My Convertible Life

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rules of the Name Game

Now and then, I write about something controversial here at My Convertible Life. Things like redshirting in kindergarten, voting against Amendment One, assigning students to public schools or pole-dancing on Sundays.

But after a serious discussion with our beach friends on Sunday night (what... you don't sit on the beach at night with your friends and discuss parenting rules?), I realized I may have missed weighing in on an even bigger, more controversial debate: what name children should use when addressing adults.

Among the group of about seven parents, we could not find consensus about whether to use Mr/Mrs Lastname or Mr/Ms Firstname or some combination of the two. And we may have been drinking a few mai tais, which probably clouded our capacity for agreement and raised the volume on our discussion.

So, like all good parents, I turned to Twitter and Facebook to crowd-source the answer. Here is what I learned:

  1. Lots of you have strong opinions about this issue. (Who knew?)
  2. There is no definitive answer.
Yeah. Not so helpful.

Given the clear gap in parenting guidelines, I'm going to invent my own based on the range of replies I got. You may now follow these rules and recommend them to your friends:
  1. It's never wrong for a kid to call an adult by Mr/Mrs Lastname. If you need an easy default, that's it. If your child says, "Mrs. Garbanzo, may I have a cookie?" she can always say, "What nice manners you have. Of course you may -- and please, just call me Ms. Lucy."
  2. It's easier to correct the formal to informal than the other way around. In the previous scenario, if your kid said, "Ms. Lucy, may I have a cookie?" she's going to feel bitchy having to say, "Yes, you may, but you have to call me Mrs. Garbanzo."
  3. If you live in the South, you have more leeway for using Mr/Ms Firstname. Most of my Facebook/Twitter experts seemed to feel that it's "both sweet and respectful" in a Southern kind of way.
  4. If you have close friends who know your kids well, you can use something less formal -- either Mr/Ms Firstname or Auntie/Uncle Firstname (although that can get confusing with your actual relatives) or even just using their first name. The only non-relative adults I called by their first names (to their faces) when I was a teen were my BFF's parents and my piano teachers.
  5. When in doubt, your children may refer to me as The Queen or Your Royal Highness. This goes for my own children as well.
In analyzing the debate, I observed two things:
  1. The rationale for using Mr/Ms Lastname seems to be respect -- that it's a way for children to respect adults and to recognize that they are expected to listen to the adults. This is certainly the case for calling your teachers (once you've graduated from preschool) by their surnames.
  2. The rationale for using using Mr/Ms Firstname is a little less clear. For some, it's probably just a general desire to be less formal -- calling a young mom Mrs. Garbanzo might have her checking over her shoulder for her mother-in-law. For others, it's a way to demystify names ahead of the shift when kids become adults themselves -- after you've spent 20 years calling someone Mrs. Garbanzo, it can be tough to start calling her Lucy even when you're more of a peer. I still have friends from high school whose parents I cannot bring myself to call by their first names, more than 20 years post-graduation.
Okay, so those are my rules. What are yours? 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest Post: Organization for the Disorganized

When my online friend Evelyn over at Momsicle asked if she could guest blog about organization, I jumped at her offer -- then I realized she wouldn't be coming over to my house to demonstrate and I was a little disappointed (both because I could really use the help and because I'd love to meet her awesome self in person). 

So no, she will not be coming over to your house either. But she's got some great tips here and I'm looking forward to testing them out myself. Because I think we all know I could use the help. Then after you read her post here, be sure to click over to check out her lovely blog (all the way from the WEST COAST!).

* * *
From Evelyn at Momsicle

I'm a disorganized mom with many neuroses coping mechanisms. My husband and I have moved with two young kids twice in 2012, so I've put my adaptive behaviors through the pants press of life a couple times--to crisp them up under high heat. If there's anything that tests your organizing skills it's dismantling your house and putting it back together.

For me, when the clutter is tamed it feels like my breathing calms down and I don't shudder every time I look around.

I shudder quite a bit, but after two moves and a lot of stress I've started to rely on a couple of tricks. Maybe you'll find something helpful, and then I'll be happy. Please share your own tips so that I can try them!

Momsicle's tips for improving the organization of a kid-filled house:

1. Label things. Labels bring the logic that lives in your head into the real world. I love labels on kids' bins, garage shelves, linen closets, really anywhere. When many people live in a house and many people come to visit, labels help everyone remember where things go. I did label the kitchen at our last house and my husband thought that went a little too far. I am in love with the removable, printable labels that 3M Post-It makes. Other brands like Avery also have them, and eBay seems to have great deals so you don't have to pay through the nose.

2. Purge. My mom's motto is "When in doubt, throw it out." Do I need ten vases? No. Do I need 8 sweatshirts? No. I probably need three or four. So we purged things in the last moves. And now I have a bin set up in the garage labeled "Goodwill." I can collect things as I come across them, rather than searching later for the things I've forgotten I wanted to give away.

3. Speaking of purging, send your old electronics to Best Buy. (Another idea from Krista.) We were keeping sooooo many old cords and defunct gadgets (not to mention a 6,000-pound stereo system from the '90s). The stuff the kids don't play with all went to Best Buy--including an old air conditioner. If it has a cord, they pretty much take it.

4. Keep some organizing bins handy to tame things that need to go in and out of the house. I have three near the front door for things that we need to discuss and take action on, things that need to be mailed, and things that need to be returned. This idea came from Krista Colvin (see below).

5. Shop at Goodwill for storage containers. I am addicted to storage bins. I haven't met one I can't find a use for, but when you search for organization advice online the first recommendation is DON'T go out and buy all kinds of bins and shelving helpers. C'mon!!! What does a disorganized girl have to live for if I can't at least get some motivational bins. They make me feel whole. But they are expensive and I shudder when paying full price for clear plastic. So head to Goodwill, and for $1-6 a pop, you're set. 

6. Visit Krista Colvin over at Organize the Whole Shebang.  She has great ideas for how to deal with the C word ("clutter"). I don't know her and she's not paying me. A friend saw her speak about family organization and when I stopped by her site I stayed and read five or six posts. That says a lot about a blog.

7. Tame your Tupperware area. You may be able to relate to having a section of your kitchen where plastic leftovers containers are having a permanent anarchy convention. Each time I thought I'd tamed the beast, this conversation would ensue... Husband: "Are you sure we have a lid for this?" Me: "Yes! Yes! Dig deeper!" So we purged all the random plastic containers and are sticking with only one brand that has interchangeable, stackable lids. Space-saving is up and fights are down.

8. Rework the layouts of your rooms to think about HOW you use a room first, then what looks best. We used to have our computer tucked away in an "office" space, but does a hair-brained parent ever sneak away to a sacred spot to work at home? Never. I'm always writing or responding to things while in the middle of feeding someone, burning cooking a meal, or supervising play time. The computer and office stuff are now next to the kitchen. Similarly the file cabinet is now near where I bring the mail in, rather than tucked away in a place where I will never bring things to file.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: A Simple Thing

When TLC Book Tours contacted me about writing a review of an upcoming book, I'll admit I had two immediate thoughts:
  1. Yay! I love getting a free book.
  2. Oh. The book will probably be crap.
I realize that second thought wasn't really fair, but honestly I figured no one would be sending me a fabulous book for free. A fabulous book would sell plenty of copies without any help from my little blog, thus no one would need to mail me a copy. So my expectations for Kathleen McCleary's new novel, A Simple Thing, were very low.

Turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. On the spectrum between Nicholas Sparks (I'm sorry if you're a fan, but the books are terrible) and Lee Smith (sure I have a North Carolina bias, but she's awesome), McCleary falls neatly in the middle. This book might not get taught in anyone's English class, but it's a worthy contender for a good beach read.

The novel, McCleary's second, is centered around Susannah Delaney, a mother so desperate to protect her children (one from her own destructive teen tendencies and the other from bullies attacking his quirkiness) that she leaves her husband and home behind to take the kids to an off-the-grid life off the coast of Washington state. Parallel to Susannah's story runs the present and past of Betty Pavalak, a 50-year resident of the island with her own tale of marriage, motherhood and secrets.

I read the book in about a 24-hour period, thanks to some free time during a visit to my parents' house with the kids -- but also because it's a very readable, engaging story. The balance of story-telling between the two women -- both their separate lives in the past and their increasingly connected lives in the present -- keeps things moving along in a way that makes the book hard to put down. I actually found Betty's story more interesting than Susannah's -- she's a stronger character, if you ask me -- but the book is ultimately about Susannah (and her kids, her husband, her mother).

Parts of the book tended toward the predictable and there are a few pieces of the plot that are overly convenient, but McCleary thankfully avoids some of the cliches and traps that you'd expect in, say, a Sparks novel (again, apologies to the fans). Truthfully the most painful part of the book for me was thinking about Pippi while watching Susannah attempt to parent her rebellious teen-age daughter -- my daughter is only four, but I am already very, very afraid of what lies ahead. And I just don't think I have what it takes to move across the country to a remote island without my husband in order to get Pippi to make good choices.

I don't want to give away too much of the story -- it's a quick read and you want to leave the surprises ahead -- but I do want to share a quote from the book that really struck me. It's something that a character tells Betty at one point and then she shares it later with Susannah:
"Don't confuse guilt and shame. It's okay to feel badly about something you've done. But don't let it make you feel badly about who you are."
Now you totally want to know what she did to feel badly about, right?

You can learn more about Kathleen McCleary at her website and you can read what other bloggers have to say about the book by checking the TLC tour schedule. (I've resisted the urge to read other people's posts so as not to color my own -- but I'm sure I'll be peeking now that I'm done writing.) McCleary will also discuss A Simple Thing on Book Club Girl on Air on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. ET.

Full Disclosure: TLC sent me a free advance copy of this book. How cool is that? But they didn't pay me for this post, I get no kick-backs from anyone purchasing the book, and all the opinions included here are my own. Because what kind of a book nerd would I be if I weren't honest about my opinions of books? Seriously, people.