Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mother Inferior: Lesson 467

I have finally figured out something about myself. As much as I miss my little, tiny boys that used to hang on my knees and gather around me like men gather around the latest flat screen technology at Best Buy, I realize that being around my now nearly grown children may in fact be my favorite time of motherhood. Mostly because I happen to like my kids - a lot. Enough said about that - I think you'd like them, too, but this isn't about all their attributes and funny little quirks that make them amazing.

Do they make me crazy? Yes, they do. But the thing is, sometimes - okay, more than sometimes - I'm the one who contributes to the craziness. Which brings me to Lesson 467: how you can sabotage your children in school and provide precisely the distractions they need to avoid studying.

I know, I know. I'm not a complete idiot. I've read all the guides to promoting proper study habits. How you set up regular "study hours" and give your scholars a comfortable space to complete their work in relative peace and comfort. How you can help them break down the school work in manageable pieces and encourage ongoing attention to each subject, whether it involves written work, practice, memorization, reading, studying or simply reviewing. How you can help them get a jump on the year by encouraging and monitoring their summer reading habits.

Yes. I know. I've read the same brochures, books, pamphlets and websites as everyone else. An involved parent leads to a successful student. Get to know the teachers, the curriculum, and the administrators to help chart a course of success for your child.

It's not that I haven't done at least some of this stuff. I have. But as my children near the end of their public school education, I also have to admit I've been the problem from time to time. I have.

Take the other night, for example. My two seniors were studying for their last quiz of the year in one of their subjects. I suspected they were pretty well-prepared but it didn't matter. I spent ten minutes discussing their review process, worksheets, and discussion questions. I mentioned websites they should check out and how they could best prepare for this last test.

I meant it, too. I really did. Except what did I do? Instead of giving them the space they needed, I interrupted them. And why? Not because the house was on fire or I fell down some stairs. I think we can all agree that either of those events would warrant an interruption.

It wasn't either of those things. I had just finished reading the Andy Borowitz column in the latest copy of The New Yorker and thought it was one of the most hilarious things ever. I knew they would think so, too, and I just had to share it with them. So I did. And they laughed and enjoyed the piece as much as I.

I can't think of even one chapter or even one footnote in any of those guides or parenting books that encouraged interrupting your children as they study for your own pleasure or their amusement. Not one.

So I wonder this. Some years from now, will they think about those final days of high school and remember those last couple of tests? Will they think about how they studied under less than ideal circumstances: their mother hopping into the room and reading a New Yorker column aloud? Or will they just remember us taking about 9 minutes to laugh together one evening as they studied for a test?

I hope it's that last one. I hope someday the tests and the grades and GPA and class rank and every other number we use to measure people up to a certain point in their lives is a very vague memory. But maybe they'll remember the night we laughed about the Borowitz column.

Mother Inferior Lesson 467: how you can sabotage your children in school and provide precisely the distractions they need to avoid studying - by sharing a laugh. Even in the midst of senior finals, it feels like the right idea to me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Suspending disbelief only goes so far.

I am the queen of suspending disbelief. I can prove it. I still believe - every single April - that I'll be wearing my shorts from 2003 this summer. Honestly, I do. I still believe my boys don't curse when they talk with friends. I still believe there's a chance our family could become really good, lifelong friends with the Springsteen's if only circumstances would throw us together.

But I have to say, after watching yet one more season of '24,' I've just about reached my limit. No, before you jump to the wrong conclusions, the premise of the show is not what's bothering me. I don't mind suspending my disbelief in order to watch a single day of action that identifies something in the manner of four distinct "bad guys" before we finally find out who is truly the mastermind behind all the mayhem and tragedy. I don't mind watching Jack Bauer fight off a biological lethal weapon virus-type disease that has seemingly taken hold of his central nervous system but nonetheless allows him to discharge a real metal-type lethal weapon whenever the situation warrants it.

I've reconciled the fact that by hour six, I can barely remember what characters were of primary importance to the plot during hour two. I can't tell you who did what to who in hour nine once we've hit hour thirteen. I can barely remember who got killed halfway into the day, who killed them, or why. But as I said, it's okay. I've made that choice to just go with it. To do otherwise is to defeat the purpose of watching '24,' which is basically to believe that the good guys - that would be us and our friend Jack Bauer - will always win, despite all odds.

The truth is, there are so many plots twists and meandering stories within a single day (one season), I'm convinced Fox could begin re-running the series starting all over again with Season two. I'm willing to bet not one viewer could tell you exactly how that season began or ended, even if they saw it when it originally aired.

But that aside, back to the title of this post. I think I've had it with '24.' But I'll come back on one condition. They need to make just one tiny change to the next season and I'll be right there, mocking the action relentlessly make no mistake about that, but still tuning in each week. My discomfort started this year when FBI agent Renee Walker dove off a boat to escape the bad guys. This was later in the evening, hours after she had been shot - but only a little bit,which happens several times a day on '24' to several different characters- by Jack Bauer and then fake-buried in a shallow grave for Jack's associates to unearth and more or less resuscitate into crime-fighting action again. (I think I'm remembering this correctly; I think she was escaping the boat and the people on it. Then again, she may have been pursuing the villains. See what I mean about the plot sort of fading out after a while?) Anyway, the point is that she emerged from the bay or whatever it was, situated near Washington D.C., and her hair was just as swingy and shiny and healthy as it appeared nine hours earlier that day.

That started me thinking. If the producers on '24' really want to indicate that time is passing and the team is bearing up as best they can throughout a very long and incredibly challenging day, they'd better start making some wardrobe and make-up concessions. Specifically: They'd better start handing out scrunchies. And the women in the cast better start using them.

I don't know one woman alive (assuming her hair is shoulder-length or longer) who doesn't do the following under duress: pulls her hair back, into a knot or a ponytail when she's at her limit, or she needs to dig deep and keep going, or she has about had it with everyone and everything around her.

I find myself pulling my hair up or back by about 4 pm daily, and I don't have nearly the excuses Renee had on '24.' I'm just sort of cranky at my clients by that time everyday and realize I'm running out of time to do the forty-seven things left on my to do list. And don't get me started on Chloe or Janis. If this series wants to retain a shred of credibility with me or with the thousands of women who watch, they'd better start getting real about hair and the how it looks and feels after a very long day. I mean, my hair didn't look as good by the end of my wedding reception as Renee Walker's did by the end of her '24' day, for God's sake. And I didn't have to shoot anyone, tackle anyone, swim for my life or struggle with the death of a good friend and mentor that day.

So do whatever. Have Jack save the world one more time and I'll be there. As long as the women are in scrunchies by about hour five, I'll believe anything.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"No good deed..."

You know the rest of that phrase. I'm going to wait and see who punishes Pfizer Inc. for the announcement I read in The New York Times on Monday. I'm sure people much smarter than I have already figured out why this is really nothing but underhanded trickery that will ultimately lead to little more than additional profits for Pfizer. The nerve.

Like auto companies and others that are empathetic toward consumers who have found themselves out of work and in trouble (or potentially) in trouble financially, Pfizer has made an offer to those who have lost their jobs as a result of our "troubled" economy. They announced a program, one that includes more than 70 of their most popular prescription drugs, which offers the medications free to people who have been taking them for three months or more and now find themselves without the means to continue filling their prescriptions. Consumers need to provide evidence that they have in fact been taking a particular Pfizer drug (or drugs) and proof that they have lost their jobs. The program is retroactive to January 1 of this year and will continue through December 31. Pfizer will continue to provide your necessary prescription drugs for up to twelve months after approval - or until a person becomes employed again. Which means it has the potential to be close to a 24-month program of free prescription drugs. During a downturned economy with no end in sight.

I won't go into all the details - just click on the Times link if you want more background. Suffice it to say, yes, of course there are financial benefits to Pfizer for enacting this program. Yes, they'll get tax credit for making these "donations" to consumers throughout the year. Yes, they'll be able to maintain their production capacity and, by the way, keep many, many people working, from their own employees to the bio-chemical companies and others that count Pfizer among their own customer lists.

All of these details will become the story for everyone who refuses to acknowledge an act of goodness. They'll scream the "what's in it for them" headline, not the "what's in it for the rest of us" news. Regardless of the strings attached or the inherent benefits to Pfizer, the bottom line is this. I'm sure they're rather sell these drugs than give them away. I'm positive about that. But as anyone in business will tell you, it's easier to keep a customer than find a new one. And when you're talking about possibly having to find millions of new customers who drop their prescriptions because they can no longer afford them, or who switch to a lower priced generic of your own name brand drug, that would be even more devastating to your bottom line than a program with built in tax breaks.

I'm going to wait and see who will be the first person to shine a degrading light on this program. Yes: it will gain Pfizer headlines and publicity. Yes: it will give them tax breaks. But it will also provide necessary prescriptions to millions of Americans in a time of need. And for that, they have earned high marks from me.

It seems drug companies are in the headlines when one of their products gets recalled, or otherwise questioned for its efficacy or side effects. As someone who has worked with several large drug companies over the course of my career, I have nothing but respect for the difficult, extraordinarily expensive and important work pharmaceutical companies do. The people I've met in any number of companies are committed to patient care and making strides against numerous diseases and conditions.

Are they profitable? Yes. Is there such a thing as "too profitable?" I don't know. I do know it costs many, many millions of dollars to get a drug as far as the clinical trials phase, and millions and millions to get a drug not nearly that far in it's design cycle. That un-usable formula falls clearly into the COGs line: cost of goods. Even if those goods never even reach the market. Too bad for you. Back to the lab and try again. You still owe the scientists and researchers their salaries, even if their drug didn't make it to the shelves.

Drug companies invest in research so they can come up with the next "new" thing. Or with the next improved formula. Their reward is a period of exclusivity for sales, before other companies can create and market generic versions, piggybacked on their initial R & D.

But let's wait and see, shall we? Let's see who give a shout out to Pfizer for their efforts to help customers through a difficult time. I have a feeling the silence will be overwhelming.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Please, please, please: can we stop with the co-parenting articles?

I can't stand it. I really can't stand it anymore.

Does anyone have a calendar? Does anyone read it? Last time I checked, we were nearly ten years into the new century. Must we constantly rehash the same tired topics over and over again? Why? Some thing never change, despite the experts telling us they must.

Or better: does anyone reading a calendar realize that no matter how many books are published, no matter how many articles are written, no matter how many sincere and well-intentioned professionals appear on talk shows, this whole idea of "co-parenting" isn't going to fly. [And while we're discussing it, I hate it when writers or speakers turn a noun into a verb. Parent is a noun. Parenting is a made up verb that means you're in the act of raising your children. It's annoying and somehow phony and intellectually superior.]

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I didn't say both mother and father can't play important roles in the lives of their children. They can. They should. And by the way, in the very best circumstances, they pretty much love doing it, at least most of the time.

But here's my problem: they're not the same people. Moms are not Dads and Dads are not Moms. When did it become wrong for each parent to bring her or his own specific and wonderful skills to the decades long venture of raising a family? Why must they be interchangeable people?

An article in USA Today prompted me to ponder this phenomenon. It's title: Parents share the workload: But first, mothers have to learn to let go. In other words, the reason men aren't good parents is because women are shrill harpies who just can't stand to have someone interfere with her philosophy or activities when it comes to her children.

Wrong. Most mothers I know would dearly love to let go but in most cases, their husbands are not available to "babysit" their own children. Honest to God, I've never heard one woman ever refer to spending time with her children while her spouse was not home as baby-sitting. Not ever. I've heard men say it countless times. And the experts wonder why women won't let go.


Important sidebar: Apparently, my husband and I are something of trendsetters here. Almost twenty years ago, we began raising a family. Twenty years ago, I don't remember hearing about or reading one article about co-parenting. I held a job with full benefits; my husband had been working freelance for several years with exactly no health benefits. I went back to work after each of my pregnancies; my husband stayed home with our first and then our second and third sons at least two days a week, more if his work was slow. (And when I say second and third sons, I really mean second+third. We were the parents of a 16-month old son when our twin sons were born. So for several months, we had three boys in the house under the age of two. That's a lot of diapers, and bottles and Cheerios.)

Much of that early time with a family of three babies or toddlers is a blur to me. I remember at least one night when I walked in to the house, and upon hearing my entrance, my husband called this out: "Get in here NOW." It was the end of a long day and he needed some relief.

I remember spending more than just a few nights walking around in the house with my coat still on as I transitioned the kids from daycare to home without my husbands help because he was away.

I remember going out of town on business trips and returning to the airport to find my husband standing there with three little guys who were wresting around and jumping up and down, waiting for me to appear at the end of the corridor in an airport.


But here's the thing. I never once remember remarking to my husband something like this: isn't this "co-parenting" great? Please. We did what we did because the situation and our lives required it. I never once asked him what he fed the boys while I was out of town. He never asked me what time the boys got to bed when he was away. I never once asked him if they wore clothing that matched. He never asked me whether or not they had their baths. I never nagged him once about high-fructose corn syrup, or "play dates" or any other nonsense that seems to grab the attention of parents from coast to coast these days.

We just did it. We didn't make a big deal about each playing a role in raising our children. We also did not make a big deal about one of us being better at something - or more naturally inclined toward something - than the other. It was just how we lived. Everyday. For years and years.

It struck me that the USA Today article quoted couples who were obviously middle to upper middle class. Two English professors in college, both in their mid-thirties and a pharmacist and a market researcher, both in their mid-forties. There is a whiff of elitism baked into this whole notion of co-parenting if you ask me. In my experience, we spent years just doing the job, doing what needed doing, loving the kids, taking our turn at the helm.

Apparently, we were "peer parenting" and didn't even know it. We gave our children "shared care" by accident. If only we had known this was something of a phenomenon. We might have been a little more smug about it, just as the couples and experts quoted in the article I read appeared to be.

No matter. Our boys are now 19, 18 and 18. They appear to have survived the best and the worst of both of us. And we didn't read even one book about co-parenting along the way. Imagine that.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Could it be a bad case of red eye??

Here’s a quick question: What’s worse than the government spending almost $329,000 to shoot photos of Air Force One flying very low over lower Manhattan?

I can only think of one thing: the government spending almost $329,000 to shoot photos of Air Force One flying very low over lower Manhattan and then deciding the photos would not be released.

You can’t make this stuff up. According to The New York Post, The White House has confirmed that the now infamous outcome of that photo shoot will not be shown to the public. (That means us; the American people who fund Air Force One as well as the fighter jets that trailed it that day.)

Quote: "We have no plans to release them," an aide to President Obama told The Post, refusing to comment further.

Well, that aide may have no further comment but I do. Why did you take them if you aren’t going to use them? And if you aren’t going to use them, tell us why. How is it that you can get away with issuing a statement like this, after all the uproar over the incident itself, and simply end the discussion by “refusing further comment?”

The White House has stopped short of calling the photos “classified.” They are however, “being kept from public view.” What is the difference? Information or documents the government withholds from the public at large are "classified" documents, available for review only by selected and "cleared" people. Doesn't this story meet that definition?

Maybe it's much simpler than that. Maybe the photos are terrible. Maybe whoever shot the images is a rotten photographer. Maybe he or she is a friend of someone in Washington and took the opportunity to fly on or near Air Force One under the guise of shooting publicity shots. That would be a reason to keep them from public view.

Maybe once they were released people would mock them endlessly and start asking who shot them. Someone in the administration would then have to come clean with an explanation that sounded something like this: “My niece shot them. She’s taking a photography course in her high school.”

This all sounds incredibly murky to me. The truth is, I’m not sure many people would have been clamoring to view these photos anyway … until now that is. I’ve learned that when something doesn’t sound right; when it doesn’t quite hang together; when you find yourself unsure of the story, it’s because you don’t have all the facts. Then, once you do, it all makes enormous sense.

I’m feeling that way about this story. It didn’t make sense to shoot them; it doesn’t make sense to now withhold them. We’ll probably never learn about the missing bit of fact that will clear this up – but it’s out there. And if I had to guess, I'd say the people who know the answers have all been appropriately rewarded for keeping them to themselves.