Tackling the Season Like a Man

Portrait Of Beautiful Woman Wearing Santa Claus Hat by David Castillo Dominici, freedigitalphotos.net

Portrait Of Beautiful Woman Wearing Santa Claus Hat by David Castillo Dominici, freedigitalphotos.net

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from my friend Ramey: “If you don’t want to be the only one doing all the work then you have to let other people do stuff using their own standards–no matter how crappy or inferior they may be.”

She was talking about diaper rash and Desitin, but over time I’ve found that her advice applies almost everywhere from the schoolyard and the soccer field to the domestic front and delegating at work.

You can explain it by whatever nature versus nurture notion noogles your noggin, but the fact is that men are overwhelmingly better than women are at letting go of perfectionism. They don’t really notice–or if they do, they certainly don’t care about–that pile of laundry waiting to be folded on the couch. It’s simply an obstacle to sit upon or pushed aside in their quest to find a place to rest their fatigued fannies after a hard day’s work.

They aren’t the least bit disturbed if the dinner table lacks floral finery, or even utensils, as long as there’s an ice-cold beer at their fingertips. They may be masters of their domains, but most of them have absolutely no interest in anything resembling a throw pillow, quilt or home decor accessory (unless it comes in HD and surround sound).

And as for calendars, schedules and to-do lists? Forget about it. Somehow it’s more manly to store things “in your head,” despite the sometimes sieve-like filter associated with this system.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of things that men simply don’t care about and thus they don’t stress about. As hard as it is for me to admit it, I think they may be on to something, especially when it comes to the holidays.

Have you ever in your life met a man who felt guilty when a caring neighbor brought over a homemade dish of goodies and he didn’t have a lavish platter at the ready to gift them in return?

Have you ever heard of a man stalking the aisles of an all-night drug store after midnight because the five shades of curling ribbon he has at home are just not “quite the right red?”

You don’t see men stressing about losing weight to fit into a cute new outfit for the company’s holiday party or going to 17 different stores to find the perfect Secret Santa Gift for the receptionist in their office who won’t even know it’s from them.

Nope, men don’t take it as their seasonal call of duty to personally manufacture every bit of holiday magic that comes into their household. For the most part, whether the laundry is waiting to be folded or not, they sit on the couch, relax and enjoy the spirit–and spirits–of the season.

Which is why this year I’m going to try to take the holidays like a man by relaxing the perfectionism, kicking back and enjoying them.

I hope you’ll do the same.

When Leslie’s not obsessing about not obsessing about her holiday to-do list, she can reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.  Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 10, 2010.

Relationship Research

Photo  by stockimages, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by stockimages, freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve tried to get my husband into therapy for years – and failed miserably. Why is it that those who are most in need of psychological help are the least able to see it?

Anyway, when I saw an advertisement asking for married couples to participate in a UCSB study on close relationships, I jumped at the chance to get my husband on the couch, even if it was only under the guidance of some 19-year-old psychology students. Not only would Zak finally have the opportunity for some long overdue self-reflection (contemplating one’s navel doesn’t count), but also there was 60 bucks in it for us if we attended two sessions.

Talk about a win-win. They even promised us free parking and snacks.

It was surprisingly easy to talk Zak into going. He was actually excited. On our drive out to UCSB he said, “When they ask about our occupations, do we fight crime or do crime?”

“Honey, I think you should just tell the truth and get as much out of the session as you can,” I said.

“Right. We fight crime,” he said.

Yeah, sure. Whatever gets you onto that couch, dear.

After a brief introduction by a spectacled graduate student in a white lab coat who was, I swear, no more than 14 years old, Zak and I were put into two separate rooms to do some tests.

The first exercise was a series of questions about our relationships. We had to weigh our answers on a scale of one (where you strongly disagreed with the statement) to seven (where you strongly agreed with the statement) or a scale of one (I’m not at all like my mother, how dare you) to nine (I’m exactly like my mother, so deal with it) and so on.

I immediately became utterly and thoroughly confused.

I contemplated using my cell phone to call Zak in the room next door to help me with the test. Would wanting to work together show that we had a healthy relationship or that I was being a complete neurotic idiot? I reminded myself that there couldn’t possibly be any “wrong” answers, and tried to answer the questions the way a healthy person would, giving myself props for refraining from calling Zak as I opened my veins and sweated out answers.

A sample question: “How much time do you spend thinking about your relationship with your spouse?” Does wishing he looked like Brad Pitt count?

Or how about this one, “In my conversations with others, I don’t like to talk about things that don’t interest me.” Who likes to talk about things that don’t interest them? I find boredom extremely exciting, but only if I get to use the time to fantasize about Brad Pitt.

So far this study wasn’t really doing much to bring me closer to my husband, although we did go out to lunch with our stipend.

For our final session, they flipped a coin to decide which spouse would do which activity. Zak got to do a puzzle (something that’s incredibly fun and easy for him) while I had to give a speech (something that’s exceptionally painful and stressful for me).

Hmmm … I wondered just how random that little coin toss was as I contemplated my speech instructions, to fill five minutes, as though I were on an interview for my ideal job. While I can fill thousands of column inches writing about myself, actually talking about myself for five minutes felt like an eternity. Luckily Zak stepped in with some questions, coaxing me into describing how working no more than 25 hours a week would benefit my future employer (I’d be in such a good mood if I could sleep in till 9 every morning!) and why the loan of a company car (preferably a convertible) would help reduce my stress and therefore enhance my creativity.

The researchers found our silly banter to be symptomatic of a healthy relationship. Who knew? We later found out that we had been observed by the psych team the whole time. Thank goodness we didn’t turn the waiting room into a “What’s the craziest place you’ve ever made whoopee?” response, as my husband had suggested earlier.

They explained that the study was designed to help understand how spouses help each other cope with stressful life events and how that relates to marital satisfaction.

I didn’t have the heart to tell our grad student (who actually was 24, even if she looked 12) that the tests weren’t really that stressful, especially when she seemed so pleased with our performance. When Zak and I reviewed our answers we found that despite our contention that his father and my mother would make a terrible couple, we were actually more alike that we thought.

If he’s more like me than I thought, maybe he doesn’t really need therapy after all.

I told Zak, column comedy opportunity aside, participating in the study actually left me feeling pretty good about our relationship.

“That’s good,” he said, “because it really took very little work on my part.”

And that just might be the real secret to a healthy close relationship. That and fighting crime together.

Share your relationship secrets with Leslie @LeslieDinaberg.com. For most columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on February 5, 2010.

Is Shouting the New Spanking?

Photo by David Castillo Dominici, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by David Castillo Dominici, freedigitalphotos.net

Spanking—like fountain pens, hardback Webster’s Dictionaries, and control top panty hose—is one of those things that is still around, but hardly ever used anymore. According to a recent story in the New York Times, shouting has taken its place as the discipline du jour.

“Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children,” writes Hilary Stout. “We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (‘Good job!’), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.”

Of course I yell from time to time-usually something like “hurry up,” or “I can’t believe you forgot again”-but it’s really not my go-to behavior, as evidenced by the fact that both my husband and I can bring our son to tears by simply changing the tones of our voices.

When I get frustrated I’m more of a “mean-sarcastic-if-you-could-hear-me-you’d-be-crying-hysterically-commenter-under-my-breather” than a yeller. Of course I feel incredibly guilty about this within minutes. Probably even worse than I would have felt if I’d just yelled.

Apparently, I’m in the minority.

A study published in “The Journal of Marriage and Family,” says 88 percent of the families interviewed admitted shouting, yelling or screaming at their children in the previous year and that percentage jumped to 98 percent in families with seven-year-old children.


I decided to do a completely unscientific survey of my own and ask my friends what they thought about this shouting as the new spanking theory.

Not surprisingly, the yellers were in the majority.

“At our house it gets really loud. I am talking really loud,” says V. “Three kids (15, 14 and 10), two dogs, two parents in a 1,600 square foot house then add in the TV and doing dishes etc. My kids often say ‘mom stop yelling’ and I don’t even think I am.”

“I yell, I scream, I swear, and mostly I seem to be talking to myself,” says T. “Sometimes I give myself a sore throat from yelling at my kids, but it seems to have no effect on them whatsoever.”

“Dude, I am a total yeller. AWFUL yeller,” admits S. “I yell myself hoarse sometimes and my entire family just ignores me. Which is as it should be.”

But does yelling really yield any results other than working out your lungs?

Some parents say it does if used strategically.

“Sometimes when my toddler is yelling in the car for no reason-and she knows when she’s doing it to push my buttons-I yell back,” says G. “Not at her, I just yell out one loud ‘Ahh!’ and it immediately stops her. She doesn’t cry, she doesn’t sulk, she’s not emotionally scarred, she just looks at me like I’m a little crazy for a second then behaves.”

“Whatever works,” agrees L. “Two of my kids don’t need yelling at. They listen and are sensitive and know the right thing to do. The third is not sensitive and is very, very stubborn with wanting to do want he wants. I’m a different parent with him. I use yelling as a last resort to snap him out of his relentless behavior.”

Never one to mince words, M, the mother of four exceptionally well-behaved children, says, “People who don’t yell or spank are usually the ones with the biggest brats!!!!” This comment touched a few nerves.

“Yelling, like anything, can be abused. I teach two and three year olds and NEVER have to yell at them to get them to listen. I am consistent and loving and firm in my day. Children do not need to be yelled at nor do adults. Yelling solves nothing,” says J.

“I have never yelled at my son and he is nowhere near a brat. I agree with J, being consistent, loving and firm has worked for me. I just think you need to act like you want your children to act,” says L. “If you’re a yeller, I guarantee your child will become a yeller. We have to be an example to our children.”

No kidding.

All of this research and I’m still not sure how to feel about yelling, other than guilty. My extremely scientific conclusion: depending on who you want to listen to, you’re either setting a terrible example for your children by yelling at them or dooming them to a lifetime of brattyness if you don’t yell at them.

I guess the best news is that however you feel about yelling at your kids, and whatever you actually do behind closed doors, you’re definitely not alone.

When Leslie’s not yelling under her breath at her son, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 6, 2009.

Wrapping it up

Gift Wrapping Paper by Apolonia, freedigitalphotos.net

Gift Wrapping Paper by Apolonia, freedigitalphotos.net

Little did I know that when I enrolled my child in public school I was signing up for a 13-year tour of fundraising duty.

I’ll never forget the first time Koss jumped in the car and delightedly declared how excited he was that he was going to win a squishy pink and yellow stuffed turtle to dangle from his backpack. He sounded like a late night infomercial huckster as he excitedly explained that, “all WE have to do was sell a minimum of 30 rolls of wrapping paper.”

Is that all WE have to do?

Forget the fact that all of his stuffed animals had been relegated to the back of the closet and declared babyish a few months before, he would absolutely die and be the laughing stock of the school if he didn’t win one of those cool turtles.

And that was just the beginning of the all of the fabulous prizes he could win, he explained, shoving a prize incentive catalog at me that looked a thousand times glossier and heavier than the actual wrapping paper they were trying to push.

“If WE sell more than 300 items, WE can get a Wii!” he chirped.

Overlooking the fact that WE already have a Wii, which he mostly ignores, I quickly did the math on this one. If WE sell 300 rolls of wrapping paper at $8.50 each, that’s over $2,500 bucks for an item that sells for about $200 at Best Buy. And that’s not including the value of our time, let alone all the pride I have to swallow every time I ask a friend or neighbor to write another check for the school.

When I was a kid selling candy bars was easy. I just put them in nose-shot of my dad and they all disappeared within a few days. Unfortunately for Koss, his school uses catalogs to sell stuff, so it’s easier to resist.

Besides nowadays, as we all learn the hard way, children are not the real salespeople when it comes to school fundraisers: we are. Sure, they leave the pep rally assembly all fired up about how they’ll rush through the neighborhood and “sell, sell, sell.” But soon afterward the reality of homework, soccer practice, chores and play dates sets in, and the tune changes to “mom, mom, mom … how many rolls of wrapping paper did we sell?”

This year, for once, I had no problem adding up the numbers in my head: Six. That’s right, six. Three to grandma and three to me. “Did you sell any magazines?” Koss asked hopefully. “Even though the prizes aren’t as cool I can still get some.”

No magazines, no candles, no aromatic oils. This year we even skipped out on the “beautifully embossed tins” of popcorn that are large enough to house a family of four. I sold 12 of them at our last garage sale.

“But it helps pay for camp, mom,” Koss pleaded.

I know, but it’s too much work for not enough return on our investment, I explain. This year I’m going to only buy the wrapping paper that I need.

“So WE won’t get the Wii?”

Nope. You’ll have to wait till next year – because if there is one thing that’s certain about school fundraisers, there is always another one coming up.

If any of you readers out there need wrapping paper, magazine or Santa Barbara Axxess Books, email Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 2, 2009.

Rub Some Dirt in it

Courtesy Freeimages.net by Naypong

Courtesy Freeimages.net by Naypong

The email from the AYSO Region 122 – Infection Control Committee started out innocently enough (aside from the eerie Soviet era name): “In an effort to promote good hygiene and prevent the spread of disease” the board of directors of our local youth soccer group had formed an Infection Control Committee.

Okay, fine. We have a hard time getting enough parents to volunteer to referee and coach, but if they wanted form a committee to promote good hygiene I’m okay with that.

The first few paragraphs advocated what is basically common sense: stay home if you are sick; if you have a fever or other symptoms stay away from other kids until you’ve been well for 24 hours; don’t share water bottles, etc.

Even the suggestion to use “an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before handing out snacks and after a game” (as opposed to washing your hands) was probably a good one, though I wondered if perhaps we were going to be seeing “sponsored by Purell” embroidered on next year’s uniforms.

Our school district superintendent sent out a similar letter, cautioning parents to teach children not to share their personal items, wash their hands and, mostly importantly, keep their sick kids at home. Hallelujah, this is a huge pet peeve of mine.

But there was one key difference between the two letters. AYSO asked us to avoid “pre and post game handshakes and/or high fives.” Followed by the caveat, “we can still promote good sportsmanship with a post game cheer and by respecting our opponents, coaches and referees.”

Seriously, no high fives? No handshakes?

While I realize that cleanliness is next to flu-lessness and can appreciate the good intentions behind this, I wondered if the Infection Control Committee realizes there is a fine line between healthy hygiene and obsessive germophobia. I’m all for keeping our kids healthy, but seriously, no high fives? That last bit of physical contact is more than just tradition. It’s an important sign of good sportsmanship, a visible symbol that we all played our hardest and, win or lose, we can walk away from the field feeling good about the game.

Seriously, no handshakes?

Sure enough, the ban on hand-to-hand contact was enforced after our game on Saturday, when the kids had just spent the last hour rolling around the grass together, chest bumping, wrestling and helping each other up when they fall down.

The kids didn’t know what to do. Were fist bumps okay? One adult suggested shoulder taps, which I was sure, would result in a brawl.

My response was to giggle at the absurdity of it all. I wasn’t the only one. A referee commented on how odd it was that the kids were forbidden to shake each other’s hands, but that didn’t stop them from all coming to politely shake his hand and thank him for officiating their games. “Next time I’m going to hand out wipes,” he joked.

“I suppose latex gloves are always an option, and how about face masks,” said another soccer mom.

“Oh puleeeeeese,” said another friend. “Might as well have your kids just stay home FOREVER!!!”

Some saw the move as an indication of more than just a flu scare. “Ridiculous,” said a dad. “It seems part of the increasing attempt to teach every child to be afraid of everyone and everything… all for the sake of protecting other entities from liability. Invest in some hand sanitizer if the need arises but let the hugging and high fives commence/continue.”

Another said, “Must have been a big disappointment to have to cancel the planned mandatory AYSO feel good group hug. If I was still coaching I’d name the team the Snot Rockets and dominate.”

When asked about the handshake issue, assistant commissioner Eric Sanborn responded, “Please picture what the average six year old looks like after a soccer game. Sweaty and dirty, with a ring of Gatorade, snot and little bits of orange and watermelon all around his mouth. His shirt and hands were used all game to wipe his nose and they are now all covered with “snail trails” of snot. Would you want to slap ten hands like that and then eat a snack and lick your fingers? Especially during this cold season?”

I’ll admit, that’s not a pretty picture.

“We discussed what other sports leagues, including some professional soccer leagues, have done to reduce the spread of germs in a sports setting and we determined that the after game handshake/high fives followed by postgame snacks, was the likely time for kids to share germs with their teammates and opponents,” Sanborn continued. “We decided to take the focus away from handshakes and high fives for this season only and try to promote good sportsmanship in other ways. It was amazing to see how well parents responded last weekend. … The feedback from our families has been overwhelmingly positive, with a ratio close to 20 positive emails for each complaint.”

Okay, I get it. I wouldn’t want to be the one who gives all the kids in Santa Barbara the swine flu either. No hard feelings. High five!

When Leslie’s not trying to avoid an off-sides penalty, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 25, 2009.

Bringing up Babies

Claire Bloomfield photo

Claire Bloomfield photo

I was interviewing this fascinating, accomplished, professional woman and it was going great. Our conversation had a nice rhythm, she had some anecdotes and zingers I knew would jump right off the page. Oh joy, oh boy, this profile was practically writing itself. Then, when the interview was just about over, I dropped the bomb. A conversational dud that fell with a big fat thud: Do you have any kids?

It sounds like a pretty innocent question, right? It’s not like I asked her about her favorite sexual position. But she didn’t have kids and that simple truth made me feel like I had crossed a line and was intruding into her personal life.

How is it that we can live in a society that teaches the four R’s–Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic and Reproduction–and yet asking someone whether they have children can be considered rude? I wanted to explain to her that even though I’m now on the mom side of the fence, I’m not so far out of her neighborhood.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was childfree and working late nights at the office, cursing my colleagues who got to leave at 5 to pick up Timmy and Susie from daycare, while I had to work late to pick up their slack. I remember what it was like. As much as I love my son, I do sometimes long for the days when every dining out experience didn’t come with complimentary crayons.

There’s been so much written about “the mommy wars” between the stay-at-home moms and moms who work, but nobody really talks about the “my life choices are better than yours” tension between the women who have children and those who don’t. Like it or not: I could feel it in the air as I awkwardly ended the interview.

Now I’m not one of those women who believe it’s everyone’s fate to procreate. I can certainly understand why everyone doesn’t want a baby on board. Not everybody pines for progeny. I know plenty of cheerfully childless people, I thought. Look at Oprah, and Mother Teresa. What about Condoleezza Rice? What’s the big deal? I wanted to explain all that to this woman and couldn’t find the words. It just felt too personal, like I was asking her how much money she made or whether she believed in God.

But as I flipped through my address file later, I realized that the vast majority of people I hang out with have kids. It’s not that I don’t know a lot of childless people, but we don’t really run in the same circles. Apparently, they like their conversations uninterrupted by shouts of, “Stop stabbing your sister with a fork!”

The moment I walked down the aisle and got married it seemed like people started asking me about “the pitter-patter of tiny little feet.” It was amusing at first, but became progressively more painful and annoying as we struggled to have a baby, and the ticking of my biological clock joined in the pitter-patter chorus.

When I was struggling with infertility it seemed like the whole world was pregnant or potty training. I began to cringe inside every time someone asked about kids. Was this what it was like all the time for people without kids?

How do you keep your cool in a world filled with drool? My friend Cara, who gets asked all the time about kids, laughed, “I usually just tell them I’m raising kittens instead.”

Daisy, a college friend who tied her tubes in her 20s, said when people ask her “why don’t you have any children,” she simply retorts: “why don’t you have any class?”

Angie, who’s approaching 40 and is cheerfully childless, says she’s been asked, “Aren’t you getting to the age where you should be having babies?” Her favorite response: “Nah. But aren’t you getting to the age where you should have better manners?”

But my favorite response came from Camie, who said, “I’ll consider having a baby when maternity clothes and minivans are sexy.”

Hmm … I wonder what Angelina Jolie drives?

Is it rude to bring up babies? Share your thoughts–and horror stories–with email.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 11, 2008.

The “F” Word

Candidate BarbieIt is ironic that feminism has become the “F” word at the same time a woman is finally the frontrunner to become president.

Maybe there’s something in the air, some kind of 2007-meets-1955 pheromones being emitted from our plastic water bottles. I felt like I entered a retro time warp zone the other day.

I was addressing envelopes, which felt a bit retro to begin with, but apparently hand written envelopes get opened 67% more frequently than others do. One of the nonprofits I’m involved with sent out an appeal to all of the neighbors in specific zip codes. We got the addresses based on a title search, and lo and behold, about 93% of the homes have a man’s name listed as the sole owner.

Now I know that the majority of these million dollar plus homeowners are not single men; in fact, I know a lot of their wives. And I know that we have community property laws in California, which means that the wives actually do own half their homes, regardless of whether their name is on the deed. But still, why on earth wouldn’t you put the house in both partners’ names? Surely not all women have credit like mine.

I’m seeing some other disturbingly retro trends in the air.

According to the Boston Globe, “asking dad for her hand in marriage” is a hot trend among bridegrooms to be. Call me old-fashioned, but doesn’t this set the stage for the old “I’ll give you five goats, three porcupines and half an acre of rutabagas for your daughter” negotiation? What if the daughter doesn’t want to marry the guy? And if dad gets a vote in the son-in-law race, doesn’t mom have anything to say about it?

Maybe mom’s not there to negotiate her daughter’s chattel merger because she’s too busy redecorating. That seems to be the not-so-subtle-message with new toys like Hasbro’s Rose Petal Cottage, a pretend house where little girls can make their housewife fantasies come true.

I checked, and the cottage does not come with any bon-bons, red wine, or a masseuse named Sven. Where’s the housewife fantasy part?

The Rose Petal Cottage tag line is: “Where dreams have room to grow.” One of the commercials croons: “I love when my laundry gets so clean/ Taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream!”

More like a nightmare, nightmare, nightmare!

I don’t know what the elves at Hasbro were smoking when they came up with this idea, but maybe they were reading the Los Angeles Times, which recently did a story about the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s new program in holy homemaking. The “academic” homemaker major enrolls only women, and includes coursework on baking cookies, laundering and child rearing. I tease, but it turns out that the kind of women who enroll actually need the instruction–many had been rearing their laundry and baking children.

This is the kind of stuff that makes Brain Surgeon Barbie look like a feminist icon. Though I guess there’s some hope in the news that the “Barbie I Can Be” career series is being updated. Barbie’s new job opportunities include becoming a pet sitter, art teacher, ballet teacher, baby doctor, ocean trainer and a cake baker. Maybe she can bake us up a yummy smelling chocolate layer cake to counteract the scent of all this retro stuff in the air.

While she’d rather be eating bon bons and watching Grey’s Anatomy, than cleaning her house and baking cookies, Leslie’s computer is almost always on, and you can email her at email. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.
Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 19, 2007.

Everything I Know About Motherhood So Far

© Pkruger | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Pkruger | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

My son turns eight next week, and since it looks like I won’t be having another child to practice on, I won’t be needing a lot of these hard-earned lessons for my next kid. Therefore, I give them to you, gentle reader.

1. Forget all of those gender-neutral parenting plans you had. Once the epidural wears off, reality kicks in. Nature, schmature, nurture, schmurture. You have joined the MOB. You’re the Mother of a Boy and there’s no turning back. The fart jokes will start in about ten minutes, and eight years later you’ll still be holding your breath.

2. Your child will never appreciate those first few years you spent sleepless, showerless, and adult-conversationless. In fact, he may even laugh loudly at a picture of what you looked like back in those days. If you get a chance for some time to yourself, run, as fast as you can. Sure your one-year-old may whine a bit and your two-year-old may throw a tantrum as you leave, but your seven-year-old will never know the difference.

3. All history happens to a kid, “when I was three.” “I had a really bad dream when I was three, that’s why I can’t go to sleep until midnight, mom.” “When I was three you slammed my finger in the car door.” “I heard you say a bad word when I was three.” Whatever the memory, it happened “when I was three.”

4. The only scientifically documented thing that actually happens at age three is kids become obsessed with their feet. Never accept food of any kind from a three-year-old.

5. Four-year-old boys can get a bit emotional when you deny them things. Here’s my favorite tip: You can say “maybe” and mean “no.” “Maybe” buys you time. “Maybe” helps you avoid tantrums in public places. “Maybe” gives your child a teensy tiny bit of hope he can hang on to for a little while, and he just might forget about what he wanted in the first place. This works with husbands as well as kids.

6. When you figure out how to explain to a five-year-old that some people get pretty offended when you take a certain someone’s name in vain, please, please, please help me explain it to my son. Meanwhile, if you know a way to avoid cussing when you spill a piping hot latte all over your new Coach purse, could you also let me know?

7. I know we haven’t had a rainy day in a long time, but when Koss was five, it rained a lot. Santa Barbara is not a rainy day friendly town–I’m surprised the bowling alley isn’t outdoors. When you coop up 48 pounds of five-year-old boy energy inside a teeny tiny house for too long, something’s got to give–your sanity. My suggestion is to hook him up to an electricity generating treadmill. Viola, no more global warming.

8. Six-year-old boys turn into lawyers–everything is a negotiation or a stall tactic, and you have no choice but to develop your own legal skills. For example, after the 13th time you tell him to brush his teeth/finish his homework/put out the recycling/tar the roof, he’ll finally look up from his whatever game he’s into that week and say, “chill, mom.” This is what’s known as stalling. Forcibly take the game from him and turn it off. Tell him he’ll get it back after he brushes his teeth/finishes his homework/puts out the recycling/tars the roof, etc. This is what’s known as a negotiation.

9. Seven-year-olds can chatter incessantly about mythical creatures and who would beat who in a fight — seriously, my kid can go at least 10 minutes without taking a breath. The trick is to nod your head and think about George Clooney. When your son finally stops talking, answer, with a straight face, “I think the second one is more powerful.” Works every time.

10. If he says he’s “gotta go,” he’s gotta go. And even if he says he doesn’t, make him pee anyway before you leave the house. If he’s two, your best friend’s new hardwood floors will thank you. If he’s seven, his baseball coach will thank you.

11. Seven-year-olds can do a lot of things for themselves, but they need very specific directions. Don’t say, “get a snack” unless you’re OK with him snacking on leftover Halloween candy. And if you let him snack on the fruity-chewy-gooey-not-worth-the- calories-candy, remember, you won’t be able to use it in his birthday piñata in July.

12. Never, under any circumstances, even if you have to push him away from the scale at Weight Watchers, let your child see how much you weigh. Show him your tax returns if you need to distract him.

13. Male Answer Syndrome kicks in early. If you want to know anything about anything, ask your seven-year-old son.

14. Keep in mind; sarcasm is a sign of wit, intelligence, and cleverness…until your kids use it.

Share your parenting lessons with Leslie at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on May 9, 2008.

Astronomists prevail in annual competition

Award season is upon us and the competition is stiffer than ever. I don’t know about you, but I thought the campaigning was a little over the top this year. Every day, something new in the–the solar system chocolate bar with the bite out of it; the “who dwarfed my planet” t-shirts; the stuffed Tweety on an ice floe–but I guess those PR mavens know their stuff.

The votes are in… the envelope please… “Plutoed” wins! The crowd goes wild! “Climate Canary” mumbles something about it being an honor just to be nominated, but everyone knows it’ll be face down drunk in the gutter soon after the awards banquet.

That’s right. “Plutoed” (which means to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the planet formerly known as Pluto when the evil genius astronomy overlords decided Pluto no longer met their definition of a planet and relegated the poor thing to dwarf status, thus rendering 100 years of science textbooks unusable, and giving the poor un-planet a short man’s complex to boot) narrowly defeated “Climate Canary” (an organism or species whose poor health or declining numbers hint at a larger environmental catastrophe on the horizon) in the American Dialect Society’s annual word of the year contest.

Some society members speculated that the unusually brutal campaigning had more to do with the old and new generations of the science vocabulary guild duking it out than any real competition between “Plutoed” and “Climate Canary,” whose advocates sent elaborate boxes of feather pens to voters in a last ditch effort to win approval. It’s stories like these that make me feel better and better about the hours I spend working on my scrapbooks.

It took a run-off vote for “Plutoed” to emerge victorious, whereas last year’s winner, “Truthiness“–coined by fake news pundit Stephen Colbert as “truth that comes from the gut, not books”–easily beat out contenders such as “Assmosis” (the process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard) and “Blamestorming” (sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible). “Truthiness” was also voted Merriam-Webster’s #1 Word of the Year for 2006 based on votes from visitors to their Web site, making it the “People’s Choice” award winner.

However, even with all of those accolades, “Truthiness” still hasn’t been invited onto the red carpet to be included in the dictionary itself. Apparently they don’t get Comedy Central as part of the basic cable package in the heartland.

“Polyamory” is in the dictionary now. That’s right, the “state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time” has become such common practice that Merriam-Webster added the term to the dictionary this year. In my dating days we called it “sleeping around.” It was “playing the field” when my mom was young, and “ensuring the spread of your seed” when the cavemen were strutting around the campfires of old. Nowadays, my husband calls it “Please?” and I call it, “Dream on, finish the dishes.”

“Supersize” (where you increase the size of your order by at least two pounds of potatoes) and “Gastric Bypass” (where they reduce the size of your stomach to make you lose all that supersizing), also made the dictionary this year, as did “Sandwich Generation,” which has nothing to do with food or obesity, unless you count the dried prunes and smashed peas two-fer in the shopping carts of baby boomers who can look forward to changing two sets of diapers till their twilight years.

If you’re worried the cost of diapers might keep you from joining the “WOOFs” (well off older folks), you can always supersize those Depends at Costco, the ultimate “Big-Box” (a word now found in your friendly neighborhood dictionary, available twice as thick at half the price on aisle three). Be aware that those Big-Box bargains might cause some “Unibrow”-raising (a single continuous brow resulting from the growing together of eyebrows) from your friendly neighborhood “Biodiesel”-driving (a fuel that is similar to diesel fuel and is derived from vegetable sources such as soybean oil) “Drama Queens” (people given to excessively emotional performances or reactions) now appearing in a dictionary near you.

In other word awards news, “YouTube,” (used as a verb, meaning to use the YouTube Web site where people submit their own videos) was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by the American Dialect Society. Kind of Plutoes the whole award, don’t you think?

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound

The Handwriting is on the Wall

By wikipedia:en:user:Sotakeit (w:Image:Cursive.JPG) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By wikipedia:en:user:Sotakeit (w:Image:Cursive.JPG) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In case you’ve missed the writing on the wall, cursive writing is going the way of eight-track tapes. Today’s students will almost certainly be the last generation to learn handwriting, and I’m not sure that this is a bad thing.

Until the 1970s, penmanship was a separate daily subject taught through sixth grade, but a recent survey of primary-grade teachers found that most now spend 10 minutes a day or less on it. Even kindergarteners are learning keyboarding instead of handwriting. And while we used to celebrate a National Handwriting Week, today marks the celebration of National Handwriting Day. There’s not even a parade, despite the fact that it’s also John Hancock’s birthday today, for which my husband and I usually exchange the traditional gift of fountain pens and parchment paper.

So much for the longevity of longhand.

After all, effective communication is the ultimate goal, so why bother with a time-consuming, archaic method of communicating when so many high-tech, high-speed methods are available? Anyone out there who is worried about the development of the next generation’s communication skills should watch how skillfully the average13-year-old wields the text message function on his cell phone. Of course spelling will be the next part of the curriculum to go, but that iz a topic 4 anoth col.

Sure, I’m a little dependent on my laptop–OK, I was semi-suicidal the day my wireless card stopped working–but that doesn’t mean I have anything personal against handwriting. Until recently, I took a certain amount of pride in my penmanship. It’s extremely legible, which is the point of writing. The other cool thing about it is that in defiance to all of the handwriting experts who say that they can predict your personality traits by looking at something you’ve written, my sister and I have almost indistinguishable handwriting and distinctly different personalities. It’s eerie when I get something in the mail from her. Cue the Twilight Zone music: “I don’t remember writing that.”

I used to wonder if my son’s writing would look the same as ours did. Would genetics kick in, the shape of our hands perhaps? With two professional writers for parents, it was no great surprise that our son was an extremely verbal, great natural communicator. He started out this way on the page too, filling his kindergarten journals with imaginative stories about silver-tongued aliens and basketballs that could fly five zillion feet in the air and return with the snap of his fingers.

Then came the dreaded D’Nealian Alphabet.

Bearing only a slight resemblance to the loopy cursive writing style that I was taught in elementary school–and have barely used since–the D’Nealian Alphabet is designed to be a bridge between printing and cursive writing, adding curves and slants to the traditional circle and stick printing that children learn first.

Sounds simple enough. Almost logical.

Not for Koss. His previously legible printing quickly curved and slanted its way into oblivion. Before we knew it, none of us knew what the heck he was writing about. His sentences became shorter and less and less coherent. There was so much red ink when he got his papers back that I thought he might have had another bloody nose. The poor kid was thinking and worrying so much about his handwriting that he forgot what he was trying to say.

His well-intentioned first grade teacher gave him extra handwriting homework. Just imagine how much fun it is for a six-year-old kid to do an extra two pages of letterforms a night. A-A-A-A, B-B-B-B, C-C-C-C, D-D-D-D, just shoot us now and take us out of our D’Nealian misery! Talk about D’wasting D’time.

But his motor development is fine. You should see him put together those Bionicle pieces. What he suffers from is called dysgraphia, otherwise known as “bad handwriting.” Luckily, we’re living in an age where it doesn’t really matter that much in the larger scheme of things.

I’m doing a little happy dance because Koss’s teacher this year is letting him use a computer for some of his writing assignments.

I’m sure my own second grade teacher is rolling over in her retirement home. I can just hear her say, “Penmanship is extremely important. Don’t you know that the health of at least 1 in 10 Americans is endangered by the poor handwriting of their physicians?”

To which I’ll say, “So what. By the time Koss graduates from medical school there won’t be any more prescription forms, we’ll have prescription chips embedded in our bodies.”

And she’ll reply, “But did you know that up to $95,000,000 in tax refunds are not delivered because of unreadable tax-forms.”

And I’ll say, “Haven’t you ever heard of Quicken?”

To which she’ll reply, “But more than $200,000,000 in time and money is lost because poor handwriting results in phone calls made to wrong or non-existent numbers.”

I could tell her about cell phones and email, but at this point it seems more merciful to send her a little hand-written note, thanking her for teaching me how to write…or just transfer her to voicemail.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound