Monthly Archives: June 2011

Turning the Tables

It’s awfully easy for me to find examples of what’s wrong with mainstream culture or ineffective education or liberal policy.  Lately, though, I have come across plenty of things on my own side of the aisle that have me scratching my head.  Sadly, a lot of it has to do with faith and religion.  I guess that’s why religion is considered one of the “no-no” topics for polite conversation.

Here’s an easy example: I am opposed to gay marriage.  I believe homosexual activity to be immoral, yet I cast no judgement on the homosexual individual.  It’s the behavior I disagree with.  Along comes that nutcase preacher from Westboro Baptist Church.  He also condemns homosexual activity, but he does it by demonstrating at the funerals of  US servicemen who were killed in action.  His outrageous actions done in the name of God cast a dark shadow over anyone who calls himself a faith-filled person.

A not-so-easy dilemma: what to do about Catholics who are “too Catholic”?  I used to believe that the biggest threat to believers came from “the Left,” for lack of a better term.  Those folks who want to liberalize the Church, make it a democracy, and bring it into the new millenium were the ones to watch out for.  They too easily fall into formation with those who accuse the Church of being sexist, repressive, out-dated, and so on.  I began to distance myself from those parishes that pulled out their kneelers, baked their own Communion wafers, and sang all of the “pat ourselves on the back for coming to church” songs in place of those hymns that actually focus on God.  Little did I know that the so-called traditional Catholics could be just as scary.

Ultra-orthodox Catholics think the Church is in trouble for an entirely different set of reasons ranging from using the English language instead of exclusively Latin, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI being too liberal, and Catholic culture being too lax.  I touched on that last point a little when I blogged about passing judgement on Catholic women who wear pants.  I’m finding out how much more there is to it than that.  The other day, I read a rather heated discussion on a Catholic blog about whether it’s immoral for Catholics to practice yoga.  No, I’m not making that up.  Then, there’s the lady that sits a few pews behind us in church every week who refuses to recite the prayers in English.  Instead, she whispers them loudly in Latin.  She also will only sing traditional hymns; otherwise, she keeps her booming opera voice silent.  These examples are like mosquitos.  They are annoying but generally harmless.

Then the “too Catholic” scenario hit closer to home.  SuzyQ is attending the Steubenville Summer Youth Conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville this weekend.  I’m all for a movement to engage teens in their faith and offer them a way and opportunity to befriend other faithful teens.  Then I saw the list of what to pack for the conference.  A bathing suit was suggested, not for swimming, but for wearing in the shower for modesty.  It’s immodest to take a shower naked in single-sex dorms with bathrooms equipped with private shower stalls??  Only spiritual reading was permitted.  If you were hoping to re-read some Harry Potter before the latest movie opens, you are out of luck. 

Why, oh, why can’t we just be normal?  Do we have to go from one extreme–teens reading sexually explicit YA novels and flaunting porn-star fashion–to the other.  Are we really expecting to keep teens practicing their faith by encouraging them to shower in bathing suits and condemning secular entertainment?  Wouldn’t it be more effective to teach them to discern what’s appropriate and why?  If we portray “true Catholics” as akin to the Dugger family, how is that going to appeal to teenagers who are bombarded with Katy Perry and “Jersey Shore?”

So why not just shrug all of it off as just a minor nothing that’s easily addressed?  It turns into a problem when the conference also sells Steubenville and other schools like it as “authentically Catholic” colleges.  The message is that other schools will not provide an environment that is healthy for Catholic students.  Now, I can’t argue that there are plenty of dangers for Catholic students at colleges both secular and Catholic.  But there are also some outstanding Catholic Campus Ministry programs and Newman Centers out there, too.  If parish youth groups, retreats, and events like the Steubenville conference would give kids some tools to take away to college, Catholic teens might have a better chance at continuing in the faith along with acting as a joyful witness in their faith to the rest of the world. 

Does my desire for “normal” religious practice make me any less uncommon?  Uh. No.  It’s one thing to be counter-cultural.  It’s something else entirely to enclose yourself in an extremist-looking sect.  Apparently, being normal is even more uncommon than you think.




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Summer of the Campus Tour

Today is the last day for the school bus to circle around my cul-de-sac.  Soon, there will be children everywhere, all hours of the day and night, frolicking around the neighborhood.  Gaggles of teens will collect on the corners in the neighborhood or sit in the middle of the street after dark (seems to be their favorite past-time).  I’ll hear lots of splashing and shrieking and music blasting from the swimming pools on the other side of the fences surrounding our house.  And new sets of skid marks will appear mysteriously on the streets when morning comes after nights of teens being reckless on the “safety” of quiet neighborhood lanes.  Typical summer in the ‘burbs.

Not for us, though.  SuzyQ and I are planning to hit the ground running to visit colleges this summer.  Sigh.  It makes complete sense.  If we travel around and visit now, it will be SO much easier than trying to squeeze in those trips in the fall between rehearsals and concerts and karate classes and the SAT again and heavy schoolwork.  Thus, my calendar is already filling with SuzyQ’s  appointments all over the eastern United States.

My formula is to add in some fun during each visit.  We will shop for antiques and vintage clothes and then eat BBQ in Memphis.  We’ll stay in a Bed and Breakfast in coastal South Carolina and hit the beach.  Do a little outlet shopping in Williamsburg.  Maybe squeeze a museum visit into a Washington DC trip.  Because, let’s face it: college visits are stressful.  SuzyQ is trying to picture herself on each campus and decide what it will feel like to actually live there 9 months out of the year.  I’m trying to imagine SuzyQ there and predict whether she will be happy or whether Darling Husband and I will worry ourselves into the ground 9 months out of each year while she’s there.  Not to mention trying to determine whether that particular school is worth the monster investment of money it will take to send her there.  And do the tour guides really have to point out all of the recycle bins on campus to prove how “green” and “sustainable” the school is?  And only in the bizarre worlds of college admission and financial aid is it a bad thing to come from a stable family with 2 parents (who live together and are of the opposite sex) who both attended college and are natural-born citizens.  But that’s a rant for another post.

Here’s the thing that amazes me after each campus visit: My take-away impressions are generally completely different from SuzyQ’s no matter what.  If I find the dorms quirky and charming, she thinks they’re just old.  When I think it’s cool that you can walk a few blocks to a fun street full of shops and cafes, she thinks it’s too busy.  Maybe this is a product of the teenage instinct to disagree with parents. 

So we are off and running.  One month and 4 colleges–so far.  Thank goodness for credit card reward points.  Just hoping for good weather and good BBQ.

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Real Men: Is There Any Hope?

Lately the news has been full of “Boys behaving badly” headlines.  There was that International Monetary Fund guy.  Then came Arnold Schwarzenegger.  And all this week, we have been barraged with waaayy too much information about Congressman Anthony Weiner.  All of these politicians can find plenty of company with pro athletes (Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger), Hollywood personalities (Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson), and musicians (just about every rapper).  We certainly sem to be lacking in high-profile male role models these days.

Naturally, I don’t rely on celebrities to model good behavior for Junior.  His dad gives him plenty of examples every day of acceptable male decorum.  And I try to point out examples of what not to do when I see them at Wal-Mart or church or Wal-Mart.  Sadly, there are plenty of teachable moments out there. 

Imagine my delight when I found a blog called The Art of Manliness.  I spent a whole lot of time there today reading about manly skills, several ways to tie a necktie, refining conversation skills, and good manners.  There are videos on perfecting those pesky Windsor knots, lots of photos about matching shirts with ties, tips on ironing dress shirts –I LOVE this!  There are also less superficial topics such as preparing for job interviews, finding your calling in life, and getting your finances in order.  How awesome is it that there is an entire blog devoted to separating men from “guys.”  You can be sure that Junior will be spending a lot of time consulting this site as part of his “Life Skills” curriculum.

Now, the poor kid may not reap immediate benefits from this education.  In fact, it may be just the opposite.  He’s heading off to an academic camp next week, spending way more time than usual with kids his own age.  There’s nothing like total immersion in teen culture to show you how much the traditional argument about homeschooling and socialization is a bunch of crap.  The last time Junior went to camp, 2 years ago, his roommates spent their free time experimenting with candy bars in the microwave.  Their group projects on rocketry involved how funny toilets on the moon would be.  With any luck, the difference between boys at 12 and boys at 14 will be monumental.  All I know is that Junior would call me every night from that camp expressing how frustrated he was with these kids that all acted like morons.  Apparently, all of Junior’s training in manners, conversation, and martial arts bearing did nothing to ingratiate him with his peers.  To them, even though he was smart and athletic and skilled at video games, he was completely alien because he didn’t see the attraction of rough-housing with dorm room property or trying to blow things up in a microwave after lights out.

Have I scarred my kid for life with my focus on manners and courtesy and values?  Or have I invested in a generation that, hopefully, will see fewer crotch shots in cyberspace and Weiner jokes?  Somebody back me up here.  Wouldn’t the image of a pleasant young man holding the door for an elderly lady go a long way toward removing the Weiner underway image from the place it’s burned onto your retina?  Just sayin’.

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A License to Drive

SuzyQ joins the ranks of licensed drivers today!  She has successfully jumped through all of the hoops our states places in front of teens, particularly homeschooled teens.  I feel like she’s adequately prepared, but I don’t feel like I’m adequately prepared.  Darling husband is rejoicing that we have another driver in the house to take up taxi duty.  Not so much rejoicing for me.  But that’s a whole other post.

Today I would rather reflect on driver training.  In most states, I would imagine, there is an extensive curriculum for student drivers.  I’m sure parking is a skill that must be mastered in order to pass a driving test.  Back in the dark ages when I took my test, I had to park between the cones on the diving course, both parallel and regular parking-space style.  It takes a while to get the knack for parking.  You need to become comfortable with the size of your car and its turning radius.  So, I guess there must be a whole lot of freshly minted drivers out there just learning the ropes of parking:

Here’s a driver who is unabashedly terrible at parking.  No apologies.  Just leave the truck where it stops.  Because backing into a spot is just too hard to get right.

Now parallel parking is actually challenging.  There’s the pressure of getting it done and getting out of the way so you don’t keep traffic waiting.  Or you could just leave it diagonal.  This is a really wide space, after all:

Oh, so close.  Never mind.  It’s just a handicap spot you’re taking because you were too lazy to straighten out:

No worries here.  I’m sure only Smart cars will arrive looking for a parking space in this lot:

Oh, who cares!

Hold on.  I’m seeing a pattern here.  People who drive pick-ups should be required to take Remedial Parking 101.  In my unscientific observations conducted over the past couple of months, they are by far the worst parking offenders.  And they don’t seem to give a crap.

Yes, we have had our hands full trying to get SuzyQ ready to hit the road on her own.  But thankfully, there have been plenty of teachable moments provided by other drivers to keep her instruction relevant and current:

“No, the white lines are not just a suggestion about how to fit your car in the lot.”

“The blue lines do add a nice pop of color to the parking lot, but that’s not really the point.”

“No, the parking lot is not a good place to express your individualism by parking diagonally in a straight space.”

Disclaimer:  SuzyQ never actually required any of these instructions.  I can only imagine, based on the parking skill level I see demonstrated in the lots in my area, that these issues must be common among drivers here.

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Class Reunions Are Not for Uncommonhousewives

This weekend marks my 20th college reunion, and I’m not going.  I live about 4 hours away from my alma mater, so the event would entail a weekend getaway with a rather expensive hotel stay.  But that’s only a small part of why I’m not going.  I won’t even consider attending the official reunion events on campus since those are essentially a way to amass a captive audience for the Development Office’s begging campaign.  But that’s also only part of the reason I won’t attend.

The real deal is that I can’t think of one former classmate with whom I have much of anything in common.  I blame a lot of it on the Generation X factor.  Back in college, we were all on basically a level playing field.  Our backgrounds and interests were different, but we were all poised to enter the world after college and make our own way.  The problem for me is that I didn’t follow the script that was written for us Gen X women.  We were supposed to go to college and get an advanced degree as well, along with scoring an awesome job that turned into a fabulous career.  Once those tasks were accomplished, then we were permitted to marry and have children, neither of which were supposed to interfere with the fabulous career.  I wrote my own script, getting married a year after graduation and following my active-duty military husband around the world while having and raising children.

Several times a year I receive my alumnae magazine in the mail, and I read all about who just got a PhD, who was named Executive Director of this and that, and who just had her first or second child.  Congratulations to all!  However, I don’t really have an interest in chatting all weekend about new baby’s teething, preschooler child’s “graduation”, or the HR difficulties at So-and-so’s mid-size business.  Women of my age are at so many different places in life that it is nearly impossible to find common ground.  No fun for me to be the seasoned matron trying to fit in with way-back-when parenting stories.  And my misadventures of trying to teach myself Excel won’t go over very well with the corporate gurus.  And I’ll wager there aren’t many of my classmates who can commiserate about teenage daughters, the perils of re-entering the workforce after a long absence, or the foreign-ness of putting down roots after 20 years as a military family.

Uncommon though I am, I know this is not a conundrum exclusive to me.  I have heard from other classmates who are unmarried and childless that they aren’t interested in hearing about baby stories either.  And many of us wonder what the point of Reunion Weekend is in this age of Facebook.   After all, it’s not so hard to track down your long-lost roommate anymore with Facebook or Twitter.

I think the women of Generation X can’t connect.  We’ve got Mommy Wars and single-by-choice and “You can have it all” attitudes dividing us.  I suppose the politically correct thing to say would be that they are all valid choices, but I find that mentality hard to swallow.  “I personally find that choice (immoral / harmful / selfish / other–take your pick), but it’s fine with me if it’s what you want.”  Relativistic crap is what that is.  I can’t be supportive of former classmates who chose to contract out their child’s upbringing to day care centers so that they could pursue their professional dreams.  The same goes for those who are now manufacturing their children through fertility clinics because they delayed pregnancy until after getting the PhD or cushy corner office.  To me, those are life decisions that are hard to get past when you’re trying to reconnect after 20 years.

I’ll check Facebook for the photos and gossip from Reunion Weekend.  I’ll be thinking about the Old Days.  A little part of me will even wish I was there.  The rest of me will be a little sad about how far apart we’ve grown from such a small, tight-knit group of women 20 years ago.  Here’s to the Class of 1991.

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