Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Case for Free Range Kids

Today I read this AP story entitled “in the Wake of Tragedy in Indy, Parents Must Weigh Risks of Kids Playing Adult Games.”   It was a reaction to the tragic accidental death of a 13-year-old after falling off his motorcycle in a warm-up lap for a U.S. Grand Prix Racers Union event.

The article quotes plenty of “experts” such as child psychologists and an “education and parenting coach” (A parenting coach.  Are you kidding me?!)  who are appalled that such risk-taking is permitted and complain that teens lack sufficient impulse control, are too drawn in by what looks cool, and must be “protected by society.”  The parenting coach blames parents who are unwilling to impose boundaries.  That’s a first!!

Of course, the death of any child is tragic.  But is this a case of bad parenting?  For that matter, what about the parents of 13-year-old Everest climber Jordan Romero or around-the-world sailors Zac (17) and Abby (16) Sunderland?  In all of these cases, the kids had acquired an amazing level of expertise, and their parents allowed them to pursue their passions.  But still, we hear the outcry of disapproval.

So at what age is it OK to let our kids take risks?  Maybe the “experts” and a lot of the shame-on-you crowd should take a look at FreeRangeKids, a blog (and book by the same title) by Lenore Skenazy.  She features articles, tips, statistics, and readers’ letters in support of the effort to raise kids to be self-reliant.  She advocates common sense, as she write, “Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage.  The over-protective life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.”

Indeed.  We are so busy protecting our kids from fitted sheets, drawstrings, monkey bars, homemade cupcakes, lawn darts, etc. that we are robbing them of opportunities for adventure.  I can recall riding my bike as a 9 or 10-year-old to the liquor store in our Southern California neighborhood to buy popsicles.  According to today’s parenting manual, there are so many things wrong with those outings.  But they gave me a little bit of confidence.  What if we gave our kids adequate knowledge and a value system and then let them leap?  They might get hurt; they might fail; but they will have gained experience.

Not every child is X-Games, solo sailor, or Everest climber material.  But how will a child ever know what he can achieve if he’s not let out of the cage?

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Military vs. Civilian Life

After 18 years as a military spouse, I should be able to let the common annoyances of military life roll off my back.  Hey, even salty old wives like me need to vent sometimes!  I think most people in the civilian world get it that when service members deploy, life is hard.  Really, really hard.  What I think many people fail to understand is that life can be pretty hard even when a service member is manning a desk stateside.  Here’s what I wish everyone knew about life in the military (in no particular order):

  1. Weekends mean nothing.  Yesterday (Sunday) my darling husband had a meeting scheduled for 7:00 AM.  A service member is on call every day at all hours, no matter what day it is.  There’s no overtime pay or time-and-a-half, either.  The service member works until the job is done all for the same pittance of a salary.
  2. All that earned vacation time (“annual leave”) people say service members are so lucky to get goes away if he is unable to use it because of his unit’s schedule.  Many folks end up losing leave days every year because they never had the opportunity to take time off.  And a lot of us end up begging the airlines for refunds because we had to suddenly cancel a vacation due to unexpected changes in the ship’s schedule or unit exercises, etc.
  3. Free housing is a myth.  Even my in-laws often remark that we have nothing to complain about since our housing is free.  There are 2 parts to this myth.  First, government housing (base housing):  It’s scarce with often insurmountable waiting lists.  It’s usually really small and frequently located in the worst school districts or high crime areas.  Second, housing allowance (BAH):  For those who choose to or must live off base, the amount of money the government provides as an allowance rarely covers your monthly rent or mortgage payment.  There is some strange calculus used to adjust the rates periodically, but they just don’t keep up with real world housing costs.
  4. Free medical care: you get what you pay for.  Get ready, America.  The same health care system military families have dealt with for years is coming to you soon!  It’s the HMO gatekeeper system; it’s rationed; and it’s frustrating at best and a real danger to your health at worst.  Waits for routine care like mammograms or school physicals can be ridiculous, not to mention trying to see a specialist.  You might never see your Primary Care Provider or even the same person twice; and your “doctor” is usually a Physician’s Assistant or Nurse Practitioner.  (That’s not always a bad thing.)  And you had better love generic prescription drugs or be prepared to pay for name brands at a civilian pharmacy.
  5. No one gets used to moving.  This is HUGE, and I hear it all the time:  “You must be used to all that moving by now.”  Even though we do it often, it doesn’t get any easier.  Changing schools is still extremely tough on military kids, as is leaving behind great opportunities on sports teams, in orchestra or choir, in scouts, etc.  Every move means a child has to start over to establish herself in these activities as well as in school.  For middle school and high school kids, this can be nearly impossible and can impact college admissions.  And plenty of spouses will tell you that they have watched job opportunities disappear as soon as the potential employer finds out you’re an active-duty military family.  We may get better at saying goodbye, but that’s only because each move makes us a little more detached or harder inside.

Yes, indeed, our military is an all-volunteer force.  But ask yourself:  If they didn’t do it, would you?

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Keeping the Military Spouse in Line

A recent column by one of my favorite writers/bloggers on military life caught my eye.  JaceyEckhart wrote “Service Members Shouldn’t Be Expected to Control Their Wives”  in reaction to a news report about a Fort Bragg Army wife who was banned from all interaction with her husband’s unit and its family members. Apparently her treatment of her husband’s subordinates and their wives was damaging morale.

Eckhart was surprised by the number of comments on the story calling for the service member to “lay down the law” and “keep your house in order.”  She recalls the Bad Old Days when the family of a service member could make or break his career.  She then writes:

 The cultural demand that family members be “controlled” or that family members are a danger to your career is very offputting to the current generation of military spouses. We need to cut that out or risk hemorrhaging the norm.

Jacey should know better.  It is a fact of military life that the family has an effect on the service member’s career.  “Offputting” as it may be, families have a huge roll in the service members ability to do his job, and a service member who is not deployable is not going to advance in his career.  Would you want to be on patrol with a soldier who is preoccupied by his party-girl wife who just got a DUI or  Drunken Disorderly?  What about the pilot who can’t stop thinking about how his wife maxed out their last credit card or how his kid got picked up for shop-lifting again?  Would you want to be in the cockpit with him?  Families that are out of control affect readiness, and readiness is what the military is all about.

Like it or not, the service member is owned by Uncle Sam.  He has voluntarily accepted an obligation not just to do a job but to live it, 24/7 at times.  In order to do that safely and effectively, he does have to have his house in order.  And if he can’t keep his personal life from interfering with his obligation, he will be “encouraged” to separate from the military either blatantly or by keeping him in dead-end billets and passing him over at promotion time.

A large part of the problem is that modern spouses often react to this reality defiantly.  No one is going to tell them what to do or how to behave.  And the service member is unwilling or just not strong enough to establish the command’s or his own expectations early on before crises arise.

Is it fair that a wife has to mind her P’s and Q’s at the peril of her husband’s job?  Maybe not.  Although the expectations for families is that they simply conduct themselves in a “normal” fashion.  But then again, no one ever said life–especially military life–is fair.

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Survivalists in Training

The DVR has been working overtime at our house lately.  Even though the networks are still in the “dead zone” they call the summer hiatus, you can find great stuff on Discovery Channel.  Our family’s genre of choice lately is the survival show.  (OK, 16-year-old SuzyQ does not particularly enjoy these shows.) 

It all started with Junior (13-year-old son) becoming enamored at about age 5 with the Crocodile Hunter.  Then he moved on to Shark Week.  Out of that fascination for the outdoors and wildlife came his interest in survival shows.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Junior is a “doer”.  He doesn’t want to simply be outside; he wants to do stuff out there.  Learning how to build snow caves, climb rock faces, and fire-starting 101 are right up his alley.

After years of watching these shows with him, I have come to enjoy them in a train wreck, you-can’t-look-away fashion.  Anyone who knows me at all understands that I’m certainly not watching to acquire new skills.  I don’t even camp–ever.  I’m also a germ-a-phobe who insists on good hand washing practices in our household.

Nevertheless, there’s something seriously entertaining about watching the Special Forces guy and his wife trekking into the desert or the jungle and trying not to kill each other while practicing survival techniques on “Man, Woman, Wild.”  On the website, the show is described as having the couple “find common ground standing up to nature in the wildest places on Earth.”  I’m not sure about the “common ground” part, though.  Her bio brags of her own wild adventures all over the world as a journalist, but on this show, she acts as the rookie following his expertise.

Not so entertaining but still worthy of some laughs is “Dual Survivor.”  This show pairs a hippy “minimalist” with another former Army guy turned hunter / tracker.  The hippy’s claim to fame is that he has gone barefoot for 20 years as he lives off the land in Arizona.  He also only wears shorts and some kind of hand-woven hoodie.  I have news for you, hippy minimalist: your efforts at survival would go a lot easier if you wore pants–and shoes.

Of course, the Godfather of survivalists is Bear Grylls of “Man Vs. Wild.”  A former British Special Forces guy, he was the youngest Brit to climb Everest.  Every episode finds Bear eating something really noxious, peeing on camera, or going partially naked for some good reason.  He’s great at laughing at himself as he falls out of his primitive hammock or lands in an embarrassing position.  What I like best about him, though, is that he brings a real human touch to the show.  He often talks about missing his family and worrying about them.  And he is not afraid to talk about how faith and prayer can help in desperate situations.

So I guess if our country’s economy totally melts down, terrorists take out our power grid, or a giant asteroid wipes out civilization, we will be somewhat prepared.  And you can bet we will all be wearing pants.

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Hard Times

My reading material of choice is historical fiction.  I enjoy reading across most periods, but lately my favorite has been World War II era.  The stories of the “Greatest Generation” have so much to teach us, and certainly memoirs and biography would be the most accurate way to learn those stories.  But sometimes it’s just too hard to hear the accounts of what befell real people during those perilous years.

About a year ago, I picked up a novel called The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy at my local library.  That book led me to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Then came The Bronze Horseman and its two sequels, followed by City of Thieves, and The Madonnas of Leningrad.  And the list goes on, with the most recent entry called Purge  by Sofi Oksanen.  A common theme in all of these novels is survival.  World War II brought the ultimate in hard times, particularly for those living in Europe.  (I’m specifically not writing about Holocaust survivors and victims.  It’s offensive to call what they experienced  merely “hard times.”)

Imagine living each day with the threat of invasion of your country and then the fall of your country to the enemy.  Random nightly bombings in your city.  Neighbors disappearing or being taken away right in front of you.  Sharing one slice of bread with your family as your only meal of the day–and the bread is made from sawdust.  There’s no gasoline, electricity, or heating oil.  Can any of us in America imagine such things?  Certainly,  America was hard hit by the Great Depression, but World War II actually rescued us from it.  And I would argue that our hard times during the Great Depression don’t hold a candle to those of people who lived in the war zones of World War II.

I realize we are in the middle of a long and deep economic crisis right now.  Unemployment touches so many families, including my own.  But I believe Americans in general have yet to really experience hardship.  We are not fighting every day for our survival.  We still have our air conditioning, cable TV, mobile phones, and gas in our multiple cars.  Our kids can still go to school instead of scrounging for firewood.  Even our pets are well-fed instead of in danger of ending up as someone’s meal.  And we can spend the next few months deciding on candidates we like in our next free elections.

I read so much in the news about what we don’t have: free health care, more unemployment benefits, pension bailout, etc.  I think it’s important to take stock of what we have from time to time.  We still have (for now) the freedom to save or spend as we wish, take a job that pays the bills or sit around collecting unemployment, volunteer to defend our country in the military or let someone else bear that burden.  Those who lived to tell about the siege of Leningrad, the Blitz in London, or the Soviet-German-Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe could rightly ask, “What does America have to complain about?”

In other words: check your attitude and count your blessings.

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Red Dawn

We had a family movie night tonight.  The feature film was “Red Dawn,” the classic from 1984.  I think I remember seeing it way back when, but I couldn’t recall lots of it.  The kids were seeing it for the first time.

Certainly this is not a movie worthy of any best actor, etc. awards.  In spite of that and the dated explosions and lackluster warfare effects, this 26-year-old film gave me the creeps.  It fit very nicely into the general feeling of doom I’ve had for a while.  No, I don’t believe we are in danger of a Russian invasion, but I could envision a breakdown of society and a “complete transformation of America,” as our president, the Chosen One, has promised. 

In the film, who is on our side?  No one, except the British, who, we are told, won’t last long.  That seems about right if you look at the behavior of our allies lately (Iraq, Afghanistan…).  Oh, and the Chinese, but in the real world, China owns us.  They would want to protect their investment, not destroy it.  Interestingly enough, in a  remake of “Red Dawn” planned for release this fall, China is the enemy instead of the Russians.  They wouldn’t need to bother with a military takeover.  All they have to do to bring us to our knees is call in our debt.

It’s interesting to note that in the movie, the heroes find shelter and encouragement with a family that lives way outside of town.  They have rows and rows of preserves on a shelf and a contraband radio made out of a Sara Lee pound cake tin.  It makes me wonder, should the unthinkable happen, what will become of Americans today who are SO dependent on convenience foods, technology, and virtual everything.  Who knows how to preserve food?  Who even carries cash anymore?

Also very eerie in the movie is the revelation that the invasion force poured across the US border with Mexico.  Gee, I wonder if anything like that could happen today??  Wait, it’s already happening; it’s just not an organized military force.

OK.  Perhaps this wasn’t the best choice for Saturday night entertainment.  I think while I’m praying for a completely different kind of complete transformation of our country, I should just stick to DIY Network.

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Living in the Land of Tolerance

Sometimes it’s hard being uncommon.  Especially when you know that you will be a social outcast for the forseeable future.  Lately the headlines remind me that things will get worse before they get better.  The most recent example is the decision by a California federal court judge striking down that state’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  The judge ruled that “moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples,” and that those views are “irrational.”  He went on to describe marriage as merely “an expression of emotional support and public commitment.”

Let’s put aside for now my response to the judge’s opinion about marriage.  Instead, there’s the bigger picture to examine.  Rebecca Hagelin does this in a recent column.   She predicts a field day for those who wish to cram the new morality of Tolerance down our throats:

The judge’s ruling serves as a primer for the sex educators, liberal school boards, and social engineers who want our children to embrace the same reasoning. And their methods are frightening: They are using the power of big government to force their personal moral views of homosexual relationships on children and families across the nation.

She goes on:

School curricula and the mandated atmosphere of tolerance are already rolling over our children like waves eroding the shore; but now, the tsunami is headed our way. And the pressure for parents to be silent and conform to a “new morality” is everywhere. It’s in television shows, the movies, games and music; it’s in the schools, in advertising, in our courtrooms and boardrooms.

Let’s face it.  The presumption in this country today is that everyone is on board with what was taboo only a generation or two ago: abortion, embryonic stem cell research, couples shacking up instead of marrying, divorce, “hooking up,” openly homosexual behavior.  Now the taboo is questioning any of these behaviors. In the military world, for example, shack-up “families” are afforded almost all the same privileges as traditional families, even though this means passing ship movement information to non-dependents.  Objecting on the grounds that a couple is not married is akin to stirring a hornet’s nest.

I’m trying to raise my children with a set of firm values.  I want them to know that there are absolute truths, moral standards of right and wrong.  But as the notion of tolerance-no-matter-what becomes more ingrained in our society and government, believing in absolute truths seems more and more foreign.  I’m asking my kids to be truly counter-cultural.

Ms. Hagelin calls on parents to stand up for what they believe in and drown out the angry tolerance bombarding our kids.  Our Lord said: Be not afraid; I am with you always.  This is going to take a lot of courage and prayer and divine intervention.  I wonder–is there a patron saint for the uncommon?

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