Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Word from Toppa: Lunch Box Grandpa

By: David Maraniss
I am the Lunch Box Grandpa. More familiarly I am the Lunchbox Toppa. Toppa is what my three granddaughters call me. Or what the two granddaughters who can talk call me. My three granddaughters are five, two, and three months. Like all granddaughters, they are precocious, of course, but the littlest one, Eliza, doesn’t talk yet. She smiles a lot, and laughs, and roots for the Packers and Vanderbilt basketball, and has a pretend morning sports radio talk show in Nashville with her dad, my son, in which she goes by the name Little Goose, but he does the talking and Little Goose does the squeaking. When the subject turns to sorry Vanderbilt football, she does the grunting and moaning.

My two older granddaughters are Jersey Girls. Heidi is five and Ava is two. Readers of this blog will recognize them as Lunch Box Mom's daughters. Ava, the two year old, has been getting more of the ink lately in the Lunch Box Mom blog because she does not like to sleep, or prefers to sleep on the lower shelf of a bookcase or in her parents’ bed than where she is supposed to sleep. This makes the Lunch Box Mom tired, and it also takes sleep time away from the utterly unheralded Lunch Box Dad, Tom Vander Schaaff, but you readers already know that. Heidi makes the blog mostly for her wondrous curiosity and ability to ask an unending series of penetrating questions beginning with the word why. There is no doubt that she is the granddaughter of a journalist, although at this point she would rather be a princess than a writer.


The writer (Lunch Box Toppa) with son Andrew,
wife, Linda, and daughter, Sarah (Lunch Box Mom) circa 1976
I became the father of Little Goose’s dad, Andrew, when I was only twenty, and Heidi and Ava’s mother (Lunch Box Mom) danced into the world when I was only twenty-four, so my wife Linda and I are not new to this game of parenting, though to read Lunch Box Mom you might assume that she and her friends were the first parents, or at least the first responsible parents, who ever lived. That is as it should be. Every generation reinvents the role. I love Sarah Maraniss Vander Schaaff, aka Lunch Box Mom, to pieces, and understand her every twitch and twitter to the bottom of my soul. She is an actor, and a teacher, as well as a super mom, and now she is a writer, too, something I never quite expected, and something that thrills me and would make her late grandfather, my dad, Elliott Maraniss, especially proud as the progenitor of a line of writers.

But before I get too syrupy here, and before I get back to my granddaughters and what it means to be a Lunch Box Toppa, let me spend a paragraph in the holiday season giving you a Christmas history of this Lunch Box Mom whose essays you read each week. To the best of my memory, I first made her cry on Christmas when she was about seven or eight and I gave her a wristwatch I’d bought at the last minute at a little shop inside the Pentagon subway station as I was rushing home from an interview. Even at that early age, you could not slip anything by her, she knew quality, and this watch had a cheap band. The saving grace of that Christmas meltdown was that it became iconic. Any disappointments thereafter were delivered and received in the context of my pathetic attempt to satisfy her with a faux fancy watch – every sweater of the wrong color, or shirt of the wrong style, every wrapped box containing something just plain beneath her discriminating taste (mostly picked out lovingly by her mother, my wife, the quirky saint Linda), evoked that Rosebud moment when little Sal first teared up.


Toppa with oldest
granddaughter, Heidi
That is what it is like to be a parent. That is decidedly not what it is like to be a grandparent. All the unavoidable tensions and expectations of parent-child relationships blessedly vanish. One of my books happens to be source material for a play that is running on Broadway now, and when people ask me how it feels, I compare it to being a grandparent. “It is all joy and not much responsibility, but in some sense it couldn’t exist without me,” I say. And that is the truth of the situation. We love our children unconditionally, but it is impossible for there not to be complications, large or small. The love for grandchildren is no deeper, yet somehow it seems purer, probably because it is free from the daily ups and downs of family life. We can bop in and out at our discretion. It is not my responsibility to get up in the middle of the night when Ava chooses not to sleep. When Heidi, with her boundless energy and curiosity, tires us out, we can retreat to the back bedroom or find a book to read and give her back to her mom or dad. When Eliza, our Littlest E, expresses her hunger, she needs her mother, not me.


Toppa and wife, Linda,
 with youngest granddaughter, Eliza
Just as every generation reinvents parenting, every older generation discovers the unexpected joy of grandparenting. When I am in my office trying to write, brooding over a sentence or a paragraph or the shape of a chapter, absolutely nothing in the world lifts me more than getting an email attachment from New Jersey or Tennessee with the latest picture of Heidi, Ava, or Eliza. Heidi with her gorgeous red hair and radiant spirit, Ava with her sweet and tender mischievousness, Little Goose with her infectious smile. I love those three little munchkins more than I could ever express. They are the best presents anyone could ever receive. They are the frankincense, gold, and myrrh for this Lunch Box Toppa.



Yesterday, the national website Mamapedia featured the Lunch Box Mom blog post: Kids: The Last of the True, Great Old-Fashioned Book Readers. If you missed it when it ran on the blog, or want to see it on the big screen, please click here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Power Sweep

Somewhere near the middle of LOMBARDI, the Broadway play inspired by my father’s biography, When Pride Still Mattered, about the great Packers coach, the lights go black, and an NFL film takes center stage. Set to music and slowed, it seems, the projection of Lombardi’s team running the power sweep takes on a holy purity.


49—“Red Right 49 on 2”

And, then each man does his job, calculating his opponent and responding---tight ends pushing a linebacker, right tackle slamming a defensive end, offensive guards arcing behind the line of scrimmage and to the right sideline, and Jim Taylor running to daylight.

“Position by position, Lombardi went through as many as twenty defensive possibilities, offering his players a logical response to each of them. Some coaches considered innovative, might have twenty plays but no options for any of them; Lombardi, sometimes mischaracterized as unimaginative, preferred one play with twenty options. It was a variation of the Jesuit concept of freedom within discipline. The sweep again symbolized the philosophical lineage from Ignatius of Loyola to Vince Lombardi, both said to be limited to one great idea, but unrestrained in the incomparable realization of it,” my father, David Maraniss, writes in his book.

I’ve seen Eric Simonson’s play three times, but lived with the phrase, “freedom within discipline” for more than a decade; since my parents first moved to Green Bay and traveled to Italy’s Vietri di Potenza in search of Lombardi’s history.

Whenever my father writes a biography, there’s usually one characteristic of the subject that hits me with particular force. I was in college at the time of his book on Bill Clinton, and you better believe my obsessively organized outlines of class lectures were inspired by some line I read about the forty-second president’s study habits.

Lombardi?

Freedom within discipline is not that far off from a phrase I’d heard, mostly in theatre classes, where those of us not born with raw genius were taught that understanding a framework, knowing the craft, having a system, allows for spontaneity and creativity. Repetition, discipline. Then freedom.

And, maybe the same can be said in motherhood.

Something moved me when the December issue of Martha Stewart’s Living arrived in my mail. There was Martha, dressed in silver, and inside, there was the headline—one cookie recipe, thirty variations.

I was a fast convert, Xeroxing the recipe and sharing it with friends, talking it up at the library, in the parking lot of my daughter’s school, to anyone who would listen.

The simplicity. The beauty. The brilliance of the idea. Something to bring efficient order to the chaos of the season.

The chaos of life.

I bought the flour, the butter, the eggs, vanilla and sugar needed for the basic recipe. I bought the add-ins—the spices, the chocolate, the citrus—needed to make the variations. I bought the boxes, the ribbon and the stickers I wanted so that I could package up these expressions of freedom within discipline and give them to my friends.

I baked. One dozen. Two dozen. Four dozen. Seventeen Dozen. The kids could watch, but this was my project. I spent most of a day standing in the kitchen, holiday music coming from a radio, calling out plays to my husband and kids, “time for breakfast, time for lunch, someone needs to walk the dog.”

My basic vanilla recipe was tweaked to become lemon. Later, chocolate balls. Still later, spice. Half the lemon got dipped in glaze, and were reborn into beautiful stars.

The kitchen was filled with measuring cups and pans, cooling cookies and tissue paper filled boxes. But, it was not chaos. I had one recipe. One basic pattern with eggs, butter, sugar, and flour. From there, there were possibilities. It was not overwhelming, it was simple.


It was occupational therapy for my state of extremes—being pulled by the needs of a five year old, a two year old, a nine year old dog, and a very supportive and overworked husband---and the thirty-six year old inside of me.

This Christmas night, while my husband assembles a train table and my mother makes hot chocolate for my girls, I will be riding a New Jersey Transit with my father to see the 8 o’clock show of LOMBARDI, one more time.

I’ll get chills when the lights dim, and the projection of the Packers power sweep takes over the theater. But, there’s another moment in the play that usually gets a laugh, but strikes me as equally significant.

What does Lombardi do at night when he’s not watching footage? What does he do to relax?

He reads cookbooks.

There’s nothing like reading a recipe for a nice “glazed ham,” is there?



With Dad in front of the theater, Circle in the Square.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Offer You Can't Refuse

Last year, a bearded portly guy came to town and made me an attractive offer. He’d get my kids to behave if I built him up to be some kind of present-giving hero. Never mind that he employed unpaid elves and a team of mutant flying reindeer, what bothered me were the terms of his bargain: If the kids behaved, then he’d dole out presents. If they didn’t, well then...you don’t want to know.

Was this really ethical? How about the diminutive spies he sent out, code name, Elf on a Shelf, who watched, big brother like, and filed nightly reports on household behavior?

Was this all in the spirit of Christmas, or just a way to bribe and threaten my kids?

A year ago, I sincerely wanted to know. I wrote to the British philosopher and author, Alain de Botton, and asked him about the use of Santa Claus to encourage good behavior. He is a  father himself, and wrote back to say:

My feeling is that using Santa is utterly fine and ethical.

The reason is that any parent has such a hard time disciplining children that the self-discipline that comes from Santa is actually of the mildest, gentlest sort and preferable to the more hard-headed alternatives (naughty step etc.).

Also, children are not capable of ethical choice right now, so the claims of Santa are not an alternative to ethical thinking; they are a pre-ethical way of maintaining order and a modicum of calm.

I don't think that kids do take away from the Santa= present equation the idea that being good gets a material reward (as many psychologists argue). They take away the broader underlying point, which is that being good leads to good things.

Author and Philosopher
Alain de Botton
The trick in the teens is then to suggest that good things encompasses far more than material advantages. But that's definitely for a later stage.

If you can believe it, I have even had to resort to the idea of a friendly sleep ghost in order to lure my four year old not to get up at 3am every morning.

With very good wishes,

Alain
 
Oh, Alain, your words now, as did your books The Consolations of Philosophy,  and How Proust Can Change Your Life have come at the right time. Soon, I might need to conjure up my own friendly sleep ghost, but in the meantime, for a short while still, I do have Santa.

May he do his best.

His elves can wiretap for all I care.

If the Easter Bunny has some free time and wants to swing by and offer a carrot, he has my permission. Tooth Fairy—we haven’t officially met, but given the force with which my oldest is yanking at her tooth, I expect we shall soon—you are welcome to sprinkle a bit of goodwill dust in the air. My kids and I have been known to have breakdowns and meltdowns from time to time, and you fanciful entities, as Alain de Botton suggests, do seem a lot less harmful than the cast of characters I have assembled in my situation room right now.

My go-to team of advisers?

First, there’s Captain High Fructose Corn Syrup, found principally in lollipops, a stash of which I was unfortunate enough to win. She and her pops have been used primarily to get my young troops moving—out of the house, through the front door, and into my car, by which time the HFCS treats have been licked, crushed, and devoured by the highly energized children who carried them.

Second, there’s General George the Curious and his colleagues in a remotely controlled region of PBS, who, as far as I can tell, is financed by me and the viewers like me.

Third, in the high range of my register, and in the depths of my bowels, is a voice called, Mommy’s Losing It, that has been known to make telemarketers cry, delivery men flee, and occasionally, get an obstreperous child to follow directions.

Fourth is an agent who likes to keep a low profile. And, to be fair, this deputy of nocturnal sanity is not often called to the table. Only rarely, when all other measures fail and the risk of not using him is greater than the risk of overuse, say on the fourth day of a cold, or first day of an eczema outbreak, does Benjamin “Ben” A. Drill come down from a cabinet.

So, Santa, you show up once a year and then split. Do you think it’s worth keeping you briefed on matters of domestic civility? Worth financing your bag of toys? Worth touting your hyperbolic blacklist of naughty children? Worth feeding your milk and cookie addiction?

If you could help me with a few things on my personal wish list (getting the youngest to sleep, the oldest to stop asking to wear high heels) then, I’d say yes.

What about my ethical concerns? My hesitancy to make a deal with such a masterful manipulator?

I’m in my second term as Parent.

I’m a realist.

I firmly believe in Santa.


 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Parentem Civi

There is a world of difference between raising kids in a city and fifty miles outside of one.

This realization slapped me in the face and spun me around like a tourist on the Central Park carousel when I arrived in New York with my husband and kids for a four day visit. We pushed our stroller (fully equipped with snacks and two kids it weighs 70 lbs) eight miles a day and observed an alternative universe of parenting. Elevators instead of stairs; sidewalks instead of carpools; giant parks with wonderful swings—and five hundred of your newest friends; bodegas and gourmet grocery stores instead of acres of aisles in one Stop & Shop, and everywhere, a constant hum of traffic, whistles, jack hammers, and language. We were never more than a few blocks from a bookstore, or museum, or landmark, which made the experience of feeding, entertaining, or attempting to enlighten our children both simpler and more complicated.


Long before Ava (right) was born, Tom and I,
along with a mouse, shared a tiny apartment
 in this building on E. 83rd.
But, the parents who called this environment home looked calm and seasoned, having adapted fully to the city—walking their kids to school against the construction of Second Avenue, carrying a soccer ball for a pick-up game a few yards from the Met, and eating breakfast at 8am on a Sunday at a kid friendly spot like Big Daddy’s--strollers parked with balloons attached, and coffee mugs stretched out, ready for a free refill. Whatever challenges and frustrations they faced appeared to come from the children they’d created, more than the city in which they were raising them.


"How do they do this?" I wondered. Until our visit, I hadn’t realized my skills in parenting had evolved in relation to a specific environment. But, here I was, surrounded by a familiar but distinct type of city parent—a Parentem Civi—against which I might only be classified as a close relation, that minivan driving, Parentem Extracivi, distinguished, among other features, for her ability to buy 48 rolls of toilette paper and stash them in closets throughout her suburban house.

The Parentem Civi, in contrast, had developed the instincts to fasten a car seat in a moving cab, cross four lanes of traffic with three kids in tow in less than twelve seconds, fit an entire week of groceries in the bottom of a stroller, and manage, most impressively, to get her dog to pee on a four inch expanse of sidewalk grass while breastfeeding a newborn in a sling.

We are reminded, especially on the Internet and Facebook, of our similarities. And, we are, virtually, very similar. In reality, though, on the pavement of Manhattan, or the freeway of Los Angeles, or in the parking lot of the Mall of America—we might say that, even if we are in the same place or phase of parenthood, we are in extremely different places.

So, I asked a few experienced city moms to talk about their life raising kids in big cities. We’re going from coast to coast today—with one family living in Brooklyn, New York, and the other in Los Angeles, California.

Brad Alperin and Jody Drezner Alperin: Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, near Prospect Park. Have lived in Brooklyn for 8 years and in their house for 5. Children: Dov, not quite 6.5 and Zoe, not quite 3.75
Why do you live in the metropolitan area? Brad works here but we also love being here. We live in a neighborhood that our friends have nicknamed 'Urban Mayberry.' We have block parties, chili cook offs, weekly stoop dinners in the summer and where you can really borrow a cup of sugar or have your neighbor watch your kids while you get dinner started. We love having that but also having easy access to all the city has to offer.

How does living in NY influence you as a parent?
If you asked some of my friends who DON'T live here, they would say it's made me crunchier, more granola and a bigger purchaser of organic products. I think the competitive nature of parenting and especially mothering are heightened in the city and I try hard to avoid that and not play in to it. I'd like to think living here has made me more flexible and more able to roll with the punches. I love that the kids are exposed to people of all different backgrounds, races, ethnicities and sexual orientation, which is not really something I grew up with. It inspires conversations and I hope those conversations help our kids have open minds as they grow. We also see a lot of economic and social disparity here and we talk about that a lot too. I like to imagine that the ideas of social justice we discuss with the kids will inspire the choices they make as they are older. We could certainly have those talks wherever we lived, but I think living in the city makes it somewhat easier.

How does living in NY influence your children or the way in which you believe they experience the world and their own maturation? Our kids are city kids, no doubt, which is funny for two people raised in decidedly non-city environments. We once went to an event at a synagogue in Westchester. To get in to the building from the parking lot, we had to cross a small stream. Dov looked at it and us and declared, 'It must have really rained here a lot! It flooded!' I think that is a good example of how being city kids shapes their world view. Things that are commonplace to non-city kids, like streams, are unique to our kids. On the other hand, things that were so foreign and somewhat exotic to me are commonplace to the kids-subways, national landmarks and the like. They have a certain amount of street savvy I think but I don't think they are more mature than kids their age elsewhere.

What’s the most convenient part of living in the city? If you have a hankering for any kind of food, you can always get it. There is ALWAYS something to do for us and for the kids.

What is the least convenient part of living in the city? There is ALWAYS something to do! No, really, things that I think are more simple elsewhere are a pain here. Running a whole series of errands with both kids in tow and without the car. Getting somewhere quickly with a three-year-old and no car. Picking up two kids from two different schools at the same time with no car. Can you tell we have a car? (They do—it stays parked in their driveway)

What is one thing that people (or family) who do not live in the city probably don’t understand about raising kids where you do? When I went to my high school reunion in NC one of my classmates said 'I feel so sorry for y'all living up there in those tiny apartments.' But we really don't see it that way. Would I like a bit more counter space in my kitchen? Sure, but I don't daydream about a 4,000 square foot house and some of our family and friends seem to think I ought to. I think people imagine a very cold and hostile New York when they think about raising kids here and our experience has been the polar opposite of that.

What is something about living in the suburbs that mystifies you?
Do you have impromptu playdates? Or do you have to schedule everything? Do you have to drive everywhere? As much as I complain about running errands without a car, we do like being able to walk or bike or take the bus or train places too. Does the sheer amount of stuff in the grocery stores there ever make you feel like you can't breathe?

If a new family was moving to your neighborhood from the suburbs—what advice would you tell the mom if she said she was feeling overwhelmed by the pace and largeness of the city?
I think the key is to make connections. If you have small kids, join a mother's group that meets in your neighborhood. If your kids are older, perhaps get involved in a project at their school. Meeting other people makes your world tighter and more manageable, I think even if the initial people you meet end up not being a great click for you, they do help bring some shape to the overwhelmingness of the city. Also, don't try to do too much at once. If you are used to driving everywhere but are now using public transportation or walking, your times for doing things are going to differ now. The kids don't need to do three exciting activities in a day-if you make it to a playground, they are happy! Also, use a babysitter sometimes if you can. Go back and see that exhibit your kids ran past on the way to their favorite part of the museum or catch a show. Take some time to explore the city without your kids too and you may find more things to like about it.



Alyson and Cody, Westside of LA, a few miles from the beach. In Condo for 6 years, in LA for 12. Child: Brett will be 3 in March.

Why do you live in LA?
Work is the main reason, (Cody works in Television) but the longer we stay here, the more it feels the right place for us in so many ways. We love our friends and Brett's friends. The diversity, the culture, the beach, the mountains and all the opportunities that are available to us year round. Oh and the weather, we love the weather.

How does living in LA influence Brett or the way in which you believe he experiences the world? Well in an ideal world, I hope that living in an urban environment will help Brett to be an open-minded individual, because he interacts with a wide variety of children and adults. But it's not a given. There are plenty of city kids who have a more rarefied existence than those living in the suburbs or in a rural area.

What’s the most convenient part of living in a large city? The access to museums, parks, events, friends, trains, car shows, etc, etc. I've visited more of the above since Brett was born, than I have in the 10 years before that, and there are still so many to visit. I love feeling like the options are limitless and many of them are incredibly affordable or even free.

What’s the least convenient part of living in a large city? The lack of space. I wish we had a larger living space and a yard. And the schools. We're in LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District), the 2nd largest school district in the country and I feel like it's going to be a part-time job to navigate it successfully. And I do wish we had more nature in our lives, but I feel fortunate to be close to the beach and the Santa Monica Mountains.

What’s one thing that people (or family) who do not live in the area probably don’t understand about raising kids where you do?
I think most people think about space and schools, and those issues often motivate people to get out of the city and into the suburbs. One thing that has occurred to me as a stay at home mom in the city is that I am incredibly stimulated by my surroundings. Life is never dull, but maybe that's the case everywhere....

When you return to the city after a trip away, what’s the first thing Brett wants to do that he’s missed on vacation? His trains. His friends. The beach.

If a new family was moving to your neighborhood from the suburbs—what advice would you tell the mom if she said she was feeling overwhelmed by the pace and largeness of the city?
I would encourage them to make the big city a small city by getting involved and finding a local neighborhood based MOMS Club, volunteer at the preschool or enroll in a class (oftentimes the ones through the city are affordable and full of stay at home moms) where she and her kids can meet like minded people. And if the first or second one isn't a fit - keep looking. The upside of living in a city is the amount of options, so keep looking for the right one until you find a fit.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Kids: The Last of the True, Great, Old Fashioned Book Readers

Our kids might be the last of the true, great, old-fashioned book readers. I don’t mean as a generation, although that might be the case, I mean Childhood might the last sacred phase in which reading a paper, board, or anything other than of electronic, book is still commonplace.


This unsettling thought struck me as I walked the aisles of a Borders Bookstore looking for Christmas presents. The store was having a Going Out of Business Sale, which even in my distracted state of motherhood struck me as an obvious clue that times were a-changing. A year ago, I would have looked for a biography, history or a few silly paperbacks by Christopher Moore that send my husband into fits of laughter even on mass transit—but not this year. He’s moved on to his e-reader and giving him a bound book, as much as I still gravitate to them, and as easy as they are to wrap and place a bow on, would be like giving a seventeen year old keys to your horse and buggy.

The modern world has arrived.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Bad Habit

A few nights ago, I went into my two and a half year old’s room and found her balanced on top of the crib railing in an effort to escape. She was afraid to drop back onto the mattress, and rightfully terrified to jump out of crib, so there she lay—like a tightrope walker in need of tummy time, prostrate on the side rail.

Except, unlike the likes of Philippe Petit, my daughter was screaming. I scooped her up and held her tight.

“Why do you do such dangerous things?” I thought.

But, this was Ava. If we hadn’t named her after my husband’s grandmother, “Danger” would be her middle name.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

If it Quacks Like a Duck...defining "children's product" in the age of recalls

Ask me to define “children’s product” and I’ll invite you to walk across the floor of my den. Whatever you step on—puzzle pieces, balls, purple hippopotamuses that slide down ramps, books with a bit of crusted-over oatmeal or red magic marker scribbled on the covers —these belong to the youngest inhabitants of my house.

The law, however, demands more specifics. So, last month the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued its final interpretative rule on what exactly a children’s product is. And, this definition is important because the Consumer Product Safely Improvement Act of 2008, which holds kids’ products to tougher standards for lead, third party testing, and tracking, depend on it.

Why does this matter?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Birth of a Saleswoman

My mother has a white porcelain plate with a maroon figure of a woman in the center. I don’t know if it’s Wedgwood or Haviland, but I know who distributed it: Avon. It was given to my Great-Grandmother Ceil McCoy after years of service to the company in the position known as Avon Lady.

The modern Avon Lady is now the college student selling the company’s brand Mark, a line of cosmetics which, because I am not a college student, I have never actually seen. It’s reportedly more expensive than Avon, and through the use of social media and a generation of energetic Mark Girls, it is taking campuses, sorority houses, and Facebook by storm. The New York Times article about Mark in January highlighted one Ohio State student making $800 a month in commission selling the products on campus and to high school students.

But, in the land of motherhood, Facebook and its cousins are harnessed to take traveling sales forces for other brands into the realm of domestic comfort—making house parties at night as common as play dates in the morning. One of the best things about being at my stage of life is the ability to say “House Party” and not have it followed by a reference to a police raid. There might be a hole in the checkbook, or a few wine glasses to wash, but generally, these parties are most notable for being the fascinating progression of what happens when Brownie Wise's Tupperware party meets the twenty-first century.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tips The Parenting Magazines Won't Tell You: Plausible Excuses for Being Late

Parenting magazines like to focus on strategies to prevent you from running late, but we at Lunch Box Mom think it’s much more useful to simply gather a collection of plausible excuses.

The most effective approach for the office is to be completely honest. This works beautifully, as long as you remember to omit pertinent details.


I am so incredibly sorry (I had to come to work today.)

The traffic was horrendous (between the trash cans and big wheels in my driveway.)

I’ve never seen the trains that messed up (but, then again, Curious George was station master for most of the episode.)

The opposite of omission is to offer too much information, making your lack of tactfulness much more noteworthy than your lack of punctuality.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Listening to Fear

Last week, three people from different parts of my life forwarded me this email, just slightly before I read about the incident in the local newspapers:

Hopewell Township Police are investigating a possible attempted luring incident involving a 9 year old female in the Brandon Farms area. Around 4 PM the girl was playing in front of her home when two males in a newer green car with Pennsylvania plates stopped near her.

Reportedly the males offered her candy if she would get in the car.

She told them she was going to call the police and ran inside the house. The males are described as being white, in their 20s to 30s, clean shaven, with short brownish colored hair. The subjects fled the area. The incident was not reported to police until approximately 9:30 PM.

Residents should be alert and report any suspicious people or vehicles to police immediately.

And so the question of when to begin the discussion of strangers with my five year old was answered. How about today, right now, in the car, on the way home from school, as I drove past the street that leads to the development in which this incident took place.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lost and Found with Andie MacDowell

The city of brotherly love was showing me none last Tuesday night: one-way streets, signs obscured by construction, forks—or rather sporks-- splitting roads into three, all with the same name.

“Where the hell am I?” was the question racing through my mind as I reached for my cell phone to call home. Forty miles away, my husband had a better chance of guessing where I was than I did.

No, Sarah, I told myself, tossing the phone down, you actually figured out how to program the navigation system, so trust it.

I was on the brink of a mini-panic attack. How would I ever get home? Did I need to head back to that Dave and Buster’s arcade I’d just passed and play Ms Pacman until a kind person coughed up directions to New Jersey?

“In a quarter of a mile, right turn,” chimed the voice on my GPS. It had been silent for a few blocks, miffed that I’d missed an earlier command, but now it was back, offering hope.

In a quarter of a mile, turn right...I could do that.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Modern Tragedy

The Tyler Clementi story has resonated with the country in part because it touches upon so many complex issues. In writing this week’s post, I felt the same conflict others have expressed: mainly, that if the invasion of privacy was a driving factor in this young man’s death, then the last thing we should do now is invade his, or even his accused antagonists’, any further in a superficial, speculative way. Still, what happened at Rutgers is symptomatic of a greater cultural storm, and as parents raising kids in this world, we are feeling the chill of it—even if we still don’t know what it all means. With that, and the acknowledgment that this is only one way of looking at the evolving story, here is this week’s post.


I agree with Hank Kalet’s editorial in The Princeton Packet, (We’re all Complicit, October 7, 2010) when he says the Tyler Clementi, Dharun Ravi, Molly Wei story is a tragedy in the deeper sense of the word. It speaks to a “societal flaw that has led three lives to be ruined and three families to be terribly broken. Tragedy, in the Aristotelian sense, is not accidental but based on human flaws and human agency,” Kalet says.

Theatre Mask from Pompeii
I’d add there’s another element of ancient tragedy that plays out in this modern story: the feeling that catastrophic outcomes seem both unexpected and predetermined—at the same time. “How could this happen?” is met with an equally strong, “of course, in our world, of course, this happened...”

Friday, October 1, 2010

Can We Say Epidemic, Now? The 24/7 Recall

In case you didn’t think the potential for beetle and beetle larvae in your powdered Similac was shocking enough, take the recent announcement by Fisher-Price: a recall of more than 11 million products for infants and toddlers, including high chairs and tricycles. Pegs on high chairs led to seven kids requiring stitches; ignition buttons on the tricycles, genital bleeding in six girls, according to an article on the Today Show's website.

Take this in context of a front page New York Times article, “Crackdown on Toy Safety Rules Proves No Fun for Toy Makers” (September 29, 2010), in which the protests of toy makers are given center stage as The Consumer Product Safety Commission haggles over the definition of “children’s product”, a task they were charged with as part of The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

Where, I wonder, is the story about the parents, outraged by this epidemic? Given the magnitude, it would make sense for us to be staging rallies and boycotting. Instead, we are overwhelmed and weary. In an effort to raise kids who are not paranoid or fearful that everything they eat and play with is contaminated or designed with a deadly or hazardous flaw, we keep going, and buying, and waiting....no longer surprised that what we bought, or ate, or thought about buying, was, in fact, pretty much junk.

Or worse.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Murder, She Wrote

There’s nothing like being awake at three in the morning with your newborn, except, of course, being awake a three-thirty in the morning when the newborn is back asleep you’re staring at the clock.

It was in those moments that I decided to focus my mind on something useful, like how to knock off the old headmistress of a private girls’ school using nothing but prescription medication.

Yes, I’m talking about a good old fashioned murder, the kind you read about in books. And, that is what I decided to do—the book part, not the actual murder.

For the setting, I used my beloved town of Pennington, New Jersey. For the details on medication, I befriended a pharmacist (decidedly one not in my hometown.) And, in the few lucid moments I had before lights-out, I turned to the mounting number of books I’d accumulated on my nightstand ; books that drew a few questions from my patient but slightly suspicious husband: Deadly Doses—a writer’s guide to poisons; Amateur Detectives—a writer’s guide to how private citizens solve criminal cases; and the book that tells you exactly what does happen when a person is struck by lightning and how safe it is (or is not) to handle cyanide: Murder and Mayhem by D.P. Lyle, M.D..

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happiness: Are We There Yet?

I sat in the backseat of a Volvo, feeling a bit like a kid heading to prom, as two longtime friends from college navigated the one way streets in the West End of DC. We had spent the morning in the bridal suite of another college friend and in our blue bridesmaids’ dresses and made-up faces, sat in sharp contrast to the casual Washingtonians strolling the streets on this beautiful September morning.


“Wow,” my one friend said, looking at the scene near a Starbucks. It was staged, as most, with a bike, dog, and smoker, positioned out front.

“It’s the most important day of (the bride’s) life, and these people are just going about life as usual.”

“If this is the most important day,” my other friend said, “then the rest of her life is going to suck.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

When Yellow and Blue No Longer Make Green: Saying Good-bye to Ziploc

As I type this, I’ve got 712 Ziploc bags stashed in a closet that are never going to see the light of day. No, I wasn’t considering a Mary Louise Parker-style sideline business; these bags have been forsaken for an entirely different reason:  the clear knowledge that when it comes to packing lunch, “yellow and blue” no longer make green.

Green, as in environmentally friendly green.

I don’t have the perspective to call this a tipping point, but, in my house, the age of the Ziploc is officially over.

It’s been a great forty year reign for them, and thanks to the particularities of airport security, I have a feeling there’ll always be a market for the bags, but woe is the mother who sends her kid off to school with a free-range turkey and cheese sandwich packed in one.

That’s a no-no, a bit like sending three dozen chocolate and glazed munchkins from Dunkin' Donuts in for snack time. I’ve never done that. But, believe me, everyone knows the name of the mother who did. There are some things you just can’t live down, especially in preschool.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Earth, Mother

In 1985, shortly after my family moved from a suburb of Washington, DC, to the capital of the Lone Star State, my mom and dad took a trip to the Texas coast, just miles from the city of Corpus Christi.

My mother had grown up in Wisconsin and each winter her father had driven her from the snowy Midwest to the beaches of warm, sunny Florida, a place she thought of as, “paradise.”

But, as she looked out at the sands of this beach on South Padre Island, and at the waves from the Gulf of Mexico lapping onto the shore, she saw empty milk jugs, egg cartons, and florescent light bulbs.

It was a mess.

Instead of thinking she was in paradise, my mother sat down and cried.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Books That Won't Be Published

In the spirit of our series, What the Parenting Magazines Won’t Tell You, we are pleased to present “Books that Won’t be Published”, part of Lunch Box Mom’s ever-expanding offering of exceptional literature.

Tops on the list is a children’s book, created by my very own mother.

Grandma, as my kids call her, made quite an impression on a recent visit, especially in the kitchen. First, there was the banana bread that flopped like a sunken soufflé seconds after coming out of the oven; then, chocolate chip cookies, made in a mysteriously chipped glass bowl and containing, what I believed to be, bite sized shards of the missing glass; and finally, an ice cream recipe cut out of the newspaper that would have been great fun to make, if only the last ingredient hadn’t been Vodka.

All this inspired the book my mother calls: Grandma Screws Up.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Roadkill on the Streets of Suburbia

I don't like the term "roadkill" but even the naturalist I spoke with said is the term in use. That said, this is not an easy subject to talk about---but that's the point, I suppose....

This summer, from the comfort of our car, my kids and I have seen some deer, a frog, two turtles, several raccoons, a few birds, and a bunch of squirrels. Unfortunately, all of these animals were dead.


Rigor mortis on the roadkill du jour belongs in the ever-expanding category of topics I’d rather not talk about with my five year old. It’s up there with “how mom actually got pregnant”, and a literal explanation of the lyrics to Yankee Doodle Dandy.

“What was that?” my daughter asks on our way to the highway.

“Oh, a raccoon,” I say. “Aren’t we lucky to see a nocturnal animal, and it’s only ten in the morning.”

“Why is its leg sticking up?”

“Ah, yes--completely natural--once an animal has died. Rig-a-”

“Was that a mommy raccoon?”

Would it be better to say it was a juvenile?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Feliz cumpleaños, Dora, You've Grown on Me, Kid

Ten years ago, Dora the Explorer hit the scene as the first Latina character to have her own children’s show in the United States. She lives in a cartoon world with no specific landmarks aside from friendly forests and mountains with chocolate rivers. Still, we know where she’s from: Viacom.


And, that is why, for many years, I didn’t invite her over to play. A children’s icon could be born in a classic book and work her way up to TV star. But, I was suspicious of a star created by commercial television who then appeared in children’s books, and generated 11 billion in merchandizing revenue. Could she still have our kids’ best interests at heart?

As Nickelodeon celebrates Dora’s 10th anniversary this Sunday night at 8pm EST with an hour long “Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure” followed by a 12 minute documentary on the cultural and educational impact of the show, I’m as surprised as anyone to be setting my DVR and practicing my Spanish.

“Feliz cumpleaños, Dora.” 

You’ve grown on me, kid.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Is the Internet Making Me Stupid? Fritz Schiller Might Hold the Key

On June 14, 2010, I confirmed that my computer homepage, MSN, had engaged on a long and premeditated campaign to sabotage my intelligence. I’d suspected this for a while, but it was not until a headline read, “How to Tie the Perfect Pony Tail” that I had what no Wikileak procurer ever possessed—full and unhindered cooperation.



Yes, MSN was handing me this evidence without restrictions. The headline and photo of a woman getting her hair tied in a pony tail took up the top third of my computer screen. No matter how urgently I tried getting to my hotmail account, the duo flashed before me again and again, as if to say, learn to tie the perfect pony tail or your world will collapse.

The world, it seemed, was collapsing, at least for the women and children in Kyrgyzstan I’d recently read about in an old-school, print edition of the New York Times. Ethnic and political violence had driven these families from their homes and they were now refugees, living with fear, dysentery and desperation.

Kyrgyzstan, I thought, is that where Borat is from? No, no, that’s the country to the north, Kazakhstan. These citizens were fleeing to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan? I wonder how to tie a perfect pony tail.

No. Don’t do it, Sarah. This is how MSN gets you. First your hair, then your brain.

Was the internet making me stupid, or did I come to it that way?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cry Baby, Fly Baby

At any given airport and within the confines of most jets, there are two types of travelers: those with children, and those who hate them.

In this second group, it’s hard to top the story of American Jean Barnard, the sixty-seven year old business woman who recently settled a lawsuit out of court with the Australian Airline Qantas.

It was while boarding flight 1936 to Darwin, a two hour flight scheduled to depart at twelve-ten in the afternoon, that Barnard’s life, she claims, took a devastating turn. A three year old boy seated nearby leaned over an armrest and “let loose a shriek” four inches from her face.



“Blood instantaneously shot into the back of my head,” she is quoted as saying in an article on ABC NEWS.COM. Her lawyer would argue that she sustained “significant personal injury” and “sudden sensio-neural hearing loss” (referred to elsewhere as Sensorineural Hearing Loss) inhibiting her ability to work.

Whatever happened, it was Barnard, and presumably not the three year old, who was ushered off the plane and taken to a hospital in the Northwest Territory town of Alice Springs. Barnard’s travel plans would be cut short, but her fifteen minutes of fame were yet to come.

We’ll never know the full story now that both parties have agreed to confidentiality. But, before this tidy July 12th conclusion, the defense reportedly presented some interesting pieces of evidence: Barnard had gotten new hearing aids a month before the flight; no other passengers were injured.

And, then there was the email, produced by which side, I am not sure, in which Barnard wrote that had her eardrums not exploded, she would have “dragged that kid out of his mother’s arms and stomped him to death.”

Excruciating pain does make a person a tad grumpy.

Still, this case troubles me.

Primarily because nobody, not the parents of a child nor an airline, can completely predict or control the vocal production of a three year old for any randomly selected period of four seconds without the use of medical intervention or duct tape.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Let's Kevin Bacon This Blog, Man

Now that “friend” is a verb, I thought Lunch Box Mom should roll out another contribution to the grammatically incorrect sign-of-the-Facebook-times lingo. “Kevin Bacon”. As in “Let’s Kevin Bacon this blog, man.”

It seems like good timing. David Brooks has already likened Mel Gibson to Narcissus himself, and although a friend recently sent me an article published in a psychology journal entitled, “How to Spot a Narcissist from their Facebook Profile”, I think, at least for the current news cycle, I am not in contention.

For those of you unfamiliar with the party game connecting any actor to Kevin Bacon, or John Guare’s 1990 play, Six Degrees of Separation, or the many applications modeled after the theme, this is the general premise: everyone can be connected--within six people.

Stockard Channing’s character in the Guare play describes it this way:

I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States, a gondolier in Venice. ...... It's not just big names. It's anyone. A native in a rain forest. A Tierra del Fuegan. An Eskimo. I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Total Recall: When it's back, will you buy it?

The series of recalls of particular lots of liquid Infant and Children’s Tylenol, culminating in the final “whatever you have—chuck it” advisory of April 30, 2010, has crossed my mind a lot lately.

But, it was only two days ago, when I was speaking to a woman at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the division of Johnson and Johnson that makes the recalled products, that I had to confront a question head on.

“Would you like to leave your email?”

I’d just been told they’d send me a check for $21, more than this stay-at-home mom earns in a month—because I’d given the NDC numbers of the few bottles of the stuff I still had stashed in a travel bag.

“Why do you want my email?” I asked.

“So we can let you know when the products are back on the shelf.”

Did Johnson and Johnson, which, to its credit, emerged from the cyanide episode of the 1980’s respected for how it handled the recall, think I was now pacing the drugstore aisles, anxious to get my brand name fix?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Socratic Method--Of Five Year Olds

Every day I buckle my kids into their car seats, walk to the driver’s seat of my minivan and prepare for an intense round of questions. The inquisitor is my five year old daughter, Heidi, positioned diagonally behind me, able to watch my profile, hands, and most important, my eyes in the rear view mirror. She needs no lie detector, no fact checker. Her barrage begins as I back the car out of the driveway when she’s certain that it’s just her, the open road, and a captive adult yearning to drive free.

Did you use your blinker? Is that car speeding? Why are we going this way? How fast can we go on this street? Why can we only go 25 miles per hour? Why aren’t there sidewalks? Would it be dark now if it were December? Why is that car green? Why does the driver like the color green?

Heidi can toss out five to seven questions a minute, depending on the length of my answers and/or pleas for mercy. If a typical drive is fifteen minutes, we’re talking 75 to 105 questions just trying to pick up a gallon of milk. But, let’s say she’s tired and is only able to ask three a minute, it still means I’ve formulated 45 answers in fifteen minutes, scoring more in a quarter than LeBron James does in an entire game, though, obviously, I am compensated far less for my work.

The only other people I know who deal with this kind of bombardment of questions are press secretaries. But, even they, at some point, have the luxury of saying, “that’s all for now, folks,” and walking off stage to be met by an aide, and perhaps, an ice cold Fresca.

In our car, the questions don’t stop until something forces me to yell, usually rather loudly, that a Mack truck is going ram our minivan into oblivion if she doesn’t cool it and, “let me concentrate on the road.”

That wins me two minutes (6-21 questions) of relief.

So, I feel no guilt or hidden fear that I am an inadequate parent when I say that when it comes to my five year old’s minivan inquisitions: I’ve cracked under pressure.

Example A:

“What is the name of the boy singing this song?”

You’d like to think this was an easy question, wouldn’t you?

But, let me first say that the song we were listing to was one we’d heard at least 107 times, the first on a mix-CD given out as a party favor. The mother of the birthday child asked each five year old to submit his or her favorite song, which leads me to the song in question.

Apparently five year olds are really into Coldplay. This fact depresses me because I am, only now, discovering that they are a band I should have known about five years ago.

What is the name of the lead singer in Coldplay?

“Ah....Chris?” I said, knowing this was only the beginning.

“Why did his parents name him Chris?”

I’d like you to now stand up, do five jumping jacks, hop on one leg and recite the first two lines of the Gettysburg address while trying to speculate why the parents of a British born rock star chose, on March 2, 1977 to name their son Christopher Anthony John Martin.

If only Heidi had asked me why Chris Martin and his wife Gwyneth Paltrow had named their daughter Apple, I’d have had a shot.

When you name your child after a piece of fruit you eventually have to share your thought-process, but most parents who name their sons Chris can go entire decades before ever being asked “for the record--why?”

“I....I really have absolutely no idea,” I said.

I should have referred her to chapter seven, article three of the handbook, “Questions I’ve Already Asked my Mom When She’s Going 60mph” but I felt compelled to rehash our previous discussion on the naming prerogative of parents.

“Maybe his parents liked the name. Maybe it’s a family name.”

Silence, tantamount to skepticism coming from back row.

“Do you like the name Chris?” I asked her.

It’s a classic move, to ask the interrogator a question in an effort to deflect attention, and it got me out of the hot seat on the Chris Martin issue.

But there would be others. Several hundred more that day, culminating in the ones asked during the second most popular time ask questions of mom: bedtime. Specifically, when we read books.

Catching me when I am weak is a key component to my daughter’s strategy. She smells fatigue and pounces.

Usually when we’re on the title page.

We can easily spend ten minutes and never get past the ISBN.

What is the name of the author? Where did they live? When did they live? Are they dead now? Why did they write this book? Did you read this book when you were little? Who gave me this? Why? Why did they think I’d like it?

I once invented what I thought was a brilliant, ripped from the parenting magazines, solution. I gave my daughter ten cards and said each one earned her the ability to ask one question. When she’d used up all ten cards, no more questions.

She loved the process of raising her hand, saying, “excuse me mom,”, asking a question, and placing each card in the growing stack of used up credits. But, when she got to the last card and realized her supply would not be replenished she had an uncharacteristic melt down.

“I don’t like this game!”

I’d have given it another go the next night, but I felt mean—I was “rationing” thought and that just seemed wrong.

But, answering questions all day is hard work. There’s the physical strain—actually speaking, using oxygen, using the voice, articulating ideas, all this done at times times when most people regroup or replenish. Do you drink a glass of water at lunch, or use that time to answer why you put mayonnaise instead of mustard on your turkey sandwich?

There is also the mental energy it requires. I recently drove to the dentist by myself and realized when I arrived how relaxing the ten minutes without answering questions had been. I was free to be alone with my thoughts and daydream about the imminent removal of tartar from my gum line. It was so peaceful.

But, there is something else that explains the absolute exhaustion I feel at the end of a day of questioning.

A five year old shaves ideas down to their very core, asking why...followed by why....followed by.....why.

Eventually, I feel a philosophical and somewhat emotional depletion.

How did she learn the Socratic Method while watching "Curious George"?

W.K. C. Gutherie is quoted as saying this in his book The Greek Philosophers, quoted on Wikipedia:

“Socrates was accustomed to say that he did not himself know anything, and that the only way in which he was wiser than other men was that he was conscious of his own ignorance, while they were not. The essence of the Socratic Method is to convince the interlocutor that whereas he thought he knew something, in fact he does not.”




Whereas I thought I knew something....in fact....I do not. I am reminded of my ignorance on a daily, hourly basis.

But, that, as they say, is the first step to knowledge.

No wonder these five year olds ask so many questions....

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Diary of a 7th Grader: OMG

The story in last week’s New York Times, Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray, left me thinking about three things.
1) State laws and school policies have not kept pace with technology.
2) The early teen years are among the most horribly painful in a person’s life.
3) This would be a wonderful opportunity to humiliate myself.


The first two thoughts deserve discussion, but the best place for that is probably on the link to the NY Times story itself. The article depicts the frustrating intersection of technology, teenage behavior, and the law. Here we have thirteen year olds proficient in the texting, Facebook, and Formspring, posting on cyberspace that which in another era would be scrubbed off a stall in a public bathroom. Gossip. Lies. Humiliating polls. Threats. Profanity. Explicit sexual content.

It’s the same social jockeying that we lived through, but far worse. These humiliations are written in the indelible, viral ink of cyberspace.

The problem, at least for public schools, is that the texts and posts are often created outside of school, but the embarrassment, mocking, and occasional fist-fights that stem from them occur on campus. What are school administrators supposed to do? What can they do—legally-- to protect the victims but not provoke a lawsuit?

It’s the family of an accused “bully” who sued a school district and won in a case in California. The Times piece interviews the father of this eighth grader who was suspended for two days from school after creating and posting a YouTube video showing other classmates making, “mean spirited, sexual comments” about another student. In its attempt to protect the subject of the embarrassing video, a Federal District Judge ruled that the school had crossed the line, and the district would have to cough up $107, 150.80 to make up for it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Name Changer: Identity Theft, or is it Just Marriage?

When my friend from college got engaged several months ago, I had one question: what are you doing with your last name?


The answer may reveal through which side of the prism of feminism she happens to be looking, but my motives are less esoteric. I just want to know if I’ll need to update my Christmas card list.



What she does with her last name is none of my business, and I realized after I asked that I actually have no opinion. Change it. Keep it. Hyphenate. Invent. I can see arguments for any choice, and see no harm to the world, her happiness, her career, or womankind, if she follows the traditional route and takes her husband’s last name.

And, let’s face it, what else is a woman supposed to do with all the free time after a honeymoon if not spend it waiting in line at government offices trying to officially change her name? The DMV is a great place to write thank-you notes and there may even be a sixteen year old who’d love to look through the wedding album.

My view on this subject has mellowed, to say the least. I may be cynical; I may be spoiled; I may be part of what Katie Roiphe called in her 2004 Slate Magazine piece, the “shallow, satisfying, lipstick feminism,” which says you can actually use any name you want, whenever you want, and “have it both ways”.

I am definitely part of the stay-at-home-mom revolution; a realm in which taking a husband’s last name is a vocational advantage. Few call me Mrs. Vander Schaaff, though. The five-and- under set has opted for the more biologically blunt title: Heidi’s Mom.

Being identified primarily through one’s relationship to her husband, or children, is one of the many self-abnegating predicaments women have fought to overcome.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Birthday Story

Birthdays in my family are often celebrated with cake and a retelling of the story of the actual birth. In my case, because of a wrong turn, I was almost born in the parking lot of the YMCA.

My youngest, Ava, had her second birthday today and although she’s too young to understand, I kept up the tradition.

“Congratulations on turning two. You were almost born in the back of a minivan, on a road in Trenton, somewhere between a pizza joint and a liquor store.”

I’m exaggerating.

She was actually almost born at the dermatologist’s office.

It’s very hard to get an appointment with my dermatologist and having contractions seemed no reason to cancel. Besides, I was worried they’d charge me for a missed appointment.

The evening before this fateful day I had spent pacing around the bedroom, pausing only to stand next to my sleeping husband and wonder when, if ever, I should wake him. When morning came, I asked him to put our bags in the car, “just in case” and then proceeded with the day as usual. I’d convinced myself that the contractions would take a hiatus for the workday and return again that night. It was illogical but oddly practical.

I had a lot to do.

First, I needed to tie-up an annoying situation with my health insurance company. They’d rejected a claim for lab work. Nine months of prenatal care does not a pregnant lady make, evidently. I still needed to prove a medical necessity for the tests that were needed because...you guessed it---I was pregnant.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I'll Take One Kid's Meal, Hold the Cadmium

I think it’s great that McDonald’s is giving folks a generous refund for Shrek glasses it sold that contain levels of cadmium. You wouldn’t want to think that anything from McDonald’s was bad for your health.

Forgive me. Jon Stewart probably already went to town with that, and with better graphics. And, technically, the glasses were not part of the Happy Meals, and nobody is going so far as to say they are, "toxic".

Still, these glasses are just another piece of unnecessary clutter, targeting kids, (or those with childlike tastes) that are coated with what might, in some circles, be referred to has "something" toxic.

I’ll let others debate the source of the evil—was the paint on these American-made glasses made in China? Who gave Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California the anonymous tip, prompting her to request the Consumer Product Safety Commission to check the glasses? And, most perplexing, why would anyone in their right mind spend $1.99-$2.49 for a tumbler with a picture of a green, albeit, lovable, ogre to begin with?

Cadmium, as you might remember, showed up not long ago in children’s jewelry, and prompted a recall. It’s a carcinogenic metal. Not what you want on kid’s jewelry or, say.....things you use to drink milk.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Blog to Remember: Interview with Liz Reitman Waller, podcast #2

I suppose how a person handles the death of someone they love depends as much on the personality of the one who dies as it depends on the personality of the one who lives.

The posts Elizabeth (Liz) Reitman Wallers writes in her blog, 366 Days of Eric, meet somewhere in the poignant middle. We read about Eric, an athletic, witty, loving 32 year old who died suddenly last December, and then Liz herself-- his sister--a mother, physician, and now writer.

I went to college with Liz, but only through Facebook, and now her blog, have I gotten to know her more deeply. I think it’s an act of bravery to confront any feelings of loss and grief on a daily basis. So, here is the second Lunch Box Mom Podcast, an interview with Liz Waller, of 366 Days of Eric.


Liz, her son Sam, and her brother Eric, of whom she writes in her blog, 366 Days of Eric.

As some of you know, my podcasting skills are green, indeed, and my wonderful intern has a better paying job for the summer. So, I hope the ineptitude of my sound editing does not diminish the profoundness of what Liz has to say.

The Lunch Box Mom podcast is just a click away: http://www.lunchboxmom.libsyn.com/

Click on the word “Pod” and it should download in a few seconds...

And, to read Liz’s blog: http://www.366daysoferic.blogspot.com/

Have an idea for the next Podcast? Send me an email: sarahvanderschaaff@msn.com

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Just Hanging the Greenwashing Out To Dry

Sometimes it seems that there have been two versions of BP. One that chronicles the company’s actions over the years, and one that portrays the identity they aspire to hold in our minds. The first is the product of reality. The second is the product of Ogilvy & Mather.

To say an advertising agency can transform and define the corporate identity of the fourth largest company in the world suggests two things: we, the public, yearn for good-news narratives; and, Ogilvy & Mather is pretty good at what it does.

But, the “holisitic” transformation of BP that some in the marketing industry found remarkable is now unraveling. Like the conspicuous reformer who returns to his high school reunion in a hybrid, spouting truisms of Doctor Phil and proclaiming enlightenment, we’ve seen what’s in the trunk: a few million gallons of crude oil and a rap sheet lined with felonies, price manipulation, destruction of livelihoods, and life itself.

But, we need gas.

And, what strikes me and perhaps many other people as we've watched with agony the continuing destruction of life in the Gulf, is that while it’s easy to vilify BP, it’s hard to think of a world in which we did not buy what it sells.

Well, maybe.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the tales it’s been selling--the image of BP we’ve seen in the commercials over the years, and how these may have affected the public’s response to the company’s actions.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Lunch Box Mom Podcast: Training Wheels

Every so often, I like to keep readers up to date with the Lunch Box Mom staff meetings. Here are the minutes from one held a few months ago:


Me: I’d like to create a podcast.
Husband/Head of IT: Good luck with that.

So, like so many other businesses, I’ve had to outsource.

In this case, to a junior in college.

This is the short version of how I found my new staff member: I crashed an internship fair at a local university and looked for guys.

There are so many things wrong in that sentence, I don’t know where to begin, but let’s start with the last part: do young men—more than young women—know more about the mechanics of podcasting? I’m not sure, but I tested my theory at the end of the buffet line at the internship luncheon with the first young man I saw:


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Talkin 'Bout My Generation--No Really, My Generation

Back in my day, we wore flannel shirts and jeans up to our navels...and we liked it.

Yes, Gen X’ers, I’m talking to you.

We few, we happy few.

We who were born sometime between West Side Story (1961) and Ordinary People (1981).

We who were suckled on formula, schooled on "Sesame Street" (old school, rated R) and inspired by Julie on “The Love Boat”, the time has come for us to stand in the spotlight.

No, not as Commander in Chief (although the President is not only a citizen of the United States, he’s arguably a citizen of Generation X) but as part of a grass roots effort far more powerful.

No, not the Tea Party.

I’m talking about the PTA.

In his fascinating blog, The Gen X Files, Dave Sohigian speaks directly to this phenomenon. A generation that is far smaller than the one that preceded it (the Baby Boomers) and the one that followed (the Millennials), has reached a tipping point noticeable in the make-up of parents to current seventh and eighth graders. For the first time, Gen X’ers are in the majority.

And, teachers, he cautions, should be warned.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Missing Miss Manners on the 181 from New York

Elmo and figures of royalty are not the only ones who refer to themselves in the third person. So too does Judith Martin, the imitable Miss Manners. I read her syndicated column for many years. But, like my fellow passengers on Amtrak train 181, I might stand to read it for a few more. Miss Manners, this one’s for you.


Dear Gentle Readers,

Miss Lunchbox Mom recently returned from an excursion to our nation’s capital, a trip she endeavored by rail, with the companionship of two less seasoned travelers, Heidi (5) and Ava (23 months).

The journey affirmed Miss Lunchbox Mom’s deep conviction that it is always better to travel with one’s mate, especially when heavy luggage is involved.

Absent a spouse, one must depend upon the kindness of strangers, a Red Cap, or a perilous attempt to strap a twenty five pound toddler and her sippy cup to the top of a rolling suitcase.

For in contrast to the nineteenth century technology dominating rail travel, the etiquette aboard the iron horse is astonishing modern.

One need not worry about the awkward pause as a gentleman allows a woman and her children to board ahead of him. Nowadays, trains entering a station do not actually come to a complete stop. Lines are obviated by a custom in which passengers run, grab and jump aboard, much like trolley riders in a commercial for that great San Francisco treat, Rice-A- Ronnie.

Once aboard, gender has little to do with civility; all in need of assistance are equally ignored.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

MOTHER'S DAY

It’s a wonderful tribute to the complexity of motherhood that most moms I know secretly wish to celebrate the holiday by getting a break from the very things that entitle them to it.


Just give me a day off.

I’ve never actually asked for that, and to be honest, I don’t know many moms who have. We don’t need a Grimm’s Fairy Tale to caution us about the dangers of such extravagance. Somewhere in our subconscious, we all know that if you take one full day off, you’ll return to find the three little pigs asleep on the couch and Rumpelstiltskin in the backyard playing with fireworks.

Or something like that.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Prima Donna: She's 25 Pounds and Almost Two

Living with a twenty month old is a lot like having a temperamental diva in the house. Not modern pop star, more classic Madame Butterfly—who just got panned in the New York Times.

Newspapers flying, glasses breaking, tears, screams and histrionics. And, that’s before the first diaper change.

One major difference between my pint-sized Prima Donna and one of a larger scale, besides her more limited repertoire of Puccini, is that my daughter’s period of solipsistic moodiness is supposed to be temporary.

Once her vocabulary catches up with her new-found sense of independence, her career in melodrama needs to end.

When might this happen? I read up a bit on the terrible twos on About.Com, and they offered a nifty little calculator to determine the timing of this curtain call.


You have 413 days - 10 hours - 9 minutes - and 9 seconds until your child is out of the terrible twos phase.

This was designed to make me feel better.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mother of Invention....

Necessity is the mother of invention, but I am the mother of a few great ideas. Most don’t actually make it to the development phase. After a frantic scribble on the back of a Dora coloring book or in the dirt on the side of my car, my entrepreneurial mojo is often spent. But, on occasion, when inspiration is not depleted by perspiration, and when what might be referred to as a “pen” is within arm’s reach, I document my ideas the way most geniuses do: on cocktail napkins.

Sometimes, I mail these off to my old college roommate, a former venture capitalist who knows a great idea when she hears one.

A category to which mine do not actually belong, apparently.

The first, and perhaps most inspired idea, came to my husband and me after a five hour trip to Arizona, during which we were starved, ridiculed, and made to feel like idiots. And, that was just by the flight attendants. If my daughter hadn’t gotten a bloody nose, a benign predicament that thankfully produced enough mess to look like something far worse, we’d have never caught a break from the judgmental scowls aimed our way. Or gotten to use the bathroom.

And, thus was born:

Tot Air: the airline for families with children, where the flight attendants are dressed like Elmo, food carts spilleth over with juice boxes and cheese sticks, luggage is no longer an eight letter word, and Nick Jr. is continuously broadcast at a frequency perceptible only to those under eleven. It was a great idea, my roommate said. But, there was one problem with this concept for an airline.

It was an airline.

No problem. The family on-the-go doesn’t need its own bankrupt airline to make life easier. How about simply some improved snack options?

Such as.....