We took the kids to see "Fred Claus" last night. It earned the title of "My Least Favorite Christmas Movie Ever". I never do expect much in the way of plot, acting or dialogue in the usual seasonal offerings, but this really disappointed. To me, there was no charm, not enough humor (or maybe just too little of my kind of humor) and a few too many adult themes for a movie I would take my kids to.

But that's not my point. There was a message, buried under all of Vince Vaughn's showing-off and slapstick scenes. In the movie, a parentless boy, spending the holiday in an orphanage after CPS finds out he lives with no legal adult guardian, gets into a fight with some other orphans after saying there's no such thing as Santa. He's a good kid in unfortunate circumstances, understandably losing faith in Santa after being disappointed by life many times. The message was this: there really aren't any naughty kids, and every kid deserves one toy at Christmas.

The reason this struck me was because of a boy in our neighborhood - I'll call him "Joe" - who has been labeled a "bad" kid. Joe is only in the second grade, but has done/said some things to the other neighborhood kids that have not helped his reputation much. From what I've heard the kids say, his behavior to them has sometimes indeed been very inappropriate (swearing, hitting, general meanness), but apparently is capable of good - in certain situations. (After attending his birthday party at Peter Piper Pizza a few weeks ago, where all the parents were invited to stay, my son's comment was, "You know, Joe's a pretty good kid when there's adults around.") True, he has said things that have shocked me - he once described a movie to me that he watched at his grandma's which sounded frighteningly similar to something with Hannibal Lecter in it - but I think he may be somewhat of a victim of his circumstances. I heard him say once that his dad is his stepdad, and that his mom used to be married to "a bad dad" but now he has a "good dad." He also has no brothers or sisters, so he may have missed out on some of those opportunities to learn how to get along with other kids that come with being a sibling. As you can tell, I kind of feel sorry for the guy. Half the neighborhood kids either aren't allowed to play with him or else he's not allowed in their yards. From what I gather, he wants to play with them, but because of his lack of social skills, their play easily erupts into fights. The others, because of his past behavior, almost expect it from him, and any indication that it's coming turns them hostile to his advances, and pretty soon meanness is coming from both sides.

Now, is Joe naughty? Yes, he does ultimately have the choice between good or bad behavior, and is old enough to take responsibility for those choices, but if he really doesn't know any better, or if his situation at home is such that he has had few chances to learn kindness, does he deserve that label? Is he nice? That's debatable as well. He seems to be trying to be good, but if all his attempts are met with unkindness as a retort, it will only be harder for him.

My kids are involved in this, and although I know they're not entirely without blame, I can tell that they aren't the main provokers of Joe's wrath. I have a hard time because I try to encourage them to set examples - for Joe and for the other kids - but at the same time, if he's really being a bully, they have the right to refuse to play with him, and they should avoid him.
So what's the right answer?

Are there really any naughty kids? What do you think?


family fun/mom insanity

Many of you may be familiar with Family Fun magazine, a periodical whose monthly issues are crammed with seasonal project ideas, recipes, birthday party/cake ideas, vacation spot ads, articles on parenting - all aimed at mommies (and daddies, I suppose) who must spend every waking minute of their days wondering, “How will I have fun with my family today???” Okay, that sounded mean. I actually like reading this magazine (I even like having fun with my family), and it does have many useful ideas. It’s just that some of them turn into bigger projects than their illustrations purport them to be.

Case in point: Stuntman, my oldest, had a birthday last week, and so of course he wanted the celebratory cupcakes brought to share with his class at lunchtime. Mom, feeling creative, went immediately to the Family Fun website for cupcake ideas, and that fine young man chose the “Cyber-Sweet” cupcake – one which, with the clever use of some chocolate-covered graham crackers and white frosting, looked like a cupcake with a miniature laptop perched on top. “Cyber-CUTE!” said Mom (okay, not really), and bought all the necessaries. On the special day, the cakes were already baked and just needed to be decorated – before 1:30. Ready, set, go: shower, take Stuntman and Flip to school, make frosting, dot a bunch of chocolate grahams with a flurry of computer keys, go back to store for more chocolate grahams and powdered sugar for more frosting, turn a bunch more grahams into computer monitors (get a cramp in hand), frost cupcakes, throw “laptops” onto cupcakes, throw 3-yr-old Miss Bee into the car at 1:28, drive to school, lumber into the cafeteria just in time for the last 10 minutes of lunch, and watch all 20 masterpieces get devoured in about 30 seconds.

So now you can ask the question: Why put yourself through all that when your efforts go initially unappreciated (I believe Stuntman’s first words when I finally got to the school were “it’s about time!” – the “thank-you’s” did come later) and then go down a crowd of 4th graders’ gullets?

Insert sweet violin/piano music here: It’s all for my children.

No it isn’t; it’s for ME. Okay, part of it’s for the kids, but a large part is due to my project-finding radar, which, when it detects a challenge involving baking, sewing or writing, triggers an irresistible desire to try out and complete the project, whether or not it looks like the picture in the magazine/on the internet/in the book (as you can see). Could I just do what all the other moms do and bring cupcakes from the grocery store bakery with an inch of frosting on top? Well, sure, but where's the fun? I don't get to help. Do the kids really care where the cake comes from? Probably not, but I do have this secret fantasy that my children will, 20 or so years from now, tell their own kids about how their mom brought computer cupcakes to school for their birthdays. Even if they don't, that's okay with me - Wal-mart may have chocolate cupcakes, also baked from a mix, but they'll never have anything remotely "cyber-sweet."