Should You Give a Kid a Kindle?

Seven Reasons to Give a Kid a Kindle:

1. She will think it’s the coolest gift ever.

2. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, endlessly renewing itself: new books at the touch of a button from here until eternity….

3. You’ll never have to rush out to the bookstore to get the next book in the series she’ s absolutely hooked on (unless Kindle doesn’t stock the next book in the series…. ).

4. Her bookshelves will be a lot less cluttered. No untidy piles of books waiting on the night stand.

5. Books are deeply discounted on Kindle. Assuming that they generally cost about $5 less, after about–say–25 books, the device will have paid for itself and you will start clocking up real savings.

6. She will be able to read several books at once without toting a huge book bag around with her.

7. And did I mention, she’ll think it’s the coolest gift ever?

Six Reasons Not to Give a Kid a Kindle:

1. Do you really want your absent-minded teen to have to keep track, on a daily basis, of  something that costs several hundred dollars?

2. It’s too easy to shop on a Kindle–just the touch of a button, no credit card details required.  What if she buys five books a day?

3. I like to know what my teen is reading; much harder to monitor, on a Kindle.

4. What if she wants to lend a book to a friend? No way is she lending out her Kindle…

5. She can’t read a Kindle at the beach, in the bath, or up a tree.

6. I bet she’ll be wearing glasses within six months if she starts reading on a screen full time–yes, despite what they say about it being no-glare etc.

BUT she will still think it’s the coolest gift ever

Kindle: The Book to End All Books?

I asked for a Kindle for my birthday. Not because I want to purge my shelves of the clutter and dust of physical books. Not because I have a long commute and want to know for sure that I’ll never be without reading material. Not because I love gadgets and had to lay my hands on this one.

No. Because I want to know my enemy.

I mean, I’m a writer, and from what I’ve been reading on the Web, the Kindle and other e-readers are going to turn writers into volunteers rather than professionals. There will be no money to be made in writing anymore, because e-publishers will offer writers such tiny advances–if they offer any at all–that writing simply won’t be a viable way to make a living (except in the case of a chosen few, who are already such recognizable brands–think Stephen King–that they will be able to self-publish at the click of a mouse, thereby increasing their own profit margins immensely.)

E-publishers will recompense writers poorly not because they are exploitative, but because they themselves will be battling to keep the wolf from the door. You see, to make e-publishing take off they’ll have to discount their e-books so deeply  that, even taking into account the lack of printing costs, their own margins will become so thin as to be almost non existent.  As for brick-and-mortar bookstores, they’ll go the same way record stores went.

Remember record stores?

With no store fronts to show off new titles, e-publishers (and almost all publishers will now be electronic) will have to get the word out about ‘big’ books in other ways. They’ll have to spend money on Internet advertising, obviously, but they will also need to develop alternative strategies to attract readers. Most are already developing these strategies. New communities of readers in every genre will spring up on-line. Publishers will hire people whose only job will be to blog and chat on-line, talking up one title or another. Book trailers will become a thriving new business, and an art form in themselves. Teaser podcasts (one chapter only) will pop up all over the place. Some writers will try to sell their product directly to the market, cutting out all middle men. Most will fail, of course, but a few will create dazzlingly successful careers.

And where will this leave me and my writer friends whose names are not yet brands? I’m not really sure. Maybe small advances will be okay, because maybe we’ll be receiving big royalties. After all, it’s so much easier to buy a book when all you have to do is click a button with your thumb.

Think about it. Buying a real book means getting into a car. Driving to a store. Spending time selecting from a host of covers. Standing in line at the check-out. Pulling out the cash or credit card and handing over a good chunk of money, possibly as much as $25 for a hardback. Then driving home. It takes a major commitment of time and effort before we even get to the cash price of the whole exercise.

Buying a paper-and-ink book online involves spending even more, because you have to stump up for shipping and handling. And then there’s the lengthy wait until the book lands in your mailbox.

But buying a book from Kindle is perilously easy.  You’re slouched in bed late at night eating Halloween candy, and suddenly you have an urge to read the latest cozy chain-saw killer thriller.

No problem! You just click over to the ‘store’, find the book you want, select ‘Buy’ and click the button. That button doesn’t even make a sound. The whole thing is effortless. Seconds later… ta da! Instant gratification. You’re deep in the woods with the crazy chain-saw serial killer.

You don’t even have to enter those pesky credit card details over and over again; that very first time, when you buy the actual Kindle, is enough. All future transactions just go onto your card with barely a blip. You hardly even know you’re spending money! Of course, you’ll see those transactions again at the end of the month on your credit card bill, but the books are so darn cheap, what does it matter? I mean, four or five dollars a pop, who cares? Right?

Of course, they do add up.

But still. Maybe people will start buying books like chewing gum, without a second thought. I mean, a book is no longer a big commitment. You don’t have to find a space for it in your house. You don’t have to pack it up in a box when you move. You don’t have to display it as evidence of your reading tastes, or hide it away somewhere in shame. All the books you own, now, are intangible. Nothing to show for them at all, just the plain leather binder of your Kindle.

So maybe the volume of books sold will soar, and this alone will be enough to allow writers to generate sufficient income to keep at it. After all, writers and artists are traditionally the starving classes, aren’t they?

On the whole, I’d like to believe that the advent of Kindle and other e-books won’t entirely kill off writing as a profession. Quite possibly, electronic publishing will spawn a huge amateur writer class, who will e-publish at will, with no gate-keepers to keep out works that don’t seem commercially viable. But will any of us be able to make a living at it anymore? Let’s wait and see.

Are You a Power Mom?

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: POWER MOMS has just come out, and I have a piece in it.

I think every pediatrician’s office ought to have a copy of this book in its waiting room, for all those exhausted moms sitting glassy-eyed and shell-shocked with their crying children after yet another sleepless night mopping a fevered brow/changing a wet bed/cleaning up vomit/chasing away nightmares. It’s inspirational reading.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a Power Mom. I’m definitely a mom but sometimes when I’m going one-on-one with my seven year old, I’m not quite sure exactly who is wielding the power. But I like the concept of Power Moms. I think it’s great.

Because as we all know, the whole mom thing is totally underestimated by innocent bystanders.

I mean, nobody who hasn’t been through it really understands what’s involved.

I still remember my own rude awakening. During my first pregnancy I felt terribly important. Everybody treated me as if I were really delicate and fragile and special. People wanted to touch my bump. They wanted to know all the details of how I felt, what I was eating, how I was sleeping.

When we checked into the hospital, the special treatment went on. People were monitoring my every heart beat—oh, hang on, maybe it was the baby’s every heart beat. But they were definitely monitoring my blood pressure, and they kept asking me to describe my ‘discomfort’, on a scale of one to ten. They were hanging on my every word. I was the center of the universe.

Then, finally, the big moment arrived and my baby made her grand entrance into the world. On cue, the door of the hospital room flew open and about half a dozen people burst in—all decked out in white coats and masks. Somebody let me hold the baby for a fraction of a second, then a person in a white coat plucked her off my breast and marched out of the room with her. And everybody followed. Every last soul. Not even my husband stayed behind to hold my hand and ask if I wanted a drink of water. Which I did, pretty badly, to be frank.

So there I lay, battered and bleeding and bent out of shape, wondering when my crowd of admirers would come flocking back to my bedside, full of admiration and congratulations.

They never did. From the moment she entered the world, it wasn’t about me anymore. It was all about the baby.

And me—I was chopped liver.

And that’s what being a mom is all about: becoming a support system for another human life. There’s no ‘me’ anymore, only ‘mom-meee’.

Of course, the real trick is not losing track of yourself while you’re doing all that supporting. The real trick is holding on to a sense of yourself as an individual, that person you were before the baby made its grand entrance. The women who wrote the stories in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: POWER MOMS are power moms because, one way or another (and it hasn’t always been pretty), they’ve managed to do this. They’ve managed to maintain a sense of themselves in the midst of diapers and bottles and binkies, homework and carpools and soccer matches. Better still, instead of draining them dry, motherhood has made them stronger and wiser.

As I said, every pediatrician’s waiting room ought to have a copy of this book. But maybe the OB/gyn offices shouldn’t stock them. No point in scaring the living daylights out of pregnant women.

Beware the Mobile Dog Groomer

The mobile dog groomer came to our house a couple of days ago. Our dog, a wheaten terrier, had reached a degree of matted fluffiness that could no longer be ignored.  She looked like an explosion of fur, with no eyes to speak of at all–and her beard! Well, it was quite as revolting as the beard of an old man who trails his facial hair in his soup.

 Now, don’t run away with the idea that we neglect this dog. We brush her. We wash her. We spruce her up. Often. It just doesn’t help.

We didn’t want to shave her completely, or ‘strip’ her as it’s called in the dog grooming trade, given that we had a couple of inches of snow on the ground and a good three months of winter still ahead of us. Besides, when she was last shaved, the children were traumatized to see what a shrunken, pink-skinned, skeletal creature lurked underneath the robust shaggy silhouette we were used to. 

We had no choice but to do something, though–she was so matted that the vet threatened her skin would become oxygen starved. What happens to skin when it’s oxygen starved, I’m not quite sure. (I wasn’t really aware skin could breathe, in the first place.) But it hardly seemed fair on the wheaten terrier to wait and find out.

My husband came home with a scrap of paper he’d torn off a hand-written flyer on the message board at the supermarket.  “Wouldn’t the kids love it if a doggy parlor pulled up in our driveway?” he mused.

I was less optimistic about the probable entertainment value of the mobile dog groomer, but I felt that a small business owner might be more respectful of her client’s wishes than our usual doggy parlor was. At the place we normally take Maggie to, a disdainful teenage girl tends to insist that we sign a release allowing the parlor to ‘strip dog if necessary’.

When I spoke to her on the phone, the mobile groomer lady–let’s call her Barb–seemed willing to humor me. “We really don’t want her to lose her whole coat, if you can possibly save it,” I told her. “She has some matted patches–maybe you could comb through them? Or cut them out?”

“I’ll try,” Barb said.

On the day, the big white van showed up in our driveway an hour late. It was just like waiting for the cable guy. “Sorry, but I had to clean up the van,” she told us briskly. “The last dog I had in there threw up all over the place. Boy, could he projectile vomit. It’s still kinda stinky.”

“Want to look inside the lady’s van, kids?” my husband asked. But they slunk off without answering.

Barb then bent down to run a knowing hand over our terrier’s quivering body. Poor dog, she seemed to realize that this wasn’t a social call.

“She sure has a lot of mats,” Barb said. “How about… how about if I just trim her coat a little, make it more manageable?”

My husband and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Okay, but we don’t want her shaved,” we told her.

She led Maggie out like a lamb to the slaughter.

I was on the computer when, a surprisingly short time later, I heard Barb’s voice from the kitchen. I hurried along to investigate. To be honest, I had misgivings.

But my misgivings didn’t prepare me in the least for the sight that met my eyes.

Maggie was straining on the leash, her eyes bugging out of her head. At first, I thought the woman had done nothing to her at all. Then she moved and I saw her from the front.

Maggie looked like a kid’s drawing of a sheep–a fat little cloud, with two skinny sticks in the front for legs.

I looked at my husband, who was already in the room. He shook his head, speechless.

I looked at Barb.

“Sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t do it. Her mats are too close to the skin. I was afraid of hurting her. You’ll have to take her to an animal hospital.”

“But–but …” I gestured at Maggie’s front legs. They were roughly shaven, thin as pencils emerging from her great shaggy coat.

“I had to stop,” Barb said. “It was getting dangerous. Tell you what, I’m not going to charge you.”

And she left.

Five minutes later I was on the phone to our usual doggy parlor. They were able to take us first thing the next morning. As I walked in, the bored-looking teenager exhibited a small jolt of animation as she took in Maggie’s haircut. “Has the dog had surgery?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “She’s had a mobile dog groomer.”

The girl shook her head and went back (big time) to bored-and-disdainful mode. She pushed the form across the counter to me, the one authorising the parlor to ‘strip dog if necessary’.  I signed without a whimper.


Santa brought us a Wii!

Santa brought a Wii down our chimney at midnight on Christmas Eve.


Hurray, I thought. Santa’s a genius! Three Wii remotes, three children—dissent will be a thing of the past in the Chidley household. (Dissent has been rising to epic proportions lately because of the ‘one computer-three children’ state of affairs.) And indeed, the whole Wii thing started out on a highly promising note, with everybody rolling on the floor in hysterics over the antics of the hapless Mii tennis players, all of whom seemed remarkably inept. We would howl and hoot as they leapt in the air, desperate to make contact with the ball, always just a hair’s breadth too late.


But as the children grew more proficient with the digital racquet, the situation began to change. In a surprisingly short space of time, they’d all come to grips with the timing aspects of the game. No more wild flailing at the wrong split second. Long rallies became the order of the day. And then, out of nowhere, Middle Child mastered the hitherto unknown art of serving high-speed aces to her opponent, who generally didn’t even have the wits to shake a racquet at the ball as it blasted by.


Around the same time, Youngest developed the habit of leaping into the air as he ‘hit’ the ball, which seemed to give him a low hard stroke that was almost impossible to return.


Eldest developed a knack of swishing her ‘racquet’ continually, which allowed her net player to return impossible shots, completely confounding the opposing team.


Just as I was settling down with a book, congratulating myself on the new peace Wii had brought to our embattled household, voices became raised. The dreaded cry, ‘Not fair!’ began to ring in the air. At a certain point, a punch-up seemed inevitable.


“Children,” I said sternly, “if you can’t show good sportsmanship, we’ll have to put the Wii away.”  They slunk off to play with their Nintendo DS’s instead.


In the evening, Husband and I decided to give the Wii a go.


We’ve been at it for two days now, on and off. I won’t let him forget—not for a moment—that I knocked him out twice at boxing. There we were—drenched in sweat, wildly punching the air in our living room, weaving and feinting, going in for body shots when we dared, grunting and groaning, jabbing at each other’s heads with a grim concentration that the children found downright scary—just for the fun of it! It was sort of ridiculous, yes—but strangely satisfying. Because I won!


Tennis isn’t nearly as much fun. It was at first—because I won. But Husband has been practicing on the sly. The moment I leave the room to unpack the dishwasher or check my email, he’s up there with his racquet, challenging Jack and Hugo to best of three. And he’s getting ridiculously good. He has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve—angles, lobs, low balls, speed balls, I swear he’s even figuring out how to put spin on that sucker. I can’t seem to win a single point, anymore.


To tell you the truth, I’m beginning to think the Wii is over-rated. I mean, here I am, barely able to move my arms because they ache so much from swinging that remote control, glaring at Husband with deep resentment, subjected on a regular basis to the sight of his victory dance while my Mii hangs her head in shame on the wide screen; I mean, it’s just not dignified.


Anyway, at least Husband is going back to work tomorrow. I’ll have eight uninterrupted hours to figure out how to hit an ace. Perhaps Middle Child can teach me. I’ll have to bribe her with cookies. And when Husband comes home tomorrow night, he’ll be toast.


**Elise Chidley is author of Your Roots Are Showing, a romantic comedy about marriage, email, and mistakes.

Who Cleans the Cage?

Part of my job description as mother, apparently, is keeper of domesticated rodents. But that’s okay. I’m not of the school of thought that classifies hamsters as tail-less rats. They don’t freak me out in the least. I’m even a little charmed by the way they stow all their food in their cheeks and hurry off to some hidden nest, like a binge eater running for cover with a pint of ice cream. Since our hamster passed on to a better place (let’s face it, most places would be better than the square foot of sawdust he occupied on this earth), we’ve switched rodents. We’re now the proud owners of three guinea pigs. We forsook hamsters on the grounds that their life expectancy is too short. Guinea pigs can live up to thirteen years, according to some Web sites (I’m with the sites that call for five to six years, by the way; but then I clean the cage) so the hope is that we’ll be out of mourning until middle school, at least.

You can learn a lot from observation of domestic rodents, by the way. Take hamsters. A caged hamster spends his entire (short) life searching for a way out into the wide world. Day and night, he scrabbles at the bars with his claws, and gnaws at the wire with his buck teeth. He lives only to escape. Sometimes he fantasizes that he has escaped, and that’s when you see him on his wheel, running like hell, the wind in his fur, a frenzied look in his pink eyes.

Guinea pigs, on the other hand, feel safest and happiest behind bars. Leave the door open for a guinea pig and he will peer cautiously over the edge, and then scurry back to a far corner of the cage, there to consult fearfully with his peers. As they huddle together, eyeballing the opening in obvious terror, you feel compelled to put them out of their misery by closing the door. Guinea pigs don’t give a hoot about the big world out there. They live for good food and good conversation. In a pinch, even bad food and the rattle of a clothes dryer will do.

If a hamster escapes, he can sometimes be found months later living a dangerous life inside somebody’s mattress, happy as Larry. But most often, he’s found days later, a stiff and malodorous corpse.

At a certain point, you ask yourself which species of rodent you most resemble—the hamster whose motto is live free or die; or the bon vivant guinea pig, content with his recycled-newspaper lot in life.