“Twinkle” to Top 40: A Music Revolution

“I’m going to the basement,” my just turned 4-year-old daughter declared.

“Sure,” I said while trying to de-clutter the kitchen.

A few minutes later I heard loud music coming from the karaoke machine and a little voice belt into the microphone:

“I’M FEELIN’ SEXY AND FREEEEE!”

I froze.

And proceeded to hear my tiny child sing the song “Domino” – (by Jesse J, if you’ve never had the pleasure) complete with lyrics:

Dancing in the moonlight… Take me down like I’m a Domino… Oh baby baby got me feelin’ so right…

The karaoke machine that started it all

The karaoke machine that started it all

I felt sure that a 4-year-old proclaiming her sexiness into a microphone cranked on high would bring protective services to my door in a matter of minutes.   So I went charging downstairs.  And turned the music off.

“I’m singing,” my child protested.

“I know,” I said.  “That’s the problem.”

This is the third child who cannot remember to put away the pile of naked Barbies strewn around her room, but yet has a mind like a steel trap when it comes to lyrics.  She can perform “Moves Like Jagger,” “Dynamite” and “Single Ladies”.  Not to mention multiple Lady Gaga tunes and “Home” by Phillip Phillips.

It’s my fault, I know I know I know.   Reason #324 why I will not receive the ‘Mother of the Year’ award.

She listens to music with her older sister.  A little Taylor Swift here, a little Katy Perry there.  I thought it was pretty harmless.  But after eight years of listening to nursery rhymes, toddler tunes and the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, we’re finally listening to the radio when we’re all together in the van (I now know too  much about Radio Disney).  While I have a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old, I seem to have forgotten I still have a 4-year-old sitting in the back. With a really good memory.

As tried to figure out just when I lost all control of the proper upbringing of my child, I had flashbacks of my own history with risqué tunes at a young age.  I could sing Rod Stewart  (If you want my body and you think I’m sexy..) “Centerfold” by J. Geils Band was in my 45’s collection.   Who let me listen to that??

My mother.  Aha!  The same mother who let me  sing “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon from the back of our station wagon.  She also let me listen to the soundtrack of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and a lot of Neil Diamond.  So perhaps it all balanced out.

I vowed to find better song selections to prevent my sweet child from turning in Honey Boo Boo’s best friend.   Perhaps some 80’s easy listening.  So on our way to Target (I’m always going to Target) I flipped the stations.  She heard a snippet of one song.

“Go back!”  she yelled.  “I like this one!”

I WANNA SCREAM AND SHOUT AND LET IT ALL OUT… “she sang.

Maybe Beauty and the Beast wouldn’t be so bad for a little while longer.

Hard To Say The “F” Word

It’s just a word.

But it’s really offensive to some people.  And by some people, I mean me.

I can’t just throw the F-word out there or use it during any old conversation.  It’s never uttered around strangers, only people I know well.  The F-word is used only for emphasis.  I always cringe when I’ve said it.

So, (deep breath) here I go.

Forty.

There.  I said it.  I’m (gasp) forty.

The F word

The F word

I love when women who are forty find out that you have turned forty.  They say things like “Welcome to the club!” and “What moisturizer are you using now?”  and  “Might as well have fun, we’re into middle age!” (that sentence is usually accompanied by a small sob).  It’s also fun to be with women who are two years away from forty.  They say things like, “It’s not so bad!” and “It’s just a number.”  Of course it is.  They’re not forty.  One of my dear friends likes to tease me and say “So, how’s it feeling these days being forty?”  I love her.  And yet I’ve threatened to kick her in the shins.

I know, I know, forty is the new thirty, fifty is the new forty (28 is still the age cut off for American Idol).

Some people are shocked because I reveal my actual age.  I’m a television anchor, and in that line of work, women usually start pulling their faces upward, injecting laugh lines and get very vague on the number of candles on their cake. Thankfully I don’t work for Entertainment Tonight.  I’m on PBS.  And in PBS years, I’m 25.

I’ve had many months to get used to my forty woman self, but it didn’t really hit me until I saw it in print.  A friend of mine asked me for a quote to go in an article she was writing.  So she got the information and then asked me my age and hometown.  That Sunday I opened up the paper, and there it was.  Christy McDonald, 40.

Yech!  I remember when my parents were forty!  They were old!

I think the problem is, I still haven’t felt the “Ah-ha” moment of embracing my beautiful, forty self.  And that’s the dirty secret of the F-word.  We’re told by every talk show and magazine to love our age and feel empowered by it.  But at the same time we’re force-fed pictures of 40-ish stars who Botox, wax, pluck, air brush and fast their way to a perfectly non-forty appearance.  I don’t see them hanging around on the soccer game sidelines, coordinating car pools, working long hours and teaching children to tie shoes.  Except maybe for Jennifer Garner because she’s always pictured doing those things in People Magazine.

I also find myself wondering what the 40 and over rules are.  Can I still buy something at “Forever 21”?  Do I have to start reading “Good Housekeeping”?  (The headlines are catchy.  I do want a cleaner closet.)  Forty also brings special recognition, like the fact I’m eligible to play on a “40 +” tennis team.   And it brings some kind of adolescent break out on my chin I suddenly acquired two months ago.  My dermatologist said I could thank age, hormones and stress for that.

I say no thanks.

I found this quote from Mark Twain that I guess puts it all together.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

So, I am forty, hear me roar.  Or really, hear me kinda mumble it.  And I better enjoy forty.

Forty-one is coming soon enough.

OMG: The Terrifying Text

My phone chirped while sitting on the kitchen counter.   I had a text message.   Texts are always slightly exciting.  It means someone wants to talk to you right now.  But they don’t really want to talk to you, or they’d call.  But they do want to talk to you sooner than later because they don’t want to send an email and wait for you to randomly check your in-box.

So I had a text.  I clicked on the message bubble and there it was.

“Hi Mom!”

The sender?  My 9-year-old daughter.  Who was in her room.   No, this can’t be happening, I thought.  It was like that scene from a horror flick when the cop says, “We’ve traced the call, it came from inside the house.”photo-20

“Caroline?”  I called.

“Yeah,” she yelled from upstairs.  “Did you get my text?”

Yes, I did.  And it felt like life would never be the same.  There was her name, as the sender.  Instead of my friends, sisters, husband – it was my daughter.  Who let this child have a device that could send messages?

Oh yeah, we did.  It was a decision Jamie and I agonized over.  Most of the kids in school had either a hand-held game device, iPod or iPad (as we realized on special “electronics” days when they could bring them in. That’s a whole other blog).  Caroline had borrowed her cousin’s DS and had shown she could follow rules of use.  She didn’t break it or abuse it.  We felt that she was ready.  I wasn’t sure I was.

So the iPod was a gift for her birthday.  She promptly loaded it with music, “Fruit Ninja” and some American Girl game.   A few weeks later, came the next big question.

“Mom, my friends were wondering if I could text them.  Can I?”

We sat Caroline down and explained that what you write on a device will stay there.  You can’t take it back.  We also tried to explain that written words could be interpreted in different ways when you’re not there to actually say them.  But is it really any different from the phone calls I made to friends when I was in the 3rd grade?  Or the crazy notes I wrote and passed while in class?

With strict (very, very strict) rules in place, she sent her first texts.  They’re pretty harmless (one of the rules? We get to read them.) A lot of “Hi!” and “What did you have for dinner?”  And smiley faces.

I look at her now (ears plugged into her little device) listening and singing along to Taylor Swift  (“Never, everrr, everr getting baaack togethaaa) .  She just learned how to ride a bike! (3 years ago)  She loves Disney Princesses! (4 years ago) She still takes a nap! (no she doesn’t) Where did the time go?  Does this mean I’m older? (yes)

I’ve had babies for so long, that one text finally made me realize, I’m truly done with diapers, cribs and strained peas.  I almost have a tween.

OMG.

The One Word Parents Never Want To Hear

I opened an email from a good friend last week.  And there it was.  The moment I saw the word, I started breathing heavily and my vision blurred.  I tried to get up and stagger away from the computer, but I felt like I was going to be sick.  And then I started scratching my head like crazy.

Lice.

The Email No One Wants To Get

As in, someone has lice in the second grade.  The same grade my daughter is in.  At the same school.  It’s the one word that just makes me want to run away.  Or as my friend put it – run straight to her liquor cabinet.  I’ve faced down every childhood illness.  Pink eye.  Fevers.  The vomits.  Multiple bee stings.  A smashed toenail.  A spider bite that swelled one eye shut and caused an overnight hospital stay with IV antibiotics.  Intestinal distress. I can handle them.  Or really, I’ve had to handle them because, I have no choice.  That whole mother thing kind of means you’re in charge.

But lice.  Lice could break me.  To confirm my fears, our school sent home an email.  And it’s a subject heading you never want to see: Head Lice Communication.  Yes, lice was spreading like wildfire, jumping from tiny head to tiny head, laying eggs and…. I think I just made myself sick again.  Parents were instructed to bring in trash bags to keep students’ belongings separate.  A friend told me to put my daughter’s hair in braids or a bun to keep it out of the way.  I think we should have locked down the joint like the outer space level 5 hazmat scene from E.T.

And it’s not just my school.  Now that I’ve had my first brush with the l-word, it seems to be everywhere.

At a recent party, one mother confessed to me that her kids got lice this fall.  And then again a few weeks ago.  And it wasn’t just the kids.  She got it too (!).  As I frantically started itching my head, she recounted her trip to the drug store once she made the horrifying discovery.  She slapped down three lice killing shampoos on the counter. And a fifth of vodka.  Then, she told me, she called the Lice Lady.

There is actually a wonderful woman who will come and check your child’s head, bring you lice killing super power shampoo and help you de-louse your house.  Genius!  I’m not sure how much she charges but I think I’d give her my first-born (especially if she’s the one who has lice) to clean it up.  I went to her website which says “Welcome to the Lice Lady!  Sorry you have to be here!”  I love this woman already.  She’s like a first responder, a Lice Marine, running into dangerous situations when others are running away.  She must have a strong stomach and patience for weeping parents who wonder “WHY ME?!”

I took an unscientific poll of mothers (5 friends) which revealed they believe lice is indeed the worst.  One mom disagreed and she’d take lice over the vomits.  I started scratching my head again.  We have so far escaped the Lice bug (knock on nits).  But since we’ve had the stomach flu this past week, perhaps there’s a Vomit Lady out there.

Thomas the Train Toots No More

On a trip to the basement yesterday, I caught the eye of Thomas the Train.  He still had that goofy, wide-eyed look on his face, but I could tell he was putting up a brave front.  He was laying on his side in a plastic bin, pinned by a wooden track and surrounded by his friends. You know, Percy, Henry, Gordon, Bertie the Bus and many others whose names I just cannot remember.  They were crowded together with 80 feet of track, a roundhouse, railroad signals and a few fake trees.  Usually Thomas and friends are spread out in the play area, ready for another adventure my 5-year-old son Josh has created for them.

Thomas the Train in the bin

But last week, I asked Josh to pack up Thomas and move him for his sister’s birthday party.  That was a week ago.  As I looked at Thomas the Train’s cheeky little face, frozen in the bin, I realized that he may not be coming back out.  I think he knew it too.

Thomas was an obsession for Josh starting at age three.   He built new tracks every day.  And when I say tracks, I mean intricate, multilevel rail systems with switches and bridges that ran the length of our basement.  For hours, he would lay the side of his head on the carpet, in a bizarre little crouch, so he could be eye level with Thomas as he chugged along.  Each addition to the crew was major excitement.  Aquarium cars, happy birthday party cars.  We even got Troublesome Trucks that laughed.  Evil, creepy laughing, but Josh loved them.

He sported a red Thomas the Train sweatshirt and begged Santa for a “squishy Thomas”.  We didn’t know what that was, until we saw a stuffed, plush Thomas the Train at Target.  Santa put one under the tree that year.  We even took Josh to ride the life-sized Thomas the Train when it rolled into Greenfield Village.  It was a forty degree day in May with a cold drizzle.  Miserable.  And it was NOT cheap.  (Memo to the Thomas the train people: have mercy on parents that have already gone broke buying all your stuff.)  Josh loved it.

I grumbled about Thomas.  I couldn’t stand the show, the bizarre movies and books.  They were kind of weird and sometimes made no sense.  My sister claimed she could write a paper comparing Thomas and his friends at the railway to a dysfunctional, modern workplace environment.  (This is also the sister who wrote an entire paper on how “Beverly Hills 90210” reenforced bad gender stereotypes)

But things changed in the last few months. Talk on the kindergarten playground turned to “Star Wars” and Legos.  And “Star Wars Legos”.  Josh would still play with Thomas a little, but his new Lego police station got most of the attention.

The other day Josh had a friend over to play and I told him to pick up his room before his friend came.  I walked in for inspection and noticed something missing.  Squishy Thomas wasn’t sitting on the bed, like he usually does.

“Where’s Squishy?”  I asked.

“Oh,” said Josh.  “He’s here.”  And he opened his closet to show Squishy Thomas on a

Squishy Thomas

shelf.  Hidden away.

It makes me so sad.  I know he’s getting older and I know he has to move on.  But Thomas marked a big part of our lives. So many times over the past few years, I have wished for my kids to grow up (to at least go to the bathroom by themselves).  I would say  “I can’t wait until they’re old enough..”

Now I find myself saying, “Just a little bit longer”.

There’s a reason why the Toy Story movies made adults cry – the nostalgia for loving a toy so much, the idea that perhaps a toy could love in return, and inevitability that we’ll outgrow them.  I feel bad for ‘ol Thomas in the basement.  He gave Josh years of entertainment and an outlet for his creativity.  Now, he may be done.

As I walked up from the basement and to the bedrooms, I stopped at Josh’s door to look in.  It was a Lego explosion, with small police cars and pieces scattered about.  Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader figurines duked it out in a corner near a fleet of racing cars.

And sitting on the bed, was Squishy Thomas.  Back in his familiar spot.

For now.

Five-Year-Old Fails Polygraph Test

It started as a simple conversation at dinner. We usually go around the table, and each person talks about their day.  The 2-year-old always wants to go first, refuses to take questions, but just enjoys everyone looking at her.  (“I’m not DONE YET!” is a familiar screech.)

The 7-year-old talked fondly of the science experiment in her desk, a mealworm named Squirmy who was getting ready to turn into a beetle.  Then it got to 5-year-old Josh, who regaled us with stories of Star Wars reenactments on the playground and a secret reader in class.

After a few questions, I wrapped up with:

“Did you buy your milk ok today?”

Did you buy chocolate milk?

Every once in a while, Josh likes to buy milk at the school cafeteria to go with his lunch from home.  Fine, I say.  A break from the juice box.  But the rule is, you buy white milk.  Not chocolate.  Because that’s dessert in a carton.  And I already packed dessert.  And we don’t usually drink chocolate milk.

“Yep, I bought milk,” he said with a weird look on his face.

I know that look.  I’m not a poker player and I know that look.

“You did?” I probed.

“Yep.”  He said.  Super weird look now.

The mother’s intuition alarm bell started clanging.

“White milk?”

Silence.

“Um, yes white milk.”

“You had chocolate milk,” I say.

Silence.

“No I DIDN’T!” He insisted.

Which meant he did.  All I did was look at him and he caved.

“Well, I maybe had chocolate milk,” he confessed.

Then it hit me.  He lied.  WHY? I had that sick feeling of if-he’s-lying-about-milk-then-what-ELSE-is-he-lying-about?  Why lie about milk?!  What does it mean??  WHAT HAVE I DONE!  So I did what any rational (neurotic) parent would do.  First, I lectured the liar about telling the truth, trust issues and chocolate milk nutrition facts.  Then ran straight to the computer to Google “kids and lying”.

First, I found many message boards with parents wondering why their 17-year-old lied about skipping school, stealing $300 and drinking beer.  Shaky with thoughts of my 5-year old landing behind bars from a life of lying and stealing, I stumbled upon this article from the Wall Street Journal.  I was surprised to find out that lying at age 5 doesn’t really mean much – but it’s actually a good sign. Researchers say  “The fact that their children tell lies is a sign that they have reached a new developmental milestone.”

Milestone!  Sounds impressive.  In fact, the study says kids with better cognitive abilities actually lie more.  Because when you lie, you’ve gotta keep your story straight while knowing the truth.  And that makes your brain fire up in high functioning ways.   Hmm.  I don’t think I’ll be touting my son’s newly found fibbing skills any time soon.  And certainly I’ll have to repeatedly stress that lying is not tolerated in our house.

Oh, and he still can’t buy chocolate milk.

A Year of Living Dangerously

Two years ago, my older sister gave us all the same gift at Christmas.  It was a white binder filled with a collection of interesting recipes she had discovered over the past year.  It was titled “The Year of Cooking Dangerously” – culled from what she called a year of  “free time, fresh produce, Top Chef marathons and most important, a reconnection to my family, friends and the art of simple living.” The pages detailed roasted winter vegetables, soups, cookies, and even a brine for turkey.  But along with the recipes were the stories of the meals.  A weekend with friends, a potluck Thanksgiving, a woman who made the best sugar cookies.

My sister’s life that year was one big transition.  She was downsized out of her job as a magazine editor, so she sold her swanky city townhouse and moved up to a mountain town in Colorado with her husband and baby.    She had to navigate a new life of “what now?” and “there’s a moose in my backyard” and “why doesn’t this town have a Target?” (can you imagine? Life without Target?!)

No, I didn't climb Mt. Everest.

So, the “Year of Cooking Dangerously” binder really translated to a “Year of Living Dangerously”.  Being pushed out of your comfort zone and making it up as you go along.  Since then, I’ve equated new situations to “living dangerously”.  And 2011 was really my year of living dangerously.  I didn’t sky dive, climb Everest, find a new religion or shave my head.  (Those things actually may have been easier.  Except the hair thing.  I would look terrible bald)  I left my old job, wanting still to be a TV journalist, but on a schedule that made me and my family happy.

Those first months of not knowing what came next were strange.    Slightly scary, even.  I felt like I was hopping around on one foot. But the freedom fired off parts of my brain that had cobwebs and made me think in different ways.

I met interesting people, connected with old friends and worked on new TV projects I never would have if I didn’t take the leap.  I started writing this blog.  I took up piano again – what used to be a chore as a child, the practice, the “do I have to play the piano?” is now such a treat.  Music really does something for the soul.  I started horseback riding again.  Fell off horse.  Broke pinky.  Stopped horseback riding.  (there’s a reason why it’s called living dangerously)  Celebrated my 10th anniversary, saw my daughter ride a two-wheeler for the first time, taught my son to read, potty trained the toddler and danced at my sister’s wedding. Wow.  What a great year!  Especially the potty training part.

But “Living Dangerously” is not easy.  It’s not always fun.  It can be confusing, frustrating and make you question yourself.  But I’m closer to my gut – I listen to it and trust it.  And I know happiness is just as important as a job title.

My sister is now the editor of another magazine and works on projects from her home where she’s free to corral two children, find new recipes and chase the occasional bear out of her garage.  (like a bad episode of Northern Exposure).  I’m still trying to enjoy the now, instead of the “where am I going to be in 10 years?”  So as I look back at 2011, thank you for walking along with me in my Year of Living Dangerously.  Maybe you’ve had a few moments of living dangerously yourself – congratulations!

And may 2012 be the best yet!