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As if anyone needed proof, it’s been a really long winter…

Like many in his gender, Slim likes to throw around numbers, statistics and dates the way most women can be dropped in a grocery store like a military recon mission and know instinctively where the produce, eggs and bread are located. (And need we even ask the question, which one of these skills actually keeps the family fed?)

A few weeks ago, he floated this one out there. “Did you know that forty percent of women have had car accidents in their own garages?”

Seasoned by his particular line of baiting, I immediately brushed him off with a convincing, “That is ridiculous. That is totally made up.”

“No, it’s true,” he went on. “And you know what else, 100% of those women think it’s not funny.”

I thought this would set off a round of women screwing in light bulb jokes, or a discussion of the years-old claim that a woman over 40 was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married.

But no, he was content to stick with women challenged by the confines of their own homes, or rather garages.

“If you don’t believe me, prove it,” he said.

Happily rising to the defense of my gender, I checked with insurance agents, drivers ed instructors, homebuilders, commercial parking lot designers, and body shop specialists. None could give me any hard data on the postulation.

However, they were each happy to share countless stories of women drivers who had indeed come in too close contact with their own domestic structures.

“It happens all the time,” said my local body shop, which repairs over 1,000 cars a year. “It’s always, ‘I didn’t see the car,’ ‘I didn’t see the pole,’ or ‘I didn’t see the wall.’”

As for those walls that seem to jump out of nowhere, builders told me of routinely having to return to clients’ homes to repair the door frames, garage doors, the actual garage walls, side-jambs, and even the drywall at the front of garages that bumpers mysteriously break through.

Over the last few decades, garages and their attendant doors have steadily grown to meet the demands of larger cars, and perhaps increasingly distracted drivers. A standard double car garage door used to be 16 feet wide by 7 feet high. With many SUVs and minivans measuring in at over 6 feet high, 6 feet wide, and a whopping 18-plus feet long, that would be a tight squeeze.

Garage doors are now made a standard 8 feet high and are commonly broken down into two 9 or 10 feet wide his and hers bays. Plenty of room for a $600 collapsible stroller to be moved without collapsing.

It would appear, however, that this additional width might not have solved the problem.

Although I’m no statistician, I built a few spreadsheets in my day and can certainly collect a set of data. So, I farmed the question out to 25 friends and family across the country – trying to account for city dwellers and suburban types, number of kids, size of vehicle and even style of driver. Yes, I’m equipped to judge my circle.

I’ve looked for all kinds of angles to spin the data, but sadly, it comes out that nearly 70% of women have had some type of altercation with their own garage, driveway or mailbox.

And a note to many of my friends who started their replies with “no” and followed that with “however,” “except,” and “actually.” You could have just skipped the “no” part.

Buried in the numbers, replies and explanations, there were some real treasures. I promised to protect the innocents, but these are my people and this is why I love them:

I clipped both side view mirrors without leaving my property.

I took out the whole tail end of my car when I backed into a concrete planter. Stupid thing shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

My second incident was when I backed the Volvo wagon out of the garage with the ski rack on top. Put two perfect circular holes in the garage door that was hanging above the car.

Addendum to the note to friends: numbering your incidents is not in your best interest.

I didn’t judge how far the boat trailer stuck out in the driveway, and it ended up right in the back seat through the hatch.

If it’s worth getting there, it’s worth getting there fast. I had my pedal down all the way while backing straight out of my curving driveway and a huge tree popped out of nowhere to shatter my back window.

Actually, the only driving altercation I’ve ever had was in our driveway—backed right into another vehicle. What can I say? It was where I needed to go.

Of course there was the time I was multitasking and forgot to close the back hatch before I exited the garage. Calling my husband was not one of my favorite phone calls to make…

And let’s face it, once you’ve made that phone call, explaining the incident to the insurance agent is easy.

“Oh sure, we get a lot of claims of women hitting their garage doors,” said an Allstate specialist. “But the highest claims we see from women are probably parking lot instances.”

Ah yes, the challenge of maneuvering a beast of a vehicle into a 9 foot opening, while reading an email that lacrosse practice has moved fields and your eight-year-old explains that he didn’t mean to spit his gum in your hair. He was just laughing so hard.

Well, parking lots are no laughing matter.

China is not exactly the first nation that springs to mind when you hear “female-friendly.” (This is where my kids would say, cough–cough, one-child policy, female infanticide.) However, the nation hit the news several weeks ago after a shopping center opened a dedicated “car park for women.”

The parking lot’s spaces are three feet wider and the lines are painted in pink and light purple to “cater to women’s strong sense of color and different sense of distance,” according to officials.

The news set off accusations of gender stereotyping and sexism round the globe. Sure, it’s a bit presumptuous and debasing. But, ladies stop with the doth protesting too much. What’s wrong with bigger parking spaces? At our golf club, there’s a flat screen television in the men’s locker room but none in the ladies. And trust me, Slim’s not clamoring for change saying “Hey, that’s sexist.”

Besides that would just encourage my middle, who received the movie Spinal Tap for his 10th birthday, to say, “What’s wrong with being sexy?”

I decided to see if these generous parking spaces were going to become an international trend. And for that, my local mall took me straight to the top. The King Of Prussia Mall is the largest retail space in the country (apologies to Mall of America, an indoor amusement park doesn’t count as shopping).

With over 13,000 parking spaces, I was curious, would they be widening any of them with their largely female consumer base in mind? But alas, no. No larger spaces and no light purple lines, although they do have valet parking and shuttle bus service during the holiday season.

So, as much as Slim would like me to end with: “And my husband was right.” I think I’d rather leave you with an observation from a wise drivers ed instructor.

“One thing I notice with drivers is that there is more or less an inverse relationship. The brighter the person, the more difficulty they have picking up some of the basic concepts of backing out and parking.”


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Olympic Fanfare Part 2

I could go on and on with my love of all things Olympic, so I’ve decided to break my piece into two parts. Breaking all kinds of blogging rules at the same time, I’m sure.

For as much as I love these two weeks in February, I do have one little pet peeve. It’s 8 lines long and, according to Olympic rules, can last no longer than 80 seconds. It’s our national anthem, and why none of our athletes seems to be able to sing it on the medal stand.

I’ve watched an almost embarrassing amount of Games coverage now, including a half dozen medal ceremonies. I have yet to see the winner join in song when his or her anthem is played. Sure, they’ve just won a gold medal for themselves and their country. How can I possibly expect them to sing? But I do. I want them to sing it. Quietly to themselves, or as loudly and off-key as I sing in my car.

Obviously, every athlete goes to the Games knowing the ultimate goal is to stand on that middle platform. So why do they all look so lost, confused, and surprised when the music begins? Poor Alexandre Bilodeau, the first Canadian to ever win the gold on home soil, looked like a (charming) deer in headlights as the Maple Leaf flag went up. You’d think that Canada’s $120 million campaign to “Own The Podium” could have covered a lesson or two on Oh Canada.

A study in 2004 showed that two out of three American adults could not sing the national anthem. I decided to test the numbers on my own Americans. Thing One belted out the full verse a cappella with pride. Thing Two claimed “stage fright.” And Thing Three got stuck in a perpetual loop of “dawn’s early light.” But, our Olympic athletes have shown us we can expect more from them.

We all know The Star Spangled Banner was taken from a poem Francis Scott Key wrote as he waited to see who would emerge victorious when the British Royal Navy took it to our young nation in the War of 1812. And it’s not metaphoric. The rockets and bombs really were bursting in air, but early the next morning 15 stripes and 15 stars rose above Baltimore Harbor and Fort McHenry. The Fort is the only National Historic Shrine in the country and was the first site ever allowed to fly the flag night and day, 365 days a year. And whenever our flag was changed to add a new star, it flew over Fort McHenry first so that the quilted cloth would indeed become The Star Spangled Banner.

The song’s first association with sports was baseball’s opening day in Philadelphia in 1897, but it became a game fixture during the Boston Red Sox 1918 World Series win (Slim would tell you that’s when modern history as we know it began). President Herbert Hoover declared The Star Spangled Banner our national anthem in 1931.

The tune has been played a remarkable 7 times already at these Games, yet only snowboarder Seth Westcott has attempted to mumble his way through the verse on the podium. I expect Bode Miller thought it would be difficult to chew his gum and sing at the same time. However, my oldest proved in the third grade that one can play an entire recorder concert while chewing gum. I think Bode could have managed it.

Some athletes have taken their hats off, and some have even placed a hand over their heart and faced the flag, as is protocol laid out by the official U.S. Flag Code. There is no mention of the common conundrum of what to do when wearing a tiara during the anthem.

But what about the singing? The U.S. Olympic Committee has tried to script and control every aspect of the team’s appearance and behavior (what to wear when, and no tweeting or Facebooking until March 3rd), so it would reason they might also help our 216 athletes prepare for the podium.

To find out, I asked a U.S. Olympian – who happens to sport at least one medal of every color, and indeed did sing as our flag was raised. “The US Olympic Committee requires you to attend orientation and one of the items is ‘singing the national anthem,’” he said. “They gave us the words but told us NOT to sing if you don’t know the words. The USOC thinks it’s disrespectful when the words coming from the athlete’s mouth don’t match the anthem.”

You’d think that if our athletes can train up to 11 hours a day, that they’d be able to memorize 8 lines. As for the singing, if you’re sporting gold, nobody cares if you’re off key. When the hockey team beat the Russians in 1980, they spontaneously sang God Bless America – and with their discordant Boston and Minnesota accents, it couldn’t have been pretty. Yet I’m sure they all sang the anthem two days later when they received their gold medals.

But they weren’t singing it from the podium, as the platforms were only intended for team captains back then. After the flag was raised and the anthem sung, our U.S. captain invited the other 19 Americans to squeeze onto the stand with him. Since then, Olympic podiums have been enlarged to accommodate an entire team of gold medalists.

And that’s why I love the Olympics.

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Thing One returned from a squash match yesterday to tell me that he didn’t finish all of his homework in study hall because they were busy watching commercials from Sunday night’s Super Bowl. Ah, now there’s my education dollars at work.

But really, at $3 million for a 30-second spot, and all the water cooler and gym locker buzz they generate the next day, the commercials really are the highlight of the Super Bowl. In our house, Doritos was the clear winner with the younger set, but Slim and I agreed that Google’s spot stole the show. In case you missed it, take a look:

We thought the one-minute micro-fiction was clean, clever and charming. Google’s “Parisian Love” was a 1-minute search engine fantasy, and viewers loved it. But let’s take a look at Google searches in reality.

Recently, I’d heard a lot about a book where a man places a classified ad in the newspaper looking for a wife. I’m sure I had picked the book up a few times in the store, maybe read a random review and I decided I’d like to give it further consideration as a potential read. – Maybe some strange curiosity about any woman who would reply to an ad looking for “a wife” and think that she was getting a real bargain.

I racked my Rolodex of a brain overloaded with useless information (does anyone still need to know my P.O. Box number – from college?) and all I came up with was “something wife.” Was it good wife? Pretend wife? Simple wife? Average wife? – Eureka! I was sure it was Average Wife (and thought, what an awful title). So like any modern info junky, I entered it right into the Google search window. As I typed, my good friend Google was there by my side, happily suggesting things along the way to speed my search. With “A” I got Amazon, “A-V” gave me Avatar, “A-V-E” brought up Avery, and then there it was, the most recommended search with the letters “A-V-E-R?” Average penile length.

My immediate reaction was that there was something wrong, I must have mistyped the letters or something so I tried it again. Sure enough there were the words staring at me (and I mean staring) as the cursor blinked patiently. Then it occurred to me, this could be unique to my personal computer because of my Google history (see Whither GoMommy.com.) I asked around, but the search suggestions held true in California, New York and Pennsylvania. Inquiring minds across America want to know average penile length.

Really? Is this something a lot of today’s consumers of news and information are concerned with? This is the top “item” people would like to know the average of? As a professional reporter who knows a thing or two about tracking down an answer, I got to employ one of my favorite Bill Murray lines, “Back off man, I’m a journalist.” (Even with just “back off” typed in, Google nails Ghostbusters’ “Back off man, I’m a scientist.”)

Just an email and a quick phone call to the Google press room, and I had an official expert on the line. “The feature you’re asking about is called Google Suggest,” said Jake. (Of course his name is Jake. How many people do you know over the age of 25 named Jake? In fact, according to Social Security records, the name was hovering around “Dustin” and “José” in popularity in the early 1980s. Jacob and Jake broke through the top 20 in 1990 and continued to climb the charts to become the number one boys name in 2000 – a spot it has held every year since.) So, back to my waiting-to-become-legal Google friend Jake.

He explained that Google Suggest uses a number of different variables and signals to refine its suggested offerings, chief among them the overall popularity of similar searches. He apologized for not going further, “We don’t get into the nitty-gritty of how the algorithm works because we don’t want people to try and game the system.” Yes, that’s me. Just ask Social Security: most popular activity for 40-year-old housewives in 2010? Gaming Google’s system.

So, by this logic, it would appear that “average penile length” is a far more popular search than average IQ, average temperature, average salary, average height, or any other average, for that matter. This just further supports my pet theory that Google is actually run by a room of 15-year-old boys subsisting on Cool Ranch Doritos and blue Gatorade.

My brief foray into the world of Google algorithms and search engines also taught me that, if you are looking to attract readers interested in thoughtful writing on modern parenting, then combining the words “playgroup” and “Sylvia Plath” is not exactly the go-to move. Indeed, aligning yourself with a woman who committed suicide by putting her head in her own oven while her children napped in the next room, puts you in the “difficult to label” category. This explains why my blog is clustered with others writing about families that have had either a variety of hospital stays or other “issues.” Perhaps I really am right at home in the blogosphere.

So, when I finally made my way back to my book search, I discovered what I was looking for: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. It is billed as a mysterious, gothic tale about a 58-year-old man, claiming he wants “a simple honest woman. A quiet life.” Well, the personal-ad protagonist and his betrothed seem to have differing definitions of “reliable.” His bride-to-be arrives with some real baggage. Alongside her comfortable shoes and wool dresses, she’s packed a bottle of arsenic with which to poison her new husband.

And now I know why A Reliable Wife was not among the dozen books Slim gave me for Christmas. I also know a little more about how the Google Suggest feature works. And because all of America seems to want to know, it’s 5.1 to 5.9 inches.

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Disclaimer: When I was eleven I was asked to make a choice. Either clean the outhouses at the Meadow Mountain campsite, or turn in my Girl Scout sash. I found it completely unfair that Rhonda and Kathy were sweeping out the cabins (waving at me) as I was handed the Comet and directed to the bank of latrines. I don’t care if it was the chore I drew from the “Girl Scout Job Jar.” The Girl Scout Law implores its members to respect themselves and authority, and also to be a sister to every Girl Scout. Well, that round I chose myself over authority and turned in the sash – along with the Comet. So, today, I’m doing my part to be a sister to the Girl Scouts and teach them a thing or two about gumption.

The Girl Scout Cookie sale is an American institution. It’s been around since the 1930s, pausing only during WWII because of flour, sugar and butter shortages. (The gals in green then peddled Girl Scout Calendars, which I have to imagine were a far cry from girly calendars.) All hail the great Thin Mint – my boxes are being delivered today. My issue, however, is with names and numbers.

Specifically, where has my Samoa gone, and who is this poor stand-in Caramel deLite? Also, just how much of my $3.50 goes to the girls in troop 507 for field trips and sparkly beads for their next project, and how much goes to pay the heating bill of the Girl Scout headquarters in New York City?

To track down my facts, I called up a friend. And believe me, you are no one in the suburban hierarchy if you don’t know a mom who can hook you up with a box of pre-market Tagalongs from the back of her garage.

My friend assured me she could fill me in on all the cookie details because she’s been a Brownie troop leader for years. She was even willing to be a point person on the Boy Scout popcorn sale because her husband was a Cub Master.

Whoa, stop right there. They get Cub Master and we’re stuck with troop leader and cookie mom? She assured me, however, that she does not have to call him “Cub Master” in bed (I asked). And, she informed me that “cookie mom” has been upgraded to “cookie manager” in case any dads wanted the position. Perhaps the title of “Cookie Madame” would have given the job a little more appeal.

As for names, it turns out the Caramel deLite, née Samoa, Peanut Butter Patties, née Tagalong, and Shortbread, née Trefoil, did not undergo a name change as part of a political correctness cleansing or a dumbing down by the marketing department. It’s a simple matter of brand management. Something the Girl Scouts should learn a thing or two about before receiving their “Smart Cookie” badge.

The Girl Scout Cookie business has been streamlined to two bakeries churning out more than 200 million boxes of cookies each year. One bakery finessed the rights to all of the original cookie names, and the other was left to use bland descriptions. Thus explaining why the same cookies are known by different names according to which bakery supplies the region.

The two bakeries are appealingly named Little Brown Baker and ABC Bakers. Very Norman Rockwell, right? They also happen to be subsidiaries of two corporate behemoths known as Kelloggs and George Weston Limited. Can you guess which one got their paperwork in first to own the trademarks on the names Samoa, Tagalong and Trefoil? I’ll give you a hint. One company names its products Froot Loops, Pop-Tarts, Cheez-It, E.L.Fudge and Smorz cereal (brilliant). The other’s brands include Oroweat, Stroehmann, Freihofer’s, Entenmann’s and Bimbo Bakeries (can you say bun in the oven?)

Girls, how could you let this happen? Who wears the vest around here, you or some technicolor elf? You should be telling the bakeries what your cookies are called. But instead, half of your customers are wondering what Samoas are and the other half is mourning the disappearance of the DoSiDo (Jackie O’s favorite, according to Girl Scout lore). And before you work into your sales pitch, “get your Tagalongs also known as Peanut Butter Patties,” ask the Burmese how they feel about being from “Myanmar, formerly Burma”.

Now let’s get down to pricing. Girl Scouts are expected to be working towards their awards for “Math Fun” and “Penny Power,” so this should be pretty clear. This year, Girl Scouts will sell more than 200 million boxes of the long adored treat. At $3.50 a box, that’s a $700 million haul. That’s a lot of Thin Mints. Of that $3.50 that a Girl Scout brings in, her troop gets about 50 cents to use for their activities, while the greater Girl Scout Council keeps $2.00 per box. Granted, a lot of 50 cents can add up to a lot of feathers and glitter glue for a troop.

But, when compared with a Boy Scout troop’s take of 35% of his popcorn sales, those aren’t good margins. Girl Scout sales are divvied up 15% to a girl’s actual troop and nearly 60% to the larger Council. Boy Scout sales fall 35% to the boy’s troop and 30% to the Council. Now I never earned my “Money Sense” badge, but where is the sense in the boys earning double what the girls get? And believe you me, that is nothing compared to the prize disparity.

Highlighters, leg warmers, spiral journals, fabric bookmarks, and stuffed frogs. Oh sure, I’d much rather have those over a pocket knife, compass and torch set, or a Wal-Mart gift card. The Boy Scouts have even taken their sales online and can earn Amazon gift cards. A Girl Scout is only allowed to email friends and family that she has the goods for sale, but she is not allowed to traffic in online commerce. Since taking their efforts online, Boy Scout sales have risen 700%. You don’t even need a “Consumer Power” badge to understand that.

So girls, here’s the lesson in gumption. Forget about the “Rocks Rock” patch and move on to the “CyberGirl Scout” award and get building yourselves an online storefront. Then, write your National Council and tell them as part of your “Healthy Relationships” badge you’d like the cookie profits to be split a little more equitably. You might also urge your higher-ups to use some of that $400 million you just earned them to hire a good lawyer and reclaim ownership of your cookie names. Barring that, maybe you should just start marketing your product as iCookies.

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A Toy From A Boy

I got my best Christmas present days after the holiday and I didn’t even know it was coming. I was picking up Thing Three from a friend’s house and before I left the father said, “Hold on, I’ve got something for you.” He handed me a little square box of perfect packaging with something shiny and silver in it. It was a 2 gigabyte iPod Shuffle with “Have A Great 2010” engraved on the back. “I gave these to all of my clients this year for Christmas, and I had an extra one and I knew you would like it,” he said. “I loaded it up with about 800 songs for you. – There are some surprises and some real gems in there.”

Just the week before, I’d had my annual $25-and-under holiday gift exchange with 11 girlfriends. Sure, there was a one-of-a-kind bottle of hand-pressed olive oil from Italy, a hooked “Ho Ho Ho” rug and a charming pinecone candelabra. But let’s face it; it was no shiny new shuffle.

Driving home, I was giddy with my swag – I have a clinical weakness for all things Apple. But then it dawned on me, the real gift was that I’d made a male friend with a common interest – and that hadn’t happened in a long time.

Back in my working days, I had plenty of men co-workers, colleagues, pod and cubicle mates. Male friends. We would have lunch, coffee, dinner, and even go to bars after work. – And yes, I was married. My male co-workers taught me to smoke a cigar in a glass corner office on the 51st floor on Park Avenue to celebrate a big banking deal. And I was the go-to call for a client when he had extra tickets to the Rangers games at Madison Square Gardens.

But, my male friends mostly disappeared after I left work, and vanished entirely as soon as Thing One arrived. But I didn’t miss them right away. I was consumed in babydom. Then there was Thing Two, Thing Three, and I needed a village. I have my village and couldn’t be happier with it. But 12 years in, it’s about time for a weekend pass from the village.

I wondered, was it just me in my miasma of selfishness, or was this a real issue lots of women were facing? Every thinking stay-at-home-mom who really cared about larger world issues yet inexplicably found themselves discussing the evils of over-scheduled middle-schoolers (again) agreed with me wholeheartedly. But that could’ve been just because they were from my village.

So, I asked a psychologist who’s been practicing relationship therapy for 25 years on Long Island. It was like my own Friends episode. “All relationships take place within a social context. They don’t happen out of the blue,” she said. “Once a woman is home, there’s a lack of freedom and conversation is based on what is active in your life. All of a sudden there is a lot of talk about throw-up and laundry.”

Keep singing it doctor: “The current generation feels it more than any other because these women had real friendships with men in college and the workplace more than any women before them,” she said. “All of a sudden – and it may be 10 years all of a sudden – you find yourself thinking what am I doing here? I never intended to be here.”

I figured I’d either nailed a great social issue of our time, or I just knew the right expert to call. I wondered if the modern men we went to college and the office with valued their cross-gender friendships (that’s what my new Long Island friend calls them) as much as women did. So I asked Slim, who works in a three-person office, if he missed having lots of female colleagues. And he said, “are we out of cashews?”

Clearly, Long Island psychologists were my people. The psychologist waxed lyrical about a woman’s need to be considered equally valuable as a human being, and the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself and the rewards of being connected to the male part of the universe. All of this happens organically when you have male co-workers. There’s also the bantering, competition, joking and big brother protectiveness that come with male friendships. Female friendships, on the other hand, are filled with emotion and support, but often a certain delicacy or tension because their feelings get hurt more easily.

That explains why my email in-box is littered with digital flower bouquets, chainmail encouraging me to let 10 women in my life know how much they mean to me, and plenty of Maya Angelou poetry. And if I receive one more copy of the essay comparing motherhood to the invisible, nameless builders of the world’s greatest cathedrals, I will begin sharpening my own special stonemasonry chisel. Why don’t any of my stay-at-home mom friends send me emails that say, “Four words, people: John Edwards sex tape.”

After much discussion with friends and my Long Island psychologist, I’ve accepted that in order to have that richer texture of easy friendships with both genders, I would have to go back to a work environment with male colleagues. But I’m pretty sure that after not too long of that, I would need a weekend pass to visit my village. And that’s a sacrifice I’m not yet willing to make. So for now, I’ll have to be happy with my shuffle as a small window into the male mind. Although I’m still not sure I understand how a song by the hip hop rap group The Roots works as a lead-in to an aria from Puccini’s Turandot.

So, when I sat down to thank my friend for my new toy, I could’ve written, “Dear Scott, Thank you so much for the iPod shuffle. It is so cute and just perfect to listen to while vacuuming or folding laundry.” (Which, admittedly, it actually is.) I could have even quoted a few lines from Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. But I didn’t. I sent him a link to an awesome YouTube video of Hitler reacting to the Democrats losing Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

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There was a brief window during the 2008 election when the hockey mom was vaulted above the soccer mom. Mind you that doesn’t exactly bring either to any great heights, it just seemed the whole lipstick-pitbull thing was too hard for the media to resist once Sarah Palin unleashed the comment.

And yes, after nearly nine years of driving to rinks around Pennsylvania, I am technically a “hockey mom.” Although, you won’t see me sporting any “You Don’t Scare Me, I’m A Hockey Mom” sweatshirt in the stands, nor will I be wearing the 100% cotton classic thong that reads “HOCKEY M.I.L.F.” anywhere. (Really, what marketer thinks that’s funny? And, has he actually seen many hockey moms?)

So along came a message to my email in-box this week pleading for extras to take part in “Hockey Mom,” the final project of a local film school student. It seems the image of mothers pounding the glass while their offspring glide by on sharp metal blades still captivates.

The young director, we’ll call him Adam, sets the scene, “Two mothers get into a fight over their kids. The bad mother is very obnoxious, blows an air horn, rings a cowbell, and curses. The good mother is quiet, timid, and polite until she is provoked into action. The scene ends with them being pulled away from each other by security guards.”

Obviously not too familiar with his target audience of mothers who’ve already spent enough time driving to and from and sitting in cold ice arenas, Adam offers this as enticement for Saturday’s 10:30 pm to 1 am shoot, “This scene is the climax of the movie…I promise it will be a massive amount of fun…Afterward we will have copious amounts of pizza and beverages for everyone.”

Our young film student, whom we’ll now call Adam Scheiner, also must expect that hockey moms are much better at ringing their cowbells than using the internet. (Granted, some probably are.) However, if you can get a kid to the rink by 5:15 am and dressed (in goalie gear!) for a 6 o’clock game, you’re probably willing to make those extra few clicks at the keyboard. It’s also clear that this budding movie-maker has completely missed all of the cases, articles, and red lights warning young people that “anything you put on the internet can be found and held against you.”

And that’s how I discovered that this student – who so desperately wants my help – describes himself as “filmmaker, writer, huggable person.” Fine. As for his “Twitter” location, instead of sticking with your basic “Philadelphia,” he writes, “In your mother’s vagina.” Right, and that’s who I’m going to trust with my big screen debut playing a mother. Adam, Adam, Adam, if you were lucky, your mother would have been a hockey mom with plenty of hours to cart you to the rink and give you a lesson or two on major and minor penalties. This one is more of a game misconduct.

So, no, I will not be spending this evening having massive amounts of fun and copious amounts of pizza. Plus, I just couldn’t decide if I wanted to be listed in the credits as “Good Mother” or “Bad Mother.” I’ll just be home polishing my cowbells for next weekend’s game.

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Serviceable Service

Note: This post is in direct response to Slim, who after reading the first two posts said, “Well it’s nice, but isn’t it going to be about something? It’s just, ‘blah, blah, blah.’” Apparently the Boston sports blogs he reads are not just ‘blah, blah, blah.’ Who knew?

First let’s accept that the institution of motherhood is service itself. Sure it’s best when there’s a healthy dose of love and nurturing involved too. But let’s face it, just love isn’t going to get you to hockey practice or marinate that chicken.

So, from time immemorial, the job requirements have been to birth that baby and then quite simply keep that baby alive. Service. Then along came industrialization, processed sugar, youth sports and Greenpeace, so now there’s a healthy side portion of guilt to go along with the service. Don’t get me wrong, I love mothering as much as the next girl who calls a construction paper turkey with googly eyes “art.” But there’s a lot of service and guilt involved.

So, this week’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. First, let me get it out there – love the man, love the sentiment, believe in community service. However, as a woman in a job pretty full-up of service and guilt, this “opportunity” to teach my children weighs on me. Mostly because I struggle with what the appropriate lessons and actual service efforts should be for young children. But also, because by turning the holiday into a service day, the actual curriculum and cause for celebration and reflection is lost.

For my kids, and many out there, the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and his place in our nation’s history is still the more age-appropriate and important lesson to learn. He was a martyr for civil rights in our country, he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he led the March on Washington, and he was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. As a ten-year-old, he even sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of Gone With The Wind. I mean, as an American citizen in history, the guy ruled.

And yet, at the completion of a second grade unit learning all about “Our Friend Martin,” my son struggled with his reading response homework. “How am I supposed to know why he was killed? It only talks about all the things he did and then it just says he was killed.” Granted, my son may be a little slow in the inference department, but he is eight! Go ahead and teach him that there was an ugly time in our country of fighting, inequality, and racism. And it’s not over yet.

My friend Martin’s lesson to elementary school children should be about that fight and the bravery to stand up when something is not fair. It should not be about making birdfeeders for the community, beading bracelets, washing the local fire-trucks, or even sewing new fleece pillows for hospital patients.

If your friends are there, you do arts and crafts projects, there are snacks (proceeds going to help find a cure for cancer, of course) and you get a cool new t-shirt to take home, that’s called a birthday party not a day of service. (And don’t get me started on the birthday invitation that says, “Instead of gifts, Reilly would like his friends to bring blankets for the homeless.” Because I’m actually quite sure Reilly would like the new Lego Star Wars Droid Battleship.)

Like the man in his day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was met with opposition, hatred and bigotry. The Day was voted an official U.S. holiday in 1983 – the first of its kind to honor a private citizen. Right there, something to talk to kids about. It wasn’t actually celebrated until 1986, and even into the 1990s some states still weren’t giving the day its due. The Super Bowl was moved from Arizona to California in 1990 because The Grand Canyon State was acting less than grand.

In Virginia, the holiday used to be a three-fer – celebrating great generals of the Confederacy and civil rights – they called it Lee-Jackson-King Day. Nice. While employees of the state of South Carolina, up until 2000, could choose to observe either MLK Day or one of three confederate holidays. (Unless of course you are the governor and you are going to visit your Argentinian mistress, then you’re probably going to need all three of those.)

Perhaps I am hyper-aware of the issue because Philadelphia is where MLK Day was transformed into a Day of Service, and it is still the largest of its kind in the nation. Could it be that being surrounded by 70,000 volunteers in matching MLK service day t-shirts has contributed to my guilt?

Speaking of which, is it any mystery why Target and other corporations spent upwards of $100,000 to get their logos on 70,000 backs for the day by “donating” the shirts? Mind you, when trying to research the store’s role in the Day of Service, I continued to be given “Target store hours for MLK Day.” And trust me when I tell you, I’ve nothing against Target.

But I do have something against teaching my children charity that is more about the “chairing” or service that is too disconnected from the “served.” Many of the savviest (and self-servingly so) causes out there are teaching consumers “embedded philanthropy” – like the RED campaign, or Buy One-Give One efforts that make a corporate donation when you buy the product. So yes, teens can get that new iPod and fight AIDS in Africa at the same time.

Similarly, most of the MLK Day service projects for children seem to be teaching embedded service. I am still on the lookout for projects that will show my kids that socializing can be a by-product of service, rather than service as a feel good by-product of socializing. Teach my kid about MLK the man before we move on to solving world hunger one hand-painted ceramic bowl at a time in a “simulated soup kitchen environment for kids in grades pre-K through 12” (I am not making that up).

Besides, all I really wanted to do on Monday was clean out my basement. And, somehow, I felt guilty about that.

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