Monthly Archives: April 2011

You Deserve a Prize!!


Remember when you were little and went to the doctor?  When it was all over, you got a lollipop or at least a sticker.  I can recall taking my kids to the dentist every six months and waiting for them to select their prizes from the treasure chest.  And potty training.  I had a big ol’ basket of prizes for going on the potty.  Yeah, I’m a little nostalgic for the days when a coloring book or a new can of Play-Doh were huge motivators.  I don’t think there’s enough Play-Doh in the world to serve as compensation in the eyes of a teenager.

So yesterday, I became somewhat perplexed when I saw this story about a Florida job center giving away 6000 superhero capes as incentives to the unemployed.  Maybe it’s just me, (I am Uncommon, after all.) but a cape is not going to motivate me to buckle down and search for a job.  The promise of a paycheck–now that would get me going.  But some genius in this government agency thought the best way to spend tens of thousands of dollars was to hand out dress-up costumes to the jobless.

It appears to me that a couple of trends in dealing with people are at work here.  One is the Giveaway Factor.  People love to get something for free, so maybe the job center was trying to capitalize on this.  I see this play out every year on Ash Wednesday.  Catholic churches will be full to capacity on Ash Wednesday, but why, when such a large number of Catholics avoid going to Mass on actual holy days of obligation and even on Sundays?  My theory: it’s a giveaway day.  Worshippers come out of church with a tangible something to show for their effort.  Cynical, I know.  They could all be embarking on their Lenten resolve to a more diligent practice of the faith.  Unfortunately, there is little evidence of this in church attendance on the following Sundays.  Palm Sunday is another example of the giveaway phenomenon in church.

Look no further than your neighborhood Sam’s Club or Costco to see the lure of freebies.  Trying to get through the aisles near the freezer cases is like going against the flow in the Hajj to Mecca.  (Look it up–people get trampled to death.)  What’s the attraction?  A thimble full of pork barbecue or maybe one Ritz cracker with some artichoke dip on top.  But it’s FREE!!  I suspect no one actually buys the products they are sampling.  They just parade through the sample stations like it’s Early Bird hours at Golden Corral.

Another idea behind the capes clearly is the tendency to treat everyone like a 6-year-old.  Anyone under the age of 30 has been tirelessly coddled by parents, teachers, coaches, college professors, and then employers.  This is the generation of trophies for everyone, non-judged science fairs, invite the whole class to the birthday party, and school curricula full of endless re-takes and extra-credit along with throwing out the F on the grading scale.  I guess it’s only logical then to continue the pattern of handing out prizes into adulthood. 

There’s a prize for serving on jury duty:

You can get one of these just for keeping your yard from going redneck:

There’s even a reward for getting Americans off their lazy butts to do their duty as citizens:

photo by D.H. Parks

Apparently the cape giveaway was abruptly terminated after the story went national.  As ridiculous as it was, it may have gotten a handful of folks off the couch and into the job center.  Or maybe the capes just made a lot of slackers feel really special.  Super Slackers!!  Well, back to the drawing board to find a way to lure people away from 99 weeks of money for not working.


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The Guidance Counselor Is In

image from dullhunk

Office hours: 24 hours a day.  Case load: one student.  Wow, you say.  SuzyQ must be lucky to have such personalized attention in her college search.  Well, you see…I’m the Guidance Counselor.  Tack that on to my other roles of teacher, household Chief Operating Officer, oh…and mom and wife.  So, here I am, spending hours each day learning the new ropes of college admissions.  And it is an all-new ballgame from the one I remember 25 years ago.

Did you know that there are social networks devoted exclusively to college matching and admissions?  I do– now.  I remember the PSAT and the SAT from my own college search.  These days, though, the alphabet soup has expanded considerably:  ACT, SAT II, FAFSA (used to be the FAF), CSS, NSSE, and EFC to name a few.  I knew about early decision, but I have found out that a student can also apply under early action or single-choice early action plans as well.  I’m learning which schools use the Common App and which ones are test optional. 

I don’t have an advanced degree in education, yet I have managed to untangle the statistics and terminology enough to help SuzyQ begin to assemble a list of schools.  We have visited 8 colleges and universities so far, not counting the ones we just walked around during the Christmas break.  What I want to know is, if the competition to get admitted to college is as fierce as the media would have us believe, why are so many parents and students so completely ignorant about the whole process?  After all, most kids can just drop into their guidance counselor’s office any day at school.  Parents could call or email their kid’s counselor with questions or use the school’s login password to access information on various websites restricted to school use.

Our most recent college visits have been to a conservative Catholic school, an Ivy, and a selective private college.  At each one, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at some of the questions that were asked by parents of prospective students.  At Catholic College, parents had never heard of the Common Application or that gate-keeper of financial aid, the FAFSA.  No one asked about credit given for AP classes or what kinds of services are available at the career counseling center, but there were plenty of questions about how the visitation policy in the single-sex dorms would be enforced and who would make sure their child attended Mass every Sunday.  And no one touched the big elephant-in-the-room question about why the campus buildings (all circa 1978) are so ugly that none of them are ever shown in photos of the school.

Next we took a look at Ivy University.  It seems to me that anyone who has a kid even remotely considering applying to an Ivy League school would have their act pretty much together regarding admissions stuff.  Not so.  A parent asked if legacy (children of alumni) applicants get special preference.  If you have to ask that question and you think you will get the real scoop from an admissions officer, you should just move along.  Similarly, the parent who had no idea what “super scoring” your SAT scores meant clearly has not done enough homework to swim with the Ivy U. sharks.  With an acceptance rate of about 8%, these school demand a lot more preparation than that.

Last stop, Selective College.  Just when I think, “Here is a group of visitors who have their act together,” one of the parents drops the Diversity Bomb.  She asks what the school is doing about diversity.  Now, you would have to live under a rock to be unfamiliar with the fact that every college in the country is trying to increase its diversity.  What does she expect to hear from the admissions folks besides, “We’re proud of the gains we have made, but we still have work to do”?  Another pet peeve: people who get into their own private conversations while on the tour, ignore the tour guide, and then ask a question that she just addressed 2 minutes ago.  If you traveled all the way from California to the mid-Atlantic states, isn’t it worth your time to PAY ATTENTION??

And another thing…Why are parents the only ones asking the questions in all of these information sessions and tours?  Helicopter parenting is alive and well.  Mostly the prospective students shuffled around like zombies while Mom and Dad pumped the tour guides for info.  And I thought my homeschooled kids were supposed to be the anti-social ones.  I wonder–at what point do kids suddenly wake up and feel capable of handling their own business?  I’m pretty sure they expect their parents to get their dorm room set up.  Do they also figure Mom and Dad will register them for all their classes, line up their work-study job, and get them into a fraternity, too?  I remember feeling nervous (OK, maybe a little scared) after my parents got me unpacked and then drove away, but I don’t recall feeling helpless.

Well, I need to get back to work to figure out if attending online high school means the student is considered homeschooled for admission purposes and whether the Post 9/11 GI Bill will be de-funded before SuzyQ finishes college.  So many questions; so little time.

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William and Kate Meet the Ultimate Fighter

You know you and your spouse can be classified as “old married people” when you each have your own shows that you watch in separate rooms–and you’re both OK with that.  Darling Husband and I do have shows we only watch together, like “Bones,” and “House.”  But TV watching now is nothing like when we were first married.  Maybe that’s because we only had one “good TV” back then and a small apartment.  Anyway, we would at least be in the same room together even if one of us didn’t care for what was on the tube.

Oh, how times have changed.  Not too long ago, I had set up shop in our bedroom to either read or see what was on TV that night.  I settled on some special about the upcoming marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  In walks Darling Husband, who sees what’s on and exclaims, “Are you kidding me?!  Are you really watching this?”  With a sigh, I handed over the remote, and within seconds, we had gone from royal wedding to UFC.

image by shannonpatrick17

Confession time:  Way back when, I was fixated on the Royals.  I had scrapbooks of newspaper clippings about Charles and Lady Diana, Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.  I woke up at still-dark-in-the-a.m. to watch both of those weddings live.  I was an expert on Princess Diana’s fashion choices, and I watched with dismay the TV coverage of her death and funeral.  Total geek, I know.  Now, a lot older and more educated in the ways of the world, I’m still drawn in by the prospect of another royal wedding.  The pageantry, the glamour, the tradition all are exciting to me.  And Darling Husband just doesn’t get it.

So I ask you, what makes men beating the crap out of each other in a cage any better or less ridiculous than a documentary about the wedding of the heir to the British throne?  This is not boxing, a time-tested, Olympic sport.  And I don’t even understand the attraction of that.  Mixed martial arts, or MMA as the genre is called, is a whole different animal.  The fighters are generally covered in tattoos (some of which are so obscene they have to be blacked out for television), and they come parading to the Octagon (as the ring –or cage–is called) with their peeps, all dressed up in gangsta attire.  The crowd of spectators is generally made up of 20-somethings, dressed in their own hoodlum outfits and flat-bill ball caps, whooping it up with lots of gangsta hand gestures.

What makes all of that appealing to a 40-something, father of 2, career military man?   Is it any sillier for a college educated mom of a certain age to be entertained by a royal wedding and all of its spectacle?  Watching Ultimate Fighter on Spike network, with all of its incredibly inappropriate commercials, seems a lot like watching a “Dukes of Hazzard” episode.  It’s a lot of action and some comedy all wrapped up in nostalgia for Darling Husband’s younger days.  It’s 1981 all over again!  The same goes for me and the latest royal wedding.  I get the dose of nostalgia along with the sense of history, plus the cool factor of having visited the places where all the action is taking place.

See, Darling Husband.  We’re not so different in our TV tastes.  We’re just old.

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