Friday, March 17, 2006

Learning the hard way

Dear Zen Mother,

I’m very concerned about cutbacks in education so I’m considering home schooling my children. Do you think this is a good idea?

Amanda from Newbury

Dear Amanda,

A few months back, my husband introduced just such an idea.

“I think the kids might benefit from home schooling,” he said. “I mean, you’re home all day anyway with that writing thing you do. And your sister thought it was a good idea.”

“Your words are a knife in my back,” I said to him.

“It’s not meant to…are you speaking with an Italian accent?” he asked.

“You’re dead to me,” I declared and went into the kitchen to cook Veal Braciola but not before calling my sister.

“I know it was you, Fredo,” I said to her answering machine then I hung up the phone to search for my garlic press.

That night at dinner my kids asked for their father.

“He sleeps with the fishes,” I told them. “Eat your veal.”

“Mom, you have to stop killing Dad. It’s getting old,” said my young teenager.

I decided to come clean and tell them about their father’s suggestion to be home schooled. But before I could say “fugedaboudit!” my kids were out the back door digging up their father and carrying him around on their shoulders chanting “Daddy’s Great! Daddy’s Great!” Clearly they were attached to the man. I had to seek my revenge another way.

Two weeks later, my husband asked his five-year old what he was learning “in school.”

“Lots of things, Dad. Mom’s a great teacher.”

Smug and confident, his father continued his probe. “What subjects are you learning? Math?”

“Oh no,” said the boy. “Mom says math is bull@#$%.”

The father choked on his morning coffee. “We don’t use that word, son,” he explained, trying to compose himself.

“Mom does – all the time. And lots of other words too, like #$*&, ^%#@#$ and @#^^&%$#. She says vocabulary is very important in life.”

The father’s middle child entered the room. “Don’t worry, Dad. We’re also learning a lot about history. Like about Billy the Kid. Yeah, he was this teenage boy turned gunslinger who was notoriously recognized as Demi Moore’s boyfriend before her first plastic surgery full-body restoration in 1878.”

“Yeah,” said the oldest, joining the discussion, “And we’re learning about Queen Elizabeth. She was offered gifts from kings and princes far and wide in return for her hand in marriage, including a lifetime supply of Manolo Blahnik shoes from the Italian king. Mom said this was tempting because Elizabeth loved her glam, but she was not the kind of girl to let a man slip into her empire.”

“And John Smith,” continued the middle child. “He was an American Idol finalist in 1618 noted for the bling on his black buckle shoes. He was disqualified after the Puritans discovered him drinking spiked Red Bull, though, so he sailed to Virginia where he met Pocahontas, a busty cartoon character who sang cheesy theme songs with a talking raccoon.”

The youngest of the three children delivered the final blow. “And Grammy Z is going to teach us sex education next week.”

“Hurry up! You’ll be late for the school bus,” said their learned father, as he pushed his kids safely out the door.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Happily Ever After

Dear Zen Mother,

I’m a little down now that it is March. There are no holidays this time of year. What is there to celebrate?

Toni from Newburyport

Dear Toni,

Coincidentally, today is a little known holiday called “I Want to Make You Happy Day.” It’s true. Every March 3rd, I Want to Make You Happy Day encourages people to make other people happy even if feeling tired or down. I used to celebrate this holiday every year with my family. It was a time when my husband and kids planned enviable activities such as midnight ice fishing, Jean-Claude Van Damme movie marathons and Fantasy Football extravaganzas. In the spirit of the holiday, I would grit my teeth, clean up the spilled soda and say, “I just want to make you happy.”

But on the eve of this holiday, about three years ago, I received a major wake-up call.

“Snow White? Is that you?” I said into the midnight darkness, rubbing my eyes at the vision.

“Yes, it’s me. And I’ve come to tell you to stop celebrating I Want to Make You Happy Day. It’s not worth it. Take it from me.”

“But you found your prince and lived happily ever after,” I said. “By the way, you look fabulous,” marveling at her glowing skin.

“Oh, thanks. It’s the digitally-enhanced animation. But honestly, that good for nothin’ prince was only looking for a castle maid. Seems he was impressed with my ability to make those seven little creeps so frickin’ happy all the time with my cooking and cleaning. So look, Toots, you need to find a middle ground.”

Snow White vanished before I could respond. I brushed off the vision as a crazy dream and rolled over to catch some more sleep before waking up at 5:00 a.m. to bake 206 varieties of cookies from scratch. But my sleep was short lived.

“Hey, you there, what’s this?” I heard someone ask. I opened my eyes to see Gloria Steinem next to my bed.

“Gloria? What are you doing here?”

“Just answer the question. What do you see in my hand?”

“It’s a VHS copy of the 1975 version of Stepford Wives with the beautiful Katharine Ross,” I responded.

“Correct!” Gloria shouted, then slapped me across the face with it.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“For thinking you can make your family happy by giving up your own needs and dreams, not to mention your responsibility as a parent to sometimes say no.”

I wondered if she saw the turbo pogo sticks, gun-o-matics and trampoline on her way in.

“But I want to make them happy,” I said.

Another slap.

“Ouch! Will you quit it?” But Gloria had left and all I saw was a child in the corner.

“Who are you, little girl?” I asked.

“I’m your granddaughter from the future. But I grow up with no self-worth and an eating disorder worthy of an Olsen twin because I had no strong female role models in my life. And math is hard, according to my Barbie doll.”

“OK, that’s it!” The little girl disappeared as I jumped out of bed. The sun was rising. I opened the window and shouted to an early morning jogger.

“You, boy, what day is it?”

“Why, it’s March 3rd, Miss.”

Giddy with relief and joy, I grabbed some loose change from my husband’s bureau and threw it to the boy. “Run down to the Bumble Bee Market and grab me some Chips Ahoy,” I told him – because I’m not baking today. I don’t care what day it is.