Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Lame Parent and Proud of It

Commercials are all about grabbing your attention in 30 seconds or less.  Mostly, I watch TV via the DVR, so I miss nearly all the commercials.  Every now and then, though, one slips by.  This Toyota ad for the Highlander SUV definitely caught my attention, though probably not in the way Toyota hoped for:

Am I actually supposed to find this child cute??  All I wanted to do was yell at him to watch his smart mouth.  I don’t find anything endearing about a kid who refers to his family as “the Geek family” and complains that his parents are too dorky for him.  He ridicules the family car, which his dad is shown lovingly washing.  Here’s a newsflash for you, kid:  That car is paid for!!  You probably haven’t made the connection, but the money that’s not going toward payments on a “cooler” vehicle is buying your expensive leather jacket and your too-tight skinny jeans.  Or maybe your parents are putting that money away so that their precious, ungrateful offspring can go to college one day.  I would hardly call that “lame.”

I get it that this is supposed to be a caricature of a modern, savvy child.  The problem I have is that this type appears so often in the media that it is passed off as normal.  How many Disney Channel shows have kids mouthing off at adults and making snide comments about them?  This isn’t really anything new (“The Simpsons,” “Malcolm in the Middle”), but it is so commonplace now.  Just spend an afternoon with “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” or “iCarly” or even “Sponge Bob Squarepants” for a taste of where kids (How old is the typical audience?) are learning to be smart alecks.  Or you could stroll through the mall on a Saturday and get an earful of the zingers and profanity that kids toss around casually.

When I was growing up, I would be reminded to watch my mouth, stop the back-talk, or quit sassing.  And profanity always brought the old gem about getting your mouth washed out with soap.  These days, though, it seems that there is no such thing as sassing anymore.  It’s all just a child expressing himself, no matter that everything coming out of his mouth is disrespectful.

Toyota execs, you got my attention.  However, you guessed wrong that this would get me to look favorably upon your company or products.  All I can think of now is that kid in your ad who needs to be “taken out behind the woodshed,” as my grandfather would have said.  Oh, and the kid also needs a haircut!!  Apparently, uncommon housewives were not in your test marketing group.


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Call Me a Dinosaur

I am probably the last person on earth to enter the world of texting.  I never really saw the point of it when I could just as easily call and speak my message to someone.  These days, I can actually acknowledge that there are some occasions in which texting is more convenient than calling.  Not many, but some.

Last night, darling husband and I had a full-fledged texting conversation.  I’m not sure why one of us didn’t just call the other, but this turned out to be a prolonged back-and-forth.  I was killing time during SuzyQ’s chorus rehearsal, and he was watching Junior’s baseball game.  The dialogue went something like this:

Him: “Rain starting again”

Me: “Maybe they’ll just call it.”

Him: “No chance”

Him: “Junior just hit a double!”

Me: “Woo goo!!”

Me: “Oops!  I mean woo hoo”

Him: “Junior pitching. Wild again”

Him: “Base hit, man on first”

Him: “Stole second”

Him: “Double play!”

Me: “No way!”

Him: “Yes way”

And so it went through most of the game.  Looking back through the series of texts I discovered a few things.  First, I’m not good at texting.  My touch screen is so sensitive, and I’m so unskilled at typing with my thumbs that I make lots of typos.  And I can’t just ignore them.  They embarrass me, so I go back and fix them with a follow-up text to make sure the reader doesn’t think I really meant “Woo goo“.  Secondly, I can’t bring myself to use “texting language.”  All of those little shorthand expressions (LOL, L8TR, U, etc) seem so juvenile, like they are the exclusive language of pre-teens and teens, not for adult usage.

Most importantly, though, I realized how completely unsatisfying the whole conversation was.  It’s nearly impossible to convey real emotion–the tension in watching each pitch; the anxiety of willing Junior to get his frustration under control; etc–  in so few characters.  And those little emoticons are silly substitutes.   It just bothers me to get a series of monotone letters instead of a human voice telling me a story filled with detail and spirit.  It makes me a little sad to realize that for most teens, this is their preferred method of communication.  How will they learn to actually connect with people?

The same can be said about Facebook with its little blurbs of dialogue.  One writer posted here about how she felt short-changed by receiving nearly all of her birthday greetings via Facebook.  Does a “Happy Birthday” with 10 exclamation points on Facebook equal a phone call in the olden days of verbal communication?  Especially when it’s the same message from your sister and your husband’s co-worker’s wife?

Call me a dinosaur, but I’ll never see texting as anything but a communication of last resort.  I would even prefer a quick email that at least conveys a sense of who I am and the emotion I want to express.  Oh, and a hint to certain readers: a Facebook birthday shout-out in lieu of a call or card is lame!!

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Freedom Isn’t Free

I got word of a story yesterday that nearly broke my heart.  Two U.S. Naval Academy graduates, roommates, best friends, were laid to rest side by side at Arlington National Cemetery earlier this month.  (Find the story here or here.)  One was a Marine killed by a sniper in Iraq 3 years ago.  The other, a Navy SEAL, died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last month.  By choosing the Marine Corps and the SEALs, both young men knew very well they likely would go into harm’s way.  And both did make the ultimate sacrifice.

I used to have a magnet on the back of my car that read “Freedom Isn’t Free.”  I specifically chose that one instead of the popular “Support Our Troops” magnets because I think Americans too easily forget that freedom comes at a very steep cost.  Because our military is all-volunteer, most Americans can go about their daily business without giving a second thought to threats to the country.  Someone else will always take care of it.  There is no draft, no rationing for the war effort.  Most sacrifice nothing at all to keep our country safe.

Tom Brokaw wrote an op-ed in the New York Times recently pointing out that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t even issues in election campaigns this fall: 

Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape? How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they’re returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.

Like I said, the wars are barely on the radar of most people.  The economy is what is on their minds.  It affects them every day, not the wars.  But those of us with a loved one serving in the military hear news such as the story of these 2 classmates and know: “There but for the grace of God go I.”  How many wives, husbands, moms, and dads send their loved one off on another deployment, praying that he or she will return home unharmed this time?

Veterans Day is a few weeks away.  Hopefully on at least that one day, America will take a moment away from shopping, football-watching, texting, or whatever to give thanks for those men and women who go in their place to defend freedom.  Even better, pray every day for service members…and for the families they leave behind.  The call of duty that our service members answer for us doesn’t wait for Veteran’s Day.

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Avalanche!!…of Laundry

It’s been several days since my last post, and this is the best I can do?  Laundry??  The fact is, I do feel like an avalanche of laundry is crashing down around me.  My laundry “room” (basically the size of a small walk-in closet) is at the top of the stairs, so every time I go up the stairs, I’m confronted with the heaping piles.  I try to tell myself that once we get out of fall baseball season–in which the baseball uniform takes near-top priority in the laundry hierarchy–things will get better.  Except that I had laundry piles before baseball season started.

So after doing some analysis, I realize that my problem is not the actually getting the clothes into the washer; it’s what comes after that.  I hate to fold, and I don’t feel I should have to put away everyone else’s clothes.  Everyone in this household is certainly old enough to do that for themselves.  Ultimately, this results in every laundry basket we own remaining full of clean, often unfolded clothes.  Thus, when I want to round up the dirty laundry, I have nothing to put it in.  Nor is there a ready basket to hold the clothes that must come out of  the dryer.  Furthermore, I’m married to a creature of habit, who insists on having his shirts and undershirts folded a particular way.  This is time-consuming and requires a clean, flat surface for folding.

So I recognize my shortcomings.  Now it’s time for solutions.  I have been reading lots of “simplifying your life” blogs and magazine articles.  Mostly, they recommend devising a system.  Wash certain loads on certain days, or start every day with a load of laundry.  The former idea used to seem pretty OCD to me, and the latter seemed downright depressing. (What a way to start the day!)  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  Neither of these suggestions address my specific areas of failure, though.  Then I came across this post from the Small Notebook blog.  The author tells it like it is about the need to fold and put away.  And she offers some tips:

  • You don’t need to fold your underwear unless you just want to.

  • Socks can be washed in a bag. If you have a hard time identifying to whom they belong, write the person’s initial on the toe with a permanent marker.

  • Most of our clothes go on hangers in the closet. I think it’s easier, and I like it better than trying to get a folded t-shirt off the bottom of the stack in a drawer.

  • Now I would jump up and down if I didn’t have to fold undershirts, but darling husband would not be too happy.  I don’t think I would want to mess around with socks in a bag, but marking Junior’s socks might make life a little easier now that he wears the same size as Dad.  I’m on the fence about hanging up most things.  That would require some serious re-organization of my closet.  And something about hanging up jeans or darling husband’s workout gear doesn’t seem right.

    Where does that leave me?  It seems that I need to a: get the kids to start putting their stuff away! and b: figure out how to break old habits. Both of those things really have little to do with laundry and more to do with attitude changes.  Sigh.  So much for an easy “leave your comments about how to make laundry easier” fix.

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    I Confess

    I watch “Glee”.  I know, there are so many reasons this show is bad.  It is probably the epitome of the whole shoving-tolerance-down-your-throat thing that I posted about here.  I also hate that this show is considered family viewing.  It really is anything but.  Just because it is the story of high school kids, that doesn’t mean it’s “High School Musical- the Series.”  There is a whole lot to object to that is portrayed as normal teen behavior: slutty, bitchy cheerleader; slutty, dumb cheerleader; openly gay boy on the prowl; kids casually changing up sexual partners.  These kids are so worldly that it’s hard to imagine that they still have growing up to do.  SuzyQ watches it with me on the DVR only after we get the green light for content from someone who has already viewed it.

    So why on earth would I watch a program that seems to glorify everything I despise about American culture?  I’m a sucker for musicals.  I was a chorus geek in high school.  (We didn’t have a glee club or show choir.)  I traveled to competitions and tried out for solos.  Funny, but I never felt ridiculed like the kids in “Glee” experience.  In fact, lots of kids thought it was cool to be vocally talented.  Luckily, we didn’t add choreography to our performances.  I was rhythmically challenged for a long time until I took up ballroom dance as an adult.  Anyway, I like the musical parts of the show.  I just wish they would lay off the hip-hop and trashy songs.

    More importantly, though, the adult characters draw me in.  They are all hysterically funny, with the exception of Mr. Schu, who is at his best when he sings.  I love that the guidance counselor has severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Since I tend that way myself at times, I can empathize and laugh all at once.  I love the scenes with the principal addressing the student body.  They are laugh-out-loud funny.

    And, of course, there is Sue Sylvester.  I think it is universally agreed that she makes the show.  Her character is so real.  She says what everyone else is afraid to say out loud:

    • ” I’m gonna make it a habit to not stop and talk to students because this has been a colossal waste of my time.” (Season 1, Episode 18)
    • “[Ramps] are what I call lazy-makers. They discourage able-bodied students from getting proper exercise by using the stairs.” (Season 1, Episode 9)    
    • “Caning works! And I think it’s about time we did a little more of it right here… yes, we cane!” (Season 1, Episode 4)

    I love to see a politically incorrect character that you want to hate but just can’t because you know there’s a grain of truth is most of what she says.  She makes you think that if there were more parents and teachers with just a little bit of Sue Sylvester in them, our kids would be better off.  If only we were a little less afraid of damaging kids’ self-esteem, a little less afraid of telling them the cold, hard truth sometimes, kids might reap the rewards.  Tough love!

    So there’s my guilty pleasure.  I just wish I could get my weekly dose of hearty laughter without having to stomach all of the trash that comes with it.

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    The Kids Are Reading What?!

    Corduroy, Go Away, Big Green Monster!, Owl Babies, The Napping House, The Important Book, Moki Mongoose Finds a Friend.  At one point, I think I could recite all of these picture books from memory.  Some we owned; some we repeatedly borrowed from the library.  Lots of sweet memories.  So, when I saw a New York Times article describing the decline of children’s picture books, I was quite saddened.  It seems that a lot of parents think picture books are a waste of time when children could move on to more challenging chapter books instead.  According to a bookstore manager quoted in the article,

    “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

    Can parents really be this ridiculous?  Are they so eager to leave behind the sweet, funny, innocent picture books of early childhood in favor of the trash that is forced on our kids in chapter books and then young adult fiction?  So many chapter books are tied to movies and television shows; thus they offer the child nothing new.  Or the books are filled with inane dialogue and bodily functions.  Is this what parents think will get their child into Harvard?

    What they don’t seem to realize is that picture books represent the end of great children’s books.  Once kids reach the ripe, old age of about 10-12, they are expected to delve into “problem books”.  These continue through the young adult years.  In this delightful genre, children are treated to gritty, nothing-held-back looks at tragedies they likely will never encounter.  Kids are abandoned, siblings contract incurable diseases, families are torn apart by abuse, self-mutilation or eating disorders abound, kids experience date rape and teen pregnancy, and life in general is horrible.  Now, sadly, some children will experience one of these scenarios in their own lives.  Life, after all, is gritty and often messy.  But do we really need to offer such an up-close view to a 12-year-old–or even a 15-year-old for that matter?  And this is supposed to be their reading for fun?

    Librarians, teachers, and those who dole out the literary awards argue that this allows kids to be exposed to the ugly realities of life in a safe, supportive, and educational way.  Whatever happened to using reading as a way to escape everyday life?  What about using books to take a child on exciting adventures to thrilling or exotic places with fascinating people?  Kids learn soon enough about how the world works without bombarding them with it.  After all, a kid can’t watch a movie without seeing a dysfunctional family that the hero must escape or a tragedy that must be overcome.

    Let them read the picture books–over and over and over again.  Let them have fun with silly rhymes, cuddly animals, and friendly characters.  After all, they probably won’t get into Harvard anyway.

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    Do Kids Care?

    It’s no secret that kids can be pretty self-absorbed.  As they grow older and wiser, we hope they learn compassion and charity.  We’re led to believe by the media that teens and young adults are incredibly service-oriented and easily adopt volunteerism.  So by the time they get to high school, kids should be kind and concerned citizens, right?

    Then why is the news filled with stories about bullying, cyber-bullying, and sexting?  This morning I read this article about an Ohio high school that has witnessed 4 suicides linked to bullying.  Then there is the well-publicized story of the Rutgers University student who killed himself after being targeted by his roommate and another student.

    Why do studies indicate that teens lie, cheat and steal at alarming rates?  And even worse, teens think they are honest and ethical in spite of this behavior.  According to the Josephson Institute’s 2008 Ethics of American Youth survey 

    Despite these high levels of dishonesty, the respondents have a high self-image when it comes to ethics.  A whopping 93% said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character and 77% said that when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.

    I find all this really disturbing.  A whole generation is about to hit the workforce, the military, the political arena, and the world of parenting without a sense of right and wrong.  Does it really matter if these kids diligently recycle or volunteer with Habitat for Humanity if they see nothing wrong with lying, plagiarizing, name-calling, and passing along hurtful texts? 

    In her recent column Marybeth Hicks proposes that the real problem in the Rutgers case had less to do with intolerance of the victim’s sexual preference and everything to do with the lack of conscience in many kids.  I have to agree.  I posted before (here) on the widespread failure of American society to accept moral absolutes anymore.  I believe this trickles down in our families.  Folks who don’t stand up for values in big-picture issues probably don’t put a lot of effort into everyday morality either.  Trying to convince a child to be compassionate “just because” sounds pretty hollow.  There has to be a value system behind the ideals of compassion and respect and honesty.  Unfortunately, we as a society have become too afraid of embracing values systems because that seems too close to imposing my morality on someone else.

    So while we fret about whether character education forces someone’s beliefs upon people, American children are growing up without a moral compass.  Cheating on tests continues.  The humiliating texts circle around.  And kids are tormented by their classmates to the point of desperation.  But at least they recycle.



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