The Folly of Perception

Unique often translates into strange. And as the mother of a 10 and an 8 year old, I do not want to be perceived as strange or different. I want to blend like homogenized milk and give my kids the platform to fit in, be a part of.

I’ve been on the outside looking in since I was a little kid. Failing to assimilate, I worked at cultivating unique and different. After achieving this coveted perception, I no longer wish to possess it.

Unique often translates into strange. And as the mother of a 10 and an 8 year old, I do not want to be perceived as strange or different. I want to blend like homogenized milk and give my kids the platform to fit in, be a part of. What I don’t want is for either of my children to be, “that kid with the weird mom,” though I fear I may already be there.

My kids still hold my hand, and not just in parking lots or crossing the street. They both still love to snuggle. I am their first choice to talk to, confide in, way beyond even their dad, which makes me feel valued, respected and deeply humbled all at the same time. I realize this level of intimacy probably won’t [and perhaps shouldn’t] last as they grow and find their own path, but I don’t want my kids to ever be ashamed of me. I want to be proud of them. I want them to be proud of me.

I try to fit in. I go to the soccer games and the ballet classes and I wait around with the other parents and try to blend. But I don’t. And I get that they notice I don’t. I look different. I’m one of the oldest among them, by a good margin. My kids came late, after six pregnancy loses. I dress for comfort so most everything I have is rather loose. I don’t wear make-up. My hair is long and fine and all over the place. It refuses to stay pulled back in the scrunchy. I never quite look ‘put together.’

But looks aren’t the only thing that separates me.

Through the years I’ve come to realize that I don’t think like most people, and the glass wall between me and most of humanity is not just me being paranoid. There is a casualness the parents seem to have with one another as they discuss their kids, or some celebrity or popular new show. I stand there and nod my head when it seems appropriate, but I don’t watch much TV, and really don’t care that Kyle is playing basketball now which conflicts with his sister’s dance schedule.

I’ve tried engaging more personally, ask about jobs, interests outside of family, broached news and current events, but taking a position and endeavoring to discuss it has mostly been met with nods and polite blank stares (like I so often wear). Everyone is careful with their words—politically correct and upbeat. I’m neither, and over the years I’ve learned shutting up avoids discord. The conversations usually segue back to their kids and related activities around family, school, church, and I invariably check out of the exchange and focus on the event at hand and cheering on my children.

The game or recital ends but everyone stays and continues talking. I’m on the outside again, feels like I’m lurking while I linger to give my kids time to play. I stand there watching them all integrate, proud of my children for choosing to, and of myself for giving them the opportunity when I’d rather just leave. I watch the parents gaily chat and wish I fit in like that. The folly of unique and different is it’s really quite lonely.

Letting Go of Our Kids

Heavy sigh as I drove away, watching him in my rear view mirror struggle with his gear and then disappear into the school.
And quite unexpectedly, I burst out crying.
My son was growing up. He needed me less and less.

Our son went on a camping trip with his 5th grade class last week. He was gone four days, spent three nights bunking with eight of his classmates and a high school chaperone. They shared a cabin (with heated floors and a private bathroom), one of many scattered around Camp Arroyo, nestled in the eastern foothills of the San Francisco Bay.

High drama days before he left. Lots of spontaneous hugs. He’d grab me on the stairs, or in the kitchen while I stood cooking at the stove, wrap his arms around my waist, bury his face in me and say, “I’m going to miss you, mom.” And, of course I returned the sentiment, which seemed to sate him, and me momentarily. I put on a brave front, but as his day of departure drew nearer I dreaded how much I’d surely miss him.

Other than rare sleepovers at local friends, my son’s first overnight experience without mom or dad was the previous weekend on his first Boy Scout campout. He didn’t seem all that enamored with camping. Dirty and tired when he got back (after less than 24 hours away), he endlessly repeated, “It’s so great to be home.”

My son was not the only kid feeling nervous about the 5th grade campout. Two of his friends admitted feeling scared, one never having had a sleepover anywhere but relatives. Several parents laughingly confessed to feeling anxious about missing their kids over the four days they’d be gone. Many had yet to be away from their children for more than a weekend at most.

I, too, felt apprehensive. My child wouldn’t be safe at home where I could watch out for him, be there for him if need be. A long time ago, when I was in my late teens, my mother told me she never fell asleep all the way until her kids were safely ensconced in their beds at night. Only then would she be able to rest. At the time I figured she was trying to guilt me out for coming in late a lot. But as I helped my son pack for camp the night before his departure, I anticipated three restless nights without him.

Dropped him off at school the next day like any other morning, except for the sleeping bag and pillow he put down on the curb so he could hug me goodbye. He held me hard, and long, which was weird right in front of his school and classmates like we were. I hugged him back, tried to transfer my love without too much drama and left. Heavy sigh as I drove away, watching him in my rear view mirror struggle with his gear and then disappear into the school.

And quite unexpectedly, I burst out crying.

My son was growing up. He needed me less and less. As he moved into his teen years we’d naturally separate, until he’d no longer be completely immersed in my life. We’d been bonded for 11 plus years and I could feel it coming to an end. And sadness consumed me on my way back home, but only for the first block from the school.

As suddenly as I started crying, I stopped. The next four days I didn’t have to stop working at 2:30 p.m. (and 1:00 p.m. every Wednesday) when he came home from school. I didn’t have to be the constant nag, reminding him every other minute to study, practice guitar, do his homework or his chores. The dinner menu didn’t need to be altered to my son’s particular tastes. Sushi was a distinct possibility since our daughter was generally open to trying different foods. And best of all, I didn’t have to play ref or break up their petty sibling rivalries.

The four days my son was away with his 5th grade class passed in the blink of an eye. I published two new articles, finished the second chapter of the final, final, final…etc. draft of my second novel, finished the French screens I was building, found and set my daughter up with a great new 2nd grade math program, and shared with her some of the best Japanese food ever—turning her on to a brand new cuisine. There were no sleepless nights while my son was gone.

He hugged me when I picked him up from school after his trip last Friday. His embrace was warm, and tender as usually, but over quickly. He pulled away, looked around and then picked up his stuff. I carried his pillow to stop him dragging it along the ground as we walked home. He told me about his time away, but I had to prompt him a lot, and though he insisted he was just tired, I felt a contextual difference between us, a distance imposed by him, or me, or both.

We were quiet for quite a bit of the walk, but it didn’t feel awkward. He seemed introspective, more grown up than little kid. His youth, like much of our time together was passing, as it should be, but none the less, there is sadness in this. The upside is as my son moves on, I get to as well. As he embarks on life on his own, I can get back to mine—the life that became secondary when my kids arrived on the scene. From the day they were born they’ve been my first priority, and though perhaps they always will be, their daily demands are getting less as they become more self-sufficient. And as we all grow and mature, I find I no longer fear, but accept, and even welcome the separation occurring between us.

Jobless America

Greed, laziness, the-world-owes-me work ethic so many Americans possess won’t win us jobs, or help us keep them here in the States.

Took a family vacation to Yellowstone this last August. After a day of exploring the spectacular park, we ate dinner at Canyon Village, a sprawling development in the mist of the natural wonders that includes a cafe, a lodge, a fancy restaurant and several stores. The kids wanted some souvenirs so we stopped in the gift shop before eating. The clerk at check-out was a kid, no more than 20, as was most of the customer service staff in the park. His name tag said Mal-Chin, and under his name was his country of origin: Korea.

Seated inside the restaurant we were served water by Jianyu, his country of origin: China

We were served rolls by Mi-Cha, Korea again.

Earlier in the day, at Yellowstone Lodge, where Old Faithful is, the check-out guy at the mini-market was Yeo, China again. At breakfast, at the restaurant in the lodge, our waitress was Fedheeta, country of origin: India

Our waitress at dinner was Kathy, her country of origin: USA. She was probably one of 10 Americans out of the 50 or more employees of the park I saw that day.

Yellowstone is the United State’s first national park. Over 2 million acres of pristine, protected wilderness resides in a massive caldron of a dormant super-volcano in the states of Montana and Idaho, with the majority of the park in Wyoming. The USA preserved this land for families and fans of natural beauty to come explore, discover and study natures wonders for present and future generations. Tens of million of taxpayer dollars goes to maintaining Yellowstone National Park annually.

So why are most of their service staff from everywhere but the USA? I asked our waitress, Kathy, at dinner in Canyon Village. Why are our kids not landing these jobs, which provide a great opportunity to acquire sales and communications skills, add to college applications…etc?

The American kids get fired here constantly, Kathy told my family after taking our order. They party a lot, get drunk, don’t show up for work, are rude to the customers. They write the orders wrong, or charge people the wrong amount because they can’t do simple math quickly. The management can’t keep them for more than a few weeks into the summer because they’re mostly irresponsible and lazy.

Her words literally hurt me, because I knew they were the truth.

Kathy went on to describe the programs that land the out-of-country kids the jobs at our national parks, the thousands they have to pay to get here, which is generally less than the salary for six days of work a week, food and lodging during their contract with the park. They clearly want to be here very badly, usually to acquire work skills and develop their English fluency, and they do an excellent job. It’s easy to see why management prefers them.

Heavy sigh.

If Jesus really saves, he better start saving our kids. Someone better, because it sure as hell isn’t our education system, and clearly most parents aren’t doing any better. A generation of spoiled, unmotivated, under-educated Americans can not, will not, and DOES NOT compete in our global economy.

World New Tonight on ABC has a segment they call Made in America. It’s a joke, an embarrassment to any sensible, educated, aware adult who knows that China, Japan and India are, and will continue to dominate manufacturing globally, with Mexico, Korea, and many other nations close behind them. The World News segment is touchy feely, saccharin and all smiles with David Muir interviewing American manufactures of unique hats and scarves, or a cupcake maker gone viral, and then touts these businesses as being the cornerstones of our future success. But that’s bullshit. The USA is not, and will never reclaim its manufacturing base when we charge in excess of ten times as much to do the work other nations are willing to do, and well, for so much less.

The atom bomb united our world [in the abstract] because it gave us the ability to destroy the planet.

The internet has united our world directly, as it gives most everyone the opportunity to see how others live. It’s easy to find the American lifestyle attractive. Our families generally have warm houses with running water, electricity for light, computers, entertainment systems, cars in almost every garage, freedom from religious and/or political persecution. The U.S. is losing it ranking among the ten richest nations on the planet, yet most countries still aspire to US, to model our independence and luxuries.

Watch World News Tonight’s entire broadcast, and David Muir will tell you all about the Americans out of work, losing their warm houses, their garages. He’ll show you families now sleeping in their cars, or homeless encampments springing up across our nation. He’ll tell you about our personal debt crisis, where credit card debt in 2016 will top 1 trillion, and he’ll introduce you to one of the many of families bankrupted from a medical catastrophe not cover by their private insurance or Medicare.

This decline in the American lifestyle will continue for most U.S. citizens, and eventually even the 1% wealthy will be effected, guaranteed, if we stay the course we are on.

Like it or not, we are a global world now. Today’s technology bind us, and gives us the opportunity to thrive as a people, a planet; or we can destroy everything we have here, through laziness and greed.

Our K-12 public education system is garbage, and failing our kids. Out of 34 countries, U.S. students ranked below most, unprepared to compete globally. And according to our server, Kathy, at Yellowstone, who went to a private school back home in New York, the American employees clearly demonstrated their lack of education in their reading, writing, and math skills, regardless of their poor interpersonal skills with customers.

Partying, with attitude, instead of doing their work, like the stream of U.S. kids fired from Yellowstone; playing Halo, killing endless hours on Facebook, or binge watching Netflix instead of studying math and science (as school curriculums around the world require of so many kids today); cutting school hours of instruction with furlough days, short days and extended holidays has not, does not, and will not produce a nation of creators. It takes education, practice, and focused persistence to produce inventions of value, or improve on existing ones. For the U.S. to achieve the potential our parent’s achieved—have jobs, and retain the lifestyle to which most of the middle-class has become accustomed, we’re going to have to limit our play/relax time and work a hell of a lot harder.

Greed, laziness, the-world-owes-me work ethic so many Americans possess won’t win us jobs, or help us keep them here in the States. We must teach our kids that practice is the only way to get good at anything, and that means investing the time and energy into academics instead of iPhones and video games, which mean parents need to pay more attention and invoke more discipline. It means educators need to step up to the plate and give more homework, harder tests, teach longer hours for the same money because more and more is simply not available with so many on the government dime vying for tax dollars. And why do teachers have to take the hit? We all do these days. It’s the price we’re paying for our arrogance.

 

trumpy

On Being Cool

Cool means Popular when you’re 11, and I suppose even for adults, too. Most of us want to be liked, admired, feel special, unique, seen as cool. It’s why we buy iPhones…

Had a meltdown on my tween son when he asked, yet again, for an iPad at breakfast this morning.

Before the iPad he wanted a laptop. He insisted he needed my old HP the moment I purchased my Toshiba, though could give no reason why he had to have it since he had a powerful PC with an enhanced graphics card for gaming in his room. After weeks of needling me I finally gave him my old laptop to share after backing up [mostly] everything. He loaded the same games he had on his PC and played them in bed on the laptop for about a week, until he inadvertently downloaded a virus which destroyed every program, every file including seven years of my labor. Between ‘mostly’ and ‘everything’ backed up turned out to be the Grand F**king Canyon.

Prior to the laptop he needed an iPhone. He’s had a cellphone since the 5th grade, when he started walking the quarter mile home from school. In the two years he’s had it, he forgets it at home most of the time unless I remind him to bring it with him. More often than not the phone has no charge because he doesn’t remember to charge it. Though all his friends have cellphones, he’s exchanged numbers with no one, and this seems fairly typical among his contemporaries upon inquiry.

Before the iPhone he had to have a video camera, which he got for his birthday. He used it a few times to tape episodes of Sponge Bob off the TV so he could view them later through the camera’s viewfinder. That lasted about a month until he tired of it and he hasn’t touched the camera since.

An iPod was before the video camera. I use his iPod when I’m recharging mine since in the four years he’s owned it he’s used it maybe 10 times collectively.

He sat at the kitchen table this morning eating his cereal telling me how badly he needed an iPad. They are so cool, he insisted, giving me his puppy face, and good for school, he assured me, though was unable to define how since a home PC with internet access was all his middle school required. He kept at it throughout breakfast, bargaining away all other gifts for his upcoming birthday in exchange for just one iPad2.

And I blew a gasket.

He wanted too damn much! He asked for too much with no purpose. What the hell was the point of all these things when he didn’t even use them?

To be cool, mom, he said through tears.

His palpable shame was a knife through my heart. At 11 years old, crying had ceased to be acceptable except in tragic situation, and me yelling at him wasn’t one. I sat down at the table adjacent to him and stared at my son, fighting tears from overwhelming me as well.

Being cool isn’t about what you have, I reminded him gently. Cool is about what you are, who you are, what you do that makes you special, separates you from the crowd. He was a straight A student, in advanced at math, played electric guitar, but every accomplishment I pointed out just made him cry harder.

None of that matters, he insisted. No one cares about that stuff. And being a nerd might pay off later but right now no one his age knew or cared who Bill Gates was, he said, throwing my refrain back at me.

Your dad would ask why cool matters, was the lame response I came up with. I knew cool mattered, even to me, but especially for a kid becoming a teen.

It just does, my son assured me. And I’m not, he added shakily, unable to stop the new round of tears.

My heart in my throat and struggling to swallow back my own tears stopped me from lecturing, but I again reminded my son that iPads and iPhones and video cameras are tools, nothing more, and possessing them doesn’t make one cool.

Yes, mom, he patronized me. But an iPhone is still cool, and so are iPads. I felt him lighten before I saw him grinning to himself.

They are cool, undeniably, which makes the engineers who invent Apple’s products cool, but not so much the people who use them. I needed to be sure he understood what cool really is, and perhaps remind myself as well.

Michael has an iPhone and an iPad and he’s totally popular, my son insisted. Everyone likes him. He has tons of friends and no one picks on him, ever.

Cool means Popular when you’re 11, and I suppose even for adults. Most of us want to be liked, admired, feel special, unique, seen as cool. But I knew Michael wasn’t popular because of his iPad and went about trying to enlighten my son without losing his attention. I spoke of Michael’s extensive involvement with his church, attended by many in our area. I pointed out Michael’s rather jovial demeanor, and reminded my son that his friend was also an avid sportsman, into soccer, basketball, baseball…etc, the ultimate key to cool for boys in school.

Perhaps Michael’s popularity had nothing to do with his iPad, I suggested. And to further my reasoning I asked, If Evan had an iPhone or iPad do you think he’d be more popular?

Evan is a jerk, my son proclaimed. He’s mean and rowdy, and he has an iPhone, mom. His eyes seem to sparkle with awareness of his own words. Then he smiled. He got it, and I smiled, too, for about a second, until his expression darkened again. But I’ll never be like Micheal, do what he does. I’m not discovering religion any time soon, and I suck at sports and don’t really care about ’em, and I’m not exactly what you’d call upbeat.

And I’ll never write like Stephen King, or Ray Bradbury, or John Fowles—

Who are they?

Famous authors you’ve obviously never heard of. Forget it. Tell me, who else is cool, dude? Name five, other than your friend Michael. Anyone, doesn’t have to be one of your contemporaries…

Greenday, he looked to me for approval.

Okay. Who else?

Death Cab [for Cutie] (another rock band). Thomas Edison. Einstein. And Jason, at school. All the girls really like him.

I laughed. Why?

I don’t know. He’s short but kind of buff already, I guess. He’s on the track team and the basketball team and he tells everyone he lifts his dad’s weights. He’s really into working out.

And what do all five you just named have in common?

He fiddled with the remainder of the Crispex in his bowl as he pondered my question.

They’re all good at something.

And how do you get good at anything? yet another of my canonical refrains.

Practice.

You bet. Find something you love, that turns you on, and work at it, my beautiful son. Practice your guitar more and become a great musician. Invent a new video game instead of playing someone else’s creation. Learn how to program and develop apps, show us you need an iPad as a tool to create with.

He brightened, smiled at me. I had his full attention again, my reason for slipping in the iPad comment.

Owning an iPad is easy, my baby, and meaningless, just one of many who do and more who will. Creating with one is cool. Cool is as cool does, kid. Pursue a passion and you’ll be engaged, entertained, and so enraptured in the process you won’t notice or care if you’re popular. And how cool is that! ; – )