Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Jenny, Judy, John, and Jack--masters of doing nothing circa 1972

As I am on summer vacation, please enjoy this re-run essay:

I am a big proponent of giving kids downtime. The experts, whoever they are, tell us that all kids need a lot of time to just be kids. We should not be rushing them from class to class or event to event. They should learn to use their imaginations and learn to play quietly in the corner with simple toys like a potato or a piece of paper. The experts assure us that children do not acquire these self-entertaining skills unless we give them plenty of time to lie around and come up with fun creative things to do with their time.

Never mind that as children we had plenty of downtime and the most creative thing we ever came up with was tying Jack Stabenau to a tree and hurling chestnuts at him. What’s important is that we had the chance to come up with this kind of creative play by ourselves and so should our children.

So I give my kids a lot of down time. That’s another way of saying I’m too cheap and too lazy to sign them up for and pay for and drive them to class after class after class. Because of all this down time my children are very good at entertaining themselves on their own. Oh sure, if there were a blackout we’d be in trouble because the way my children entertain themselves is to turn on the nearest electronic, mind-numbing device with a screen. Their idea of special downtime is for one to be on PlayStation 2, one to be on the P.C., and the youngest to be parked in front of PBS Kids.

Last summer I decided this needed to change. When we went to stay with my parents for a few weeks I concluded that it was time my kids learned to enjoy downtime without the aid of electronic devices. I was also motivated by the fact that I was embarrassed that my parents might figure out that most of my parenting skills depend on the help of “Zoo Tycoon” and “Arthur.”So on my way to my parents I declared that our days at Grandma and Grandpa’s house would be “screen-free” from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

Now I do not know about your kids but my kids always like the idea of these schemes. They embraced the whole notion.
“Sure Mom, we can go down to the beach,” said the oldest.
“And make sand castles!” said the middle.
“And play in the woods,” said the youngest.

This enthusiasm lasted at least ten minutes into our stay.“Please Mom, just a little T.V.” they begged. But I would not relent. I would not relent because my parents were watching me, waiting to see if I would cave and I realized you’re never too old to stop trying to please your parents.“No,” I said in my best June Cleaver voice, “You kids go on up to the playroom and figure out something that all of you can do that does not involve a screen.”They complained but they went up to the playroom. I sipped coffee and read the paper. I chatted with my parents. From time to time I heard yelling up there but I knew the experts would tell me to ignore it and let them work it out so I did not interfere.

At lunchtime they all trooped down, big smiles on their faces.“So, what did you come up with?” I asked.
“We made up a new game called ‘Car Wash’,” said the oldest.
“We found an old Matchbox set with a car wash and we drive our cars in it,” said the middle.
“It’s really fun,” said the youngest.

The experts were right! If you just give them enough time alone they will come up with something new. I smiled at my parents as if to say, “Aren’t I good at this?”All week long I would pass the door to the stairs leading up to the playroom and hear soft laughter or even silence.“What are you doing up there?” I’d call.

“Just playing ‘Car Wash’,” said the oldest.
“It’s so fun,” said the middle.
“It’s our favorite,” said the youngest.

I’d pause, smile smugly and think, “I wish everyone could give their kids such a great opportunity.”

The days passed quickly and the children seemed more content than usual. I was astonishingly full of parental self-righteousness. I patted myself on the back again and again for my ability to employ superior parenting skills.On the last day, as I was getting ready to pack I headed up to the playroom to find my son’s suitcase. I went up the stairs quickly and I guess quietly, for when I reached the top of the stairs I found my three, creative, resourceful offspring huddled around the T.V. that had been so recently turned off it nearly smoked. Spread out in front of the T.V. was the Matchbox car wash, which they all suddenly pretended to play with.

“You little demons,” I said. “You’ve been saying ‘play Car Wash’ to mean ‘watch T.V. secretly’.”

“No, no Mom, not us,” said the oldest.
“Well we played car wash too,” said the middle.
“Mostly we watched T.V.” said the youngest.

This is really the story of how I parent. Just when I think I’m doing the best I’m really, well, not. Still, it wasn’t a complete waste of time. They were resourceful enough to invent the ruse and getting along well enough to pull it off for two weeks. And nobody got tied to a tree.

By Judy Zimmerman

Monday, July 23, 2007


These are the things I have purchased since I took a vow not to buy anything.

In the space of one month last fall I read three separate articles about a group of friends in San Francisco who decided not to purchase anything new for one year. I was struck by the novelty of this idea and though I was not willing to follow the stringent rules they had set for themselves (they were not allowed to buy a new computer if theirs crashed, for example) I was inspired enough to vow to not buy any new clothes for myself or anything new for the house for one year.

There were some allowable exceptions. I can buy cleaning supplies for the house and I can buy new undies for myself (but not fancy lingerie).

So here's how I've done so far, six plus months into it. In a nutshell--not bad--but certainly-- as the picture shows--I've cheated more than a few times. For each purchase I had a justification (lame excuse). The yoga clothes I bought because I forgot to pack them on a vacation. The dress and red shoes are my birthday present. The silver shoes and jewelry were to accessorize a hand-me-down dress from my Grandmother (see, by promoting the use of a used dress I was advancing my cause..no I'm not buying that one either) and the sandals were because I was getting an awful backache from walking around in my flip-flops. In hindsight, the only purchase really necessary was the sandals. On the household side I've done much better. The only thing I have purchased are a few new dischcloths.

It's been a very interesting experiment. Here's what I've learned about my own buying.

1.I shop more than I thought: Although I do not shop for entertainment, I do shop for myself as I go about my day. I found myself lingering over new tops at Target or considering a new dress as I passed the window of Ann Taylor Loft. This surprised me. I always thought I was just a non-shopper.

2.I'm a special-event shopper: If there is a wedding coming up I want a new dress. If I'm going to a Cubs game I want a new Cubs shirt. If I'm on vacation, I want a souvenir. This was a little harder to deprive myself of then I expected.

3.I like sprucing up my seasonal wardrobe with just a few new items: This has also been a challenge. With absolutely nothing new in my summer wardrobe, I'm sick to death of it by mid-July--a full month and a half sooner than I usually start yearning for cooler weather so I can switch to my fall clothes.

4.Knowing that I cannot buy anything is often liberating: I can throw the ads in the Sunday paper out without a glance, I can keep walking past the women's section in Target without pausing, I can flip past the fashion pages in the newspaper. Why look when you know you won't buy? I like this part a lot.

5.People talk about stuff they buy or want to buy a lot: I never noticed this until now. I mean, there are some people who always talk about larger purchases in a braggy way, and that we all notice. But I never realized how much almost everyone talks about stuff--from the acquisition of a little item on a coffee table or a new pair of earrings to a new car, there's a lot of talk about buying stuff.

So those are my observations so far. For the most part I like not having to give it any thought at all. Takes the pressure off when you're at one of those home shopping parties.

I've got five and a half months to go including another fashion season. I'll have trouble saying no to a new outfit for our annual Christmas party but for the most part, I feel pretty good taking a pass on the newest look in fall fashions.


Sunday, July 01, 2007


Would you love Aunt Bea more if she had waxed her brows and had her jowls lifted?

Paul McCartney has a new CD out and it's featured prominently at your local Starbucks. Perhaps you've seen this as you've waited for your double decaf whip cinammon extra shot latte. In this photo he
wears both his signature pout and his signature mop hair. Both look ridiculous on a grown man. That haircut hasn't looked good on anyone since Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird." No, that's not fair, it used to look great on Paul--but that was four decades ago. He needs a grown-man haircut. This one only accentuates the fact that he is most decidedly in his sixties.

The juxtaposition of a young haircut on an old face is jarring and sometimes even horrifying. Like the woman I saw the other day leaving the gym--she was wearing tennis togs, had long tan legs and long bleach blonde hair. Only upon getting closer to her did I see that she was well into her 70's. The discordant images made me literally gasp in dismay.

Sir Paul and Old Tennis Lady certainly aren't alone. Look at Nora Ephron (if you can without cringing) who in the twilight of her years when she could be directing a thougtful, insightful, move about the wit, and wisdom of older women chooses to write a pathetic book about her aging, crepey neck. And the cosmetic surgery she's had done--what the hell? Her face looks like a Picasso painting. Yikes.

Paul, Old Tennis Lady, Nora, it doesn't have to be this way. You can choose to go a little more gracefully--get an adult haircut, dress like a grown-up, stop talking about your neck and puhleeze, keep the surgery to a minimum. You do have role models. Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, Sean Connery, Sophia Loren, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher. You get the idea.

I know--it's a struggle. Fifty is the new forty and with all the cosmetic procedures that are now somewhat affordable and socially acceptable --and some that are almost expected for god's sake (do I really have to bleach my teeth?)--most of us will consider fighting back mightily like Nora. I mean who among us hasn't stood in the mirror and pulled something back or up or out of the way?

I've been thinking about it lately as I stand in the mirror and lift my parts. It is tempting--a quick procedure and a new look. But I keep thinking about Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith show. Did you know she was 58 when that show started? Younger than Sir Paul and Nora and four years younger than Goldie Hawn who really, really must get new hair and stop giggling like a 14-year-old. Did Aunt Bea ever stand in the mirror and wish she could still play the part of the young hottie dating Andy? What if she had played that role? Would you remember her now? Why are we so afraid of looking like Aunt Bea when we reach the Aunt Bea years?

Remember this the next time you stand in the mirror and wonder if you should have something nipped or tucked. Would you have loved your favorite aunt one tiny bit more if she'd had a tummy-tuck before you sat on her lap? Would you admire Abraham Lincoln just a smidge more if only he'd had that wart removed and his brows waxed while he was freeing the slaves?

So is fifty the new forty? I don't know about that but when I'm Paul's age (he is now past the much sung-about 64) I hope I will be comfortable wearing a grown-up haircut and an Aunt Bea tummy.