Parenting Expert: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

April 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Parenting, Parenting Coach

By Ann Brown, Parenting Consultant


There are some really uncomfortable moments while raising kids. There are moments that embarrass you – when, say, you’ve run into an old flame from high school and you’re holding your two year old in your arms, thinking you look pretty darn fetching, and your kid says, “Mom! You have a really big bloody booger just hanging in your nose! Are you going to pick it out? Are you? ARE YOU?”
And there are moments of physical uncomfortability – balancing the rain-soaked grocery bags on your hip as you lean into the back seat of the car to unlock the $%#@ car seat which is held in the locked position by a cement made of Nutri Grain crumbs, apple juice and spilled Go-Gurts while holding your keys in your teeth. And you have to pee really badly.
Those moments – though they take years off our lives – are to be expected. And we commiserate with each other, and we live through them.
There are other awkward moments in parenting, however, that are not so easily laughed off.
They occur when our friends (or cousins, or neighbors…) do not share our style of parenting, and it becomes very difficult to get the families together. I’m not talking about benign differences – you use organic mild cheddar cheese in your enchiladas and your friend serves your kid enchiladas with organic medium cheddar, or, say, you hate country music and your friend plays country music in the car when you and your kid are there.
I’m talking about the bigger differences in parenting styles. Yelling. Spanking. Allowing kids to be disrespectful. When you’re in your friend’s house for a play-date with the kids, and your kid comes running down the stairs, crying because the host child won’t let her play with any of the toys in the house. And then the host child pushed your kid. And spit on your kid’s apple.
And your friend shakes her head and says to you, “well, you know how kids are. Best to ignore it and let them work it out.”
And the host child come running down the stairs and says, “I won’t share my toys. She can’t have any of my toys.”
And your friend laughs. And pours herself more wine. And she says to her child, “say you’re sorry. Then go back upstairs and be nice.”
And you know that’s about the worst advice she could give her kid, who is clearly not sorry and who clearly will not be nice when they go back upstairs.
And your kid looks at you with wide eyes as if to say, “Do something. “
And you just stand there. Because you aren’t really sure what to do.
So you mumble something about, oh, having to get home, and traffic, and needing to get to the airport, and war, and impending diarrhea. And you beat a hasty retreat to your car. And go home and change your phone number. And switch preschools. And leave the country. Because what are you going to do the next time your friend calls and invites you and your kid over to play?
Here, parents fall into a few disparate categories:
The Avoider – you pretty much just stop answering your phone. When your friend corners you about scheduling another play-date, you feign a fainting spell and collapse on the preschool parking lot. Every time.
The Ulcer-Developer – you continue to do play-dates with your friend and hope for the best. You tell your kid that you will buy him any toy he wants on the way home from the awful play-dates. You lose sleep and feel like a terrible parent.
The Bold Liar – you say to your friend, “we are quarantined. Forever.” Or you tell your friend you are allergic to her carpet. Or that your religion disallows play-dates.
The Earnest Truth-Teller – “Your child is awful. We hate him. I can’t believe you don’t hate him, as well.”
None of these strategies end well. And that is the bad news. There really is no one perfect way to extricate yourself from a situation where you don’t want your child to hang out with the child of someone who is/was your friend.
But there is some good news.
You can be very clear with yourself about where your loyalties lie. (They lie with your child. Please tell me you already knew that.) And in that clarity, you will realize that it doesn’t matter if the result of what you tell your (soon to be ex, perhaps) friend is that you are un-friended on Facebook, or trashed to the larger community, or kicked out of the book club or looked askance upon by the friends of your ex-friend. Because what matters is that you do the right thing by your child.
Your children need you to validate that you share the same values with them. So if a child grabs a toy from your kid and doesn’t give it back, or treats your child disrespectfully, and you keep going back to that child’s house for play-dates because you don’t want to jeopardize the relationship with the parent, the message you’re giving your child is that it’s okay to be treated badly.
Finding the exact right words to say isn’t as important as just getting the message right. And kids can understand that we sometimes flail for a while when we’re trying to deal with a sticky situation. But remembering that you are not there to change the other parent, and remembering that using the “I” message always saves the day (“I am not comfortable with the way the kids are playing together. I want to take a break from play-dates”), and – finally – remembering that the values you hold for your child are your guiding lights, you’ll find your way through it.
And if you don’t, I have a wig and sunglasses you can use around town.


Photo Credit: Sharon Mollerus


Parenting Consultant: I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say No

March 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Parenting, Parenting Coach

By Ann Brown, parenting consultant

Let your child be angry

I’m sitting on the living room couch as I write this column. My twenty-month old puppy, Phila, is snuggled next to me, her head on my lap. She is snoring happily. I am petting her, completely content. I’m also watching out for Robin because as soon as I see him coming up the stairs, I need to push Phila off the couch and pretend she was never there.
Phila isn’t allowed on the couch. She also isn’t allowed to chew on my shoes. Or get her own treats from the drawer. Or be off-leash in the park. Or do most any of the things I let her do. I don’t like upsetting her so I pretty much just say yes to everything she wants to do.
This is very bad parenting on my part.
I love to point the finger at all of you when I feel you are afraid to draw the line with your kids, or stand by your convictions or when you allow yourselves to be held hostage by your child’s emotions. One of my favorite soapbox rants is the one about teaching your kids that it’s safe to feel sad or mad or bad or frustrated or disappointed. If you are in my classes or groups, I don’t have to tell you this because it’s all you hear from me – blah blah blah let them feel their feelings, blah blah blah, let them be mad, blah blah blah, don’t give in to whining. Sometimes you roll your eyes at me when I get going on this topic. Yeah, I see you.
I really do believe what I say to you, believe me. If we give in to our kids because they have worn us down or because it hurts us to see them so upset, we are teaching them that life is not worth living unless we get everything we want. Not to mention that we are also teaching them that crying – or yelling, or whining, or arguing, or sulking – is power.
The “yes” given by a parent to a child that has within it a long-suffering sigh of “Fine. You’ve worn me down. I hate you. Eat the stinking cookie “ is not a satisfying “yes” to either the child or parent. It is a “yes” that is steeped in dysfunctional manipulation. And teeth-rotting sugar.
Kinda like the “yes” I just gave Phila when she – wet and muddy from the river – jumped up on the couch next to me and put her adorable head in my lap.
“Phila,” I said sternly, “No. You are not allowed on the couch. Off!”
Phila didn’t hear me, evidently. I probably said it too quietly. My fault.
So I said, a little bit louder, “Phila, no! Off the couch!” I made sure Robin could hear me from downstairs since he’s always on my case about being too soft with Phila and letting her get on the couch.
Phila stared intently out the living room window from her perch on the couch.
“Okay,” I said, “I see you’re busy right now guarding the street. One more minute, though, and then you have to get off the couch, okay?”
Then I laughed to myself because I am always telling you guys to stop saying “okay” at the end of a sentence in which you’ve told your kid to do something. It completely invalidates the instruction you’ve just given; it turns it into a choice.
I said, “okay”, however, to Phila because she is so stinking adorable. And I didn’t want to make her sad. Which is a totally valid reason for making bad parenting choices. Also, I have a headache and it’s too much work to follow through with what I expect her to do.
Also, I am so comfortable right now on the couch and I have a deadline of, like, yesterday to get this column in and if I have to stop what I’m doing to get Phila off the couch and keep her off, I’m not going to finish this article until waaaaaay past midnight. And then I’ll have another headache tomorrow.
And so it goes.
It’s so much easier to just give in. Even though I’m going to have to rent one of those supermarket upholstery cleaning machines tomorrow for the couch because Phila has deposited about half of the Willamette River water, mud and funk on my couch. And then I’m going to hope the couch dries before my Monday night parenting group comes over. And then, during group on Monday nights and Wednesday nights, I’m going to have to stop facilitating the parenting discussion to remind Phila about a zillion times not to get up on the couch to cuddle with the people in group. And I’m going to have to pretend that I am shocked that Phila keeps jumping up on the couch, you know, because she isn’t allowed to. And Phila will give me That Look, the look that says, “Please. We both know you’re going to give in, anyway. Let’s stop the charade.” And I’ll be embarrassed and exhausted and I’ll feel like a bad dog parent and after everyone in the group goes home, I’ll have A Stern Talk with Phila about her bad behavior.
And then I’ll finish off the cookies from group. And the wine. And the Ferrero Roche in the freezer from Valentine’s Day. And I will look longingly at the cranberry walnut bread from St. Honore’s that I am supposed to bring to school the next morning. And I will think to myself, “I should never have let Phila get up on the couch in the first place.” I will be riddled with shame and self-loathing.
The only thing harder than making bad parenting choices is making good parenting choices. Well, actually, they’re both hard. It’s just that one (good choices) is harder to do at the beginning because it’s so much remediation and reminding and re-doing. But the other one (bad choices) is harder later because you hate yourself for having been weak and giving in and now you have a fifty-eight pound puppy who does whatever the heck she darn well pleases to do.
I’m lucky. Phila doesn’t whine or argue with me. She doesn’t throw her cup at me because I gave her the blue cup instead of the green cup. She doesn’t throw a fit at Trader Joe’s because I won’t buy the ten- gallon tub of chocolate covered almonds. And yet, I still hate to say no to her.
Which means that I’m going to be buying a lot of new couches. Which I cannot afford. Unless I start more parenting groups. Which I can’t, because all my furniture is funky from Phila and there will be nowhere for them to sit. Because I cannot say no to my dog.
But there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza…
Next week: Phila will give her rebuttal.


Photo Credit: Greg Westfall


House Arrest Is Best

February 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Family

February_2013_Portland_Maine_DSC2111 By Corey Templeton Congress Street Arts District Snow Storm 2 Sidewalk


From what I’ve gleaned off of Facebook, people are ignoring the alerts to stay indoors and they are leaving their houses. In the snow and ice. To go places.

I really don’t get it.

I must have been born without the cabin fever gene because I am starting to panic that in the next few days, we are going to be able to venture out of our houses. And all the reasonable excuses to stay at home will disappear.

Here is what I have at my house: EVERYTHING I need.

Here is what the outside world offers me: Hmmm….still thinking.

The other day, my mom told me that she wants to give my sister money so Karen and Craig can go to France. She asked me if that would be weird for me if she did that.

And then we both laughed merrily. Because I would give Karen a couple of thousands of dollars just so I don’t have to go to France. My feeling about Karen traveling is that every time she goes somewhere, the pressure is off of me to go somewhere. It’s a win/win. Well, except for Robin, who probably didn’t bank on marrying someone who travels only to Clusterfuckistan, which is in my own head.

Poor Robin. When Robin and I met, I was a kickass traveler. I had lived in Israel, I had been to Europe, I had been to Mexico; I cut a rather swashbuckling figure to him, I imagine ( I just called downstairs to ask him if when we met I cut a swashbuckling figure to him. He started laughing so hard, he is now choking on a mucous wad and sounds like he might barf). I will take that as a “yes”.

I used to get excited when I made plane reservations. Now I keep making them and re-making them until the confirmation code letters spell out something that I can make into a good harbinger. If the confirmation code has an “X” in it, well, forget it. That means I will die because it stands for the “ex” Me.

It is not easy being me. The ex Me or the current Me.

My uncle Harvey, who is a non-stop world traveler, taught me a trick. Well, not so much a trick as a window into the genetic neuroses of our family. Whenever he is flying, he says to his friend Arnie (who often travels with him), “Happy landings on a chocolate bar.” And they fly, travel and return safely.

Please don’t try that for yourself, however, because then you all will use up its magic powers. And my uncle Harvey will…well, you get the picture. And you don’t want that on your head.

Harvey’s son, Adam, is the reason airline companies exist. Adam is an insatiable traveler. I really cannot believe we came from the same DNA. His blood must have come from the part of the family who rose from their hovel in the Ukraine to fight the Cossacks with their last breath. And then booked a flight to LA.

My blood came from the same hovel, but clearly through the family chihuahua who piddled on the down blankets while hidden under a floorbood in the kitchen and prepared for certain death by the Czar.

Adam said to me, “You know how you panic when you have to fly somewhere and be somewhere new? That’s how I feel when I don’t have somewhere to go.”

I don’t even think he’s actually Jewish.

Although without the Uncle Harveys and Cousin Adams and the Sylvia Browns in our bloodline, we would never have made it to America. If the family’s future had rested in me, we’d still be in the shtetl, stretching out that last crumb of black bread. On the upside, however, we could have probably walked over to Sochi this week. Something Adam and Harvey and Sylvia cannot do from America. Just saying.

I like to be home. And nap. And eat. And be grumpy. I am probably about 90% ursine and 10% human. Especially when I haven’t waxed in a while.

So, I will squeeze the final perfect hours of this ice storm exactly where I want to be. Home. I’m off to the kitchen now to get some–

Wait. Fuck. We’re out of wine. FUCK. Fuck.

Help. I’m stuck in my house in an ice storm. Get me out of here!


Olympic Parenting: Gold Medal Slacker Mom

February 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Family

By Ann Brown, Parenting Consultant

parenting consultant

I’m watching the Olympics as I write this article. And I cannot help but think about the parents of the athletes, and the sacrifices they made for their children.
I wonder about the role the parents played in encouraging their future champion to rise to Olympic heights. I mean, do you think that Gracie Gold’s mom had to force her to go to skating practice in the early mornings? Or that Sage Kotsenberg’s parents made him spend afternoons on his snowboard when all he wanted to do was study for his algebra test?
The idea intrigues me because I never pushed my kids to do anything. Well, as far as I can recall, I never did. Hold on, let me go ask them.
They aren’t taking my call. Hunh.
I was a product of the sixties; my parents were, as well. We marched in anti-war protests together, we walked picket lines together, and together we yelled bad words at one of our presidents when he entered the Century City Hotel in Los Angeles many decades ago. Raising kids in the sixties – at least, in our circles – was strongly rooted in “do your own thing”, “subvert the dominant paradigm”, and – in our family’s case – “ you can’t go barefoot to Grandma’s funeral”. Because there were some rules.
My parents did, however, force my sister and me to do the following:
1. Take piano lessons. Until we didn’t want to anymore.
2. Go to Sunday School. Until we didn’t want to anymore.
We also had to do the dishes every night, and clean the house on Saturdays. But I don’t remember fighting them on that so I can’t really speak to whether or not we were forced. Doing the dishes with my sister was kinda awesome. We brought our transistor radio into the kitchen and sang along with the Beatles. I really think my ability to sing vocal harmonies has its foundation in those early years when my sister was Lennon and I was McCartney in our little kitchen on Crewe Street.
Could I have been an Olympic pianist, or dishwasher, if my parents had pushed me to persevere and excel?
Years ago, there was a family in my class that came to me when their first child was almost two years old. The little boy walked into my classroom wearing a NASA jumpsuit.
“He is going to be an astronaut,” the mother explained to me.
I smiled my benign smile. The smile you give to parents when they have no idea what lies ahead of them in parenting. Bless your hopeful, naive, clueless hearts, my smile silently said.
“No, I mean it, “ she said, “We have been teaching him about space since he was a baby. His crib is a rocket ship. His whole life revolves around going into outer space.”
During the year they were in my class, the little boy showed up every single week in some sort of NASA outfit, reciting some sort of astronaut-ish facts and eating space food. Okay, that last part isn’t true, but it totally could have been. When I gently prodded the parents about their goal for their child, I was shut down.
“The only way it’s going to happen,” the dad told me, “is if we make it happen for him until he can do it himself.”
Call me a slacker parent (because I pretty much am one) but it seems to me that if a child is going to excel in something to the level of NASA or the Olympics, it probably will be carried by the sheer will of the child. I just don’t think that Sean White’s mom and dad had to drag her son kicking and screaming up to the ski slopes. I suspect it was getting him off the mountain that took all their parenting strength.
Supporting your child in his/her pursuits is very different from forcing your goals down their throats. And the earlier we push, the longer it will take for them to discover their true passions for themselves.
One of my kids was strongly into Dungeons and Dragons when he was young. Me, I had no interest in it; in fact, I vaguely thought it was creepy. But my kid devoured the game and begged me to take him to the creepy tournaments (where, at the age of seven, he was the only person there under thirty years old). And when I didn’t take him to the tournaments – when I faked being busy or flat-out refused – he used his allowance and took a cab, organized his own tournaments at our house (with children; I drew the line at having adult D&D players in my home. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…) or practiced on his own.
Yes, this is a very dorky story but you get my point. When a child is motivated by passion for something, you can’t stop them from forging ahead. Now it would be pretty awesome if the thing my son pursued was piano – or skiing, or service to the poor, or poetry – but it was not my destiny to choose his destiny. And as it is, he turned out quite fine. And he has not played D&D for over twenty years. As far as I know.
I think it’s worthwhile to give our kids lots and lots of experiences in many things. And I think that it is our job to encourage, support and – if necessary – hold the line at the things that reflect our values and vision. But is it our job to create champions of our children? Is it our right?
I’m definitely on the “soft kitty, nice kitty” side of the Tiger Mom spectrum. And yes, my kids are not Olympians. They did not have roomfuls of awards and ribbons when they were growing up. In fact, they mostly had disgusting, stinky sox and empty, decaying Capri Sun pouches in their rooms. One of my kids went to soccer ONCE, at age five, and declared never to return. The other kid stopped violin lessons in sixth grade. I was cool. I figured it was their lives and their decisions. I also had a headache most of the years they were young. I never got enough sleep, so I was pretty happy to just let them do their thing and leave me to the couch with a cold compress on my forehead. But that’s an issue between my kids and their future shrinks.
I did force them, however, to always write “thank you” notes for their birthday presents, and to work at the homeless shelter on Christmas, and to rinse the dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, and to do their own laundry, and to become Bar Mitzvahs, and to never, ever cross a picket line. Because those are things I believe in.
As far as I know, that little boy in my class never made it to NASA. I’m not even sure he made it through high school. Wherever he is, I hope he’s happy and fulfilled from his own dreams. And I hope his parents have realized that his life is not their life. We name our kids, we protect them, we inspire them and we support them, but we don’t hold the puppet strings.
On the other hand, maybe if I had named my kids Bode and Sage, I’d be in Sochi right now.


My Panda, My Self

January 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Family

By Ann Brown


I was listening to NPR recently, to learn a few facts that I could insert into conversation should I ever be court-ordered to go outside my house and socialize with people.

I am always on the lookout for conversation topics, as – despite my propencity for long, drawn out essays on myself and my feelings and my personal history and my odd skin conditions me me me me me – I often find myself at a loss for words in real life situations. After “Hi, nice to see you”, I start praying for a small deus ex machina to end the scene. An earthquake, a knife fight, a dinner bell being rung, whatev. Honestly, I don’t really get what people actually talk about in real life. To me, in social situations, it’s pretty much just reciting my funny stories and then waiting for an earthquake.

I don’t go to a lot of parties.

But I like to be prepared in case I am forced to attend one. Which is why I listen to NPR as much as I can to keep at the ready a topical or amusing or politically provocative conversation starter.

This week, I got much more than that.

Baby Bao Bao – the panda at the National Zoo – is now ready to meet the public. This in of iteself was troublesome news to me as I began to wonder what I would say if I had the opportunity to chat with BB. I don’t know a lot about pandas but I don’t think my story about when I sang Jewish folk songs at the State Maximum Security Prison in Tracy, California – a story that is riveting in liberal Jewish circles – would be a hit with Bao Bao. Plus, Bao Bao is just a baby and my story includes some rough shit.

But after listening to the whole Panda story on NPR, I am totally ready to meet any Panda. Anywhere. Anytime. Because I learned from that story that I am a panda. Ich bin eine Panda.

The facts:

Pandas eat fourteen hours a day. Yeah, well that one is a no-brainer. Check.

Pandas do not hibernate but they appear sleepy. Ask anyone. I always appear sleepy. I yawn constantly. I even once swallowed a fruit fly because I was yawning when I opened the top of the compost bucket.

Pandas don’t kill for food and they don’t eat meat. Well, I can say that so far, I have not killed for food, although I was pretty darn angry that time a large family dressed in their after-church clothes came into New Seasons Market one Sunday morning and bought the last of the Kung Pao tofu. I didn’t not kill them. But I gave the little girl a very witheringly cold look that, I am pretty sure, conveyed my displeasure. And I don’t eat meat. Unless you count chicken and brisket as meat. Oh, and turkey burgers. But I am enormously conflicted about it. As I suspect some closeted Chinese Chicken Salad eating Pandas are, as well. We should start a support group.

Pandas do not like other pandas. Their interaction with eachother is primarily unfriendly. Check. Ask pretty much anyone who has ever tried to get me on the phone. And the nice people at the dog park totally see me pretend to not to see them waving to me as I hurry Phila down the path away from them. I know they think I am stuck up because I don’t go over there and hang out with them. I heard there was a party last summer and everyone from the dog park was invited. I know this because they invited Robin. And Phila.

The female Panda goes into estrus and accepts sexual intercourse ONCE a year. I was going to ask Robin to comment on this one but I’m afraid if I bring up the subject of sex, he will get all horny and want to have some with me. And we already had sex in 2014.

But wait. There’s more!

After her once-a-year estrus, the female Panda appears to be pregnant. It is impossible to know if she really is until a baby is – or is not – born. Although I am no longer asked when my baby is due – I have finally reached that sweet stage of life where my old age clearly precludes anyone thinking I might be pregnant – I have to say that, in terms of comfort and movability, nothing beats the maternity jeans I bought in 1981 at Mervyn’s. Thank God I bought seven pairs back then.

And finally, this:

Pandas cost a lot. You have to spend a lot of money to have them, but they make a lot of money, too. Very true for me, too. What I spend on depilatories and Emergen-C alone exceeds the GNP of some small countries. But, I also make a lot of– oh wait. No I don’t. Shit.

Ich nisht bin eine Panda, I guess.

Oh well. Hopefully, it will still make a semi-interesting bit of socializing smalltalk. You know, how after listening to NPR I realized I am not a Panda. Sweet. I’ve got my conversation topic taken care of for this year. AND I’ve had sex.

See you in 2015.


Parenting Consultant: Read My Lips

January 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Parenting, Parenting Coach

By Ann Brown


On the agenda at this week’s faculty meeting was the book, How Children Succeed. The director had given us each a copy of the book at the back-to-school faculty retreat and we all agreed to read it and discuss it together. Because we are an erudite, intellectually curious, book-discussing kind of faculty. Plus, everyone is in a “yes” sort of mood at the beginning of the year. As opposed to the end-of-the-year faculty retreat when we tend to table everything on the agenda until the back-to-school faculty retreat and spend the day gazing at the beauty of the sun on Teacher Elizabeth’s pool and promising that by next year’s b-t-s faculty retreat we will be courageous enough to wear a bathing suit. Oh wait. Maybe that’s just me.

Frankly, however, I don’t remember agreeing to read the book at all, but I believe that it happened. The back-to-school retreat is generally when I resolve to be A Better Teacher and I probably answered with an enthusiastic affirmative when Sheila asked if we wanted to do a book discussion this year. Or – a more plausible theory – when that dialogue happened, I was in the kitchen, loading up on the feta and Kalamata olives and squinting deep into the pitcher to see if all the sangria was gone. We take food very seriously at our faculty retreats. In fact, last month we spent over forty minutes discussing the menu for our faculty holiday party and subsequently had to table the discussion on How Children Succeed until after Winter Break.

Even with the extra weeks, however, I came to last Friday’s meeting still not having read the book, wholly unprepared to discuss it. Which – if you know me even a little bit you will not be surprised to hear this – did not stop me from expressing my opinions about it. Evidently, I don’t really have to have read a book to be able to talk about it for an entire ninety-minute faculty meeting.

Despite just making up stuff, I found myself really getting into the discussion. During a particularly lively conversation about fostering qualities of grit and perseverance in children, I even volunteered to write an article about it for the school newsletter. In fact, I would write an article about the whole book! So you could all learn from what I read!

I was so carried away with my awesome offer to do this that it kinda slipped my mind that I haven’t, ahem, read the book yet. Though I sincerely intend to. Right after I finish reading that Maria Semple book, whatsitcalled? Bernadette or something. It’s due at the library on Tuesday so I really have to read it this weekend.

But there is good news.

As it turns out, a point in the book that we were discussing – and about which I volunteered to write – is a topic dear to my heart. It is a topic about which I have done quite a bit of research. And by “research”, I mean I have spent a lot of time on a sunny chaise lounge, drinking white Sangria during summer vacation thinking about it.

The topic is: coping skills.

As with pretty much everything in raising kids, it all begins with us – the parents – modeling the quality we want to see in our child. This can be confusing and difficult in a world that tells us our kids need high self esteem to succeed, and to be an involved parent, and to validate, validate, validate. It can feel as though fostering coping skills is in direct conflict with our “everybody wins” culture of parenting.

The way I see it, we have to offer our kids appropriate opportunities and doses of frustration, sadness, anger and – yes – failure in order to foster their coping skills. I mean, if you never feel failure or disappointment, with what, exactly, are you learning to cope?

Let’s say, for instance, that your four-year-old comes home from school and says to you, “my teacher is so MEAN! She made us come inside from the yard just when we were in the middle of our game! It made me sad the whole afternoon.”

What do you say? If you try to reference all the parenting books, you can find yourself saying everything from, “that teacher DOES sound mean. I am so sorry you were sad” to “never question a teacher” to “bring Mommy her beer, please. My day was no fucking picnic, either.”

Fostering coping skills in our kids allows us to keep The Big Picture in mind when responding to our kid’s frustration. We can say, “Yeah, nobody likes having to stop their game in the middle’” and give our child a sincere look of validation. And then we can move on to a new topic of conversation.
Or, let’s say your child starts crying because the blue cup he wanted was chosen by his baby sister. It can be tempting to belittle or dismiss the kid’s crying, especially at the end of a long day (“IT’S JUST A CUP. A STUPID, #%&^%^ CUP, DO YOU HEAR ME? THERE ARE CHILDREN WHO HAVE NO WATER!!!”) or to sink to The Stuff We Swore We’d Never Do (“you want something to cry about??? I’ll give you something to cry about!”) or – and I admit to doing this more than once – just take the stupid blue cup from the stupid baby and give it to the whiner. Because life is short and you will put your head in the oven if you have to listen to your child cry one more stupid minute.

And then you say to yourself, “what did that blowhard Ann Brown write about that book she never read that talked about fostering coping skills in my child?”

And you remember what I wrote. And you say to your child, “Yeah, I get it. You are really disappointed about not having the blue cup today. Some days are like that.” You try very very very very hard not to sound sarcastic when you say it because your goal is to validate the child’s feelings without buying into it.

If you are an aging hippie like me, you might call this: COMPASSIONATE DETACHMENT. And it will set you – and your child – free. Not to put too dramatic a spin on it or anything.

Kids need to know what disappointment feels like. Because if they experience it, that’s how they trust that they are capable of living through it. Kids need to know what sadness feels like. And frustration. And anger. And failure. And the myriad feelings that we think we are supposed to protect them from feeling.

The trick, as a parent, is to find that sincere balance of compassion and detachment. Personally, I think it starts in the eyes. Really locking eyes with your child and transmitting a message of “I hear you”. If you have a strong visual connection that reads compassion, then your words of detachment from the issue won’t sting as much.

“You are really angry and sad because we took the Christmas tree down. I remember when I have felt like that.”

And then you give your kid a little hug or a nice lovey kitty gaze, and you move on. You don’t give it any more energy than that.

Raising kids with strong coping skills is pretty much numbers one, two and three on the list of stuff that’s really important to do. People who can cope with the vicissitudes of life, people who see failures and disappointment in perspective, people who believe they can weather a storm, are generally optimistic, resilient and adventurous people. Even if they have melancholic, hand-wringing Eyeore type mothers like me.

Raising kids with strong coping skills also requires the parents to get through hearing a lot of crying (their child’s. Well, and their own, I suppose, as well). Because your child is allowed to feel what s/he feels. You cannot be the feelings Nazi (“That’s not a good reason to be sad”). But you can make sure your child’s feelings don’t rule and define the entire household. (“I get it that you’re really sad about the Christmas tree. But we are eating dinner now, and if you’d like to join us, you will have to pull yourself together.”)

(Also, the example of the Christmas tree is just conjecture. I’m Jewish. I have no idea what feelings arise from taking down a Christmas tree. Personally, when it’s time to put the Chanukah menorah away after eight nights, I am happy and relieved and sick of candle wax on the dining room table.)

Please don’t hesitate to continue the dialogue about this great book, How Children Succeed. I’m happy to talk to you about it. Right after I read it. Or not.


I’m Dreaming Of A Whole Grain Christmas

January 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Family

By Ann Brown

Whole grains


I am giving up white bread. And white rice. And all white food.

And, please, don’t go writing in to tell me how you gave up white food and now you are happy and healthy and bluebirds braid your hair in the morning. I am not interested.

I’m not doing this to look better. That particular ship sailed in, like, 1973. And it isn’t coming back unless I find a quarter million under my pillow and go in for a complete rehaul. And even then.

I’m not even doing this to feel better, which is the lie everyone tells everyone when they start eating healthier. Please. If you look like shit, you don’t care if you feel like gold.

I’m doing this because it finally got to me. This whole grains only scheme has been insinuated into our reality for so long, and touted so highly, that it just seems the thing to do. I guess when a ridiculous concept becomes widely accepted, it stops feeing ridiculous even though it totally is. Like the concept of Sara Palin running for President. Or the concept of rehab. Or women’s suffrage.

So, white is out in 2014. Whole grain is the new white.

Wade, did you hear that?

I am going to take this even a step further. I will be switching out all my white friends and replacing them with whole grain friends. White people just sit in your gut and make you feel bloated and gassy. Plus, when I start hanging with white people, I can’t just stop at one. Also, I think they raise my blood sugar level. What with their stollen and coffee cake and shit.

I expect huge dramatic changes when I make the switch to whole grain. I expect my novels will be published. I expect there will be no traffic on HIghway 43 coming in from Lake Oswego at rush hour. I expect Republicans will stop obstructing every fucking thing that is good for our country. After all, Republicans are pretty white. And bloated and gassy.

Out with white. Out with white.

Uh oh. That means no bagels. Fuck.

Yeah, I know about whole grain bagels and all the permutations thereof. But a whole grain bagel is about as comforting as a German accent in a room of Jews. Maybe I should start with merely limiting the number of bagels I eat. Instead of eating the entire dozen, I could eat, say, seven at one sitting.

And then go jogging.

To Germany. With Repulicans.

And then go to rehab.

2014 is gonna be awesome.


Uncomfortable Conversations with Mom

November 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Family

By Ann Brown

don't talk

Next April, when I turn 60, I will be eligible for senior services, including moving into the Jewish old age home.

This is awesome news.

A nice apartment, a restaurant on-site, a cleaning service, transporation to anywhere I want to go in Portland, and an emergency call button next to the toilet. Really, is that senior residential care or is it HEAVEN? I do not understand why anyone wouldn’t want to live there.

Fuck the commune, friends. We’re headed out to Jewish senior living. Pack your Zumba shoes and follow me.

Old Jews are my kind of people. Who else will be continually interested in the comings and goings of my intestines?

I bet in the Jewish old age home no one pressures you to, say, join the polo team or pray to craven images of God (which is what I suspect they do for leisure in the non-Jewish old age homes), two activities that I can do without.

On the down side, however, I bet they put out a better Happy Hour cocktail selection at the gentile home down the road. I suppose I could hit the old Jews for the brunch spread and then meander over to the gentiles for an apertif.

Whew. Okay, got that worked out.

I can tell you one thing for sure: my mom is NOT going to move to the old age home with me. She is – at age 89 – anti-old people. Whereas I – at age 59 – am already one.

She recently returned from a trip to Italy. She had invited me to go with her but I couldn’t, of course, what with my grueling schedule of avoiding working on the novel and posting selfies of Phila and me on Facebook. Plus, I’ve been to England and France and Greece and Israel and I cannot imagine there’s much in Italy that I didn’t already see in those other countries.

Except, according to Mom, penises.

I endured a ten minute phone conversation with her in which she described her two-week art tour, penis by penis.

“So many penises,” she said to me, while I desperately tried to unhear what she was saying. “You can’t believe the penises on those statues!”

Now I don’t know about you, but I am pushed way out of my comfort zone when my mom says the word “penis” even one time. When she says it eleven times in one conversation, I get clammy and woozy and look for the emergency call button next to my toilet.

“Penis” is not a word that sounds normal in a mom’s voice. A mother’s voice should say words like “soup” and “I bought you some new pajamas”. And, “you sound tired. Did you have a bowel movement today?”

Not my mom. She says “penis.” And “those penises were huge!” And, “they had big holes in them. Do you want to know why?” (no). “Well, I’ll tell you…”(please dear God, no)

I never should have let her go to Italy to look at art. I should have made her go to, I don’t know, Branson, Missouri. I bet you could spit a hundred yards in Branson, Missouri, and never hit a penis statue.

My mom is very comfortable with penis talk. I think it has to do with her becoming a therapist during the late 1960′s when nine out of ten therapists recommended that everybody let it all hang out. Unfortunately, during the late 1960′s I was a teenager. When ten out of ten teenagers recommended that their mothers put it all back in.

“You go to the plazas,” she told me on the phone, “all you see are penises. You go to the museum – penises. Statues everywhere – penises, penises, penises.”

“Uh-huh, ” I said, jamming the phone repeatedly into my eyes for distraction.

“Mom,” I said brightly, “how was the food?”

“Horrible. Feh. Although the fruit was delicious. But enough, genuch with the penises already!”

I’m pretty sure that’s how Pope Clement put it, as well, back in the the 1600′s. Presuming he spoke a little Yiddish.

So he ordered metal fig leaves to be put over all the penises on all the statues.

Which is why they all have those HUGE holes in them.

Hey, if I have to know, you have to know.


Parenting Consultant: “What I Don’t Know”

November 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Family, Parenting, Parenting Coach

By Parenting Consultant, Ann Brown

kids and technology
As I write this article, we are already encroaching upon 2014. Because I am an old crone compared to you who will be reading this, I can remember, back in the 1960’s, the awe I felt when I imagined what the new millennium would be like. The idea of the year 2014 was mind-blowing to me. It still is.

The world your children will grow to inherit is already so much different than the world I inherited. My world had the first color TV, a man on the moon, polio vaccine on a sugar cube, the Pill. My childhood was filled with wonder, not only at the marvels of the time but also at the natural, almost magical happenings around me. I was five years old when my childhood cat had kittens. My sister and I sat on the kitchen floor while Gigi delivered nine gooey, red and white striped babies (Moses, Hebsibiah-Tzipora*, Pegasus, Penny, Fluffy, Sarah, Rebecca, Piñata and Pierre) onto my favorite Lanz nightgown with which we’d lined a cardboard box from the grocery store garbage bin.

Karen and I watched silently as Gigi did what ancestral knowledge guided her to do. She hadn’t read What To Expect When You’re Expecting Kittens, or gone to Lamaze class or sat in a crowded primary school auditorium with the rest of the fourth grade girls in her class to watch the 8mm movie about menstruation; the movie from which I gathered that when you are around twelve years old you get your period and continue to get it every day until you are fifty or so..

Witnessing the miracle of Gigi’s delivery and the birth of the nine kittens incorrectly answered as many questions in my young mind as it created new ones, and my sister and I spent years afterwards jumping to some alarmingly wrong conclusions about how species procreate, including, but not limited to, my sister’s insistence that babies are made in the shower (my sister recently explained to me that she was pretty sure people were naked when they made babies and the only place she could fathom anyone would be naked would be in the shower) and the belief that if a cat and a dog made babies, half of them would be kittens and half would be puppies. Our homegrown information about the miracle of life also reached, tragically, to the miracle of death where in the process of our extensive research, I am sorry to confess, many innocent pet turtles with painted shells, purchased regularly on Los Angeles’ famous downtown Olvera Street, gave their lives in such heroic ways as being lost behind the living room couch and being abandoned in the blazing LA sun when we grew tired of turtle races in the tall grass of our front lawn, only to be discovered days or weeks later by my mom and flushed down the toilet. I fully expect to see those turtles, their backs brightly painted with the colors of the Mexican flag, waiting for me at the Pearly Gates with a major chip on their shoulders. And well I deserve their wrath. Although I might point out, just fyi, that the paint those poor turtles were covered in was probably toxic and they weren’t destined to live a long, healthy life, anyway. Not that I am trying to worm my way out of my own accountability.

My world still has sources of wonder that are beyond my understanding: installing apps into my i-phone, using the hashtag correctly; things that have turned me into an embarrassment, a dolt, a technodinosaur; someone who, say, would have tried to play a vinyl record on her Polaroid One-Step camera. I kinda like that. I like knowing that every day, if I wanted to, I could find something unbelievable in this ever-changing world.

I’m not so sure that your kids will be as mystified by life as I was and am. Your children live in a world of instant information, of explanation, of empirical evidence. Parents today need to work hard to protect the gift of wonderment for our children. The world is so scientific, so informative, and so little is left to the imagination. Children are expected to learn the way adults do, and adults are expected to learn like machines. There is a dearth of acceptable opportunities for learning by experience or apprenticeship or just plain passage of time. Learning by experience leaves room for misinformation, to be sure but it also makes room for imagination, hypotheses, confidence, perseverance and acceptance of occasional failure. It also makes room for something even more important – the space to not know something until the time is right to know it.

What leaves with wonder is a sense of possibility that lives outside our realm of control – a sense that we might be surprised by life! There’s not much today about which your young children cannot access information. Computers tell them that teeth fall out because of physiological readiness, TV commercials tell them that Christmas toys are made at the Mattel or Nintendo factory, not in Santa’s workshop. Our kids are woefully sophisticated these days about the ways of their world.

I think that’s a shame.

Granted, maybe I am woefully uninformed about certain things – I still say “i-pad” when I mean “i-pod”, and vice versa– but I believe that if we crowd our young children’s minds with facts and information, it will be at the expense of leaving no room for magic and wonderment.

When my children were little I used to cut their apples in half in a way that the seeds made a star shape in the center. Now, certainly there is a botanical answer to why that is so (or so I presume) but my kids thrilled to believe it was magic their mom could summon by saying, “apple, apple from the tree, make a star that we can see!” before she cut into it. I imagine that my cerebral, brainiac boys figured out the scientific reason for the seed placement long before I did (uh, I still haven’t….) but they still enjoyed the flourish and pomp with which I cut their apples. In fact, even though they are both grown up, out of college and out of law school, I cut apples that way every once in a while, just to remember the old days. When I knew more than they did. A long, long time ago.

Children have a way of figuring things out. True, they are usually wrong. But they need the opportunity to be wrong and later discover a new answer. They have a lifetime to learn what they need to learn. The Information Age offers us a tempting buffet of learning everything now, quickly, all at once. It takes willpower to hold back, to give our kids factual information and experiences slowly, in appropriate moderation. It is hard because today there is a sense, in our culture, that we can know, and thereby control “it all.” That we can “fix” life. Yet…there is so much in life that you can’t muscle your way through – tragedy and joy alike. Our culture steps a bit roughly on the hope of the unexpected. In grooming our kids for success from infancy, we squash the “Gee, I wonder where life might take me?” that earlier generations had. At age 6, my son hated for people to ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He shed tears of frustration over kindergarten career day. He felt like they were asking for too much of a commitment. And I don’t blame him. I think it shows great wisdom – not wanting to open that present yet. Why ruin the adventure?

The tradition of misinformation being passed from sibling to sibling was continued when I had kids. One day, I overheard my then-four year old son telling his nine-year old brother about menopause.

“It happens to all of them and it takes a really long time,” my four year old explained.

“How long?” my nine-year old asked him.

“All winter.”

There was an awed silence. Then the nine year old spoke. “Explain it to me again,” he said, “because it really doesn’t make sense.”

The four year old sighed with an exasperation I’ve recently recognized when he’s had to explain to me for the gajillionth time how the Electoral College works and why we have the Iowa caucuses.

“Okay,” he said evenly, “it’s called menopause. And she stays in the cocoon for a whole, long winter and that’s where it happens.”

I was rooted to my hiding place behind the door. This was something even I didn’t understand about menopause. Guess my big sister didn’t tell me everything, after all.

“In a cocoon?” asked the older one, “are you sure?” He was beginning to sound alarmed. Frankly, so was I. I had to break in.

“What are you talking about?” I asked them. My younger son eagerly shared his knowledge with me.

“Menopause,” he said, “you know, how the caterpillar goes into the cocoon and comes out a butterfly.”

I was slightly hindered by a weak high school background in science and a college degree in Ethnomusicology but even so, I felt capable of asserting my educated opinion.

“Do you mean ‘metamorphosis?’” I asked him.

He considered my question for a moment. “Oh yeah”, he said brightly.

Albert Einstein said, “there are two ways of looking at the world: that everything is a miracle, and that nothing is a miracle.” I choose to keep some wonderment, some miracles in my life.

Especially when it comes to installing apps on my i-phone.
Ann Brown has a private practice in parenting consultation


Thinking Beyond Parenting: “My Health Plan”

October 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Family

By Ann Brown


Summer is long gone but for the liver spots on my face.

I am hoping my liver spots will just connect to each other, resulting in a beautiful overall dark complexion. I am not without a low-cost beauty plan for my sixth decade. With Obamacare hanging so precariously in the balance, we have to be creative.

My adjunct plan is to eat more butter so my heart will give out before The Melanoma gets me. Right now, I think The Melanoma and The Heart Attack are neck in neck. So to speak. Actually, also literally: my neck is literally lost in my other neck.

So I have been thinking about getting some work done. It came to me this summer when we put a new roof on the house, painted the exterior, rebuilt the back deck, widened the stone steps in the yard and remodeled the upstairs bathroom.

I took a good long look in the mirror and said to myself, “you could use a new roof, too, Missy. There are patches on your top where nothing is covered. And your exterior is definitely showing cracks from age. Your siding is full of rough edges and splinters.”

Let’s not even get started on what my back deck looks like. My planks are totally warped. Fuck.

And as for my upstairs remodel? Well, my foundation is dangerously sagging. And possibly moldy. Some days I’m afraid to look under my bra.

Still, I’ve been pretty lucky so far. The past 59 years haven’t left me with too many signs of age. I follow the adage, “after 50, you have to choose your ass or your face.”

Yes, my knees give out every once in a while, and my hands look like they need ironing, and I make little “oy” noises when I get up from a low chair. But, all in all, it’s been okay.

At least I still have my fart muscles intact. I haven’t yet begun to do that guerilla farting thing that my sister does where out of nowhere, she farts. She claims she can’t help it, that she doesn’t even know it’s coming. And I suppose I am inclined to believe her but, honestly, if I were afflicted with Guerilla Fart Syndrome, I would lie about it.

Karen is a delicate little flower; she hardly eats anything so her farts aren’t much to deal with. Her little guerilla farts are no more than a delightful unexpected blast of coronets heralding the coming of the king.

When GFS hits me, I can do that thing that Robin does, I suppose. When he feels a fart coming on in public, he moves quickly through the crowd and then makes a speedy exit. He calls it Crop Dusting. It’s gross. If you ever find yourself with Robin in a crowded room and he suddenly begins to power walk towards the door, beware. Especially if it’s Taco Tuesday.

Anyway, back to me.

I think I would like an Eye Job first. My eyelids are bunched to the point of my having to stake them up just to put on makeup. I should tape little Venetian blind pull-up cords at the corner of my eyes.

After my Eye Job, I think I shall have one of those surgeries where they take fat from one place and put it in another place. Like Somalia, maybe. Because there’s no place on my body that needs extra fat. Too bad we can’t do Fat Donation Drives for the Red Cross. You lay down, donate your fat and then they give you cookies! And you eat, like, two dozen of them. And you make more fat! Which you donate to starving people. Hakuna Matata.

I better get to DC while the debate is still on. I think this can work.


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