Monday, November 23, 2009

Mom, You are Smokin’!

My 12 year old son Ethan is learning about drugs in school as part of a drug awareness and prevention program. The goal of the program is to ensure our children understand the damaging affects drugs and alcohol can have on your mind and body, so they never abuse them despite social pressures. Sounds good, huh? But it’s clearly difficult to explain the difference between “use” and “abuse” to kids who are perfectly comfy in a world of absolutes where the good guys always do what’s right and the bad guys always do what’s wrong. Last night, I think I tarnished my good guy image in my son’s mind when he asked me straight up, “Mom, have you ever tried pot?” and I stopped for only a moment before saying, “Yes.”

Ethan is very passionate about his opinions on drug --an of course, tobacco is considered a very dangerous drug. When he sees a person smoking he is apt to say “Look at that dumb guy smoking! How gross!” When he was younger he did this without any self-editing. Now, that he is older, he realizes expressing his utter dismay this could hurt a smoker’s feelings. But despite not screaming it in stranger’s faces, he still feels a sense of shock and horror. I’m sure I must be part of the reason he is so anti-smoking biased. I’m not a smoker and I sure don’t want my kids to partake in this deadly and dirty habit. So, with the school as my partner, I’ve taught my son that smoking is a bad choice. And I stand by that.

Unfortunately, as a side effect, when it comes to smokers Ethan sees things as black and white. “Why does your friend Carolyn smoke?” he’s asked. “Is she stupid?!” And so, I’ve set out to teach him that making bad decisions doesn’t make you a bad person. It just makes you a person who made a bad decision. And it’s likely that most smokers regret ever starting the habit because it is a very hard habit to break. So, while it’s okay to dislike smoking, it’s not okay to dislike smokers. If anything, he should feel badly for them.

At the tender age of 12 he is more comfy seeing things as cut and dry. I was reminded of this when he was done giving me his Drug Awareness Inventory Test. He seemed a smidgen impressed that I scored 100%. I knew that smoking pot does not make you drive better and that drinking too much alcohol can be deadly. I was better prepared for the test than for Ethan’s question about my own drug use.

When he asked me if I liked it pot, I also told him the truth. “I hated the feeling of the hot smoke in my lungs.” When he asked me if I felt happy when I was high, I told him, “No, I never got high. I just got the munchies, which made me eat more.” Another truth.

He was clearly confused, running head on into a “Do as I say and not as I do” moment. There is a difference between drug use and drug abuse and I tried to explain this to him. “I was very curious and decided to try it,” I said. “If you decide to try it one day, it won’t make you a bad person either, Ethan.” He shook his head, “Well, I’m not going to!” Interestingly his 9-year old brother who is my mini-Quentin Tarantino, ball of creative energy, found the whole thing rather absurd. He didn’t get the big deal at all and said he was sure he would give it a try one day. (Note to self: Keep an eye on the midget in the Bob Marley t-shirt.)

So, I’m a parent who makes choices –good ones and bad ones. In this case, I chose to tell the truth. I could have gone the Bill Clinton route and waffled ala “I didn’t inhale.” But my gut told me that in the long run Ethan would respect my George Washington-like honesty. That said, his next question, which was screamed from down the hallway, took me a bit off-guard.

”Hey Mom, what’s this big blue plastic penis doing in your nightstand?!”

I didn’t hesitate for a moment.

“Ohhhhhh, that?! That was a joke gift my girlfriends gave me for my birthday, honey. Don't touch it!”

I’m just not ready for that discussion. In fact, I think I need a joint.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who the hell am I?

When I first fell in love, I did what every future bride does with her groom to be. I checked if our names were compatible. Mrs. Ellen Stephanie S-k-y-w-a-l-k-e-r. It rolled off the tongue at the time. And when I double checked our destiny with AEIOU/12345 test (remember that?), I knew Luke was my future. Unfortunately, my beloved at 12 had other plans for himself --like kissing his sister and saving the galaxy—so I never did become Ellen Skywalker.

At 27, I did decide to go all out traditional and change my name when I got married. My grandmother did. My mother did. And, as I wanted nothing more than to meld my life with my then fiancĂ©e, I decided to do the same. The notion was a charming one. And I wasn’t alone in my thinking. Even today, some 70 percent of the respondents in a study conducted by the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University, felt they should take their spouse’s surname - and 50 percent said that it should be a legal requirement for a woman to take her spouse’s last name. Rush Limbaugh can do the happy dance.

It sounded simple enough but actually taking on another name and using it day to day kind of flipped me out. If after 27 years, I was no longer Ellen Stephanie Simon, who was I? Names are a big deal in Judaism. We name our kids after deceased love ones in the hopes that they will be imbued with that person’s positive traits. I was named after my great grandmother Esther, who was considered a very strong woman. I’d been told that my last name, Simon, was originally Siminovitz but it was hastily shortened by some lazy scribe at Ellis Island.

My name had meaning to me. If something that was such a big part of my identity, could be changed so easily (“sign right here”), who was I? I reasoned that nothing important was changing. It was just a label. And I started to think of myself, not as Ellen Stephanie Simon or Ellen Stephanie Pifer or Ellen Stephanie Simon Pifer or even Ellen Simon Pifer, though I tried them all on for size. I started to think of myself as simply “Ellen.” I figured, I’d follow in the footsteps of a long line of powerhouse women like Cleopatra, Cher, Madonna and Pink. Did they even have last names? Or did they change them seasonally?

Now with the dissolution of my marriage, I have the opportunity to change my name yet again and I find myself craving old me, wanting to shed this now ill-fitting name. It might be nice to symbolically slam the door on life as Ellen Pifer. But, as with most decisions there are other issues at play. Three big ones. My three sons have their father’s last name and I wonder how reclaiming my maiden name might affect them. I would never want them to feel I was leaving our family or rejecting them in any way. And Lord knows, I’m no longer a “maiden”. So, I’ve got a lot to think about in the coming weeks. And in the meantime, I’ll just be imagining my name up in lights “Ellen” On second thought, I’m shortening it to the much hipper “Elle”... Elle Skywalker. Yeah, I like the sound of that for my next great adventure …This is Red 5, I’m goin’ in.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cage Fighting Mama

I read a great little inspiring article about a heavyweight cage fighter down on his luck. Patrick Berry was living on rice and ketchup before the cage fight that landed him a $120,000 prize. He credits his win to in no small part his being “hungry” –figuratively and literally. So, this got me thinking. I’m betting every motivated mother has a short list (ok, maybe a long one) of people they would love to beat the crap out of for a nice cash infusion. There’s the brat who told my son his cold sore made him look like a leper --that brought him to tears. There’s the parent who told my verbally advanced child that he was a bad influence on her pristine kid. There’s the “concerned” neighbor who called Animal Control when my dog jumped the fence. Not to mention the soccer coach who ostracized my son Ryan and made him feel like a total loser for the soccer season. In fact, I’d do the Knockout of the Night for free when it comes to Ryan’s soccer “coach.”

I put the word coach in quotes because this guy doesn’t deserve the title. He’s just a bad one-time bully. We put Ryan in a recreation league so he could have some fun and get some exercise. We had no Beckham-like illusions (I’m as likely to look like Victoria Beckham as Ryan is to play soccer like her hubby.) The first day of practice we had a bad feeling. The coach, who was no more than 25, decided to start things off with a nice game of keep away --him against all the kids. He whooped their 9-year old butts and clearly felt the better man for it. He followed that up with a nice race around the field so he could see who his fastest runners were, separating the men from the boys right off the bat. So much for teamwork; it was downhill from there. And Ryan hated it. So after way too many tears and being convinced that the experience was not an overall positive one, we pulled Ryan from soccer. The “coach” caught wind of our decision and sent me an email.

From: K (Asshole Coach Name Withheld)

Sent: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 6:52 PM


Subject: Ryan

Hello Ellen,
May I ask why you pulled Ryan from soccer? Anytime a boy quits I wonder what I could have done to make it a better experience for him. Is there anything you could suggest to either myself or my co-coach in the future?

Thanks and Best wishes,

K (aka Asshole Coach Name Withheld)

So, I wrote back and I was very careful to NOT point fingers or give ANY constructive criticism because my instincts told me his request was like his coaching –insincere.


To: (Asshole Coach Name Withheld)

Subject: RE: Ryan
Date: Tue, 3 Nov 2009 08:36:12 -0800

To be honest, Ryan's experience has not be a positive one. This was not his first soccer experience. He participated in a league back in Philly and then in the department of recreation league here in Los Gatos. Both these experiences were good ones and Ryan was a contributing member of the team. But for some reason, Ryan really never felt a part of your team. He seemed to have a hard time understanding the various positions and where he should be playing. While other kids seemed to aggressively attack the ball, Ryan avoided it. We tried to encourage him and assure him the game was for exercise and fun. It was more about working as a team than winning. But, that wasn't the message he was getting. And when he would run off the field he would ask us hoping it was almost over "How much longer?" When we would tell him its time for practice he would give us a hard time about going. He didn't connect with any of the other kids. Altogether, it just has not been a positive experience for our son. Ironically, he really enjoys playing soccer with his Dad and brothers. We signed him up to help him build confidence and we are pulling him out because it’s doing just the opposite.

And HERE is what I got in response.

From: (Asshole Coach Name Withheld)

Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 10:27 AM


Subject: RE: Ryan

Ellen it seems all of your main concersn could have been simply addressed by bringing Ryan to practice with a good attitude. To be totally honest I did not appreciate the way your husband or you treated us and the fact that you held Ryan out of practices is the reason he never felt part of the team. Those kids spent three days a week with each other and grew together. You can't just show up on game day and expect magic to happen. I could go on, but in the future bring your kid to practice and put a smile on your face. The season isn't over, the next 2 weeks as a reward to the kids we are playing any game they want to play. Ryan is still welcome, but don't even attempt to show up to another game without bringing him to practice first.

Parenting often feels like Cage Fighting. Many days we are locked in the cage and left to use everything at our disposal to fight for our kids. We kick, punch, choke, bite and use every tool at our disposal to get them a good education, have them treated lovingly, ensure they feel good about themselves and grow into well adjusted, happy, adults. Some days it feels like a team effort but other days you really feel like the odds are against you. And those days, it sure would be nice to beat the crap out of someone and get $120,000 for it!