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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. ~William Hodding Carter

8f4e475e09b0cabef9884f079ebd24e2Sam went to Germany for the weekend. A school trip had him en route for about as long as he was en Cologne, but it seems he enjoyed the trip and, equally as important to me, is now safely back in his home in England.

It’s not easy to sit on the sidelines as my children get on with life in other parts of the world. Not at all.

My eldest, Jenn, being an adult, and a very sensible one at that, has been taking care of her own family for 20+ years, but that’s not to say I’m worry-free when it comes to her. I keep an eye on the weather in North Carolina and fret constantly over her health, her safety and her happiness as is proper, still being her mother and all. Too much sharing of my anxious thoughts, however, would be annoying for her, so I mostly keep them to myself.

Sam and Cj, being young and now far, are another story. Although completely trusting in the environment they now inhabit and the wonderful woman who cares for them in every way as I would, I still lose sleep.

They’re in a different, wider, more dangerous world now, so my worries have expanded as they ride their bikes to the park and go to big schools with kids I don’t know and take busy motorways and visit London for days out. All of those things are wonderful and broadening and educational and experiences they couldn’t have here with me on this rock. Live theater in the West End, music festivals, camping, playing in the snow … all great and all adding to their lives in ways that will serve them well.

But …

My son passing through France and Belgium while making his way, with a busload of other school kids, to Germany at this point in time scared the shit outta me.

The world our children are inheriting seems a terrifyingly dangerous place rife with automatic weapon-toting fuckwads drunk on the smell of blood, people strapping on ‘suicide belts’ with no intention of going alone, bomb makers tinkering away in neighborhoods with visions of mass mayhem filling their zealot pea brains as democracy fails through wanton avarice and the planet attempts to cope with massive interference with nature in ways that will not be kind to any of us.

So, the questions plaguing me are …

1) How can my children be prepared to be safe and secure as possible as they construct their lives in a world that seems to be going to hell in a hand basket?

And, 2) What messages can they be given that may help them find happiness and satisfaction in their lives?

If my own chaotic childhood taught me anything, it was the value of adaptability, and this does seem key over the next decades. No one could have accurately envisioned today’s world even 30 years ago with its tech advances (and reliance upon), the perpetual war-without-front and its tendency to catch people out in mundane circumstances, ever more drastic weather and global financial meltdowns.

Predicting 30 years ahead is even more of a crap shoot, a future I can’t begin to imagine. Most certainly there will be catastrophic events as human population grows, then must shrink from lack of space and resources, as sea levels rise and wipe out swathes of what is now considered habitable land and the struggle to survive is armed to the teeth and merciless.

With luck, 30 years from now Sam will be 43 and Cj 40 … in their prime.

So … what to do? How to plan?

First, they must have access to all the information they will need to make informed choices. This does not mean filling their evenings with every horror of the day via the BBC, or any other media, but answering their questions honestly and providing sources for research.

Second, assuring they are educated to the fullness of their potential and allowed to specialize in whatever ignites their passions. Knowledge is power and a solid foundation built from study provides a platform from which one can put perspective to the past and have some clues to what’s ahead.

Third, and most importantly, encourage them to grab every bit of joy they can whenever they see it and wherever they find it. Although it may not always seem so, life is a gift, and every single day, no matter how difficult or sad or tiring or tedious is full to the brim with fleeting moments, and it is the ‘fleeting’ bit that we all must be aware of. What is life if not a series of moments? (In a conversation with my brothers this morning, we chained together quite a few shared moments of our combined childhood, and it dawned on me how vital it is that my kids grab and keep as many as they can for future examination, amusement and contemplation.)

I want my children to know joy as well as they know grief, to feel bold even when fear haunts the corners, to recognize gratitude as easily as they do indebtedness, to feel love as deeply as loss. I want them to be as ready to jump for joy as they may have to be to jump out of the way, to accept challenges with as much certainty as they throw their hands up in disgust and walk away. I want them to live as fully, as involved, as engaged, as enthused as possible for as long as they can.

Just Skyped with Jenn, and then with Sam. Jenn is feeling better, able to laugh and catch me up on what’s what in her world. That makes me happy.  Sam is tired and snuffy, but very happy for the experience of three countries in 36 hours and waffles and wurst. He’s safe and sound and a bit more worldly, so I’m happy, too.

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

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This evening, as the kids and I watched the “Wizard of Oz’, I had a sudden recollection that ties the generations together for me.

The movie came out in 1939, the year my mother turned seven-years-old, and made quite an impression on her.

It began what was to be an annual run on American television in 1956. I was five that year, but we watched it as a family every year of the ‘50s from then on.

I don’t remember ever not having a TV in the living room; sitting in front of that tiny (by today’s standards) screen in the huge wooden cabinet on the oval braided rug as my mother … either perched on the brown, skirted couch, cup of coffee in hand no matter what the time of day, or standing behind the ironing board with a bowl of starch water at hand … did the ’50s version of multitasking. It was a position I must have mastered very early. Color TV had yet to arrive, so black-and-white was all we knew. Ricky and Lucy’s apartment, Sky King’s sky, everything the Mouseketeers got up to … all were sans any shade but variations on gray.

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The 1939 Poster

And that was fine … most of the time.

The exception to the whole being-okay-with-B&W thing came with the opening bars of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. My mother’s WoO had imprinted itself on her brain before the age of television, when films were only seen in ‘movie houses’ where a show cost a dime … unless you wanted to sit in the loges … and grownups could add a bit of atmosphere with clouds of cigarette smoke.

By 1939, cinemas also offered films shot in Technicolor, something this movie was made for:

Notable for its use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score and unusual characters, over the years it has become one of the best known of all films and part of American popular culture. It also featured what may be the most elaborate use of character make-ups and special effects in a film up to that time.

The fact that this beloved experience was reduced for us kids to NO color annoyed my mother no end, apparently, so she did a running commentary to enhance our viewing pleasure … or hers.

This is where, all of a sudden, everything goes into brilliant color!

That is the YELLOW brick road!

The witch has GREEN skin! (No mention that she looked just like our Aunt Mary when seen in B&W until we were much older.)

Those flowers are poppies … bright red poppies … and are so beautiful.

The whole city is GREEN!

That’s the ‘Horse of a Different Color’ and as it walks around the color changes from green to purple and more!

And so on …

All these years later, I found myself tonight explaining my mother explaining the colors to me to my kids as they watched a hyper-hued DVD of the road and the witch and the poppies and the horse, realizing as I did that time sometimes moves in circles.

Now … if I can just find those damned ruby slippers. I know they’re around here somewhere …

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On a warm morning in May of1980 I was living in Sacramento, California. My kids were 11 and 9 at the time. (The same ages Sam and Cj are now.) Because I considered it a prime duty to raise them right, I kept them out of school, knowing the experience gained that day would resonate for decades longer than a lesson in long division.

 

The day grew hotter as we stood in a very long line for a very long time, but we’d prepared well, had plenty of water and no shortage of amusement in the queue.

 

The venue was the Century Complex. The event, the first showing of “The Empire Strikes Back”.

 

The film, of course, was brilliant. It introduced us to Yoda and we exited with our heads full of deep meaning, confusion and lines that within days had been grafted on to daily conversation.

 

“THAT is why you fail.”

 

“There is no try.”

 

“Luke! It’s a trap!”

 

“I love you.” “I know.”

 

My brother was in New York, so had seen the movie a few hours before the time had come on the west coast. He’s a ‘no spoiler’ kind of guy, so kept mum, but was chomping at the bit to share the experience and waiting by the phone for a call from us to rehash what we’d just seen.

 

New York audiences, being a bit more elaborate in their reactions, were not holding back, and my bro was most impressed with the reaction to the penultimate scene:

 

<Darth Vader: No, I am your father.

 

NYC audience: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

 

There was about an hour of long distance back-and-forth over what various plot twists and hints might mean for the next installment … Who did Yoda mean when he told what was left of Obi Wan, “… there is another”? Was Vader lying? Would Lando and Chewy find Han? Would they someday be making “Han Solo-incased-in-carbonite coffee tables”?</a> (Okay, that one didn’t occur to any of us until decades later.)

 

Yes, all those questions were answered in a follow-up that included Ewoks, but it took some time for that to happen. In between that then and the then that was walking out of the movie on that day in May made movie-making history and changed the culture of imagination forever.

 

That is why on this day, I say:

May the 4th be with you …

 

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CCTV imageMy attention spans a couple of topics today I find related, although the tie might be a stretch for some.

Beginning with the recent spate of riots in the UK

There’s been no little finger pointing going on as London burns and sparks spread to other cities. As there seems little at the root of the “unrest” other than greed and boredom being acted out by some with no other agenda apparent, nothing less than a breakdown of society is cited as a major factor.

As my Yorkshire friend A.j. put it:

A few highly educated idiots got together and rewrote the book on parenting…and now we are reaping the results, nobody dared burn down the village before… This is the first of many. Kids have always pushed the boundaries to see what they can get away with, well now they know…

This was in response to an African proverb posted on Facebook that addressed the situation from an interesting angle:

If the young men are not initiated into the community, they will burn down the village – just to feel its warmth.

While some may consider the masked youths overusing their Zippos and grabbing everything they can marginalized, disenfranchised, others would argue the reverse; that they have been MAXinalized and franchised to within an inch of their lives, spoiled and pampered, steeped in excess with no requirement to contribute.

In trying to look from both sides, I have to admit to a problem with the first take. Of course there are issues of poverty, racial tensions, employment problems, the unequal distribution of wealth and goodies. Yep. Life is much harder for some than for others.

In a country where education and health care are free and food, clothing and shelter are provided with very little work required, endless bitching about how tough things are is disingenuous at best, and those who feel marginalized … and react violently to their plight … because they don’t have the very latest version of BlackBerry should be slapped.

The should-be-slapped contingent is well represented at the moment, as evidenced by the these charmers arrested in Manchester …

An 11-year-old girl, a woman with 96 previous convictions and the daughter of a successful businessman were among hundreds of defendants appearing before magistrates on Thursday in the wake of the recent riots and looting.

Add the ” … university graduate who had been pursuing a career in social work …” who boosted a TV, a ” … a 21-year-old law student … ” who trashed a restaurant …” and this brat …

On Wednesday undergraduate Laura Johnson, 19, was granted bail by magistrates in Bexley, south-east London, on five counts of burglary in connection with the theft of goods from stores in south London.

The former grammar school pupil achieved four A*s and nine As at GCSE and is the daughter of a successful businessman who owns a large detached farmhouse in Orpington, south-east London, according to reports.

and the idea presents that an opportunistic lack of sense and morals pops up pretty easily in the don’t give a shit minds of far too many.

But, then again, why wouldn’t it?

Giving a shit is something that must be learned, and to be learned it must be taught. If the reason for education is getting a high-paying job so one can buy all the goodies one could wish for, what’s to stop a university grad from the snatch and run? If the lack of such goodies is considered a personal failure, how can it matter where the plasma screen, the iPad or the BlueRay player came from? If one’s position in a community is determined by the amount of cool stuff one collects and respect is conveyed by accumulated property, what possible difference can it make if the wardrobe and gadgets were filched?

No more, of course, than it matters if a media tycoon lies and cheats or a powerful leader violates the human rights of his people.

In a ME, ME, ME world there’s no need for thoughts for the good of US, of the society, the community, but it’s not sustainable, not on this planet. It’s too small and there’s too many MEs, and, as we’ve seen, when that ME wants what another ME has things can get ugly.

The need for community is real, and it is strong. We’re not a solitary-living species, but programed through our DNA to live in societies. It seems, however, that we’re losing the knowledge of how to do that well, and it may be worth the time to rethink some of the methods of bonding as a community we’ve lost.

The initiation idea appeals, but does not mean some sort of group hug.

Initiation is a rite of passage ceremony marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society. It could also be a formal admission to adulthood in a community or one of its formal components.

A rite of passage … hm.

No mutilation, please, but humanity would not suffer from a training and testing ground between childhood and assuming the rights of an adult.

As Mircea Eliade put it when listing reasons and functions of initiation, they are …

“this real valuation of ritual death finally led to conquest of the fear of real death.”

“[initiation’s] function is to reveal the deep meaning of existence to the new generations and to help them assume the responsibility of being truly men and hence of participating in culture.”

“it reveals a world open to the trans-human, a world that, in our philosophical terminology, we should call transcendental.”

“to make [the initiand] open to spiritual values.”

In other words, it teaches the rules, the reasons for rules, and makes sure those who go through the process understand. If they don’t, they don’t get to play.

In most non-human primate societies, sub-adults … teenagers … are the most repressed, ignored and controlled group. Males that haven’t shown their worth don’t get sex and have the crap beaten out of them when they get out of line. If they’re mean to the little ones … which they rarely are knowing the consequences as they do … they’re in big trouble. Their mothers brook no shit, their fathers keep them in line and they learn to find their own food, make their own nests, form alliances, share, and generally prepare to be contributing members of their group.

They may be as big and strong as adults, but they’re not as smart, and until they learn what must be learned they are cut no slack at all.

Sounds sensible.

Which brings me to my second thought of the day … a meeting of the Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research happening now in D.C..

Spurned by a Congressional request last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) asked the IOM to form a committee that would evaluate the current and future need for federally funded research on chimpanzees – increasingly controversial in the public eye and legal in only one other country, Gabon. The committee held an introductory meeting in May, but got to the heart of the issues today, the first of the two-day meeting.

I have no doubt there will come a time when using chimps in research will be considered as much an abomination as the “studies” conducted on concentration camp inmates by the Nazis, and have hopes meetings like this will move that scenario forward.

“We wouldn’t be having this meeting if ethics wasn’t an issue,” said primate researcher Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who detailed his behavioral research. Goodall enthusiastically described her field research and its benefits for the health of wild chimpanzees. But she does not support the use of chimpanzees held in labs, which she says are like prisons to them.

Like us, chimps have social living programed into their DNA. Like us, they’re meant to live in communities. Unlike us, they don’t run the show. Unlike us, their kids don’t foul the nest.

It will serve us well to remember that our community is our planet, that we share it with many others … and that everything isn’t about ME, ME, ME. We knew this once, but seem to have lost the wisdom somewhere between being part of something bigger and thinking life isn’t worth living without that new BlackBerry.

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