Stayin’ Alive

Image from Parental Guidance. Hilarious movie, if you haven’t seen it!

One of the great joys of parenting young children is getting away from them. At least for a little while. Be it a couple of hours or a couple of days, there is nothing like a little distance to recharge everyone’s batteries and make you grateful that you are legally/morally/financially bound to the little bloodsuckers darlings until the end of time.

The problem with getting away is finding someone to watch the kids while you and your sweetie are off guzzling margaritas and/or sleeping 16 hours a day. Trusting someone to watch your precious babies is not easy. Will they remember to use the dye-free detergent? Will they limit screen-time? Will they cut the hot dogs lengthwise and across?

No. No, they won’t. And that’s okay.

Years ago, my sister-in-law, Dawn gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten from anyone before or since.  I was about to leave my kids for a week for the first time with my in-laws, and I was a nervous wreck. I worried that favorite books would go unread, binkies would go unwashed, and (gasp) bedtimes would go unheeded. Dawn looked at me, told me to pull my shit together, and said, “As long as they’re alive when you get back, that’s all that matters.”

And she was right. Of course my in-laws weren’t going do things like I did. Or even like I asked them to. Did I really expect them to follow the 5 page, single-spaced, uni-bomberesque manifesto I’d left behind entitled, “A Typical Day in the Life of Fletcher & Ellie.” They probably had a good laugh before lighting it on fire, deciding instead to rely on what they’d learned in their 30+ years of parenting their own children.

And really, my fear had nothing to do with them. It was all me. As a stay-at-home mom, creating and protecting my kids’ routines was what I did. It was my job. My life. Whether it was a survival mechanism or simply my ego, I had to believe that those routines were essential to a peaceful existence. If not, then why the hell was I working so hard?

As long as they are alive when you get back… It was just the paradigm shift I needed! It helped me see that going on vacation would be a break for all of us. Just as Jimmy and I wouldn’t spend every day of our lives eating surf ‘n turf and drinking mai tais, the kids wouldn’t spend every day of theirs watching 8 hours of Thomas the Train and drinking chocolate milk by the gallon. The hard work I’d put in on sleep-training, potty-training, and don’t-think-throwing-a-fit-is-going-to-get-you-what-you-want-training, would still be there even if it went unenforced for a week.

The fact is that if you are going to reap the benefits of getting away (and they are many), you must get comfortable with the fact that whoever watches your kids will not do things your way. This goes for grandparents, siblings, friends, or hired help. I repeat: They will not do it your way. They will think your way is stupid. Over-protective. Unnecessarily complicated. Likely to turn the kids into entitled spoiled brats, who don’t know the value of a dollar. But that’s fine. As long as the kids are alive when you get home, it doesn’t matter if they’ve fallen asleep in front of the television 3 nights in a row. It doesn’t matter if they’ve eaten ice cream for breakfast every day. It doesn’t even matter if they missed that birthday party you’d RSVP’d to on Sunday. None of that is important. What is important is that you got some much-needed time to remember that you are more than just a mother/father, that you actually like your partner, and/or that you actually like your kids. Because time away provides one thing you simply cannot get while at home with your kids: perspective.

Would it be nice if the kids were well rested, well fed, and content when you got home from your vacay? Sure. But alive is all you should really hope for. If you set your expectations at “alive,” you will probably end up pleasantly surprised. After all, getting the opportunity to gain valuable perspective (read: sleep more than six consecutive hours) is luxury enough… you wouldn’t want to get greedy now would you?

 


Temper Tantrum? Buh-bye!

On yesterday’s Today Show, I watched a segment about the family who was thrown off of a JetBlue flight because their two year-old daughter was throwing a tantrum.  Apparently, shortly before takeoff, their two year-old daughter threw a humdinger of a fit because she didn’t want to be buckled into her seat. Crew members reported to the pilot that the family could not get their child seated, and the pilot made the decision to turn the plane around and have the family removed. However, in the time it took for the pilot to make that decision (about five minutes) the tantrum was over and the little girl was seated and buckled properly.

But the family was still thrown off the plane–even though the situation had been resolved – the crew telling this family that “the decision has been made.” Since the flight was the last of the day from Turks & Caicos to Boston, the family had to spend the night in a hotel and were re-routed, costing them over $2,000. That’s a pretty expensive tantrum.

As I watched this Today Show story, (and ignored my own daughter’s Where is my hairbrush? tantrum) I was stunned. Kicked off of a flight because your kid threw a fit? Does this seem reasonable? Apparently, to 71% of people who fill out surveys on the Today Show’s website, it does. Yes, that’s right. Seven out of 10 people who responded to a poll online, said they sided with Jet Blue. Of course, if you have time to respond to online polls at 7 o’clock in the morning, chances are you don’t have young kids and are perhaps a bit less sympathetic than those of us who do.

But still, I was shocked that so many people thought this was a reasonable course of action for the airline to take. JetBlue airline said in a statement, “Flight 850 had customers that did not comply with crew member instructions for a prolonged time period. The Captain elected to remove the customers involved for the safety of all customers and crew members on board.” As a fairly nervous flier, I am the first person to stand up for airline safety. I happily wait in mile long security lines, I put my lip gloss and hand sanitizer in little plastic bags without being prompted, and don’t even mind walking through those x-ray vision scanner that can tell what brand of underwear I have on. If it makes flying safer – I’m all for it.

But a tantrum from a twenty-five pound little girl hardly seems a safety risk to me. Annoying? Yes. Loud and unpleasant? You bet. But a threat to customers and crew members safety? I don’t think so. The little girl in question wasn’t smuggling a shiv in her tiny little Stride Rites, nor was she hiding hazardous chemicals in her sippy cup. She was tired. She was hungry. She was hot. She was irritated because she didn’t want to be strapped down into a seat. Basically, she was two. If the airlines want to be certain to avoid tantrums all together then might I suggest they don’t sell tickets to kids under the age of five. Or rock stars. Or certain Emmy award-winning actors.

The little girl’s mom, Dr. Colette Vieau, a pediatrician, said on the Today Show, “We weren’t belligerent, drunk, angry, screaming … We’re having a hard time struggling with our children. A little bit of humanity in the situation was really all I was looking for and apparently that doesn’t exist.”

I sympathize with the parents on this one. I’d love to know what you think…

 


Book Review: The Ruins of Us

When I’m not driving the kids around in my sweet minivan or trying to get “that smell” out of the carpet, I freelance for a local magazine called, Columbia Home. For the upcoming issue, the magazine asked if I would write a book review of The Ruins of Us , by Keija Parssinen. I enjoyed the book so much, I wanted to share my review here in case you, like me, love nothing more than plopping down on the couch and losing yourself in a good story.

The author, Keija Parssinen, is a lovely young woman of enormous talent and was gracious enough to give me a few minutes of her time for a short interview. I think you will find the story of her background and how it gave way to her book is nearly as interesting as the book itself. And if you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe National Geographic. They just chose The Ruins of Us as their January book of the month.

Book Review: The Ruins of Us, Keija Parssinen. Harper Perennial.

Keija Parssinen’s captivating debut novel, The Ruins of Us, explores the universal themes of love, betrayal, and resiliency set against the backdrop of modern Saudi Arabian culture.

American-born Rosalie Al-Baylani lives a comfortable life in Saudi Arabia. She loves her husband, adores her children, and has grown accustomed to being a wife and a mother in the country she has been fascinated with since she was a girl. But Rosalie’s life is shattered when she learns that her husband of 25 years, the wealthy and powerful Saudi, Abdullah Al-Baylani, has taken a second wife and kept it secret from her for the past two years.

A heavy curtain of heartbreak, bitterness, and isolation falls over the Al-Baylani family as they struggle to make sense of their new reality. Taking a second wife is a man’s legal right in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but Rosalie always thought her Abdullah far too modern and far too devoted to do such a thing. While Rosalie is incapacitated from grief, and Abdullah from denial, the couple’s 16 year old son, Faisal, seeks comfort in a Muslim fundamentalist group with controversial, even violent, ideologies. This gripping story follows Rosalie as she struggles with fear, country, and conscience to make the heart-wrenching choices that will determine her fate and that of her family.

Parssinen, who grew up as a third generation expatriate in Saudi Arabia, deftly reveals the intricate, and at times messy, emotional lives of her characters, while providing an education on the culture and mores of contemporary Saudi life. Her rich, evocative prose is part love-letter to the land where she was born, and part critical study of its complexities. Through Parssinen’s skillful exposition, the reader becomes intimately acquainted with the character’s most profound and visceral desires, particularly in the case of Rosalie, Faisal, and the finely drawn Dan. However, as the story rises to its harrowing climax – and readers turn pages faster and faster -they might just find that, much like the characters themselves, they are unsure of what they want to happen next.

There is so much to love about this book. There is the intriguing story, the graceful language, the authentically flawed characters – but one fact stands out among the rest: the only thing black and white about this novel is the ink and paper upon which it’s printed. You will find yourself thinking about The Ruins of Us long after you put it down. So be sure to pick it up. (It comes out today and you can find it in your local bookstore or online at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or

Author Q&A with Keija Parssinen

Q: You, like Rosalie, spent much of your childhood living in Saudi Arabia while your father worked for an oil company. How did your background influence this novel?

A: When I started writing the book, it was a way to travel back to Saudi in my mind. I left when my parents moved us back to the US when I was 12. When you leave Saudi Arabia, they take your visa and you are not allowed to go back. So, in a way, it’s really like your home is taken away from you, physically anyway. I think I felt I was being robed of memories. But in writing the book, I did a ton of research and in 2008 since my Dad was living there again, I was allowed to travel back. I stayed with Saudi friends in Khobar and got to experience life with Saudi family and really study the city – what it looked like, the colors, the sound of the traffic. It was fantastic.

Q: What were you hoping readers would gain from reading this book?

A: I hope they enjoy it, first and foremost. But also, I think the book is an honest look at how cultures clash and why. At its heart, I hope it does convey my belief that the human emotional makeup is universal. Our cultural elements may influence and get in the way of our relationships, but we all experience the same emotions regardless of where we come from.

Q: Faisal, Rosalie and Abdullah’s teenage son, becomes involved in a jihadist group. How did you decide to write this plotline into the story of this family?

A: The reality is I couldn’t write about Saudi Arabia in 2005 (when I began writing the book) without addressing the radical mindset of some Saudis. The anger and confusion of 9/11 was still very fresh in my mind, and I was trying to puzzle through why someone would think that way. I learned from Sam Chang, the director of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, that the purpose of fiction is to ask, not answer, questions. So in writing this book I was asking, ‘How would a group of young men who believe America is occupying and in some cases ruining their country act and react in certain situations? And also, ‘What if a man takes a second wife? Is it OK? Is it ever justifiable?’ I read a lot of materials by Arab writers and Saudi writers offering opinions. I learned a lot. In some ways, it destroyed the warm-fuzzy memories I had from my childhood. But I gained so much insight as well.

Keija Parssinen earned a degree in English literature from Princeton University and received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching-Writing Fellowship. For The Ruins of Us, her first novel, she received a Michener-Copernicus Award.

 


(F)Lying the Friendly Skies

Like many quasi-neurotic people, I don’t really like to fly. But not for the reason you think. My aversion to flying isn’t so much the risk of plummeting to certain death in a large, metal coffin – it’s more that I can’t shake the feeling that I’m constantly being lied to. It’s just a “minor” maintenance issue that’s delayed us for three hours. No, you can’t listen to that iPod during take off, it might interfere with the planes electrical system.  Sorry, we’re “out of” diet coke. Like anyone believes that. They treat us like we are  children. And the bottom line is that once you’ve boarded the plane, they’ve got you. You belong to them and they can tell you anything and you have no choice but to go along with it.

Here are my top picks for most egregious airline lies:

1. I’ll be right back with that for you.

Right. I’ve been waiting on a diet coke since 1998.

2. If there is anything we can do to make your flight more comfortable, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Your lips say one thing; but your eyes say another.

3. Use of cellular phones may interfere with the planes navigational systems.

If a cell phone can bring down a planeload of people – then why would the FAA let 300 people get on a plane holding one? No one’s buying it; they should stop selling it.

4. We’ll be on our way soon.

 ‘Soon’ is a hoax. Don’t be fooled by ‘soon.’ The runways are controlled by very precise people who are required to time events down to the millisecond. They don’t deal in generalities like ‘soon.’ Air traffic control tells the pilots exactly when they will be cleared for takeoff. If they say something like soon, chances are you’re screwed.

5. In the event of a water landing, your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device.

I call bullshit. I can’t say that I’ve tested the theory, but there is no way that nasty, polyester, piece of crap is going to keep anyone afloat in the middle of the ocean after it’s been squashed a thousand times over by America’s obesity epidemic. Then again, the whole idea of a water landing where people are alive enough to need a flotation device may be the biggest lie of all. 

Maybe they think that the general population just can’t handle the truth. But they’re wrong. We can. Don’t tell us in your cool, polished, pilot-voice that you’re going to have the flight attendants sit down “out of abundance of caution” because we’ve just hit some bumpy air. For God’s sake, man! Tell us that the flight attendants are tired and they just want a freaking break from the annoying ingrates that keep ringing that humiliating call button and summoning them for more peanuts. Or tell us that we’ve lost the left engine and the flight attendants deserve to spend their final moments guzzling tiny bottles of vodka and texting their loved ones. Either way, don’t patronize us. Just give it to us straight. (Preferably with a side of peanuts and that diet coke that we know you stashed somewhere for later.)