Saturday, February 25, 2012

Introducing the Little Miss Sunshine HelpLine----the advice column

Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't.     ----Erica Jong

I have an unnatural fascination with advice columns.  Dear Prudence, Dear Abby, Friend or Foe, Dear Margo, Dear Some-Hack-In-Iowa-City-Who-Has-Deemed-Herself-An-Expert?  Yeah.  I read them all.  I'm not the slightest bit ashamed.

This fascination can be partially ascribed to the same sickness that prompts me to watch reality television.    Let's face it- reading about the PTA mom who got caught at her stripping job by her arch-rival's husband makes me feel better about the state of my own life.  It's all relative, people.

The remainder of my fascination is derived from my thought that advice columns only provide half-answers to miscellaneous quandaries,  at absolute best.  On second thought....please allow me to refine.  How much more interesting would advice columns be if the distressed could pose TWO questions to the expert-- what should I do, and what would you do?

Think about that for a second.

Let's face it---many people (and myself certainly included) freely dispense good advice...but don't follow it.  I don't necessarily think that's hypocrisy, either.  Generally speaking, we're not "in" on the nitty-gritty of other's everyday lives and innermost thoughts--and thus, we can advise in a vacuum.   It's pretty easy to dole out ideal world answers when we only see a fragment of what someone's world looks like.    Conversely, we know the inner workings of our own lives and we know the whole story---the subtle pitfalls, the landmines, the shades of gray that come from our own real lives--and calibrate our solutions to problems accordingly.

With that in mind, I wonder how much more valuable advice columns would be if the experts provided both answers- the real world answer and the ivory tower answer.  I have to believe that the best solution lies somewhere in between.

Interestingly enough, I frequently am called upon to give advice on everyday life, which I find to be hilarious for the following reasons:

1.  I have no idea what I'm doing.
2.  I have no frigging idea what I'm doing.
3.  I have no frigging idea what I'm frigging doing.
4. My kid's hilariously profane, I couldn't cook a decent meal to save my life, and in the last 6 months, I've driven away from a gas station with the fuel hose still attached to my car (and didn't even notice it).

I'm not entirely sure what it is about these 4 factors makes people think "Wow!  This broad really has her shit together!  She'd know what to do!"

In any case, I'm opening this up for a weekly Q&A session, where I can put my inexpert, inarticulate, and quite possibly ill-advised spin on your problems.  If you're all okay with a world slightly gone amok and have the local authorities on speed dial, I think this should work out just fine.

With no further ado, the first ever Q&A with yours truly playing Dear Abby.  (Side note, if Dear Abby has already passed away, I'm sure she's rolling in her grave right now.  If Dear Abby is still living, however, this just might kill her.)

Question:   How do you get Little M to be so well-behaved in restaurants, even non-child friendly ones?

Answer #1- What you should do
Dear Gentle Reader,

Congratulations on wanting to introduce your children to the social graces involved in public dining!  The trick for a smooth meal is preparation, preparation, preparation!  The following four step process should go a long way in having a successful meal!

1.  Pick the right restaurant, like a family friendly chain restaurant. Chain restaurants are great because they’re used to serving families, serve kid friendly foods and they quickly turn over tables, so you’ll get your order in and get fed in a hurry.
2.  Eat at "off hours".  Arrive at the restaurant 30 minutes to an hour before the traditional dinner rush, so that the disruption to other diners is minimal.
3.  Reward kids for good behavior. To get your kids to behave during the meal, tell them you’ll take them out for ice cream afterward.
4.  Bring a “restaurant kit" that includes crayons and paper, small puzzles, Lego or a handheld electronic game.
With the right preparation, your family dining experience should be a pleasurable one!
Good luck,  Little Miss Sunshine
Answer #2- What Little Miss Sunshine would actually do

Dear Gentle Reader,

Over the last three years, I've discovered that there are four components that lead to a pleasurable dining experience for the whole family.  These components are good old-fashioned fear,  removal of other alternatives, making technology your friend, and something I like to call "creative rebranding."

I can explain.

Anyone who knows me at all, or has read even one of these blog entries, knows that I can't cook for crap.  It's appallingly bad.  We eat gobs and gobs of meals in restaurants because if we didn't, my kid wouldn't eat.  No one would.   Judge me as you will.

Being the supermom that I am, I like to ensure that Little M eats an edible meal at least once daily; therefore, eating out is an absolute necessity.  After all, you all know what they say- necessity is the mother of invention, so good behavior in the 8 local non-chain reasonably-priced restaurants is essential so that we may return and eat again.

(You'll note that I said non-chains.  This is because I also prefer that I eat an edible meal at least once daily.  A little part of my soul dies whenever I enter a place like the Outback or the Olive Garden.  I would wholeheartedly support an Applebee's/Cracker Barrel vaccine.   This is just a matter of personal preference, but I would rather spend my money at a locally owned venture that is someone's pride and joy and the food is freshly prepared.  I also fear that bad taste and strangers' children are contagious.  Note that I don't include Chickfila in the chain restaurant category because Chickfila rocks and the children who eat there are perfect little cherubs.  The spicy chicken sandwich is so good that it makes me delusional.)

So, yes, fear is a key component to good behavior.  Part of this fear is the garden-variety fear that the whole family will have to eat something I prepared if we don't behave.  The other part is multi-generational.  I'm apparently not above passing down the fear that I grew up with while dining with my dad in public.  It went something like this---

Now, I realize that times are different and the threat of  ass-beatings isn't smiled upon anymore (and for the record, I don't do it either)---but, that doesn't mean that introducing a bit of fear into the dining experience is a bad thing.  I prefer to call it insurance.    This is where technology comes in.

Security cameras are your friends.  Little M believes that these little cameras are satellites that feed directly into the North Pole.  Santa makes decisions on how many toys go into the sleigh based upon his review of the satellite feeds.  Forget the elf on the shelf, and forget if it might be July.  You have the 1990's version of the security camera at the Red Sombrero, and it is your friend.   It's never too early for your kids to know that Santa conducts an annual performance review based upon a year's worth of satellite feeds.  Laugh if you want.  This actually works.

And then, there's the creative rebranding.  This is where you "repackage" the menu descriptions of certain foods so that your kids eat it.  What, you didn't know that SpongeBob's crabby patties were partially comprised of black beans and mango salsa?

I have no idea if your meal will be a pleasant one--but I can guarantee that you will enjoy yourself finding ways to outwit your kids while you still can.

PS- Can't wait to start fielding your questions!

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