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…

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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! ; – )

The Definition of LOVE

In a thousand lifetimes I can not repay my mom for her precious gift of love I now model to our children. But I can not buy into her belief [and society’s rhetoric] that family and love are synonymous anymore.

My sister is dead, I told the bank manager.

But she isn’t.

She lives in Washington with her husband, having moved from L.A. where we were both born and raised.

The bank manager expressed his condolences and accepted the paperwork from our lawyer to remove her name from our Trust and Wills as an executor to our estate and guardian to our children should my husband and I die before they’re of legal age to take care of themselves.

I told him she was dead to remove her from my psyche, distance myself from loving her. Five years ago she told my DH she didn’t want any contact with him, me, or our kids, her then 8 and 5 yr old niece and nephew, in a response to an email my husband sent her.

She’d missed our daughters birthday again, sent her a present with the one she sent for our son’s birthday three months later, and spelled her name wrong on the card. This wasn’t the first time. She’d disappointed our kids many times, missing birthdays and special events with a quick message left on our answering machine she couldn’t make it after promising to come.

Her sins were many, and mounted with the years without apology. My husband got tired of it, emailed her five sentences politely informing her the spelling of our daughter’s name, and asking her if she was going to send them birthday gifts to please do it on or around their birthdays.

My sister decided he was asking too much and emailed back that “though I am deeply in love with your kids, and it breaks my heart to do so,” she was withdrawing from their lives entirely. She informed my husband she would prefer no contact at all, with any of us, though she’d established what my children believed was a fairly close connection, email exchanges with my son, calling every few months to touch base with both kids.

She has, in fact, exited our lives almost completely. She sends the kids birthday cards when it strikes her fancy—two weeks late to our daughter last year, but managed to get a card to our son within days of his, professing her deep affection and love for him. It took all my will not to shed the card in a million tiny pieces, her sentiment to him for her self-image alone.

Love is an ACTION, what we do, not some abstract in our heads, my DH and I teach our children.

My kids relationship with my sister was important to them because they have no other on my side of the family. My mom died when our oldest was just 4, so she never really got to know our kids. She did love them though. Deeply. Profoundly. And they got that. How did they know?

  • She came to visit often.
  • She called them on the phone every couple days.
  • She mailed them presents on time, called to sing Happy Birthday on their special days.
  • She spelled their names right.
  • She stayed abreast of their lives through me, my DH, and through the kids, consistently showed interest in their interests and feelings, and shared her world with them.

My mother often extolled how much she loved the kids, to me, to them, to anyone who’d listen, but she also showed it, so my children knew it was real.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I knew when she was gone my connection to my remaining family would fragment. She was the conduit, fervently believed people come and go but family is forever, the folks with which your love an loyalty should reside.

And there is no questioning my mother’s love. She showed it to me throughout my life as she did with my kids, worked at staying connected, even though it was often contentious between us.

In a thousand lifetimes I can not repay my mom for her precious gift of love I now model to our children. But I can not buy into her belief [and society’s rhetoric] that family and love are synonymous anymore. As if not to be bothered to fill in where my mom left off when she passed, my sister and father checked out of my life, and within a year or two exited the lives of our kids.

My father, like my sister, practice love more in the abstract. He never talks to his grandkids, never calls [even me], never asks to talk to them when I call him, rarely even asks about them. He doesn’t acknowledging their birthdays anymore. I got tired of reminding him with multiple calls and emails weekly the month before their special days, then daily the week before. (Her body ravaged by cancer, and near death, my mother insisted my father take her to Toys R Us, then bought each of our kids their next birthday gift and made him swear to mail them on time. She was hoping to establish a tradition (an action) for my father to adopt for his grandkids after she was gone.)

The rare occasions I call my dad, he always professes how much he loves my kids, how important they are to him. He reminds me to tell them that grandpa loves them, and misses them. But I don’t. I tell them, “Popi says hi.” I don’t want our children to ever get the impression it’s acceptable to say you love someone when you take virtually no action to show it.

Love, like potential, is meaningless unless put into ACTION.