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Motherhood: It’s Not What It Used To Be

Raising children isn’t what it used to be. That’s because young people today aren’t who they used to be. To give you an example, in my mother’s era, penny candy cost just that—a penny. Today’s generation, on the other hand, thinks the Dollar Store is a bargain. In fact, some kids have their own credit cards to pay for their king-size candy bars.

In the 1920s when the fox trot was popular and Babe Ruth hit over 700 home runs, a working mom meant slaving in the kitchen and scrubbing clothes on a washboard. Today, modern motherhood puts a new twist on the term “working women.” She’s someone who climbs the corporate ladder, carrying a brief case in one hand and a diaper bag in the other. She wears a business suit as well as an apron. She manages an office with dozens of employees, and runs a household of demanding children. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

When it comes to childhood, that’s changed, too. Especially the way kids entertain themselves these days. When saddle oxfords were popular and double dutch jump rope was a favorite pastime, the streets and alleyways were considered safe neighborhood playgrounds. In those days, youngsters made up their own fun shooting marbles, playing jacks, and roller skating for hours.

Since no one had air-conditioning back then, some families actually slept under the stars on their front porch. My mother Charlotte, for example, has fond memories as a little girl spending the night in scenic Tower Grove Park near her South St. Louis neighborhood. She went with her sister Syl and their parents, who were my Grandma Ida and Grandpa Harry, so it was a regular family adventure. Same with my husband’s Grandma Ruth, whose family spread blankets on the ground under the Forest Park Pavilion many hot summer nights. Nowadays, people get arrested or mugged for sleeping in a public outdoor place.

Besides, today’s teenagers rather spend their days and nights hanging out in shopping malls, playing video games, and surfing the Internet, none of which require any physical activity, by the way.

Bottom line, families have changed, too. Today’s idea of a laptop is a computer, not a bouncing toddler on a parent’s knee. In the good ole’ days, families actually spent time together. A typical family scene was gathering around the radio and listening to favorite shows like comedic singer Eddie Cantor, the soap opera Ma Perkins, the radio comedy series Amos n’ Andy, the comic vaudeville team George Burns and Gracie Allen, and don’t forget the hilarious Jack Benny to name a few.

Well, today, rather than being together as a family around the radio, we tend to tune each other out. Parents and their kids alike download music on their personal iPod playlists and TiVo their favorite satellite television shows. And, I have to admit, what my kids call entertainment these days is debatable. I even find myself asking them, “You call that music?” I sound just like my mother.

To make matters worse, families are too busy on most evenings to sit down and enjoy a home-cooked meal together. Instead, we grab dinner on the run and in shifts. We communicate with each other via cell phones on our way to soccer practice, piano lessons, and dance class.

Kids are busier today, no doubt about that, and they also are more easily bored than ever. What’s up with that? This thing—called boredom—it’s my biggest pet peeve as a parent. What’s wrong with a little boredom—it stimulates the imagination. Maybe if spoiled kids helped out around the house a little more, they would have less time to be bored. Nothing gets on my nerves more than when my kids whine, “I’m borrrrred.” How is boredom possible when our three-car garage is so jam-packed with bikes, scooters, skates and every size ball imaginable that I can barely squeeze my van into it?

I don’t need to watch the Dr. Phil show to find out how to handle my children’s issues, such as chronic boredom and complaining. I just need to follow the wisdom of our Jewish ancestors. In fact, the best advice I’ve heard so far when it comes to solving boredom is my favorite Yiddish expression given to me by Grandma Ruth, and she’s 88 years old. When she was a little girl and had nothing to do, her mother Minnie would tell her, “Klop kop on vant.”

The translation is, “Go bang your head against the wall!” I love this phrase so much because it sums up my frustration. In fact, I want to frame the words “Klop Kop on Vant” and hang it in my kitchen, but I don’t know how to needlepoint or do calligraphy.

The problem is that moms like me feel like we have to entertain our children and keep them busy all the time, where as parents like Great Grandma Minnie were too busy poking coal in the furnace and baking bread to schlep their kids around. And besides, hardly anyone owned a car in those days, let alone a sport utility vehicle equipped with a DVD player, satellite radio, a navigation system, and dual air-conditioning. Back then, if you wanted to go somewhere, you walked. In fact, my mom likes to tell the story about how she walked three miles in the snow and rain on her way to Southwest High School. (If I made my kids walk more than a few blocks to school, surely I would be reported for child endangerment). The other way my mom and her younger sister got around was a streetcar, and together they transferred the streetcar three times when they were students at Soldan High School.

So life was easier in some ways back then. It was also harder. And while parenthood has changed over the years, one thing stays the same. We love our children more than life itself.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is obsessing over the invitations at her son’s upcoming bar mitzvah, so please feel free to send any advice to: ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.