Monday, January 29, 2007

Masked Mom's Media Monday: One Punk Under God

I'm not sure how I'm going to talk about a mini-series called One Punk Under God about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (Messner)'s son Jay, without getting into a discussion of religion in general, but that's my goal. Religion, like anything we are passionate about, can rarely be discussed calmly and rationally--perhaps because so much of faith and belief comes from some place not entirely rational--and while it's possible for people who care about one another to agree to disagree, the Internet is full of people who don't really care about each other and many who are just looking for a fight and the opportunity to flaunt their own faith or belief (usually in the form of harshly judging those who dare to be different from themselves).*

As so often happens, I found the mini-series One Punk Under God purely by accident. Our cable package includes a Sundance Channel "sampler" where you can watch selected shows "on demand" for free and I was flipping idly through one afternoon and thought the title was intriguing.

Five minutes in, I was completely charmed by Jay Bakker, who may look a little "punk"--tattooed and pierced, but who is soft-spoken and utterly sincere in his religious searching and in the comfort he tries to provide for the members of his own church Revolution. (During one sermon, he says, "We're not here to judge you, we're just here to love on you.") The piercings and the tattoos as well as his prematurely balding head are a contrast to his little boy lost manner. He is human and vulnerable and uncertain and completely unafraid to show it. Like his father, he is a minister. Unlike his father, he was not called to the sterile world of TV studios but to the streets.

We also get to see glimpses of his relationship with his father, who has a new show of his own, and his mother, who suffers from Stage 4 cancer. He is extremely close to his mom, visiting her often and speaking to her regularly. His relationship with his father is more strained and restrained.

The six episodes of the series show Jay and his wife Amanda preparing to move from Atlanta to New York where she will continue her education as well as Tammy Faye's worsening health and Jay's attempts to reconnect with his father.

Considering it was something I never meant to watch, I found the show fascinating and, dorky as it sounds, touching.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Surprising.

PS--If you're interested, clips from the episodes are available at and can be purchased and downloaded from iTunes.

*The harsh judgment isn't in any way one-sided. I've seen atheists who are just as judgmental in their own way as the rabid fundamentalists. It goes back to wanting everyone else to believe what you believe, I guess.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

If I Were You: Some Free Advice About Free Advice

I have mentioned before that the flower shop where I work is a magnet for folks with nothing better to do--I call them the shop groupies. They're people who stop by and linger for a few minutes or an hour or, in the case of K, the unemployed Drama Queen, all day several days a week. Some days, I want to crawl under the futon we keep in the office and hide from them all. But most days, they're a big part of what makes my job tolerable at all.

In our office, my chair is tucked into a corner behind my desk, which has shelves that provide something of a hiding place for me. And I will often hide there, tucked away, not commenting on the subject of choice--politics, religion, celebrity gossip, exes, in-laws, ex-in-laws--but definitely taking notes. I don't comment mostly because the issues are often the sort that boil down to a matter of opinion and I don't believe it's my job to change someone else's opinion--plus, even after eight years on the job (and therefore in most of these people's lives), I'm a little shy.

One afternoon, we had several people gathered in the tiny office and one of them was ranting on and on about her sister-in-law, a woman who by all accounts is extremely annoying--self-centered, rude, argumentative, whiny. Another person spoke up and said, "I would tell my brother that bitch isn't welcome in my house."*

Now, there's little doubt in my mind that this particular person would tell her brother that--and she would be proud of it and she would probably enjoy it thoroughly--effects on the rest of the family be damned. But, I also look at this person's life--and the fact that she has three brothers who are in no way part of her daily (or even weekly) life--and I think to myself, "Okay, here are the results of being the sort of person who tells her brother that his bitchy wife isn't welcome in her house."

Maybe Advice Giver in this situation is content with being contacted by one of her three brothers once a year and by the other two even less often--maybe a close relationship with her siblings isn't a priority to her--and that's certainly her perogative. But let's leave room for the Ranter in the above situation to want a different outcome--let's let Ranter rant safely in the relative privacy of the office of the flower shop so that she has some hope of continuing to fake it with her Psycho Sister-in-Law and thereby maintain her relationship with her brother which may be more important to her than the momentary satisfaction of telling the brother what she really thinks of his wife.

Have you ever noticed that the most avid advice givers--the ones who give it whether it's asked for or not--are often the most outwardly miserable people among us? Advice Giver above may never admit that she regrets driving so many people from her life (it's certainly not limited to her siblings), but from the outside, it's not hard to see the result of offering unsolicited and often unconsidered--she's a good one for popping off in the heat of the moment, but too stubborn to go back later and admit she was wrong--opinions to everyone around you.

My advice on advice? Consider the source--look at your advisor's life. When they say, "If I were you--" their own lives are, at least theoretically, where they put their "wisdom" to work. If they don't live by their own wisdom, that says something quite clearly about the value of that wisdom or at least about the advisor's tendency toward hypocrisy.

Unsolicited advice is especially suspect. In general, people content with their own lives don't feel compelled to meddle in other's lives.** In other words, the people with some real wisdom are more likely to mind their own business while those a little too confident in their own common sense are all too often happy to share the wealth.

So look at the person whose advice you're considering--is her life something worth emulating? Or is she alone more often than not? Unhappy as a matter of habit? Is she the sort of person you duck down the dairy aisle to avoid in the grocery store? Is she someone worthy of your respect and admiration? If not, then she probably doesn't know any better than you do. All this advisory meddling is probably just a ploy to distract herself from her own bitter and hollow life.

*There are doubtless circumstances in which a bitch, be she my brother's wife or not, would not be welcome in my house as well and I would definitely say so, if for instance, she were a threat to my children or my sanity, etc. But the bitchy, psycho sister-in-law in question is bitchy more in petty and silly ways--ways that I would just try to see as the price we pay for having people other than ourselves in our lives.

**The exception is professional advice givers like Dr. Phil, who's a favorite of mine--if by favorite you mean someone whom I would duck down the dairy aisle to avoid in the grocery store. Dr. Phil is clearly not an unhappy man and yet he continues to spew advice on a regular basis--and why shouldn't he? He's become fabulously wealthy by pointing out the obvious to people too dense to figure it out for themselves.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Cell Phone Manners

I'm not going to talk about cell phone etiquette and I'm not going to rant about cell phone junkies in general. First because "etiquette" is one of those things people often convince themselves (probably wrongly) only applies in formal or business situations--not, say, in the line at the grocery store or in the back row of the movie theater and so on. And second because, living in the teeny town I live in, I've been relatively sheltered from the really rude cell phone junkies that seem to plague major metropolitan areas.

But I am going to talk about a cell phone crime so heinous that I may need therapy to recover from it.

I was browsing at the library this afternoon--a thing we know I dearly love to do. I only had ten minutes I could steal away from work and so I was sort of speed-browsing. In that ten minutes, three patrons received cell phone calls. All three of them answered their phones and carried on conversations right there in the library!

Now, our library strives to be a casual and comfortable sort of place, I think. None of the librarians are of the "shushing" persuasion. There are often quiet (and even not so quiet) conversations taking place in every corner. But c'mon! Taking a phone call?! In the library!? Nearly shouting to be heard over static, telling your husband or your sister or your mom--along with every other patron in the library--what's for dinner or where you are or what movie you're trying to check out?!

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Uncivilized.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Driving Lessons

In October, Son-Two got his learner's permit and promptly (well, within the week) drove the car over a curb and came to rest along a line of trees. All sorts of things contributed to this minor accident--I didn't give him enough warning to make the turn, he made the turn anyway (even though he was obviously going too fast), the grassy area on the other side of the curb was soft and wet from a week of rain causing us to slide much further than we would've otherwise and to be more thoroughly stuck once we stopped, we went over the curb at the top of a steep hill so even gravity played a part. There was no damage to our vehicle--nor to the trees--and while waiting for the tow truck to pull us out, two friendly town cops regaled us with stories of other drivers (many with much more experience) who had "failed to negotiate" (as the radio newscasters are fond of saying) this particular turn.

So we were none the worse for wear, except for $50 for the tow truck and a hit to Son-Two's driving confidence which was already sort of unstable. Sitting beside him when he's behind the wheel, it's obvious he's not convinced he's in control of the vehicle--even when all outward signs are good--speed reasonable, fully in his own lane, no weaving or wheel yanking, no gear grinding--Son-Two still radiates a discomfort bordering on outright fear that does nothing to calm his mother's frazzled nerves.

Daily practice for a few weeks made both of us feel a little better. Then he backed out of the driveway into a minister's car. (The GEICO is my hero accident.)

About a week after the accident--more of an incident really (other than the way in which it illustrated to me (not for the first time) that being a "man of the cloth" is no guarantee of a person's character)--we stopped at the landfill transfer station on the way to the boys volleyball practice. There are two bays there, where you back in so you can just toss your garbage out the back of your vehicle. One of the bays is deeper than the other and that's the one I usually use. On this particular day, though, it was occupied so I backed into the other one and promptly forgot (dragged into a debate on the relative merits of Scrubs vs. The Office or something equally earth-shattering) which bay I was in.

The bumper of the van connected--loudly--with the metal barrier designed to stop people (idiots like me) from driving their vehicles directly into the gigantic trash compactors. And Son-Two says, "Wow! Wonder where I get it from?"

Ha. Ha. But it made me think--and not for the first time--about whether I have any business trying to teach anyone how to drive. I've mentioned my stellar driving record--and it is, of course, family lore--so there have been occasional teasing questions, "You're teaching him to drive?!"

Well, yes I am. For a variety of reasons--including but not limited to temperament--Hubby is not an option in the driving teacher department. The school driver's education program is underfunded and understaffed and the waiting list is long and in any case, some parent-guided driving time would be necessary to supplement whatever time he could squeeze out with three other students in the car every time they went out.

Regardless of how bad a driver I am, he's stuck with me. Wondering how qualified I really am to teach Son-Two how to drive led me to wondering how qualified I am to teach any of them anything.

Little Sister and I used to joke that we were going to write a self-help book covering all the major life topics--parenting, marriage, career, family relationships--and call it What Not To Do because even though we had no idea how to do any of it right, through years and years of personal experience, we knew all about how not to do it.

I started getting depressed--thinking all I could pass along to my kids was a long list of things to avoid--when I remembered that my own mother had tried to pass along much the same list to me. Did I listen? No. Would I have listened even if she had nailed down the secrets of the universe? No. Would my kids listen to me? Probably not.

And thank goodness. Wisdom is non-transferable--there's no way to get it except by getting out there and figuring out all the ways there are to be unwise. And maybe knowing what not to do isn't such a small thing...we've definitely earned it...and my kids will have to earn it too.

Here's hoping Son-Two is soon done learning how not to drive.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Masked Mom's Media Monday: What It Used To Be Like

Raymond Carver is one of those authors who's been on my List for years--that List I keep of books and authors I plan on getting around to sooner or later. I've never actually read any of his short stories or poetry, but I've read quite a bit about the man himself.

Recently, I came across a piece in The Sun by his second wife, Tess Gallagher, about his hard-won sobriety. The piece included some of his poems and my interest in him became even greater. Before I had a chance to dig around in the stacks for a short story collection, I stumbled on a book by his first wife, Maryann Burk Carver.

What It Used To Be Like is the story of their marriage--beginning in their teens and lasting twenty-five years. When I first started reading the book, it was out of curiosity about Ray Carver, but a few chapters in, I realized I was just as fascinated by this woman who, while she was still a girl, made a commitment to a man, who was still in many ways a boy and how the two of them fought so hard for so long to make their marriage work--against incredible odds.

It helps that the book reads as though Maryann is sitting across the table from you with a cup of coffee reminiscing about her life with one of America's greatest writers. Writing was central to Ray's life and, therefore, to Maryann's and while it's never far from the surface, I don't think you have to be a full-out bibliophile to really appreciate this book.

It's about much more than writing--it's about all the intricacies and complexities of trying to build a life together under extraordinary circumstances and I would recommend it to anyone who's interested in the thousand and one ways husbands and wives prop each other up and let each other down.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Valuable.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Signs From The Powers That Be

I'm always on the lookout for signs from the universe, messages from beyond, you know any hint I can gather to make life a little easier or safer or just more understandable. Once you start looking, you find they're everywhere--songs on the radio, fortune cookies, conversational coincidences--of course figuring out what they mean is a whole other thing.

For example, yesterday morning, I nudged hubby awake because his dogs were whining. He immediately mumbled what sounded like: "It's not going to be a tuba."

"It's not going to be a tuba."

Or maybe he said tuna. "It's not going to be a tuna."

Later, while I was trying to decipher the meaning of this profound statement, Son-One suggested that maybe Hubby had said, "It's not going to be a tumor."

So, now I'm sitting here wondering how tunas, tubas, or (non)tumors may fit into our immediate future. Maybe it's better just not knowing...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Post About A Comment--Now I Know I've Gone Too Far...

Fellow bloggers out there, have you ever read a post on someone else's blog and then, say, at some time nearing one a.m., left a comment and then stared at the ceiling half the night thinking about that comment and even though you stand by everything you said in the original comment, you also feel like you didn't say quite enough or quite what you meant to say and there's really, surprisingly, a lot more to say on the topic?


Well, I guess I'm just more of a freak than even I thought, huh?

Last night (this morning?), I read Lindsay's post over at Suburban Turmoil titled "To Snip or Not to Snip. That Is The Question." Lindsay is pregnant with a baby boy and is mulling over the circumcision issue--and finding the conflicting "advice," so much of it militant, a little overwhelming. By the time I read the post, Lindsay had 111 comments on the subject, only some of which I read and which seemed to run about half for, half against circumcision. For every commenter who had a scary story about an unsnipped guy there was a commenter who had scary stories about snipped ones. For every commenter who said not being snipped was no big deal--not a health or social impediment as some of the pro-snippers implied, there was someone who countered that being snipped is also no big deal--the baby doesn't remember the pain or doesn't feel it the same way or whatever.

In short, if Lindsay was looking for a definitive answer or even some sort of general consensus, she wasn't going to get it. So instead of commenting specifically to the issue of circumcision, here's what I said:

~My husband and all three of my sons are uncircumcised. It has not yet been an issue for any of them.(Medically at least. I have my doubts about whether my teenage sons would share any emotional or psychological discomfort, but I'm hopeful that because it hasn't come up, it hasn't been too much of an issue.)
~I think we all get a little wrapped up in seeing someone else's choice as a judgement of our own choice: If you decide not to do it, it's a comment on my decision to do it. Despite all the bluster and insistence that our way is the only way, I think what lies at the core of these raging battles between parents (work/SAHM, breast/bottle, snip/not), is a deep insecurity and uncertainty on each side.
~Ultimately, like so much of parenting, I think it comes down to making a choice in good faith and hoping that whichever way you go you don't scar your kid (emotionally or otherwise) for life. As the comments here from/about both circumcised and uncircumcised men clearly show, there's no way of predicting every possible outcome or side effect from either decision so, once you've done all the research, you just kinda have to cross your fingers and pick one. (Oh, and blog about it--don't forget to blog about it.)

As soon as my head hit the pillow, I started thinking about what a wimp I am and how I should've defended the unsnipped position, because it is something I obviously felt strongly enough about to go against the prevailing tide. The doctor who delivered Son-One eighteen years ago made no comment on our decision not to snip, but some of the nurses did and my mother did. My mother had a lot of comments to make on the subject--she was convinced I was making a terrible mistake that would doom my son to a life of both social and physical discomfort. Son-Two's doctor--a different doctor in a much smaller town--was also very accepting of our choice. My mother still had lots of comments to make. Son-Three's doctor was a little less accepting and asked me five or six times at the hospital if I was sure I didn't want it done. I had a three-year-old and an eighteen-month-old "undone" at home and had never regretted the choice, so, yeah, I was pretty sure. My mother? Still not sure and still there with the comments.

My distress at my failure to defend my position led me right back to the "meat" of my comment which is that we all are entirely too defensive on these sorts of subjects. To me, the issue of circumcision is fairly cut (or not cut) and dried--much of what I've read indicates that there are no compelling reasons to do it. But there is an equal number of (theoretically) equally convincing arguments to do it. What I'm interested in is why these either/or decisions have to be so divisive.

In my comment, I wrote that I think the vehemence often comes from our insecurities about our own choices. I say that not in some abstract way but as a wife and mother who scrolled through a hundred-some comments, cringing at the ones made by women who called intact penises "icky" and other really mature stuff, and not thinking to myself, "Wow, those are some really immature and shallow women," but "Wow, I made a huge mistake and have doomed my sons to a lifetime of having their man-parts mocked by shallow women."

I felt a sudden urge to climb up on a soapbox and start spouting statistics and spewing anecdotes and hurling words like "barbaric" and "unnecessary" and "antiquated." I fought the urge because I'm pretty sure it was coming as much from a desire to convince myself I'd done the right thing than from any desire to convince Lindsay (or anyone) what to do about her son's foreskin.

Obviously, not everyone with a strong opinion is using it to hide their own deep-rooted insecurities. But, I think some of us are and I think we'd all be a lot better off if we could remember that--whichever side of the debate (whatever debate it happens to be) we're on.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Masked Mom's Media Monday: GEICO

Hands down, GEICO has the best commercials in the insurance industry--even though the celebrity ones have started to grate on my nerves a little and I'm not sure how much further they can go with the cave man ones and I'm a little afraid to see how long they'll continue them after they stop being funny. But that's not why I became a GEICO customer--I became a GEICO customer in August of last year, when I realized that I could pay half what the next lowest competitor was charging for the exact same coverage.

I did the whole thing on-line, printed out proof of insurance that came with scannable bar codes for the DMV and it all took less than half an hour. I'll admit I was a little concerned about customer service--despite Charo's* assurances--but I went ahead and signed up anyway figuring that when and if I did have to file a claim, if things didn't go well, I could always switch.

When and if came a lot sooner than I would've hoped. In December (a scant five months after my coverage began), Son-Two backed out of our driveway and into the side of a car belonging to a visitor across the street. Our car was undamaged but the other car was hit just in front of the front driver door and there was a dent in the front fender. To me, it looked like the kind of thing that could be popped out by a clever guy with a deft hand and a plunger. But the estimate was in the neighborhood of $1400.

I filed my claim on-line at 8:12 a.m. I immediately receive an automated e-mail confirming my claim and providing a claim number. The e-mail said I would be contacted within 48 hours. I was contacted well within 48 hours--in fact, I got a call from GEICO at around 8:23 the same morning. More importantly, I was off the phone by 8:35--the whole thing taken care of.

The best part? Friday I received the bill for my next six months of coverage. I was afraid to open the e-mail, because I hadn't even made it through my first six months with the company without having to file a claim. I fully expected my premium to go up. It went down. Down! Down! Can you believe it?

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: I-just-saved-a-buncha-money-on-my-car-insurance.

*The funniest thing about those commercials is trying to explain to your kids who the hell Charo is. Even if you remember her from the Seventies (which I do because my grandfather had a thing for her, among other reasons), you can't really say who she is. She sings, she dances, she tries to act (Love Boat, anyone?) but she's not really what you'd call a singer or a dancer or--even less--an actor. She's an entertainer, sort of, but really just a personality. One of the boys saw the commercial, with her broken English and weird-ass noises and jiggling, and said, "Mom, who is she?" I tried to explain and he cut in, "Yeah, but what did she do?" I said, "You're pretty much lookin' at it." She wiggled, she made weird noises and she talked nonsense and gibberish--in two languages.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Another (Missed) Shot At Fame And Fortune

So Daughter-Only and I are in the bleachers at the boys' volleyball game when the opposing team hits the ball straight into the floor where it bounces up and hits one of our players, Player 8, in a sensitive spot.

Daughter-Only and I were chuckling sympathetically (we were sympathetic, but, regardless of how sympathetic you are, there's still something funny about it--witness America's Funniest Videos) when all of a sudden, Daughter-Only says, "That reminds me of the time Player 8's little brother [who is also on the team], Player 5 and I were on the trampoline together..."

And she proceeds to tell me a story about two summers ago, when Player 5 & 8 lived two houses over, and Player 5 had come over to play on the trampoline. Despite safety warnings to never allow more than one person on the trampoline, there were frequently five or six people on the trampoline. On this particular day, there were only two--or at least only two who mattered.

As Daughter-Only was bouncing up, Player 5 was coming down and somehow (and here is where video would come in handy & not just because I think we'd be finalists on AFV but because I'm all about the how and the why of things), somehow Player 5's braces became entangled in Daughter-Only's zipper--her pants zipper.

She immediately began laughing hysterically, though Player 5 was considerably less amused. He tried to yell at her, saying, "It's not funny." but with his braces stuck in her zipper, of course he couldn't talk right so he said, "isssht nossht fusshny" or something similar which only made Daughter-Only laugh even harder, which made Player 5 even angrier.

He was trying to work his way loose but not having any luck and he somehow communicated to Daughter-Only they were going to have to go over to his house so his mom could help get them untangled. As Daughter-Only tells it, "I was this-close to having to walk across the yards with Player 5 hooked to my zipper, when he popped off his rubber bands and that got him loose."

Yeah, and I was this-close to winning $10,000 but no one had a video camera.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Perfect Post for December: My Job

Daughter-Only is in sixth grade this year and recently finished up her marking period of "Family and Consumer Sciences" which is just the fancy, modern name for Home Ec. Each day she had FCS, she would come home stunned. "Mom! There are kids in my class who don't know how to use a washer and aren't even allowed to use it!" "Mom! There are kids in my class who have never even made themselves toast!"

I shared with her the story of when her aunt, my Youngest Sister, went off to college at a small, private university and many of her classmates--18, 19 year olds from fabulously wealthy families--still couldn't use a washer or dryer or cook for themselves. YS was also suitably stunned. I also lost no time in pointing out to Daughter-Only that despite all the complaining that gets done around here regarding chores, perhaps she was beginning to understand the purpose of all of them.

I am too disorganized and wishy-washy to have an actual chore chart, but my kids are expected to contribute to the household. When I get tired of all the whining and groaning and the "it's not fair" and all that, I sometimes snap at them, "It's not my job to provide a wonderful childhood* for you, it's my job to create functioning adults."

I'm only too aware that I may very well be failing at even that job--that there are things as important and more so than being able to wash laundry or scrub a pot or make simple meals--but it's the point I try to keep in mind as I make my way through the labyrinth that is parenting teenagers. It's my parenting philosophy, however I may fail to live up to it.

Of course, there are as many parenting philosophies as there are parents--more even, since any honest parent who's child is no longer in utero will tell you that their philosophy often changes from moment to moment and more so from year to year. That evolution is part of what December's Perfect Post is about.

Julie over at Ravin' Picture Maven discusses parenting philosophy along with the differences between Mom parenting and Dad parenting among many other things in her post Parenting As If I Might Get Hit By A Bus Tomorrow. My favorite part of course was when she talks about not wanting her kids to grow up, move out on their own and realize that they completely lack basic skills--judging from my daughter's and my sister's experience, this is a very real concern and it's so nice to have my position validated so that I can feel like a little less of the raging lunatic bitch my kids often clearly see me as.

So, for making me feel like less of a b-word, here's my button:

A Perfect Post - December

And, Julie, it's all yours!

See other winners over at Lindsay's and MommaK's.

*I would like the record to show that when they were younger children--still in the childhood part of their childhoods rather than in the adolescent part of their childhoods--I made real efforts to give them arts and crafts and days at the park and cookie-making and all those other fun childhood things. I just didn't want anyone thinkin' I've treated them like free labor their whole lives--it's just been the past coupla years.

PS--Happy B-day to Blonde Best Friend From High School! May this coming year be your best ever.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Oops

Due to a whirlwind of festivities and extended exposure to family (both extended and immediate), Masked Mom's Media Monday took the day off.

We will return next Monday with insightful reviews on a variety of "media" subjects. (Okay, maybe not "insightful" but we will return.)