Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Great Girly Fun

My daughter recently went to a birthday party at one of those just for girls makeover places. Neither of us had ever been, and in case you haven’t either, you need to be informed about what is going on under our very noses! Young girls are being dolled-up with make-up, nail polish, ball gowns and glittery hair-do’s and then forced to parade around like fashion models, all the while being told they’re fabulous.

In other words, having great girly fun.

The father of the birthday girl somehow couldn’t make it to the party. He was at home with the siblings, is the excuse I was told, but I know exactly what was going on. All that pink. All that girliness. He was, as my sons so aptly put it when faced with similarly overboard feminine situations, afraid of bursting into flames.

Personally, I’m surprised I didn’t. Dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans with no make-up and my hair in a messy bun, I still can’t believe they let me in the door. Several times throughout the course of the afternoon, the highly-fashionable young ladies, the Party Coordinators, who worked there would glance at me with a concerned look and eyes that said, “Ooh, a total make-over candidate” or maybe just “Doesn’t she give even a little bit of a crap about the way she looks?” All except for the one Party Coordinator who had her perfunctory I’m-so-bored-with-all-this look perfected to the point the only thing missing was a cigarette butt dangling from her lips.

But every one of them was terrific with the birthday party girls, helping them pick out sparkly gowns before doing their hair and make-up. With more blasting Hannah Montana music than a person should ever have to endure in a lifetime, the girls then walked to the end of a runway (yes they had a modeling runway) to strike a pose.

My daughter was so nervous. She’s basically a very shy girl (until she gets to know you, then watch out). When it came time for her to strike her pose, unlike most of the girls who vamped it up with hands high up in the air and hips bumped out, hair tossing, my daughter stiffly stood at the end of the runway. She just stood there. So I said, “Relax, Honey! Have fun!”

And as she walked around to join the back of the line I realized what a total jerk I was. This was not a time for any type of criticism. None at all. This was not about me and my heart aching for her in her uncomfortableness. The next time she came around and posed, in approximately the same way, I applauded wildly. And she gave me a timid smile.

Have you ever been to France, or met a French woman? Have you ever noticed how confident they are, the way they carry themselves? And let me tell you, they’re not all Brigitte Bardot clones over there. My high school French teacher said this was because, from an early age, adults in France instill in young French girls a sense of their own individual beauty. Wow. Wouldn’t that have helped navigate a lifetime of fashion magazines and movie stars?

As quiet as my daughter had been during the entire party, she didn’t stop talking about it the entire way home in the car and she proceeded to tell her father and brothers every detail of the day, which amused my husband no end but almost caused my sons to start smoldering. Later, my husband asked if having young girls aspire to be super models in such a way was a good idea. (I think his mind had already made the leap to freaky beauty pageants, but this was nothing like that.) Initially, I started nodding in agreement with him, Yes, lipstick on nine-year olds is bad. But then I thought about it. Telling young girls they’re beautiful and fabulous is not. Confidence in one’s own inner, and outer, beauty is a good thing. And so is a little glitter. Playing dress-up, with a little lipstick and some nail polish, never hurt anybody.

I stash some lip-gloss in my purse, and vow to keep this in mind the next time I run out the door in my sweatshirt and jeans.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Surprise! It's Back to School

It’s that most wonderful time of the year: Back to School. When your children put on their brand new school clothes and grab their shiny new backpacks and gleefully and joyfully get forced out the door with a crowbar on their first day of classes. You can tell from the beautiful grimaces on their faces in the First Day of School pictures how excited they are about yet another year of learning.

Back to school time, while thrilling for me (I get to be a writer again!) is also a mixed bag. At our house, September rivals December as the most hectic month of the year—and we have three birthdays in December. It’s a little jarring to go from staying up late every night over the summer watching stupid movies on TV, to going to bed at nine and waking up at six fifteen. Not to mention how hard it is on the kids. And back to school month is always stuffed with important events parents must attend at school—like open houses and fundraisers and that initial parent teacher conference. And the best part is, they’re always a surprise! The dates and times are, shhh, a big secret until the very last minute.

Do you remember back in college when you’d make all your plans for the weekend on Friday afternoon? Well, maybe if you were deciding to have a party at your place you might plan it out as far ahead as Thursday. I think this is something our educators took away from their years of higher education, this idea of springing mandatory get-togethers on unsuspecting parents, giving them as little notice as possible. And then they wonder why attendance at these meet-and-greets is not so high. Do they not know ahead of time when these events will occur? Could they put them on the website calendar? Or do they just decide the Thursday before the Open House it must happen the following Monday?

I have three kids at two schools. And a job. That requires me to travel. I’m only gone about 50 consecutive hours a week, but during that time my life and the workings of my household are fragily strung together via voicemail and Post-it notes. And on a weeknight when I’m home, to suddenly and unexpectedly be required to spend a two hour chunk of my time at an open house I found out about the day before can send those post-its swirling into the air like…uh …well, like a big mess of swirling Post-it notes.

And if you think this makes me grumpy, you should hear me rant about the other pop-up requirements that happen sporadically throughout the school year.

“They’ve added another track meet this Wednesday night.”

“Junior needs to bring a plain white T-shirt to class on Friday.” (This one was easy.)

“Junior needs to bring one cup of sugar and two teaspoons of Northeastern Bulgarian Saffron to class tomorrow for our special multi-cultural Social Studies cooking day.”

Bulgarian Saffron? Tomorrow?

I can’t be the only parent that gets frustrated by this lack of notice. I know the schools are trying their best, but it just seems a little disrespectful to me, as though they believe none of us have jobs or other children or anything else we need to be doing besides running out to Spices R Us in the middle of the night. Everyone’s lives seem so scheduled these days—way more so than when I was growing up. Have you tried to schedule a playdate lately? Sometimes we're working six weeks out. Talking with another mom on the phone I often feel like an Administrative Assistant to Mr. Big trying to schedule a meeting with the Administrative Assistant for Mr. Important.

Between work and after school activities and other essentials—you know, like buying groceries and, eventually, eating them—I don’t understand how parents are expected to accommodate all these last minute requests. A little respect, in the form of a little more notice would be so greatly appreciated.

I certainly mean no disrespect as I pour two teaspoons of Turmeric into an envelope and say to my son, “Well, this is Southeastern Bulgarian Saffron, so it may taste a little different to the discriminating palate. I hope it’s okay. Just be sure to tell your teacher. I wouldn’t want to surprise anyone.”