When The Cat Is Away….

POSTED BY JESSE

The mice work on school projects and go to the mall. And need a lot more chauffeuring.

The division of parenting labor in the Tanner household is greatly misrepresented by this here blog (although Danny has been grumbling about how much more than me he’s been writing, so maybe the blog is representative). It is not a 50-50 deal. I wouldn’t even say 60-40. No, if you totaled up the time spent with kids, chores, driving etc. to calculate the total parenting time and then split it between us….I’d say it comes out closer to 80-20. Or 90-10. And then on weekends it goes to about 95-5…or sometimes 99-1.

But there is the occasional weekend when Danny is out of town, like he was this past weekend with Michelle. Here’s a recap of how I held it down with Stephanie and DJ:

Friday night Stephanie had a basketball game. I had to use a picture of her on the bench because I was using my phone’s low tech camera and all the action ones stunk. Sports are not the Tanner family forte (more posts to come on this for sure), but I think she genuinely enjoys team activities and you could tell she had friends on the team. And she got a rebound! She didn’t remember it, but the first shot of the game that went up bricked off the rim, hit the floor, and bounced into her hands. And that, my friends, is a rebound.

Stephanie also has become aware that she’s not wearing cool mesh basketball shorts (I think she payed in pink soffe shorts all last season) and wants to get a pair. I completely respect this, and even tried to find the smallest pair of mesh shorts I had to cinch on her for the game, but she said they were still too big. I need to remind Danny to pick up a pair of black mesh ones for her.

Afterwards we went out to dinner with friends who had a game on the other court at the same time. Bruce actually paid a babysitter to stay with the girls Friday night (because he didn’t want me to give up two weekend nights. as if I got plans.) and was peeved that I was late bringing them back because it meant he was paying the world’s best baby-sitter (she is. I have mentioned her before. we are not giving up her info because we want her as available as possible for when we call. sorry.) to just sit at his house. But you have to go out to dinner on a Friday night after a YMCA basketball game, right? I’m pretty sure it’s required. Besides, the world’s best baby-sitter was holding court with DJ and her friends when we got there. All joking aside, it reminded me how “non-female” Danny and I are (and I mean that in the most biological sense. we’re not macho by any means.). That despite the fact that he is a super-caring and attentive and a doting father, and I can be a decent listening ear at times, neither one of us can hold “girl talk”. Fortunately we have a rotating cast of characters who fall through the house to do some of that. We need to make sure we continue to.

You can knock her hoops game, but the girl can do some WORK. I smell a Sallie.

On Saturday morning DJ had to go sort potatoes for community service hours for a club she’s in, so Stephanie and I worked on her Helen Keller book report timeline project. I am not all that helpful with school projects and it’s not because I take a principled stance against parents who do their kids’ work for them, it’s because I’m lazy and easily bored (but sometimes I do hide behind my “fostering independence” justification).

I am, however, great at suggestions for projects (I’m like a golf caddy for life). I explained how the illustrations didn’t have to be literal interpretations, so for a picture of Helen Keller’s mother dying, we didn’t have to find a picture of Mrs. Keller’s actual coffin, we could merely cut out a picture of a graveyard from a magazine. And I helped make her a little chart to organize which points on the timeline go with which years, and which pictures, and which captions so we could then see what we still needed to collect.

She cut them all out perfectly in, like, 3 minutes. See? I AM fostering independence.

She asked for help in cutting out all the pictures, and I didn’t even have a good basketball game to say I needed to watch. But I was saved by the rubric: 4 points for neat cutting . “I really don’t think I should cut pictures if that’s part of what you’re getting graded on.” Whew, that was close.

I texted a friend that I was working on a Helen Keller biography project. The text I got back: “Are you going to throw in some Helen Keller jokes to show she’s still a cultural icon?” I didn’t have the heart to tell Stephanie that those horribly cruel jokes are the only thing I can recall about the poor woman.

Later that day Stephanie went with Nana (my mom) to get a haircut, and then I took her to a birthday party. She said this birthday party was for one of her BFFLs (best friends for life). There are a lot of things that are different about the way the Tanner girls have grown up and the way I did, but I realized a glaring one this weekend: as a child my closest friends were literally my closest friends (the latter geographically speaking). I could ride my bike, if not walk, to all of their houses in under five minutes. None of the girls’ closest friends live within a 30-minute driving round-trip of them. Score one for public schools, I guess.

The second half of Saturday had only two objectives: finding DJ a dress at the mall, and watching the N.C. State-UNC game. Unfortunately, these events coincided. My only hope in winning out in this conflict was if DJ couldn’t find anyone else to go to the mall with, because she had told me, “I’m not going to the mall with just you.” Well then.

I don’t know if she put out an emergency all call “stuck with UNCLE for mall trip! please help!” text or just got the first person she tried, but she quickly had someone. Darn. Off to the mall we went.

I dropped off and parked and assured them I would try not to be on the same floor, much less the same store, as them. But I got bored after looking at some basketball shoes, so I started cruising some of the stores I thought they were likely to be browsing to see if I could embarrass them. Therefore, at 2:10, the approximate tip time of the Pack-Heels game the, here was my view…

…of H&M. But they weren’t there. I tried J. Crew, too, but gave up when I didn’t see them there. We were supposed to meet up at the food court so I texted with DJ and eventually we did. Honestly? I didn’t mind not being in front of the TV at tip, and I kind of enjoy being the person that makes it possible for DJ to technically be at the mall without any parents. In today’s world of DVR, I’m a lot less up tight about seeing things live (and, really, it was just the State game).

DJ and Kimmy Gibbler entertained themselves when we got back while I watched the game on a slight delay (I was caught up by mid-second half). Side note: the scheme to convert all three girls into full-fledged Carolina fans is going swimmingly. Thank you, Sidney Lowe.

If you bought this dress to wear to Friday night's dance, TAKE IT BACK because DJ's wearing it.

Later DJ and I went to get some yogurt at this place called Freshberry, where you get as much frozen yogurt as you want and can pile on your own toppings. My favorite part about one-on-one time with DJ is how much she is like an adult. You can level with her, gossip with her, she fully understands sarcasm in humor, you don’t have to change the song because it has one bad word in it, we can make fun of Danny, etc.

Then she rode with me to pick up Stephanie and we tried to steal things out of Steph’s party favor bag. I can’t even remember the comment, but Stephanie said something that made me laugh out loud. It also made me realize how close she is to being an “almost adult” like DJ.

I tucked Stephanie in that night and tickled her a lot because I realized that as they become more fun to talk to like grown-ups, the sacrifice is you can’t pick them up as much. By contrast: I stuck my head in DJ’s room (she was doing homework because she had missed some days being sick. what a kid.) and asked her if she needed me to tuck her in. She said “nah”, she’d probably be asleep soon. I said “cool” and fell asleep on the couch watching Saturday Night Live.

Sunday was another busy day for Stephanie: early service and 11:00 church because her group was doing a moment for mission (but someone else gave her a ride down for the early service. THANKS!), then eat lunch and change for basketball practice, followed by another outfit change for cotillion. For lunch I made grilled cheeses with DJ on my back about how they weren’t the way Mae (Danny’s mom) makes them.

After I dropped at cotillion, Danny was back in town, so we resumed our 90/10 ratio. All in all, though, a solid weekend.

A Very Important Announcement!

POSTED BY JESSE

Attention, attention! I have a very important announcement to make: Stephanie has decided that her favorite TV show has changed.  That’s right, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” cartoon is out. The teen mystery “House of Anubis” is IN, baby. (her interests in the Meet The Fam have been updated accordingly).

I don’t know much about this show, but it has been captivating the two youngest Tanner girls lately. Michelle says “there’s a lot of lip locking”. I might need to keep a closer eye out. I am sure this is the last time Stephanie will ever switch her favorite show. It’s “House of Anubis” from here on out, if you’re keeping score at home. I bet we’re gonna see a lot more of this show on the DVR.

Fortunately the girls have an incredible baby-sitter tonight (in.cred.ible. I think she spends more on babysitting supplies to bring than Danny pays her) so they’re getting a lot more stimulation than dumb ol’ TV.

But we’ll be watching TV tomorrow. I’m gonna see if I can sway two girls to pull for the Tar Heels tomorrow in the N.C. State-UNC game, because Danny’s going camping with Michelle. Somebody’s gotta set these girls straight, right? Go Heels!

The Great DVR Purge Of 2011

POSTED BY JESSE

I sat down to watch PTI in the living room the other day. Flipped on the nice, big, hi-def TV that Danny sprung for a year ago and opened up the recorded shows. Pressed the “list” button on the Time Warner remote to bring up the recorded shows. Here is what I saw on the screen:

What’s that? You need a closer look? Here you go:

Still not clear? No problem:

That’s right, the entire first screen (and then some) was “America’s Next Top Model” and they had all been recorded in one day. I knew who the culprit was, but I also knew that trying to explain the difference between recording a show and recording a series was futile.

I cruised down the rest of the list, curious as to what else was on there. Here’s a sampling:

Ah, yes, a Disney sitcom, an acapella singing competition, and “Glee”, the show that every parent thinks is just a prime time TV version of High School Musical when it’s…not. But in actuality, I have no problem with DJ watching the show, because Danny watches it as well and can use it for talking points as he gears up for having a high school student in the house. And her Mom loved the show. No, my only real issue with any of these selections is that they’re all over a month old, and no one will ever watch them again. DJ even admitted the other night (when she asked me for the fifth time if there was a new “Glee” episode this week): “I don’t watch any reruns or ones I’ve already seen. Except the Brittany one, because it was AMAZING.” So why do we have them on the DVR?! Fortunately Fox finally began advertising that new “Glee” episodes would be back after the Super Bowl. “When’s the Super Bowl?” God, please give me at least one son.

Six episodes of “Living Single” all recorded in the same day? Again, I have no opinion one way or the other on the 90’s sitcom “Living Single”, though it appears to have done well and may have even been ripped off  to make “Friends”.  It may be a fantastic show. I don’t know. What I do know is that no one in our household has ever watched an episode of “Living Single”. Someone must have sat on the remote. I didn’t even bother to look up what “House of Glam” was.

And here we have an assortment of other shows that I’ve never seen anyone actually view on our television set (though I suspect Danny faithfully follows Desperate Housewives when I’m not around). And again, all shows that are over three months old. Based on what I’ve seen of our family’s remote control aptitude, I feel confident in saying that they could not even find these shows on the DVR. They are merely taking up space.

I record one series (the aforementioned PTI) and delete after I view. Often times I will DVR a ball game, and again, I usually watch it later the same day or the next, and when I am done watching it (or if I don’t get around to it after a day or two), I delete it. Perhaps this is from living with other DVR-savvy roommates over the years, but I see the cable box as shared space, and with everyone pitching in we can all see the shows we want. I’ve accepted that no one in the Tanner house will ever care about the AFC Championship game like I do, I just wish they would sympathize with my fear that one day a game will go into triple overtime, and as I’m watching hours later a window will pop up on the screen that says: “Sorry, your DVR has exceeded its space limit. Consider erasing some of the “Hannah Montana” episodes from last summer.”

And so, in an effort to abate this fear, I am having a DVR purge. Buh-bye, “America’s Next Top Model”. So long, “Living Single”. Am I worried the girls will complain I erased their shows? Not in the least. Like I said, I’m fairly confident that no one else knows what’s on there anyway. Well, maybe one person–but she doesn’t have to worry: I’m sure there will be 6 more “America’s Next Top Model” episodes on there by the weekend. And the Super Bowl (and new “Glee”) is only two weeks away.

The Casual Ditty Of The Tiger Uncle

Posted by Uncle Jesse

One afternoon last week I had the girls to myself. Stephanie was doing some homework and Michelle was in her room, downloading every new free app on her iTouch she had heard anyone mention in the previous 24 hours. I went up to her room to let her know the piano was open, and that since she had a lesson the next day it would probably be a good idea to hop on. She obliged without objection. I watched her sit down at the piano and heard her start playing. I took a brief bathroom break. When I emerged, I did not hear any piano music. I approached the piano to see if she was stuck on a part, but she had vanished. I did, however, hear the dulcet tones of Ke$sha coming from her room. Once again, I ascended the stairs.

perfect form? we're working on it“I thought you were going to practice piano,” I said with a curious tone, honestly unsure of what had happened to prevent her from practicing.

“I did.”

I looked at my bare wrist as if I were wearing a watch. I do this often when time is being called into question; rarely am I called out for not actually, you know, wearing a watch.

I had taken some reading material to the bathroom with me, but it’s not like I did the puzzles or anything. I surmised that the piano practice could not have lasted more than five minutes.

“Yeah, I’m going to need to hear those songs. I don’t think a 5-minute practice session is going to cut it.”

Protest. Shock. Not only was I asking her to resume a chore-like activity that she already considered completed, I was basically questioning her integrity. I reminded her that since she had been practicing this set of drills and songs for a week now (well, it had been a week since the last lesson–I don’t think there has ever been a “7 days a week” piano practice standard in the house) that they should basically be perfect for tomorrow’s lesson–notes, volume, rhythm, everything.

What I found when I sat to listen to the next practice was not perfection. No songThey make Cliff Notes for this stuff? went through without errors. Not once after opening the book was it viewed for the tips on how the piece should be played, the fortes and pianissimos, crescendos and decrescendos. Whole note drills were being played as half notes or faster. I decided that in addition to more practice, it was time for a gentle (ok, maybe more than gentle reminder) of what piano practice looks like.

Not surprisingly, this reminder was met with tears. But the practice pressed on, and I sat on the bench–not to look for errors any more, I assure you. I had found enough to make my point. Now, of course, I had to do the part that, more than fussy children or tears is typically the reason kids are let off the hook. I had to sit down next to her and practice the darn piano with her.

I have heard and read a lot recently about Yale professor Amy Chua and her new book on how she raised her two high-achieving daughters, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Like most of the folks who are writing, blogging, and offering opinion on Chua and her seemingly (to some) Draconian-strict methods of parenting, I have not actually read her book (this is an important question, I think, to ask anyone who seems especially fired up about Chua and her book: have you actually read the book?). I did read the excerpt in the Wall Street Journal and found it very interesting. I also suspect that Chua is a very smart woman with a very smart agent and, like the folks at the WSJ, are trying to sell as many books (or newspapers) as possible and collectively were wise enough to include some of the more incendiary revelations of the book in the excerpt.

It worked. People are talking.

I certainly did not grow up with parents who threatened to give away my toys overnight if I did not bring home perfect grades, or perform my piano pieces without flaw. But I do think I was raised with a little more of the “Chinese” upbringing with which she reared her children than some of my “Western” friends. While curfews and car rides were not met with much questioning from my parents, it was well-known to my friends not to call on the phone the night after report cards went out if there was a ‘B’ on mine. My status was “unavailable”.

[brief side story: Lisa used to combat this by lining up her friends to call at specifically calculated times, five minutes apart from each other, beginning at 8 o’clock. Each friend/caller was assigned a particular academic query and was instructed to let the operator–my Dad–know that only Lisa knew the particular answer, or who was doing what in the group project, or what pages they were supposed to read, or whatever. This served two purposes: first, it made it seem as if she were thought of as the “academic” among her friends. But more importantly, after three interruptions to “Nova” on PBS, my father would tire of relaying questions and answers, and surrender the phone. Very clever and diplomatic of Lisa. Me? I just threw my stereo down the stairs]

So unlike much of the American opinion I read about Chua and her methods, I do not think, “What a tyrant! What an awful way to raise children! She must not love them!”

Flashy cover? Check. Splashy book excerpt? Check. This thing will sell.On the contrary, I believe she loves her children very much, and that she has devoted and sacrificed much of her own time to raising them in a way she believes will lead to success and, yes, happiness for them. Her theory is not an absurd or even untested one. The thinking goes that children will kick and scream at anything that requires work and patience in the beginning, so kicking and screaming should not be deterrents. Rather, once you get through the initial push, and once a child has a taste of success, it will bring confidence. Which leads to more hard work, more mastery, followed by praise (not only from parents, but non-family members as well), all of which will lead to more confidence, more mastery, more hard work, more success, and, ultimately, happiness. Is this a terrible theory? Of course not. And, in fact, I have neither the academic training, parenting experience, nor desire to try to “set her straight” or “prove her wrong” because, again, I’m not sure she’s off base at all (though I do take issue with the way she degrades some things “Western” parents do as a way to justify her own choices. To wit: Chua says her kids were not allowed to be in school plays. Surely a child can have a small role in a performance of a school play without having “to stay after school every day from 3:00 to 7:00” and “on weekends”. And don’t even get me started on what her kids may be missing out on by not going to summer camp).

But anecdotally speaking (which, from what I can gather, is what most of her theory is based on: her own rearing and that of her children–not scientific studies on the psychology of children and parents in different cultures), I look at my sister Sallie, and think, “there has to be another way.”

I would challenge Chua or anyone to find someone who has achieved at a higher level in a more competitive field than my sister. My sister was pushed, yes, but also allowed to fail, quit the piano (and all other instruments) when she grew tired of it, choose her own field (there are no other scientists in my family–not even close), decide which activities to participate in, etc. Was she pushed by my parents? Absolutely. But sometimes after a particularly trying ballet practice in which she had felt the wrath of the instructor, my mother commiserated with her and agreed that, yes, that woman could be a…well, a meanie.

Back to Michelle and the piano. Here at the Tanner house, I am always feeling outI can't stay here for three hours a day. I just can't do it. my role. At first I concentrated on bringing the fun to the house, because we all needed it. But over time, it has become clear–and Danny will readily admit this–that we are a little lacking for Lisa’s discipline. This is not taking away anything from Danny or the girls. Again, he says over and over what a perfect pair they were, and perfectly complementary when it came to parenting. It only makes sense that, with one of them gone, something would be a little lacking, right?

But I also know I do not have what it takes to be Chua. Not even close. She is right in that many Western parents say they value their children’s independence when really they just do not want to stop watching “Modern Family” to sit next to their kids at the piano bench. And I’m no different there. I could not do it every day. Sometimes I try to crank out a silly little article before a deadline and I watch Danny move back and forth between cooking a meal, sitting at the piano bench, sitting on the couch to do flash cards, back to the meal, back the bench, and so on. I wonder if I could ever keep up the kind of energy it takes to be a “great” parent, the energy that he and, yes, the Tiger Mother, both display.

Typically, I try a little of both. I can sit on the piano bench for 20 minutes. Or I can call out flash cards for one night (hey, we have DVR, right?) But I also try to let the girls know that ultimately, and especially now that we’re down one true parent, that if they want to get ahead it’s on them.

I believe talent is overrated, and that hard work is the only way to truly achieve success. And I also believe in choices, and finding the thing or things you (not your parents) have a true passion for, and that these are the things you will want to work hardest at. So after almost every work session that begets tears (be it book work, piano work, running, dancing…any of the activities the girls are involved in at some point involve tears, I have learned), they typically hear this from me:

“Being great at anything is not easy. If playing piano were easy, everyone would be doing it. It takes work, and practice, and patience, and repetition to get really, really good at something. You are going to be GREAT at something. It may not be piano; it may be drawing or writing or leading or something else, but you are going to be great–one of the best in the world–at something. But whatever it is, you’re going to have to work hard at it. And practicing piano is a way to learn that skill. Again, I’m not saying you have to be great at piano. I really don’t care what it is you choose to be great at. But you’ve got to learn to work hard.”

Two nights ago Michelle was on the piano. I glanced at the clock to see how long she went and was disappointed when it fell short of ten minutes. But I never feel quite as comfortable pushing more piano practice when Danny’s in the house–all joking aside, he outranks me, and I worry about the one day a kid lashes back with “You’re NOT my parent!” because I’m not. But I was also fatigued from the last time we did battle at the piano bench, and I had another article to write.

But a minute later, the piano started back up. This time it had just been a pause, or a bathroom break, or a text from someone on the iTouch (since she knows how to do that now, too). But soon the piano was being practiced again, and whether it was from her desire to get better, or knowing I was within earshot and had raised the bar for what counts for practice time, I’m not sure and I don’t really care. Without getting philosophical, and without taking a lick of credit, I’d like to think that a child doubling her practice time without prompting is at least as significant as one spending three hours with hands on keys (and parent on back), banging out soulless perfection.

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