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.

Making a Difference

Typically on Sunday mornings my husband and I share articles from the New York Times. He’ll often read me pieces while I prepare breakfast or visa versa, and we’ll discuss the ones that pique our interest. The year end edition of the Sunday Magazine runs detailed obituaries on a handful of famous and infamous people who died that year. Though many are well known— actors, x-presidents and the like, some are more obscure, but they all share one thing in common. They all had [at least] 15 minutes of fame.

As my husband read on from person to person I began to feel more and more irritated. Where was the balance with the everyday hero— the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom? Their stories are equally interesting as some one hit wonder, or marginal actor. Even the most common among us had lives that mattered, that touched many, and deserve to be told.

On my mother’s death bed she asked me “Did I make a difference?” She stared at me with sunken eyes, her skeletal face practically begging me for an affirmative answer. And I gave her one. And, of course, it was true. She was my mom. She made a difference to me.

She turned me on to love, light, color, beauty, nature, music, art. She would often point out a vibrant flower, stop everything to view a sunset and be truly awestruck by its magnificence. She genuinely liked people. She was open to most all ideas as long as they weren’t filled with hate, or born of ignorance.
My mother was a humanitarian, and without prejudice, and she taught me to respect all things equally.

She was a wife for nearly 50 years. My father used to call her his ‘sunshine.’ Laughter and joy came easily to her. She exposed him to simple things—good talks during long walks, exploring new places, trying different foods. She loved to dance, especially with my dad, and they were grace in motion. She sang all the time, had a beautiful voice that blended perfectly with my father’s melody.

My mom was a passionate and devoted teacher. She created a magnet ocean science program she taught to underprivileged and gifted kids that is still active today. I’d met several of her students, decades later while with my mom in the market or mall, who claimed they became oceanographers and biologists because of her influence. She loved kids. They were uncomplicated—what she pretended to be, even want to be, but wasn’t. She was childlike in many ways however, always curious and loved learning.

As I sat on her bed and ran through her list of accomplishments her expression became sadder and sadder, and my “turn that frown upside down” mother started to cry. She wanted to give so much more. She had so much more to give but she realized her time had run out.

Two weeks later I stood over her grave and refused the dirt filled shovel the Rabbi handed to me. I knelt down and scooped a handful of moist, sweet earth from the freshly dug ground, smelled its musty richness, then let it fall off my hand and run through my fingers as I released it onto her casket. And then I silently thanked her for teaching me to recognize natural beauty and engage with it at every opportunity.

My mom died of cancer at 73. Over 100 people attended her funeral. Another hundred or more have contacted our family since her death to give their condolences—lives she touched, who will touch the lives of other, and so on.
Andy Warhol was wrong. Most of us live and die in obscurity.

But we make a difference.

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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

Boy Scouts of Trump’s America

Even if our son fulfilled all the Boy Scout’s requirements through middle and high school, he was not qualified to become an Eagle Scout because our son is an Atheist.

After his scout meeting, our 11 yr old son announced he was never going to advance to Eagle Scout, as we’d all hoped, when he ‘bridged’ from ‘Webelo’ Cub Scout to become a full-fledge Boy Scout.

Attaining the Eagle rank is often the end goal of a scout and his parents. It looks good on a resume and shows commitment to a program over an extended span of time.

These are the opening lines on an Eagle Scout information page for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), and one of the reasons we encouraged our son to stay in their program.

But the rank of Eagle Scout was not attainable for our son, his troop leader had told him last Friday night. Even if he got all his merit badges, and fulfilled all the other Boy Scout requirements through middle and high school, he was not qualified to become an Eagle Scout.

To achieve Eagle Scouts, or any other rank, Boy Scouts must live the Scout Oath, which requires belief in God. 

My husband and I introduced our 5 year old son to scouting. Fourteen Christians and one Jew, and our kid was the only member of his Webelo troop being raised without religion. Most of our neighbors, and our kid’s classmates, attend the local church. My husband and I are Atheists. Our kids are not privy to the benefits of participating in this tight-knit religious network. Scouting seemed like a positive way for our son to meet other boys his age in our area. 

We didn’t consider the Boy Scouts an exclusively religious organization. We’d heard stories, of course, and knew of the pending lawsuit in the supreme court filed by a father for discrimination against his son who claimed to be an atheist. It motivated me to ask the women at the Cub Scout table during school registration if their troop was religious, and if so, how. Both women assured me their den had several different faiths among its members, and their policy was to keep religion at home, not practice it in scouting.

They were true to their word during the first five years our son belonged to their troop, participating in most events from hikes to community drives to popcorn sales, and earning quite a few merit badges along the way. Religion, even prayer, was never practiced or promoted. He bridged from Cub Scout at the end of fifth grade, and became a full Boy Scout with the aim of eventually becoming an Eagle Scout in high school.

After his new troop’s first official gathering a few months back, our son informed me the Boy Scout troop he’d bridged to said prayers at the end of their meetings. I asked him how he felt about that. He confessed he’d already branded himself a non-believer, when the scout master asked him to lead the prayer at the end of that first meeting. He’d refused, stating he wasn’t sure there was a God, and he thought praying was a waste of time because he was certain there wasn’t anything listening. Though he’d been publicly labeled “misinformed” by the scout master at that meeting, and endured jeers and taunts from several of the boys, every Webelo he’d been with the last five years had bridged to this new troop. Our son didn’t want to look for a new non-religious troop, with a bunch of kids he didn’t know. He just wouldn’t recite what he didn’t believe, he’d told me.

That wasn’t good enough for advancement, according to his new scout master, who asked him again last Friday night to say a closing prayer. No matter how lax about religion our son’s lower division troop, rank of Boy Scouts and higher stuck to the rules of the BSA, he told our Boy Scout. A religious association, and faith in God is required for rank advancement. Commitment to community service, practicing Scouting’s core values of honesty, compassion, as well as continually exhibiting diligence as a contributing team member, were irrelevant. Belief in a god was more important than social service. Atheism is a sin, the scout master assured our son at the end of last Friday’s meeting.

I could lie that I believe, my son suggested, if I have to…

Think that’s a good idea? I asked, glad to be driving, which made it easier to keep emotional distance and sound casual.

Maybe. I just don’t get why I have to pretend I believe in God. The Boy Scout handbook says we’re supposed to “respect and defend the rights of others to practice their own beliefs.” But they’re not.

Ah, from the mouths of babes…

He’s right, of course. Click on the ‘Litigation’ link on the official BSA website, and bring up the “Duty to God” page. Part of the Scout Oath proclaims the scout will ‘do his duty to God [and country].’ Every level of advancement requires a promise or show of faith in God. Boy Scouts are instructed to respect the beliefs of others, but only those that believe in the Christian/Judaeo God.

Nowhere in the BSA literature we received and perused before or after our son joined the Boy Scouts did they say they were a faith-based organization that required their members to be believers to receive equal rights and priviledges as those granted to religious members. Had they disclosed this with all transparency, as do churches and other religious organizations pushing their beliefs, I doubt my husband and I would have channeled our son to participate.

We impose no religion on our kids. We discuss it often— the concept of one god verses many; various cultures and their belief systems from beginning to modern man, using everything from the Tao to biblical references. Our kids get additional religious education through their friends and faith-based celebrations with family. My husband and I hope to expose our children to many possibilities, and let them discover their own spirituality.

Parents who provide religious training for their kids early on, and, it would appear, register them in Boy Scouts, are looking to validate their beliefs by indoctrinating their kids with the religion on which they were raised. And most of these parents have never stopped to consider whether the rhetoric their parents sold them is truth. They are blind believers, and turn their children into the same.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) takes a strong position, excluding atheists and agnostics,” according to Wikipedia.

Perhaps the BSA is a front for the church, and works to convert unsuspecting non-believers working to advance in their organization. Hook the kids without religiosity when they’re young–in Cub Scouts. Get them to work hard for advancement, then deny them further advancement unless they convert to Christianity. Whatever BSAs agenda, and our son now sees they clearly have one, the meeting with his troop leader last Friday night soured him to continuing in scouting. It’s a shame, really, because the Boy Scouts have so many positives to offer. Weirdly enough, they tout the same morality I preach to my kids, like being courteous, and honest, loving and compassionate. The only difference between us is I don’t believe a god gave us this wisdom. I give credit to humanity, over eons, watching what works, and doesn’t.

There is no god that’ll save us from hate, prejudice, nationalism, exclusionary sects like the BSA who lure kids in, like the Pied Piper, under the guise of community involvement, then change the rules mid-play. Regardless of our differences, religiously, culturally, politically, PEOPLE, me and you, must use our collective wisdom to unite for humanity’s continued evolution.