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Archives for Parenting

Starving the Future


Shortly before my son’s high school graduation, our family’s attendance was required as yet another end-of-the-school-year awards “banquet.”

I put the word “banquet” in quotes merely because a banquet conjures visions of feasting and reveling, perhaps a boisterous song or two and maybe even serving wenches. It does not speak of green bean boiled gray in ham stock.

Anyway, humor me. The last – dinner – was the largest of the year. It lasted 2-1/2 hours and the lengthy tributes exceeded some Nobel Prize-winner speeches.

In terms of expense and attention, all other awards given at all other dinners paled in comparison.
In a perfect world – in other words, one where I am Empress of the Universe – a ceremony such as this would exist to award those who excelled at accomplishing the goals of the host institution. In other words, an establishment that exists to educate would, naturally, save its greatest accolades for those who best become educated.

Alas, no. The year-end awards banquets — academic and athletic — are ceremonies arranged for and paid by groups of parents. So the larger your group and the more support you can muster for the group, the bigger and better the tribute.

One would think academics would be the largest however, this particular lavish display was furnished by the school’s athletic boosters.

There were a few of us who qualified for attendance at both dinners. It is a strange circumstance that, in spite of my side of the family’s anti-social attitude, I happen to give birth to A Joiner. Heir 2 is up for anything and when someone came to him and said, “Hey, we really have a good time on the cross country team,” he was ready to sign up.

Turns out he was pretty good at it – enough to letter in it. But, as is our familial attitude, he’s not particularly competitive in the area of athletics. His desire to win did not extend to changing his diet or his wonky sleeping habits. So our annual invitation to attend the athletic banquet was always a bit of a surprise. We rarely attended, though, since Heir 2 didn’t know many of the other people there.

But this year was different. It was his last chance to attend the athletic dinner and we were all feeling a bit sentimental.

I’ve always been critical about school systems that focus on athletics at the expense of academics and, to be honest, our local school system is not as bad as the nightmare of a school system described in H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, where all school money and community focus goes to support high school football while the educational facilities and faculty fall into disrepair.

However, those of us who have come from other areas (“outsiders” or foreigners, as we’re called when we dare to express an opinion), are well aware of the school systems’ short-sighted ambitions for the students they graduate.

I couldn’t help wondering, as each athletic dinner award recipient returned to their seat with a trophy the size of the Stanley Cup, what sort of message was being sent by the booster parents, the school administrators and faculty in attendance and the system providing the facilities. “This is it. This is as good as it’s ever going to get. So here’s this big honkin’ trophy to remind you of your glory days that, upon graduation, are over.”

To be sure, when a few days later we read the program that accompanied the graduation ceremony, only around five students, out of a graduating class of over 140, were attending college outside the surrounding area.

The argument most often used by the booster parents for encouraging athletics (certainly in a school system that has an adequate phys ed requirement, not to mention a plethora of opportunities for area youth to engage in team sports), is the abundance of scholarship money. But there were no athletic scholarship recipients in Heir 2′s graduating class, other than the paltry amount doled out as local money. On a budget exceeding the $300,000 mark, the athletic boosters handed out an amount equal to the academic boosters, who operate on a substantially smaller budget and certainly less than was spent on the toddler-sized trophies.

“Well,” a friend of mine said, “the world needs laborers too.”

At first I recoiled at the smug, elitist connotation of what he’d said. But the world does need laborers and I’d be proud to have either of my sons become one if that is the work he chooses to do.

For many students in the community, though, that choice is hijacked by a community focused on its own entertainment instead of providing for their children a vision and a future.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:39 PM | Permalink

Right and (Self) Righteous


Are there still some people out there that missed the memo about the devaluation of property values due to the housing market bust? I mean, are there really some people who didn’t know that when housing market busts, it affects everyone‘s housing prices – not just the people of which you disapprove?

Recently I read a local story in The Winchester Star about housing assessments putting existing home owners into a “negative equity” situation where the mortgage on their house is greater than its assessment value. This is messing with the financial planning of many a baby boomer who smugly thought the economic crisis would only affect the irresponsible spendthrifts who bought houses way above their “station” they couldn’t afford.

The article offers the example of the Bochers, who bought a nice house several years ago, knowing they were going to retire when they were both over 64 years old, at which point they planned to refinance, lowering their monthly mortgage payments to make retirement affordable. That was the plan back when housing and real estate appreciated in value; an investment so safe, the couple didn’t see any problem with spending $30,000 in improvements. The house would be worth much more when they were ready to refinance.

That’s what they thought.

Well, Mr. Bocher, that’s what we all thought.

“We did everything right,” Gordon Bocher told The Winchester Star, citing the fact that he put his son through college and takes care of a disabled daughter. “People who can’t pay are getting all the assistance in the world.”

People who can’t pay. . . Oh! You mean us – the ones who were affected before you.

Here’s a reality check: We thought we did everything right (we take good care of our children also) and, frankly, like thousands of other families who were forced into foreclosure prior to President Obama’s stimulus package, I’m not getting a penny in assistance.

The Bocher’s attitude is common and a nasty turn of human nature. I knew all but the very rich would feel the economy’s bite. There are people who a year ago were harshly judging my family’s economic downfall are now calling to apologize and asking, “By the way – ahem – how did you handle you husband’s depression?” — since he didn’t do the “right thing” and get a job with the federal government with a fairly secure pension (Mr. Bocher is a retired air traffic controller) and instead chose to work in a field that, by the way, built the very house Mr. Bocher now occupies.

We’re all learning the economy is always a gamble. You may want to call it “financial planning,” but you are still relying on events outside your sphere of influence to increase your assets. Sometimes you win. But sometimes you lose and, when you do, it’s bad form to blame the dice or the croupier and downright misguided to blame the other losing gamblers.

I suppose I was naïve to imagine that once the economic dominoes reached a larger portion of the population, we’d all come to realize the profound philosophical change that we should have initiated a long time ago about how we plan for the future, how we direct our children and how we live in the present.

I forgot the annoying American tendencies toward self-righteousness. Your domino falling is the result of your irresponsibility; my domino falling is an injustice.

The Bochers and other homeowners whose financial plans now require updating would do better to stop throwing their hissy fits and realize we are all in the same boat – even if they do prefer to stay in their staterooms rather than mingle with us slobs in steerage.

My husband and I admit we made a mistake and bought too much of a house to withstand the devastating blow to the housing market. And – Mr. Bocher – so did you. Only we did it a year earlier and were closer to the blast zone.

And, honestly, be thankful. The market will come back and your home will again start to grow in value. Your wife is employed and you have a secure pension. There are people living in relative’s basements or crammed in tiny apartments with no such advantages, whose only sin was their choice of livelihood and really poor timing.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:37 PM | Permalink

All In Favor Say, “Oy”


I will join your club, support your cause, volunteer to man your booth; but please, for the love of all you hold sacred, don’t make me come to a meeting.

Theoretically, having a meeting seems like a good idea: gather together all the players into one room so everyone knows what their role is and how it contributes to the goal of the project. It appears to be a great way to save time and aggravation, not to mention make a bazillion dollars for Stephen Covey (of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Who Carry Day Planners fame).

The reality is quite different. At best a meeting makes official what has already been determined via e-mail and phones calls. At worst it’s a two-hour unfocused idea free-for-all. I’m 51 years old and I’ve yet to attend a meeting that accomplished anything that could have been accomplished without annoying 95 percent of the attendees by requiring their presence.

Admittedly the absolute best meetings I ever attended were in high school. At the beginning of the school year, we’d pick what clubs we wanted to join. Then we’d attend a meeting, elect “officers,” and then chat a bit, some of it even on topic (thanks to whatever poor sap of a teacher got suckered into being the club’s faculty sponsor). Then we’d adjourn. The next meeting was in the spring when an announcement came over the loudspeaker about yearbook pictures of club members. If a club time fell during gym period, we’d show up whether we were members or not. That’s how my picture ended up in my yearbook under Secretarial Club.

Once I entered the workforce I had to endure real meetings called by real bosses and requiring me to carry a pen and pad to create the illusion that I was going to write down important points. I would exit the meeting with a fairly realistic sketch of my left hand and not much else. They did have donuts, though.

I had hopes that when I entered the field of journalism, the loftily-termed “Editorial Meetings” would be fruitful. I figured, if you’re churning out a multi-paged publication on a regular basis, you’ve got to know what’s coming if you are going to meet your deadline.

I did enjoy editorial meetings – if I wasn’t busy. We’d all gather with the editors and talk about local politics and gossip, banter around a few running jokes about local celebrities and discuss what dish we were bringing to either the Christmas party or the summer picnic, whichever was seasonally appropriate. And, of course, donuts. Then someone would look at their watch, announce the time with alarm, everyone would call out some pressing task they had to do and we’d all disperse. Then we’d go back to our desks and type out our list of stories and estimated length, which we then hand delivered (back in the day before e-mail) to our respective editors.

These days I’m out of the organized work force and into more dangerous meeting territory: social club meetings. Publicly, these common-interest organizations look like it would be a lot of fun to join: a group of people who all like to do the same thing. Oh, but there are meetings lurking behind that brief moment of frivolity: general membership meetings, committee meetings, board meetings.

A meeting in the hands of such novices is a dangerous thing, especially when someone utters the words, “Roberts Rules of Order,” and the only one who doesn’t know what that means is the person running the meeting. The result is either chaos or the proceedings being hijacked by the one person in the room who has a lengthy, boring story to go with every issue being discussed, usually involving grandchildren and whatever disease they have.

So I weigh my affiliation with any organization against the amount of meetings they hold and the president’s knowledge of parliamentary procedure. If there are any lawyers among the membership, I give it a pass. Lawyers can bring a meeting to a screeching halt over a technicality that occurred five years ago.

The weird thing about meetings is that everyone – everyone – now admits they hate them. It used to be merely dislike, but now it has become outright hate.

I think it’s that donuts have stopped being a feature at every meeting. Now there are things like vegetable platters, fruit baskets and bottled water. No one should have to endure healthy eating and a meeting at the same time.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:30 PM | Permalink

Shut Up and Drive


I was blithely driving down the interstate one day when, looking ahead as I topped a hill, I noticed a line of cars stretching a half mile long in the right hand lane behind an exceptionally slow-moving vehicle. They were stuck there, the poor saps, because those of us who had looked ahead had already formed a steady stream in the left lane to pass all of them.

I could pretty much guess what was holding up traffic. Fifteen years ago I would have guessed either a car in trouble trying to inch its way to the next exit or tiny little old lady attempting to look through her steering wheel and over her car hood. These days I know it’s someone on a cell phone, the use of which causes drivers to glide past (read, “cut off”) everyone going at least 15 mph over the limit or to languish cozily at 15 mph under the limit, leaning on the door oblivious to the world around them.

In Virginia, until July 1 adults can pretty much do anything while driving, including all the various options open for cell phone use including using the handheld set and texting. I assume juggling and balancing your cell phone while driving are also still permissible, though the legislation never mentions these activities specifically. I use hyperbole in this situation because those activities are just stupid and selfish as the other more common forms of driver inattention.

Beginning July 1 Virginians will no longer be permitted to text message while driving. Attempts to put other limits on cell phone use either died in committee or were tabled indefinitely by a snickering General Assembly. Okay, I made up that snickering part, but I’m sure a proposal to ban use of all electronic devices during driving met with considerable opposition from a legislative body that was probably at the moment of the vote twittering and texting everything from the controversial to the insipid (Disclaimer: no one is charging that any of the twitters? tweets? twixts? were submitted while the sender was driving).

Anyway, what it comes down to is that Virginia drivers can continue to glide through stop signs, ignore oncoming traffic at a yield sign, cut people off and cause major interstate collisions for the privilege of ordering a pizza to be delivered to them as they step out of their car at home.

Virginians 18 and under are the only drivers prohibited from using their cell phones in any way while driving. Because, you know, 19-year-olds are so much more responsible than 18-year-olds.

Our small-town version of rush hour is rather comical, what with all the honking and waving and apologizing that goes on as legions of SUVs operated by drivers with cell phones immediately glued to their ears bump bumpers, screech to a stop at red lights and pull in front of each other, never missing a beat in their conversation. It’s a friendly sort of chaos that would be tragic were it not for the 25 mph limit and the fact that the farm-use vehicles also clogging the roads can’t get over 15 mph.

I know what you’re going to say: “I know exactly what you mean, Jeanne. There are some drivers who just can’t handle the distractions of holding a cell phone to their ear and driving with one hand. But I’m experienced. I don’t pull those kinds of boners you described.”

Um. . . yeah, you do. You’re just too busy talking to notice.

Every single person I’ve ever heard make that claim – no exceptions – has, while talking on the cell phone, made a major driving error that could have caused an accident were it not for the defensive driving of the other driver – with me on the passenger side (the “death seat”). This is usually accompanied by a nervous laugh and an elaborate explanation involving amazing feats of complicated physics: “I saw the yield sign and I really did look, but the sun hit the sign in such a way that the road over my shoulder looked completely devoid of traffic, even back further where the sun probably hit their windshield…”

No. You were explaining to your friend about getting your dog to the groomers and your son to soccer practice without mixing the two up. You almost got me killed over logistics.

As for me, I just drive defensively and hope for the best

Oh – and the driver of the vehicle holding up interstate traffic? I got a sick feeling as I drove past him – it was my husband.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:17 PM | Permalink

Mea Culpa


I was seven years old when a nun told me that any sins I didn’t admit to in confession I would have to reveal at the end of the world to everyone who ever existed.


My parents would be there, my teachers, my brothers, The Pope – every Pope – Captain Kangaroo and Paul McCartney would know the horrible sins I’d committed.

The nun’s point was that there were worse things to fear than seeking absolution from the shaded figure of a priest in a dark cubicle. Easy for her to say. . . she was a nun. Nuns don’t do anything worth confessing unless it would be scaring the crap out of small, innocent children, but that was kind of their job description.

At seven years old, one has to wonder what it was I was so worried about revealing. All I can think of was the time when I was five I found a statue of a reclined deer in my neighbor’s bushes and took it home and put it in a box with a bowl of water and some grass clippings (a child’s universal idea of animal food). That afternoon there was a minor flurry over the fence when the neighbor found her lawn ornament gone, the words “thief” and “delinquent” and “calling the cops” being thrown about among the adults. I stealthily slipped around the back yard, climbed the fence and returned Bambi to its former resting place, relieved my burning desire for a pet hadn’t landed me in jail.

If only I’d been offered the opportunity to confess online as at St. Miriam’s Church, I would have saved myself nights of sleeplessness and worry. St. Miriam’s is a part of the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch and normally practices in the Roman Catholic tradition. But it takes a huge leap from the R.C. norm by offering penitents the opportunity to confess via e-mail instead of before the physical presence of a priest.

This would have been a godsend to one seven-year-old, terrified at the idea of speaking out loud to another human being all the horrors I’d committed. Because even as a child I sensed I wasn’t confessing to the real sins – the thoughts and prejudices that flash in the mind before rationalization and conscience take over: the flash of envy I felt when for Christmas my brother got the Kodak Instamatic Camera I had coveted; the jealousy I felt when my little brother was born; my resentment when I was expected to change his diaper or rinse out the really messy ones.

Instead: “I lied three times, forgot my morning prayers seven times, talked back to my mother nine times…”

After Vatican II there was the kinder, gentler Roman Catholic Church and we no longer had to fear getting yelled at by the priest after a confession. When I was a teenager the Sacrament of Penance became a sort of poor man’s therapy, illustrated by a penance given to me by one priest who said, “You need to not be so scared of everything, Jeanne,” destroying the myth of the uncaring priest and the anonymity of the confessional all in one sentence.

Confession was one of the issues that contributed to my ultimate break with the Roman Catholic Church. What really ticked me off was when our extremely large, crowded parish initiated the practice of the Penance Mass. Basically, it was a church service held on a Saturday during which there was a moment of silence where you confessed your sins through prayer to God and were given a general purpose penance to perform and mass absolution from the priest.

All I could think of were all the sleepless nights I’d spent as a child, convinced I was going to hell because I couldn’t bring myself to admit to the priest the hate and revulsion I felt for the boy who insisted on calling me “Jeanne Beany.” This was all it really took? A mass, a prayer and bada bing! Absolution?

Of course I no longer worry about having to confess in front of anyone who has ever lived. And, really, it makes absolutely no sense. Sure, it would be uncomfortable for the confessor. But what about everyone who’s got to sit there and listen to each other’s boring confessions? Sure, we’d get to listen to, say, Mae West or Larry Flynt, but for the most part we’d be listening to the same boring people we avoid at Christmas parties.

And that would be hell.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:15 PM | Permalink

A Brief Moment of Smug


It is not often that I get to gloat.

I mean, it’s not often that I get to gloat about something I, personally, accomplished. I can’t gloat over Heir 2 graduating next month with a grade point average over 4.2 or that he will attend Roanoke College on an academic scholarship. That’s his accomplishment and I mention it here only as an example of how much I’m not gloating.

For we Domestic Goddesses, this is truly our time for gloating. Having taken it on the chin for over thirty years about our decision to focus on home and family at the expense of a career, we suddenly find ourselves having the very skills needed these days to survive on dwindling or non-existent incomes.

I sympathize – really I do. I made a conscious decision to be a homemaker so the things we had to give up to make that happen really didn’t bother us much. We learned to finagle reasonable facsimiles of the things we were sacrificing. Sure, not everyone takes a vacation to Pittsburgh (where there just happened to be a state-paid conference), but the hotel had cable, air conditioning, an indoor pool and free breakfast (for Heir 2 this was the highlight of the trip, since the breakfast bar included Fruit Loops).

It must be agony, though, for someone forced into domestic toil by a layoff. Staying at home put you in the land of no Starbucks; where “doing lunch” is reheating last night’s leftovers no matter how sick of it you are; where there are no Christmas parties or office sports pools; and everyday is Casual Friday. The other day I attempted to wear heels and almost killed myself trying to walk around.

It can be very isolating, especially if your hobby is recreational shopping or you like dining out a lot.

In my bloggerly travels I’ve noticed a huge crop of frugality newcomers searching for the domestic skills necessary to cutting expenses. The result of this is that formerly helpful websites featuring discussions on guerilla miserliness are now recycling the tired old advice to “skip that $5 latte and carry your own coffee” or to “use the library instead of purchasing bestsellers.” These days the only ones still buying $5 lattes are former AIG executives.

You will have to pardon me, though, when I get a chuckle out of how quickly product advertising retooled itself from everything being “fast and easy” (luxuries for which you pay) to the same item being “cheap” (only as compared to eating out). Any cheapskate worth his salt knows you can’t have both (ramen noodles being the exception that proves the rule).

Sooner or later, if you want to save money, you’re going to have to learn to cook. Throwing prepared frozen lasagna in the oven is not cooking – it’s reheating. And it’s expensive. And, if you love food, it’s unsatisfying.

Now this is another concept that baffles me. Everyone has to eat. Why would anyone not know how to cook? It’s not a “housewife” thing or even a “girl” thing; it’s survival. That t-shirt that says, “What did I make for dinner? Reservations!” sounds downright decadent these days.

I’m aware I sound smug, but for so long I’ve had to defend my frugal idiosyncrasies like washing out plastic bags and drinking straws (this, specifically drives my brother crazy, so I’d do it even if it didn’t save money). One Christmas at my brother’s house I kept confiscating the things he was going to throw out that I usually wash and reuse (the aforementioned bags, tin foil, supermarket plastic serving trays, etc.). As we were getting in the car to leave my brother followed us out with a bag of trash. But instead of tossing it into the garbage can, he ran up to the car, knocked on the window and, holding up the bag, said, “Here! You can take this home and restock your kitchen!”

Well guess who called this weekend to ask what type and brand of plastic bag is most suitable for reuse? I hated to tell him that I rarely use them any more since I’ve collected enough infinitely more reusable glass containers. Ya gotta keep up with the industry, ya know?

So, smugness aside (I wish the word was “smuggery, but it’s not), I do want to welcome all you refugees from the corporate world to the world of domesticity and leave you with this:

Baking soda and white vinegar. It’s the solution to everything. Stock up.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:14 PM | Permalink

Everything New Is Old Again


Since the economy tanked, most Americans are so over buying Stuff.

In fact, just talk to anyone: They never were into buying Stuff. They know other people who were into buying Stuff – usually an in-law; but they were always frugal and thrifty. Those others were the ones who led this country into economic disaster. According to everyone I’ve spoken to, the entire economy prior to the bubble bursting was bolstered by 25 daughters-in-law who “just had to have everything new.”

New is so yesterday; because Americans are done buying New Stuff. Now they’re buying Old Stuff. Judging by the crowds at flea markets and thrift stores, old is the new black…or the new new…or something.

I used to be able to wander into my favorite thrift stores any old day of the week and be treated to a cornucopia of good, gently-used items, from clothing with the tags still attached to dishes in their original packing box. These days I follow an exacting schedule listing what store puts out which items at what time on what day. Otherwise all that is left on the shelves are chewed up silk daisies, yellow patent leather shoes in a size 13, a disturbingly-stained Thigh Master and a several copies of the biography of Mary Baker Eddy.

Sources of used Stuff vary, depending on the nature of what you are looking for. While there are no hard and fast rules, I can almost guarantee that in this Shenandoah Valley where everyone is steeped in history and their own family trees, you will not find mint condition Depression Glass for under book value at a yard sale (but if it’s there, my mother-in-law will find it, know someone who collects it, buy it for their Christmas present, then lose it in her house by the time the holidays roll around).

Thrift stores are good for finding newer items, especially clothing. I have this fear when I go to a thrift store that I’m going to repurchase clothing I gave away after the previous year’s diet. So I do my clothing purchases in another county.

Flea markets are a thrift shopper’s paradise and also where you can go to buy back your childhood. Awhile ago I bought a cookie jar identical to one I grew up with, something my brothers couldn’t understand.

cookie jar.jpg

They said the Humpty Dumpty on it was “creepy.” I have nothing but fond memories of that cookie jar. If you saw a picture of my brothers and me, you’d see for yourself how this particular memory played out.

At 51 years old, there isn’t a whole lot of Stuff I need. But I do have a list of things I’m looking for and there is the kismet of finding the One Thing that solves one of those niggling day-to-day dilemmas.

For instance, for the past few months I’ve taken it into my head that I am through with coffee makers. In 22 years of marriage I’ve gone through approximately ten coffeemakers, not to mention the uncounted number of glass pots I’ve had to replace. I wanted to go back to a plain old metal drip coffee pot – nothing to break or go bad. I can be without electricity and still make coffee over a grill. Nothing can keep me from making coffee and I can’t stress how important this is.

Any thrift shopper will tell you that, if you are patient, you can find just about anything at a price you can live with. Eventually, there it was: at a flea market – 8 bucks and clean as a whistle.

But then, just a few stalls down, I saw It. I grew up with It, though most people who saw It didn’t know it was It. Most people saw an old castoff juice squeezer. As a matter of fact, I needed a juice squeezer that worked just like this one – it was on my list.


But I was the only one who knew that this juice squeezer, when sitting upright in a dish drainer, looked like some sort of creature that, when I was three, I spoke to on a regular basis. My mother called it It, as in, “She’s talking to It again.”

The dealer seemed happy to be rid of It. Two bucks and a day later, It was back in my kitchen, contentedly squeezing orange juice for Heir 2′s birthday orange pound cake. Sure, I have an Artisan mixer that has a handy-dandy juice attachment, but It doesn’t require electricity.

So if the power grid is ever bombed out by aliens, I’ve got the whole beverage thing covered. That’s security you can’t buy at Wal Mart.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 6:13 PM | Permalink

A Study No One Needed


Under the category entitled “I Suspected as Much,” scientists at the University of California, Davis, have discovered that what makes a teenagers brain unique is that some of the connections are missing.
Seriously? They had to conduct a study for this one? That stimulus package will pay for anything.
“When a child is born, their brain is not fully-formed, and over the first few years there’s a great proliferation of connections between cells,” said physiologist Ian Campbell of the University of California, Davis. “Over adolescence there is a pruning back of these connections. The brain decides which connections are important to keep, and which can be let go.”
Among the connections they lose are those that tell them to replace the toilet paper roll and the toothpaste cap, that more than 10 minutes’ notice is required for your parents to muster the $100 cash deposit for the senior trip and the time to tell your mother that “there might be a problem with the brakes” on your car is not when you are walking out the door to drive 90 miles in the rain to visit a friend at college.
This last is was not part of the study, but based on reliable anecdotal evidence by a trustworthy source (me).
It does disturb me that their brains decide which connections to keep and which to let go (around here it’s called ‘selective hearing,’ but – whatever). As a parent, I think I should have the right to decide which parts of the brain remain active.
For instance, when they were little, I had no trouble convincing the Heirs that sticking your hand in a lit fireplace or playing chicken with a tractor trailer is a really bad idea. They accepted my wisdom. I want that connection back. Very specifically, I’d like to reestablish the connection with the part of the brain that tells them that holding a jousting tournament with your bicycles and the barbecue rotisserie skewers will most likely end in injury.
The other day Heir 2 was heading out the door at 9 o’clock at night, obviously neglecting to tell us where he was going and for what purpose. So, being diligent parents, we asked, “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to score some crack and then pick up a couple hookers. Don’t wait up,” he said, putting on his coat.
So, frankly, I don’t know where to aim the ice pick, but if someone could point out the smartass section of the brain, I’d like to – er – ‘disconnect’ that little hive of neurological activity – permanently.
I am a bit skeptical, though. Apparently the results of a previous study showed that teenagers can’t multitask as well as adults can. Obviously they’ve never done field observations of a teenager doing homework, talking on the phone, and surfing the net all at one time. Meanwhile, I can’t balance the checkbook if the birds are singing too loudly.
And I totally disagree with the study that showed that the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain allowing a teenager to feel guilt, is underused compared to adults. The study was obviously done by amateurs. Now I can show them how to make a teenager feel guilty; but, then I attended The Italian Mama School of Guilt Dispersal. I was valedictorian.
I hope, though, that the studies don’t end there.
There needs to be a study on the teenage brain’s tendency toward false visual perception, allowing him to mistake his bedroom floor for the laundry hamper, his mother for a maid and his father for an ATM. There needs to be a study on why the sound of a lawnmower or the sight of a full garbage can causes narcolepsy. Or what causes the early onset temporary Alzheimer’s disease causing him to forget to bring to school his math book, pen, binder and gym clothes, but not his iPod.
We really need to know more about the phenomenon that happens when two or more teenagers are gathered into a social group and their brains just spontaneously shut down, resulting in things being micro-waved that have to business being micro-waved or for their parents to come home to strange holes in the walls and family pets oddly restless.
I know, I know. Funding these days is hard to come by and, really, we should be spending for actual diseases like cancer or AIDS.
It’s not like adolescence is a disease or anything…
No. Really.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 9:20 AM | Permalink

Pardon Your French


When reading about 15-year-old McKay Hatch and his success in establishing a “no cussing” week in Los Angeles, we all probably reacted the same way: Good luck with that.
Hatch began by establish a No Cussing Club at his school, then went big time as the media picked up on his story – and his plight. Doctors who have advised addicts to give up their crutch didn’t receive as many death threats as Hatch’s family when the boy suggested everyone try to give up their cussing habit.
While it’s refreshing that someone his age recognizes this area of civil decline – and you’ve got to give the kid credit for bucking a peer system that was raised on the constant censorship beeps of Comedy Central – most people in LA will probably go about their business much like they do every other week.
Before we leave our young Quixote to his linguistic windmills, though, his tenacity deserves at least a moment of our attention and consideration of the issue of cussing.
We’re not talking censorship here. That’s a whole other thing, dealing with artistic expression (or lack thereof) and freedom of speech. By all means, Catcher in the Rye belongs in the high school library. And a censored Goodfellas would lose its edge, if not credibility. Censorship leads to asinine situations like banning James Joyce from teenagers’ reading lists, but allowing graphic descriptions of genitalia on South Park so long as they don’t use the four-letter word for it.
What you read or watch are personal or parental choices that no one has the right to take away.
The issue is really the use of certain words in normal discourse and their impact on those within earshot. Anyone who has experienced emotional abuse can tell you of the pain that words can inflict – even words that would not be considered profanity. But there is no denying that what we say matters, whether you mean them to or not.
“They’re just sounds,” one of my sons used as an argument back when he was stretching his lexical legs. “Just words that for some reason we deem wrong.”
“Just sounds?” I asked. “Try uttering something that sounds like the ‘n’-word and see if everyone agrees with you.”
Words you hear or read have histories behind them and evoke emotion just as strong as any of the other senses. A picture of Adolf Hitler is not just a photo of a man with a funny mustache; the smell of gas is not just another fragrance wafting in the air; and referring to a woman as a “bitch” carries a negative image – unless she’s vying for Best in Show at Westminster.
I am by no means a prude. Like everyone, I went through the teenage profanity testing period; but I never quite got the hang of it on a regular basis. When I cussed, people laughed – at me (except my mother; but that’s a different story). In the back of my mind were all the words that more concisely conveyed what I was feeling. So I never got the cathartic release from cussing that veteran ranters describe.
I suppose I’m not sophisticated enough to be able to accept cussing as normal discourse though, frankly, very rarely is it used matter-of-factly. When I hear profanity I get an adrenaline rush akin to hearing my child ambiguously cry out – I’m ready to move into action, anticipating the worse.
We have a sort of stand-off in this house about cussing. I don’t at all; my sons limit their trash talk to their peers; and Dirtman – well, Dirtman is a special case. To his credit, he has never cussed at people – only things and situations. But, still, after all these years together, listening to one of his tirades is like being poked continually by a pointy object.
Mostly, though, the arrogance of cussing annoys me; that anyone thinks what they have to say is so important, so right, or so imperative as to command everyone’s attention with inflammatory words.
This is why I guess the internet community expressed the most outrage at Hatch’s crusade. Something about the anonymity of posting on the web turns everyone into a bombastic authority on everything.
And, while I can’t help but be moved by the 15-year-old, I’m fully aware that some reality show or movie producer will in the future offer him a truckload of money to publicly turn his anti-cussing crusade into a joke.
That, McKay, will be the true test of your integrity.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 10:18 AM | Permalink

Forgiving Foreclosures


President Barack Obama’s pseudo-State of the Union address Tuesday tried and failed to placate taxpayers angry their funds are being used to rescue those they consider irresponsible, according to an Associated Press story.

Certainly such sentiment – or lack thereof – has been an underlying current since the economy tanked and government started looking around for places to throw money. Oh, we were a little miffed that top executives still received their million-dollar bonuses that went towards the purchase of new executive jets or for weekend junkets to the Super Bowl or Las Vegas – all examples of how siphoning bailout money was used, since lawmakers stupidly forgot to attach any legal caveats to the jackpot.

Financial experts claim such misuse of funds wouldn’t affect how the bailout money helps the economy and, after our initial disgust, we accepted that it’s all part of dealing with a bureaucracy. But for some reason, the fact that Wall Street and Detroit executives benefited from a bailout doesn’t bother taxpayers as much as the fact that their neighbor might get some help with their mortgage.

Here in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia local industry was hit hard, as is probably the case throughout the country. While the auto industry may have benefited from federal funds, those factories churning out products incendiary to the industry did not. While the large housing corporations employing thousands of workers went whining to Washington for help, they continued to pay their top-heavy executive pool. Meanwhile, they laid off workers and abandoned contractual agreements with local construction contractors, hiding behind fleets of lawyers that small business owners couldn’t hope to combat. Layoffs caused by the housing crisis continue at plants producing cabinetry, decking and furniture.

Naturally, the more people that are unemployed, the less money they spend and local businesses are now feeling the pinch. If workers have not been laid off, their hours have been drastically reduced.

President Obama has assured the nation that only the worthy will receive federal aid – the process which he has yet to reveal. But apparently taxpayers aren’t buying it, painting foreclosure victims as lazy parasites, leeching stability from the hardworking responsible people. They don’t want “their tax money” going to subsidize the bad judgment of what they see as a bunch of spoiled brats.

While we have a few abandoned McMansions around here, these are not the bulk of the houses abandoned by foreclosure. Lying empty are modest three-bedroom ranches, starter homes and old farmhouses whose former owners had every reason to believe the industries that supported his or her parents would also sustain them.

Perhaps they did make a credit commitment that would fall apart in the event of prolonged unemployment. Perhaps they should have prepared for the worst. But perhaps they did. And things just didn’t go their way.

This smugness in the face of other’s adversity is an ugly side of the American persona and usually the result of some judicious editing of the individual’s past; because very few people have achieved their level of comfort without the help of someone else.

There should be a rule that you can’t begrudge your neighbor some help with his mortgage if:

• You can work because your parent babysits your kids for free;
• You received or inherited your home or land from a family member;
• You lived in your parents’ basement rent-free while stashing away cash for a down-payment on a home;
• You inherited your back-up funds from a rich relative who kicked off before you got a chance to tick him off;
• Your parents (or anyone else) gave you your down-payment for your home;
• You are in a stable, well-paying job because your parents or the government paid for your college education;
• You have one of those civil service jobs you’ve been at so long that, even though your function was outsourced years ago, you’ve built up so much annual leave you’re never around long enough for anyone to remember to fire you;
• You are receiving federal grant money to conduct a study to write a paper that will be read by approximately – no one.
• You just popped out eight kids and are living off a dubious disability claim in your mother’s tiny house in a state that can’t afford to issue its citizens’ tax refunds.

Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 5:12 PM | Permalink

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