out advice on Athlete's Foot and reading SI, I would have told you that would only be possible if I had a lobotomy.

You just never know where life is going to take you.

Warning: Teenager Approaching

“Mom, does this look tight?” (Translation: Mom, does this look good?)

I am asked to evaluate my oldest son's look: sunglasses and All Stars baseball hat. Now I know he is not asking if the fit is too snug, but I can’t help it. I tell him, “No, it looks like it fits you just fine, they are not too tight.”

He rolls his eyes, exhales loudly, and walks away.

What happened to my sweet little boy with a large vocabulary that did not include stupid slang expressions?

Like he says when asked a question, “I d.k.” (I don’t know)

There are other signs of change. Unprecedented fighting with his youngest brother. Aggressive behavior. Forgetful behavior. Sassy back talking behavior. All from who used to be the most kind, thoughtful and considerate member of our household.

I have to admit I feel a sense of loss. I miss my son and don’t particularly like this creature that has replaced him. Telling myself it is a phase makes me feel better until I think about how long this phase may last.

I think we picked the perfect time for him to be going away. He is going to a camp on the east coast for three weeks this summer, as part of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program. He is really excited to be going, and I want to get rid of him.

Oh come on, not really. I will miss him terribly and the separation will be much harder for me than him. But he is ready for the independence and challenge that this program will give him.

I wonder if the kids he will meet at this camp will understand the meaning of the word "tight."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Still Here!

No, I have not moved away to a country with no cell phones or baseball teams.

I thought about it though. I listened to a podcast today from NPR about a woman who lives six months of the year in a fire tower in central California, in a small space in the middle of the forest. A helicopter brings her supplies and cleans out the porta-potty once in a while. She watches for fires and really has no other responsibilities. I had a fleeting fantasy about taking a job like this for a year. Oh wait, I don' think she has a shower. I need at least one shower a day to feel human, so forget that idea.

Much has happened in the last month or so since I have posted a blog entry. The school year is over, the baseball season is over, the All-Star baseball teams are finished, and summer has officially started for me and my family. Last Sunday, we started our summer much later than usual by making our move to the beach, getting away from it all and trying to remember what it is like to have time to sleep in, lay on the couch and read a book, relax on the beach, and not get in a car for an entire day or two.

I feel like I have had to go on a baseball detox program. Just so there is no misunderstanding, I actually enjoy the game of baseball. What I had a hard time with was the business and inflexibility of the schedule of practices and games. It took over not just my boys time, but all of my time as well. Between organizing equipment, uniforms, trying to feed everyone despite being at games or practice during meal times, the constant driving kids to and fro, and having to stick to a strict schedule during the day to make sure everyone is where they need to be, I was completely burnt out. I didn't have time for myself, I didn't have the energy to write although I certainly had plenty of material, I didn't have time to cook, I didn't see my friends or family unless they came to a baseball game. All this and the mandatory working in the snack shack serving junk food to all the baseball players just about put me over the edge. My family has consumed so many cheeseburgers and hot dogs from the various snack shacks in the last few months that we might all need to go on Lipitor.

I am recovering though. We are all getting in the groove of slower days, which I am relishing. We are eating better. And I am becoming a less stressed and much nicer person.

Is it possible to have three boys playing in Little League and not go nuts? It must be, I see other moms doing it. There is one mom I know that makes me feel like I just don't have my game together. She has three boys, all playing Little League AND competitive soccer at the same time, she comes to every game with a huge supply of snacks and anything her kids (or mine) ask for, she pulls out of her bag. She scorekeeps for games, is the team mom, organizes pizza after the games, volunteers for extra duty in the snack shack, AND always looks nice and always has her nails freshly manicured. The bitch. I don't know how she can do it all. What is her secret?? I better figure this out before next season.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Baseball Results

The playoffs were . . . long. My youngest son’s team came in second in the league. My older boys’ team came in first place in the league, which meant that they then went to the Tournament of Champions. And they kept winning the games, including the last championship game. They went as far as they could go. They played really well and had a lot of fun, they demonstrated they could hold up during pressure and show good sportsmanship, they were really proud of their accomplishment. My middle son, who was the closing pitcher in the final game, was even in the local paper. True fans click here to see the article.

And what did I learn? Boys expect a BIG trophy for such a big win. Not a little medal that goes around their neck and looks just like the medals for second place. If I ever run a tournament like this (and stop me if I volunteer) I will get HUGE trophies.

I also learned that my local carwash tries to take advantage of baseball moms by charging them $12 extra to remove car decorations that come off with water.

The peer pressure to decorate my car was very strong. I put my own twist on the usual "go team" and I enjoyed the occasional honks and thumbs-up while driving around.

The day after they won the TOC tournament, the older two boys both started practicing with their respective teams for All-Stars. All-Star practices involved almost three weeks of three different practices a day. One team practiced twice a day, the other once a day, every day. And none at the same drop off or pick up time. And then each All-Star team had four games, at different locations and mostly overlapping times. This is starting to sound like a word problem on a math test, no?

I am starting to understand that baseball is going to be a part of my life for quite a while, so I have to figure out a way to make it work for me. While all three boys love to play, my middle son is truly passionate about baseball. He recently told me that his most spiritual moment in his ten years of life was the day four years ago when Dad told him he was signed up for Little League. We watched Field of Dreams the other night and he declared it the best movie in the entire world. He is happier on the baseball field than anywhere else according to him.