Archive for the 'Teenagers' Category


Random Thoughts

Yes, I’m still here.

Waiting till I have something to say I guess.

And now just these:

This world is not a meritocracy. It sucks, but it’s true. Discuss.

There might be something to be said about an unforeseen problem brought on by showing your children unconditional love, as in no one feels compelled to clean the house before your return after a long absence. Creating the psychological need to “earn” love might be underrated after all.

One can definitely gauge one’s fed-up-ness with the world, that is, the state of politics and the American citizenry’s unwillingnessifnotinability to actually Face the Truth, by one’s propensity to take “Cook’s Illustrated” to bed rather than the New Yorker.






letter to Only Daughter’s teacher


I would like to start by introducing myself. I’m “Only Daughter’s” mom, and regret that I am unable to come to conferences for the 27 1/2 minutes each semester they are offered, as those minutes fall during the hours of my job. Please don’t cause that to make you think I don’t care about my child or about her education. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

I would like also to thank you for your hard work with Only Daughter in learning her parts of speech. Despite the fact that these are, apparently, the same grammar lessons she had last year, she reports that you are “not as bad of a teacher” as the one she had last year, so I suppose that the review is worthwhile.

I can’t help but wonder whether your lessons on grammar and effective writing might not be better taught using samples of beautiful writing from actual literature, but I’m “just” a layperson who has only read something like 500 books, so I probably don’t actually know what I’m talking about, so will defer to your expertise.

I was wondering, though, whether you were under some kind of misapprehension that led you to believe that I, too, was enrolled in your freshman English class, as I keep getting emails updating me about the class content, homework assignments, online reviews, and upcoming quizzes.

See, the thing is, I’m actually done with high school. In fact, I graduated in 1982. (I’m going to guess, given your teaching style, this was many years before you were even born.) And from college in 1986, masters in 1988, and a doctorate in 2005. Now granted, none of those degrees required that I knew the difference between a linking verb and a helping verb, but nonetheless, I am no longer a student.

My daughter, on the other hand, is. And while I recognize the importance of a parent encouraging and supporting their child, including making sure that their day is well structured, they have adequate sleep and healthful meals, I don’t believe that it is the parent’s responsibility to be checking that every single bit of homework is done. See, I believe that is the child’s responsibility. And the sooner we let the CHILD know that, the better off everyone would be. That includes them, you, me, their future boss(es), their future spouse(s), their child(ren), etc. etc.

They have a job to do, and that is to be a student. You have a job to do, which is to teach them, and to stimulate and engage them enough that they want to do the work and do it as well as possible. And I have a job to do, which IS NOT TO DO THE WORK FOR THEM.

See, this is how it goes. Only Daughter gets home from school. I ask her how her day was, listen, give her a hug, watch her get her snack, ask her if she has homework, if she says yes, ask her when she plans to do it, ask her if she needs me to take her phone for a while to help her keep from getting distracted, and then I sit at my desk and do MY WORK while she goes and does HERS. And if she doesn’t do her work, she doesn’t get a good grade, and then she realizes that it might affect her dream of getting into medical school some day, and the next time it comes around she tries harder. AND I DIDN’T REALLY HAVE TO DO ANYTHING. It’s a beautiful system. And from what I read from the latest in child development research, probably the best one out there.

I’m actually surprised you haven’t read it.

Let me help.

Click here

And here.

And here.

I could go on. But I won’t.

The thing is, you’re the “expert” in this field — shouldn’t you have read them already?

Maybe you were too busy sending parents emails about the next review: Indefinite Pronouns!



the real reason Rapunzel was locked up in that tower

rapunzelsketchMaybe Rapunzel was an eighth grader, going to public school.

Maybe all Rapunzel could talk about was boys, and all she worried about was her hair, her complexion, her makeup, her clothes, and whether the “popular” people (who, apparently, no one actually liked) liked her or not.

Maybe the boys on Rapunzel’s bus constantly made sexually suggestive and, therefore, (duh) inappropriate, comments and watched carefully to see what her reaction would be so as to know whether they could continue to make sexually suggestive and inappropriate comments or not.

Maybe Rapunzel thought it was so  important that these skanky excuses for human beings liked her and that she not seem a prude that it never even occurred to her to point out that their behavior made her uncomfortable. Maybe she had so little sense of herself and her own rights that their behavior didn’t even make her uncomfortable. And maybe this caused her parents great distress.

Maybe, at the same time, she was being treated to the state-approved “Sex Education” curriculum, “Willing to Wait” also known as “If you have sex you will get chlamydia and die” program.

Not helping.

I imagine Rapunzel’s parents would have been reassured if the class had involved realistic and valid discussions about the physical and emotional implications of having sex WHEN BARELY A TEENAGER; or discussions about what is and is not appropriate to say or to have to listen to.

I imagine Rapunzel’s parents would have felt better about Rapunzel’s outlook on life, career, education, her self and her agency and her responsibility for her own life if more of Rapunzel’s focus was less about what the world thought of her and more about what she thought of herself. It might also have helped if part of the discussion in these “Willing to Wait” classes included teaching the boys that what won’t be appropriate to say in the workplace when they’re 30 is also not appropriate to say when they’re 15, even if they are currently suffering from hormone-induced mental illness. Or if someone besides Rapunzel’s mother was telling her daughter that whether the boy liked her or not was less than half as important as whether she liked the boy; or that the first thing the girl needed to learn how to do was to support herself so that she would never need to rely on someone else for housing or food.

I imagine Rapunzel’s parents thought that shutting her up in a tower until she was 25 was actually for her own good.


I imagine I could agree.

It is too bad that the “happy ending” in this story requires her being rescued by a handsome prince.

rapunzel and prince


Even better: a kick-ass job with a six-figure salary and a complete disregard for what anyone else in the world thinks about her appearance.



a day in the life, aka parenting in two parts

Can you guess the age of the perpetrator?^ (Left on the kitchen table for 2 days; I actually thought there were still brownies within.)




Only Daughter, as the only remaining-at-home child of a perpetually-distracted parent in her late 40s has developed some bad habits regarding snacking. To be specific, junk food junk food junk food. The daily salt intake could preserve an entire ham. She tried to take salami (no bread) and goldfish (the cracker) in her lunch one day; the day after I had discovered that between when she got home on the bus (4:10 p.m.) and dinner (7:30 p.m.) she had eaten salami, a large cereal bowl full of pistachios, a same-size bowl of tortilla chips and salsa and a same-size bowl of goldfish (the cracker). Yesterday Husband came out to get her dinner while I was at a rehearsal to discover that she was in the process of eating chips and salsa for the THIRD TIME that day.

This morning we had the first of a two-part conversation regarding healthful eating and what’s going to happen to her favorite food choices if she doesn’t start demonstrating some ability to make reasonable decisions.* This includes my approval of what she eats for breakfast, what she puts in her lunch, and permission for any snacks. Like when she was four. (She’s 12 going on 25. As if.)

The second part will include a list of foods that she can eat as much of as she’d like (spinach, carrots, whole wheat toast with peanut butter)(rightthat’llhappen) and foods that need to be approached a bit more judiciously (everything that she eats when given the chance).

Here is my contribution towards judiciousness, waiting to greet her when she arrives home from school today (during which time I will be teaching a piano lesson):


^The perpetrator is 19. He tried to tell me the other day, when I was questioning his decision not to work over spring break, that he was “20” and that I should trust him to make his own decisions. This was two days before he told me that his housing payment had been due a few days earlier, that he needed me to pay it since he was out of savings. It was also the day that he washed his popcorn pan while leaving the rest of the dishes in the sink and was doing all of his laundry in our washing machine using our soap.

You know, some species eat their young. (I hear they taste like chicken.)

*Second Son also tried to convince me the other day that his bad eating habits are my fault. Since I raised him feeding him mostly healthful foods, he has developed a taste for white bread, cereal of the Cap’n Crunch persuasion, and Kraft macaroni and cheese. If I had raised him on junk, he would now be a vegan. He actually told me this, and I believe that he actually believes it.


and this just proves that I’m a big fat baby

(Husband says it just proves that I’m a sap. I say it’s the same thing.)

I cry every single time I see this.

Every. Single. Time.



Murakami, and why I won’t be reading him anymore; UPDATED

I had this all written this morning, (some of my best work,) and when I went to insert the picture I lost the whole post. (Ain’t technology grand?) I’m still not sure I have the heart to start over. But here goes.


Still taking a break from The Street Sweeper, although I plan on finishing it. Instead, though, I just read Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. Supposedly his readership went into the millions with the publication of this book, but I can’t really figure out how, unless it was high schoolers looking for the sex scenes.


Toru is a “preternaturally serious” student. In case we miss this by the fact that he has very few friends, and spends all of his time going to class, doing his homework, and working at his job at a “lame” record store (is there a geekier job than working at a “lame” record store?), the few friends he does interact with can’t seem to stop telling him how “strange” he is, or how “strange” he talks, even when what he says seems perfectly normal.

In this way, Murakami seems to demonstrate very little faith in his readers. Another example: Toru travels to visit the young woman he truly loves, Naoko, who has secluded herself in the mountains of northern Japan at an idyllic mental institution retreat recovering from the emotional trauma of first her older sister’s, then her long-term boyfriend’s, suicides. (There is a lot of suicide in this book; it seems to be the solution of choice in Murakami’s Japan; and surprisingly, many of those who commit suicide in this story don’t seem to have demonstrated any signs of emotional or psychological instability beforehand.) The line between patient and doctor is particularly blurry — when Toru first meets Naoko’s roommate, she is introduced as “Dr.” because she teaches music to some of the patients; a fellow patient wears a white coat and makes his “rounds” from table to table at mealtimes expounding on arcane topics. The “patients” live calm, idyllic lives, eating prepared meals, living in austere yet comfortable houses, performing “meaningful” menial tasks. Many patients stay for years. In case the insidiousness of this is lost on us, Toru just happens to have a copy of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain in his backpack. “How could you bring a book like that to a place like this?” Reiko asks him. How indeed?

And then there’s the sex.

Murakami is clearly trying to write the way the teenagers/twenty-somethings talk about, think about, sex. But I don’t think he’s very good at it. It’s too self-aware, too self-conscious, too proper. And that’s not the worst part. Besides the fact that, except for Toru, none of the men treat their girlfriends very well, the women themselves seem to have no sexual desire, no needs, no agency, of their own. (Update: Actually, this isn’t true, I somehow forgot one twist to the story. There is one “woman” with sexual desire and agency, she just happens to be a “pathologically lying” 13-year old girl who tries to seduce Reiko during one of the girl’s piano lessons. An event so traumatic it triggers Reiko’s latest psychological break. And, as far as I can tell from the story, the only lie the girl has told is after her seduction fails, and she reports that Reiko tried to seduce her. Apparently the idea of a 13 year old girl being sexually assertive and/or curious, or that she would spitefully lie about it later, is too bizarre for Murakami to consider.)

But back to the rest of them:

Naoko is a virgin when her long-term boyfriend commits suicide; apparently she was unable to, well, open herself to him. Naoko and Toru have one apparently mutually-satisfying sexual encounter, immediately after which she disappears and checks herself into the rehabilitation center. (There’s a ringing endorsement.) When Toru visits, Naoko services him in various ways, (Ugh), but waves off his offers of reciprocity.

Toru’s one male friend at university sleeps with dozens of women, despite having a beautiful, accomplished, intelligent young woman as a girlfriend. This girlfriend apparently knows about his philanderings, but tolerates them, claiming that she loves him and this is just what he must do. Reportedly she, too, will commit suicide, around four years after the end of this particular story.

While Toru waits patiently for Naoko to decide she can return to society, he is befriend by Midori, a “sexually liberated” young woman in one of his drama classes. They are physically attracted to each other, but are unwilling to consummate the relationship because she is “trying” to be faithful to her boyfriend (this is Murakami’s version of “sexually liberated”? That a twenty-something young woman has sex with her boyfriend?), despite the fact that the boyfriend criticizes the way she talks, the way she dresses.

And then there’s Reiko. Reiko is in her 30s, and, perhaps as an outward symbol of her long-term struggle with mental illness, is apparently extremely wrinkled. Reiko comes to visit Toru in Tokyo after (spoiler alert) Naoko’s suicide (see?), finally leaving the “center” after 8 years, on her way to teach music lessons in yet another secluded location. They cook together, and then make love, four times, in one evening. The first two are strictly for Toru, iykwim*; but afterwards, she lies in bed, eyes dewy, and declares: “I never have to do this again, for the rest of my life.”



The next day, Reiko departs, and Toru calls Midori, telling her that “all [he] wants in the world is [her].”

Funny way of showing it, but whatever.

*if you know what I mean



Read this, and watch the clips.

Take a good look at the young woman who is faulted for having “too big” of hips.

And then refuse to buy a single magazine with an underage, emaciated, and/or exploited female model in it.

Who knows, it might actually make a difference.


maybe I’m just not qualified

Those of you who visit here regularly probably know that I’ve recently acquired a dog.

Meet Dexter.

He is, as you can see, very cute, and very sweet.

He also seems to be pushing all of my you-suck-as-a-parent buttons, and I’m having a really hard time deciding I’m qualified to even potty train this dog much less be held accountable for my children. (For some reason “So far I’ve let them live” fails to qualify as a ringing endorsement, although there have been times that this alone was a heroic accomplishment.)

I actually spent several hours today wondering if this 10-week old puppy could actually be smart enough to be manipulating me by running around the kitchen sniffing so that I would take him outside to go potty play.

This isn’t possible, right? He’s a 10-week old puppy. Right? (I have my doubts, and I am definitely watching for other signs of coercive behavior. Just give me a minute until I’ve finished rubbing that soft spot on the back of his ears. . .)

So I spend my only 2 hours off between 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. snatching him up from where he’s running and taking him outside so he can sniff bits of bark, chase the leaves that are blowing around and chew on acorns and sticks. Over and over and over, to no avail. Well, to no avail to me; he got to sniff bits of bark, chase the leaves that were blowing around, and chew on acorns and sticks. He’s a puppy. What more could he want?

I then discover that he had actually already gone poo in his “bed,” and this is not the first time, and dogs aren’t supposed to like to do this, so I decide his “bed” must be too big, and put a giant soup pot in the back of the crate, with the lid on upside down so the crate will close but he can’t get into the pot. I finally manage to coax him into the crate with a toy and a “bully stick” (this is actually, to my surprise and chagrin, a smoked bull penis, but we do not speak of that, although I do like to imagine the boardroom meeting while they settle on the name .  . . bull dick, hmm, can’t call it that, bully dick, only slightly better, and it sounds like someone who would beat you up on the playground so he could steal your Hardy Boys book and pocket protector, [you know, that bully, Dick?] hey! I got it! bully stick! Ah, advertising.)

I digress.

Back to the puppy.

At first he settles in, but then he realizes that he’s been “had,” and starts to express his displeasure over this act of subterfuge and deception. He starts yipping, and just won’t stop, so I finally really start to lose it and put the crate in the garage so I don’t kill him*  can’t hear him anymore. About 20 minutes later Only Daughter gets home from school, so we have a peek to see if all is settled down, and we can’t see him anywhere. When I get closer, bending over and peering through the gate, I realize that he has managed to squeeze himself into the 2″ of space between the top of the pot and the top of the crate, and is now curled up in the inverted lid, sleeping.

What a goofball.

All of this is the day after an exchange with Second Son that went something like this.

Me: “I have kind of a busy day on Wednesday to come pick you up from school,” (it has already been determined that his college isn’t far enough away; IMHO there must be a 200 mile minimum to really encourage independence), “can I buy you a bus ticket?”

SS: “Seriously? You can’t pick up your child?”
Me: “Well, I can, but I have a lot to do, and that’s two hours out of my day, and it’s really not that long of a bus ride, and I’ll buy your ticket.”

SS: “I hate the bus. Can’t you pick me up?”
Me: “Well, I can. But I have a lot to do. Would you be willing and able to help with some Thanksgiving dinner preparation Wednesday night then? I was going to do some of that Wednesday afternoon.”

SS: “Is it really not possible for you to do something for me without me having to do something in return?”

Yeah, that went over like a lead balloon.

After I had shown Husband the email^ I wrote to Second Son, explaining how much I hate entitled children with selfish, narrow world views, and how offended I was that my contribution to his well-being that extended far beyond food, shelter, and clothing, but into tuition and vehicle provision and insurance and maintenance etc., etc. seemed to be not only unreimbursed, but also, more importantly, unappreciated, Husband huddled, shuddering, in the corner of the couch. “Don’t hurt me” he says.

As if.

First of all, he would never say anything so offensive, or ridiculous.

Second of all, well, what else is there?

So I raise selfish, ungrateful children, and my puppy won’t pee outside.


*He was not hurt. Except for maybe his feelings when I told him to shut up. He’s lying at my feet licking his paws, so I think he’s forgiven me.

^Second Son apologized on the phone last night for being ungrateful and selfish. It turns out that he hadn’t even read the email yet (apparently college students don’t check their email anymore, although they sure seem to send me a lot of them). I guess it’s not all as hopeless as it seemed.

And Dex pee’d AND poo’d this morning first thing, and his crate was clean. But the pot’s staying. For now.


guess which is which

On my way to bed last night I fetched my phone from wherever I had left it and noticed I had 2 text messages, one from each son, each away at their respective colleges.

Guess which is from “First” and which is “Second”

Text message A:  How do you make those baked home fries so delicious?

Text message B:  Guess who has ibs?


I’d offer a prize for the winner, but it’s a) just too obvious and b) I’m broke.

Ah, parenthood. Who knew it would be this much fun?




too late, too tired, so just randomness

Took Second Son to college yesterday. That was weird. The house is pleasantly but discomfitingly quiet without him. Spent an hour yesterday throwing out four years’ worth of homework papers from high school and sweeping spent spider egg sacs from his “closet” floor. (Ick. This sounds really bad, like we’re some of those people living in filth and squalor, 3 days away from showing up on TV, like those men who were found in their apartment behind walls of newspapers. The only thing in the closet was four years’ worth of homework papers and a box of miscellaneous computer/cell phone/random cords we’ll never need but for some inexplicable reason can’t throw away. Does that sound a little less Collyer brothers?)

Last night Husband asked if I was going to continue to check in with Second Son about when he would be “home.” When I asked Secondo how he felt about that, he texted back “For the record, I will be in my room every night by 9 p.m. doing my homework.”

Allrighty then.

I miss him a little, plus now Husband is using his room as his office, since he has a big desk down there and a really !!! bright light so I have to go looking for him if I need my back scratched or for him to tell me if my butt looks big in my pants. (It does, always, but never mind.)

Second Son does go to college where Husband works, so I decided I would “recycle” some of the stale cereal we found in the cupboard (in the kitchen, not in the closet with the spent spider sacks; ew!?!) by making some “Rice Krispie” treats to deliver to him tomorrow along with his bike and a pair of his jeans and the Apple AirPort because hisdormroomdoesn’thavewificanyoubelieveit?, except the marshmallows were so stale they wouldn’t melt.

I didn’t even know this could happen.

The new academic year starts tomorrow. I don’t wanna. Summer, like all good things, went way too quickly, and I want just a few more years weeks of sleeping until I wake up and only teaching people who actually want to learn something.

Couldn’t I just make that a requirement or something? I wonder how empty the universities would be if that were a prerequisite.

Only Daughter is looking forward to an extended run of being an Only Child. Hope that works out, although she’s already a bit of a hypochondriac and needs a lot of attention. Maybe that will get better when she’s not competing for high-carbohydrate snacks and TV time with a 6’2″ hyperthyroid 18-year-old.

Heard at Dinner

Daughter’s told that she is going to get driven to, and thrown in to, the lake if she doesn’t stop being ridiculous (we can’t remember what she was doing, but it doesn’t really matter)

Daughter: “That’s okay, I’m a good swimmer.”

Me: “No, you’re not.”

Daughter: “I am with good goggles.”




please sir, can I have another?

Just submitted the payment for the first installment of Second Son’s first semester at University.

Included in the bill was $1,684 for a semester in a dorm room, and $2,393 for a semester on the “silver” meal plan. (Don’t get excited: the “silver” meal plan is the cheapest one available. Those in charge of naming the meal plans are apparently not up to speed on the relative value of the nation’s precious minerals — I’m thinking zinc.) All students living in the dorm must purchase a meal plan, and all freshman must live in the dorm. It’s a beautiful system, really, if you think about it.

In other words, we are being extorted, and we have only ourselves to blame. And this is a state school, you know, one of the land grant universities whose mission is to provide educational opportunities for all and sundry.

First objection: we are paying $7.12 per meal for a child who lives on cereal. Even HE can’t eat this much cereal, and God knows he’s tried.

Secondly, we are paying $421/month for “room.” This equals $1263/month for a 12′ x 14′ room to be lived in by three 18-year-old boys (the thought of the “aroma” alone makes one shudder), which is more than I am paying for house payment, taxes, and insurance for 1300 sq. ft. + finished basement on 2 acres of wooded land in a perfectly lovely city with excellent schools.

And yet, universities are in trouble.

Husband speculates that the areas of the sciences cause the most trouble, as schools want their programs to be taught by the best and the brightest, and the best and the brightest in medicine, engineering, physics, etc., can expect to make six figures many times over in the private sector and for universities to compete they must pay accordingly.

Would it be “fair” to suggest that medicine and engineering tuitions be higher to cover those differences? I think the argument could be made. The people graduating with degrees in those areas can expect to make more money throughout their careers: wouldn’t a cost/benefit analysis and the “laws” of fairness dictate that their education also cost more? And some consideration of the Canadian system, where a certain number of schools are “allowed” to teach certain programs and others are not, might not be out of order. This system allows individual colleges to prioritize and focus, and the situation of every school competing for every student is avoided, and more efficiency gained. I imagine that the average American would protest, as part of the American mindset is the right to have whatever you want wherever you want it, and if you don’t “qualify” through your grades and industry you should at least have the right to pay whatever premium necessary to get it anyway.

In any case, at this point in every child’s development, perhaps the most compelling motivation to the average American parent is the tradeoff between becoming a voluntary extortionee, and having the 18-year old move out of the house.


If you’re reading this, Second Son, I love you dearly. Now off you go.

*This is NOT a picture of Second Son’s room. This one was downloaded from the internet, the source which can be viewed if you click on the picture, chosen for its dramatic impact. I regret any misapprehensions. p.s.  He has more guitars, two amps, and less crap on the floor. However, the dust bunnies under the bed were beginning to form their own government, until they were vacuumed up in preparation for visitors, that is.


When life gives you lemons. . .

. . .make limoncino.

Anybody know something productive I can do with these, now that they’re naked?

Okay, never mind.

A friend suggested we make fermented lemons, which can be used in sauces, on pasta, etc., and sounded not only delicious but interesting in a science-experiment sort of way, so we quartered them, salted them, and mashed them in a glass cookie jar that I got when I was 18 and somehow managed to keep for 28 years without breaking. It broke. We threw the 6 lbs. of lemons and chunks of glass in the dumpster.

Despite my sadness over the loss of the lemons, and the cookie jar, I can’t help but be amused by the fact that the lemon on the right in the front row of the picture looks an awful lot like a nipple.

This observation makes me think maybe I should maybe stop reading the bloggess, although this and this are two of the funniest things I’ve ever read. This one was pretty funny, too, and I’m thinking really hard about what I can write on my bananas. “Clean your room,” while both timely AND apt,  just doesn’t seem to cut it.

Which reminds me, in a related story, about leaving the house in the care of the 18-year old. So, I was off teaching at a music camp for three weeks, and my husband was home one or two nights a week, when he wasn’t up at camp with me and Only Daughter. (First Son doesn’t come home anymore — I just keep sending him Tshirts and sweaters that we find in closets and which he has forgotten he ever owns, and trying not to look at his bank balance since there will be a tuition bill in October that he can’t even BEGIN to cover and I’d like this to be hisproblem, notmine.) Since Second Son, for the three weeks I was gone and not forcing him to eat a meal with us (if he eats he has to do the dishes — this creates an intense mental cost/benefit analysis on a nightly basis, and fuhgeddaboudit if the entrée is fish), was basically living on cereal and the free food he could scarf at the-job-he-has-recently-been-let-go-from-for-no-apparent/good-reason (I’m assuming these two things are not related, hmmmmm. . .), Husband would occasionally lay in supplies like organic milk, Tide laundry soap (S.Son is a little OCD) and bananas. The bananas were apparently not getting eaten, as, upon our return, two of them had managed to ripen SO far, past when one has the olfactory and culinary fortitude necessary to pinch one’s nose to squeeze them out of the peel into a bowl to make banana bread with, that they had split their skins and begun to foam.

I think one of them actually said something to me as I scooped it up with a plastic bag, but I can’t be sure. It might have been the sound of me, lightly gagging.


Oh, and I have yet to have any takers on the offer of a teenager for the low, low price of $545, and I found a similar pair of boots at for a little less, so I’m offering a $50 discount for any offers received in the next 24 hours.

Please disregard any disparaging thing I have ever written about either Son; they are a delight, the light of my world, and a comfort in my upcoming old age. Yours for only $495, I’ll even waive the handling charge.

Just let me know.


week 3, and after

Wrapping up camp:

Conductor, in rehearsal, when the orchestra plays for another .25 seconds after the soprano cuts off her last note: “Never outsing the soprano. O. My. Lord.”

What is wrong with the algorithm at that lists the day’s current temperature, i.e. 91˚, and the projected high at 86˚. Is there NOONE there who notices this and decides that perhaps the projected high should be projected higher?

And a question for all of you parents out there: Which is more stressful, being away from home for 3 weeks when you’ve left the house empty, or being away from home for 3 weeks when you’ve left the house in the “care” of the 18-year old?


I had completed all of my camp responsibilities by noon Saturday, so husband and I went into Traverse City to act like tourists. We had a delicious lunch at Amical, and then did a little shopping. At first we may have upset the balance of the universe when husband bought two pairs of shoes and I didn’t buy any, but I did have some fun taking pictures.

I call this the “Embarrassed” sandal. It knows it’s hideous, but it must sit on its shelf, in plain view, for all to see. It doesn’t even have hands to hide behind.

I call this the “Beautiful” sandal. I would like them in brown, as shown, and black, 8 1/2 W. Sigh.

I call this “The Why Shoe.” I believe the title is self-explanatory.

These are just beautiful. I would consider selling one of my children for them — a deal at any price, but yours for a mere $545 plus tax and shipping/handling. First Son only has one year left of college, and I would include his college fund balance as long as it’s actually paid to his college; Second Son may have just hit a car in a mall parking lot, but it only did $500 worth of damage, which he (or I) will take full financial responsibility for, and he has been let go from his summer job 3 weeks early, but I suspect that, rather than this being a direct fault of his, his manager is an asshole and had an opportunity to hire someone for the fall and took it. Only Daughter is not yet a teenager, so she is still, as they say in the Master Card commercials, priceless, and therefore, not (yet) available for purchase. It is, as they say, only a matter of time.

[In a kind-of related story, related to the cowboy boots, that is, we watched Brokeback Mountain last night — neither husband nor I had seen it yet — and we both think they did a good job with a story that could have become campy or self-conscious. I do wish Heath Ledger could have mumbled a little bit more articulatively, but there’s nothing wrong with a good lookin’ man in jeans and cowboy boots.

To whit:

(Despite the fact that Husband posed for this photo, and he does actually know I have a tendency to “use” just about anything for my blog, he may insist that I take this photo down, so I hope many of you get to see it while it’s still here.)]

Anyway, back to Saturday.

When we were done at the shoe store, we investigated one of the galleries along Front Street.

This floating coffee table was kind of cool,

I thought it looked like it would maybe bounce a little, but I didn’t actually try.

I also liked these wood cuttings (sorry about the quality of the photos; I wasn’t sure how the woman in charge would feel about me taking pictures of stuff with my iPhone, so I was trying to be both quick AND surreptitious.)

I was NOT so crazy about the coffee table manufactured from the tailgate of a Ford pickup,

I’m not sure what this painting? collage? source of non-drug-induced freaky dreams?was called, so I called it Scary Alien Art.

I assume someone’s buying these, as there were at least a dozen on the walls, and the artist was featured, but really, really, thankyoubutno.


Now we’re home; laundry’s done, I’m about to make my second cappuccino of the morning, and it’s time to return to reality. I must say, three weeks living in a cabin make air conditioning, floors that can actually get clean, and a washer and dryer within the residence feel like real luxury. It’s probably good to lower that bar every year or so.


Camp: Week 2

Various observances and overheard conversations:

88˚ and 81% humidity is just too too.

No matter how much you like it, or how many ways they make it, a person can only eat hummus so many days in a row. (The same can not be said about coffee or chocolate.)

Anything cooked over a campfire tastes better. Okay, maybe not a cake, but you know what I mean.

You will only see something like this at camp:


Overheard outside the dance building:

Junior girl 1: “I’m really worried about my hair.”
Junior girl 2: “Your hair’s awesome!
Junior girl 3: “I wouldn’t say awesome, but it looks fine.”

Which girl are you? I’d be 1, wanting validation, and 2, wanting to be encouraging, thinking maybe I should be 3 and not allow 1 to go through life misapprehending her actual appearance.


There is something wrong with boys of a certain age.

For example:

Heard in the piano building, Intermediate camper, boy: “It’s a known fact that everyone is secretly in love with the smell of their own farts.”

Four boys are walking across camp this morning. One bends over, picks up a wood chip and drops it through the hole in the drainage tile. The other three stop to watch. “Heh, heh, heh.”

Three 12-year olds are rehearsing the scherzo movement of Schubert’s Piano Trio in B-flat. (I know, right?)  The pianist (girl) and violinist (girl) are poised, arms ready for the downbeat. The cellist, (boy), is leaning, elbows on knees, poking a bug caught in a spider web dangling from the piano’s leg. “What IS that?”


What does it mean?


This morning’s conversation:

Forgetting to put peanuts in the Pad Thai –> Forgetting to put the stuffing overflow into the oven for Thanksgiving dinner –> if the point of stuffing is to stuff the turkey why do we make so much and should we be eating less? –> the French Canadians make stuffing with a grain rather than bread and chopped turkey liver –> is it a good idea to eat the organ that is responsible for removing toxins from the body, and wouldn’t it be just like taking the fuel filter out of your car and eating that.

All before the first cup of coffee.



Home Alone

And no, I don’t feel like this

I feel like that a little sometimes when I’m Home With Children (HWC). I haven’t been in this house alone, I think, since April. I try to be a good mom. I try to be a patient mom. I try not to bite my daughter’s head off when she interrupts me for the 47th time to get her the cherry fruit snacks that we’ve hidden from Second Son (a.k.a. the SnackFooderator) or make her some toast or help feed her snake or paint her fingernails or spot her while she practices her walkovers or, well, you get the idea. I worry sometimes that my level of preoccupation is manufactured by my subconscious to mirror the level of my mother’s preoccupation — except she had 8 children, and I only have 3, and only 2 of them live at home, so What’s My Excuse?

Anyway, I’m in my house alone for the first time in almost three months. It feels good. I’m sitting on my (purple) couch in my air conditioned house eating tabbouleh, fresh mozzarela, and sipping delicious coffee. Does it get better than this?

It did, of course, take some kind of divine intervention for this to happen. Planets aligned just right with moons or something.

Stage One:  Second Son is finally working. He had a job lined up in April, they asked him to wait three weeks while they trained their first round of new hires. He waited three weeks, they told him they had hired too many people and didn’t need him. I thought this was really a crappy thing to do, and that they should have at least given him 10 hours a week for a month or six weeks or something to account for the fact that MICHIGAN’S ECONOMY IS IN THE TOILET and he waited through the three most important job hunting weeks for an eighteen year old — the three weeks before all the college kids come home. SO, he started over. Looked for several weeks, got hired in early June to work in the kitchen of a new hotel that was supposed to open on June 20, and which has taken its first bookings yesterday. When he went in last week (finally!) for the scheduled training there wasn’t even a kitchen yet, just a big empty room covered in sawdust. The crew stood around with their hands in their pockets, moved a few 2x4s, the chef bought them lunch and sent them home. So, finally,  Friday they installed shelving, yesterday he worked thirteen (13!!!) hours stocking and learning how to make things like spinach-artichoke dip and risotto (cool! but no, they didn’t get to eat it, and he didn’t bring any home. What’s Wrong With This Picture?). Today he is back for another long day.

Stage Two: Daughter is camping with her dad. There is apparently a pool, a camp store with lots of candy (Daughter: “There’s a camp store! With lots of candy!” Me: “Great! Do you still have all your teeth?”), and two boys, sons of friends of Former Husband, one of whom Daughter likes. I believe she may have told him that she liked him. Such bravery.

She’s ten, and wondering if this is an appropriate wedding dress:

I said no, unless you’re a jellyfish. She also wants to know who my Hollywood Crush* is (not Orange, or Grape, but maybe someone along the lines of that Logan kid who played Percy the Lightning Thief, or godforbidJustinBieber) and if it was okay for her to kiss boys now that she was going into fifth grade. (NO! NONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONO!!!)

Stage Three: Church was cancelled this morning. I’m the pianist, and this never happens. Every Sunday morning I whine about having to get up, and shower, and practice my little Bach pieces or my little Debussy pieces, and then the sermon goes too long, and I don’t get home until noon, whine whine whine. Not today. I was up, and showered, and had practiced all four of my little Bach pieces yesterday, when my phone rang.

Pastor: “Are you playing today?”

Me, in my head: “The time changed again? I thought I already missed that service back in March!” (I have issues.)

Me, out loud: “Yes?”

Pastor: “Take the day off. The power’s out: no elevator, no parking ramp because the door can’t open, no lights, no sound. . .

Me, in my head: “So?”

Pastor: “. . . no air conditioining.

Me, out loud:  “Oh! Now I get it!”

Anyway, there are lots of elderly people, lots of stairs to get to the sanctuary, it’s going to be VERY warm today. I get the day off. Nice. If only I’d known that before I’d gotten out of bed, showered, gotten dressed, put on makeup. But still. Sunday off. Nice.

Stage Four:  Stepson and Husband are playing paintball. I’m not kidding. Husband bought it on Groupon, and the expiration date is fast approaching, and the friends Stepson wanted to invite couldn’t make it, so they’re off playing paintball. It’s supposed to be 90˚ today, and they’re going to run around like commandoes (not to be confused with going commando) and shoot 500 little paint pellets at each other and anyone else who crosses their paths and have a rip-roaring good time.+ I think it would be kind of fun, definitely more fun than laser tag — a form of entertainment that must be one of the most shameless ripoffs known to man, right up there with bottled water, the ever-shrinking boxes of pasta, and the price of a box of tampons.

I digress.

I’m home alone.

Why does this feel so much better than being home with one teenager who sits in a chair and stares at a screen all day? It’s not like they interfere with my productivity, or prevent me from smoking crack or hooking up with strangers or something.

I can’t quite figure it out.

Anyway, I’m either going to go read my book, the Sunday paper, practice the piano, or, if I get restless, get groceries, or drive to World Market to buy important things like bamboo steamers, honey pots, and a large jar to make Limoncino in.


Using a vegetable peeler, cut the yellow part of the peel from 15 lemons, Be careful not to get any of the white pith.

Pour 750 ml of vodka or everclear into a gallon jug.

Add the lemon zest.

Cover and let sit for at least 10 days, up to 40 — the longer, the better. Don’t stir, or fuss with. Just let it sit.

When done waiting, (patience! patience!), mix 4 c. sugar with 5 c. filtered water in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Boil for ~ 7 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Add sugar syrup to the lemon/alcohol mixture. Cover jar, and let rest for another 10-40 days.

Strain the limoncino through cheesecloth to remove the zest. Pour into smaller individual bottles. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.


+Breaking news: Paintball hurts. Husband’s Observation: Every kid who spends hours in front of video games yelling “Boom! Headshot!” should go and get blasted a few times by someone they never see coming. Something to think about.


*Robert Downey Jr., Javier Bardem ( long as he looks like he did in Biutiful and not like he did in No Country For Old Men), George Clooney, and Johnny Depp.


child labor laws

So Second Son’s manager is a control freak.

She deems it appropriate to bully 17-year-olds into working more hours than is legal in our fair state under threat of being fired; a necessity brought on by the fact that she’s such a stark raving lunatic two people quit and one got fired in the past 7 days.

The turnover at this “restaurant” has been ~ 20 employees over the past year. I am actually quite proud of Second Son for sticking it out this long, but I think maybe enough is enough.

Out of curiosity, I decide to peruse our state’s child labor laws, and find this interesting list of prohibitions regarding tasks one might find in the workplace:

Restricted Occupations

Agency: Energy, Labor & Economic Growth

  • Minors 14- to 17-years-old may work in businesses where alcoholic beverages are sold as long as the sale of food or other goods is at least 50 percent of gross sales. Minors less than 16 years of age may not work where alcohol is consumed regardless of sales percentage.
  • Minors under the age of 18 cannot sell, serve, or furnish alcoholic beverages.
  • For information on Liquor Control Commission regulations concerning selling and serving alcoholic beverages visit or call 1-866-893-2121.

Minors covered by the act may not work in any occupation determined by act or rule to be hazardous.  Examples of hazardous work include, but are not limited to:

  • Contact with hazardous substances, chemicals, explosives or radioactive substances.
  • Driving and work as an outside helper (pizza delivery, etc.).
  • Jobs in the mining, logging and sawmill industry.
  • Jobs using woodworking machinery.
  • Brazing, welding, soldering or heat treating, for those less than 16 years of age.
  • Work on construction sites, roofing operations, excavation or demolition sites, bridges, streets, or highways.
  • Slaughtering, butchering, meat cutting, meat packing, rendering, or tanning.
  • Occupations involving power driven equipment, tools, saws, or machinery. (Bakery machines, paper product machines, meat slicers, metal-forming, punching and shearing machines).
  • Occupations involving the operation of, assisting in the operation of, and riding on hoisting apparatus including forklifts.  Minors 16 to 17 years old may work under elevated equipment.

Minors covered by the act may not work in any occupation determined by administrative review to be hazardous under the authority of Section 3.  Examples of hazardous work include, but are not limited to:

  • Occupations involving assembling, disassembling, and operating power-driven amusement rides.
  • Jobs with exposure to contagious diseases and bloodborne pathogens.
  • Operating a boat or other watercraft on a public waterway.
  • Loading and unloading goods from conveyors for those less than 16 years of age.
  • Handling loaded firearms of any gauge or caliber including those that are air powered.
  • Operating easy tippers used to lift garbage carts for emptying into dumpsters.
  • Operating golf carts and gator type utility vehicles on public roadways, for those less than 16 years of age it’s entirely prohibited.
  • Occupations as go-cart spotters for those less than 16 years of age.
  • Removing filters, pouring through filters, and moving receptacles containing grease or oil when the temperature is in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Un-jamming, servicing, or repairing Kansmackers.
  • Jobs using power-driven mowers, edgers, weed eaters, hedge clippers, tillers, wheelbarrows, thatchers, aerators, and snow blowers for those less than 16 years of age.
  • Life guarding at natural bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers.
  • Filling prescriptions, working behind the counter where prescriptions are filled or delivering pharmaceuticals by car, foot, bicycle, and/or public transportation.
  • Dispensing propane (LP) gas.
  • Operation of power-driven tire changer used to mount or dismount tires from vehicle rims.
  • Occupations involving door-to-door and street sales for profit making companies including mobile sales crews for those less than 16 years of age.
  • Jobs using chef, boning, butcher, meat cleaver, filet, and skinning or machete knives.

I’m good until I get to the 10th bullet in the last category.



This is listed so casually, between a long list of things I recognize: golf carts and filters and grease or oil and power-driven mowers and hedge clippers and natural bodies of water, it is obviously expected that I know what this is.

I think perhaps it has been included as some kind of a joke by a malicious state employee, perhaps to see if anyone is paying attention, but alas, no, this is an actual thing.

Who knew?


how much older is older and wiser?

There’s a recent development among state judiciaries reversing the trends of the 80s and 90s where younger and younger juveniles were tried as adults, sometimes even as young as 13. You can read the article here.

It is now being recognized that these young people actually lack the maturity and judgment skills required to be able to make wise decisions.

Can I just say, well, duh?

Is there anyone who actually believes that teenagers function as adults? Has that person ever spent any time with a teenager? We don’t even let them some of them drive. Our biggest hope for many is that they change their underwear and/or brush their teeth at least once a week and do at least 60% of their homework.

My sons are 21 and 17 and I would hardly call them mature adults. First Son is home for spring break this week, and has spent most of his time interacting with Second Son by egging him on with “Your mom,” “That’s what she said,” and body function jokes. When not being cooked for, they live on cereal, Cheetos, and Creme Soda. It’s been proven that the male cerebral cortex doesn’t mature until around the age of 25. (I hold this out as a constant source of hope; it’s not too late, yet. I also think it’s ridiculous that we’ll allow 18-year olds to vote, get married and join the military, but not consume alcohol, but this is a topic for another time.)

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing the “struggles” my children face with the struggles faced by those in the judicial system. I am grateful every day for the relative safety and ample opportunity available to them in the corners of the world in which they live.  But to pose the idea that because the act of a “juvenile” is violent they should therefore be prosecuted as an adult is ludicrous. Besides their immaturity, which includes an inability to see the possible consequences of their actions beyond the immediate future, one also must take into account the problems (if not horrors) of their day-to-day lives and the incredible influence wielded by peer pressure.

[In a related “story” there has been much talk lately about the “Millenial Generation” and the tendency of those within it to delay the rites of adulthood well into their 20s. Apparently these statistics align with the circumstances of people in their 20s up to the second World War, and by many is considered to be a good thing. Maybe that Pew Research Study would have been more helpful if it had asked things like: Do you think it’s a good idea to be gainfully employed before having children? and: Do you think it’s a good idea to have the vaguest notion who you are before you decide who you want to marry?]

In any case, the cost involved in treating (rehabilitating) juveniles has to be less than the cost, both financial and sociological, of not. This is definitely one case where it’s better for everybody if we can take the long view.


thwarted expectations

Was digging around for a little something sweet last night, and found this in the freezer.

Now I’m open to the argument that Second Son has been well taught, and is being careful not to be wasteful.

Except there is literally not a single bite of ice cream in this carton.

I posted previously on my theory that his difficulty eating as an infant has triggered an aversion to any kind of effort as relates to the acquisition of food. But is it possible that it’s more work to put the empty carton into the trash bin than it is to put it into the freezer?


the influence of infancy

Scientists continue to make fascinating discoveries about the impact that the gestational environment can have on a fetus, as well as the earliest stages of infancy and their impact on the person for the rest of his or her life.

Did you know that if a mother is stressed while pregnant, her child will be more likely to be easily stressed throughout his or her life?

We all know the stories about babies who, for myriad reasons, aren’t held or stimulated enough — learning delays, personality disorders, inability to form attachments.

I am developing a theory related to this regarding how hard a person is willing to work for something, even if it’s important.

Case in point: when Second Son was a newborn, he had a terrible time breastfeeding. He would act like he was starving, work away furiously for about 3.5 minutes, and then give up with a look and demeanor of extreme and utter exhaustion. When I took him in for his 4-month checkup, it was discovered that he had grown 2″, but only gained 8 ozs. Eventually, the doctor conceded that he was tongue-tied (something I had been telling him for two months, but that’s another story), and the frenulum was clipped a few weeks later.

By 6 months of age, he could drink from a cup, and couldn’t be bothered with either breastfeeding or a bottle. Too much of a time commitment, and he apparently had too much to do.

Now, (he’s 17), we can keep him from eating all of the dried cherries by putting them in the cupboard behind and underneath something. This is a boy who won’t make pasta with pre-made sauce for dinner because it’s too much work. He basically lives on yogurt (for his school lunches — he doesn’t like it, but it’s faster than making a sandwich), cereal, and Doritos. Oh, and bananas. Tonight he actually had to consider, at length, if he and his girlfriend wanted to eat dinner with us (steak, sweet potatoes, green salad) because it would mean that he would have to do the dishes, and that sounded too much like work.

I’m pretty sure he won’t starve in his first two years of college because he will live in the dorm and all of his food will be prepared for him.

Not sure about after that, though. And it’s not like he has any body fat stored up to get him through.


My response to your response to “Functional Illiteracy”


I never saw it coming.

As some of you may have noticed, this is a fairly “young” blog, competing with hundreds of thousands of blogs, which averaged 20-60 hits on its best days.

I’ve had over 6,000 hits since I posted “Functional Illiteracy” yesterday morning. When I was writing it, I was just seeing it as yet another rant in a series of rants about the state of education in the 21st century, but it has obviously really struck a nerve.

I’ve really enjoyed the ensuing conversation — exactly what I wanted when I started the blog in the first place — so many people feeling the same frustration; so many articulate and well-thought-out responses, it did make me wonder if maybe the situation isn’t as dire as I thought. 🙂

I have had many thoughts in the past 24 hours as I watched the post and comments “go viral,” and hope you don’t mind my sharing them with you.

There have been many mentions of the influences of technology on the 21st-century student as well as the importance of parents and their role. I would like to expand on both of those a bit.

Yes, there are a lot of cultural influences on our children which are either completely foreign to our experience, or which we adopt without allowing them to “pervert” our use of language or monopolize our time, because we’ve already learned to use language and manage our time. I agree that children shouldn’t have cell phones or access to facebook until they are old enough to see the impact these potential addictions could have on their lives. I worry about cell phone usage in young children with thinner skulls and the potential for tumors, and I also have grave concerns about cyber-bullying; with a 9-year old daughter and all of the requisite “friend” drama, there’s no facebook until middle or high school and then only if I’m a “friend.”


Our children will need to live in the world in which they live. I text using textspeak because it’s faster to type on that tiny little keyboard, but I don’t use textspeak in any other situation. Children can, and should, learn the difference. Facebook is fun; I enjoy posting jokes or links to The Onion or a youtube video of a 3-year-old conducting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but I can ignore it when I want to, hide people who insist on posting incessantly about what they are eating or who like to berate those who don’t agree with them, and don’t need to check it 100 times a day to feel like I’m “keeping up.” I had a good friend who very strictly regulated the amount of time her sons were allowed to play computer games; her eldest son then went off to a very expensive private college and flunked out because he sat in his dorm room all day and played World of Warcraft. Wouldn’t it be better for them to learn to manage their time and responsibilities and interests when the stakes are a little smaller?

I also think the parent’s role is quite important, but probably not in the way many of you think. I always checked if my children had homework, made sure they had a plan for when they were going to do it, and was happy to look it over at the end to see how they had done. I didn’t feel it was in their best interests for me to correct it for them and have them redo it — if the teacher doesn’t know that my kid is struggling with the material, how will the teacher know he/she needs to spend more time on the topic? I was also pretty sure I wasn’t going to go to college with them, and thought it was important that they learn to structure their time and responsibilities themselves. I did make sure to write a note on the homework if it wasn’t done because my child just didn’t understand it; I also made sure to encourage the teacher to build in some natural consequences if it wasn’t done, i.e. the child sits at his/her desk at recess completing the homework.

And I don’t think we can change our children’s fundamental tastes and personalities. I am an avid reader, as is my oldest son. I read with both of my sons until they were well into middle school. My second son reads the books he needs to for school, and enjoys them, can talk articulately about them, and will not read another one until he has to. I can’t change that, and if I tried to Make him into a reader, he would read, and enjoy it, even less.

While parent’s roles and influences are very important, so, too, are teachers’. My eldest son, now a physics major at Case who scored 33 on his ACT, barely gave a rip about school from first grade until after he had graduated high school. When he was in kindergarten he LOVED it — he had a nurturing, imaginative teacher who enjoyed and indulged his curiosity and complied with his desire for daily “homework.” His first grade teacher was pinched and unimaginative and should have retired 10 years earlier. She would complain to me that First Son worked too slowly, too meticulously, asked too many questions, wanted to “handle” things rather then sitting in his desk with his hands folded learning via The Worksheet. When I requested that she merely send the work home with him, as he loved “homework,” she refused. By the end of the year his work was careless and sloppy. He went from coloring his butterfly with every color in the box in an elaborate mosaic to scribbling over it with a black crayon in 5 seconds. This attitude changed somewhat in 6th grade, with another wonderful teacher who recognized his intelligence and abilities and always challenged him to do better, but the child who would score a 33 on his ACT, with a  perfect score in science and only 1 point off in math didn’t have a high enough GPA to get into Northwestern or the University of Michigan — his top two choices. Case took a chance based on his standardized test scores, and gave him a scholarship based on his GPA which he can’t afford to lose. He is finally waking up to a sense of discipline and responsibility. No matter what I did, what I said, how I fought, he was not convinced that it mattered. I couldn’t do it for him.

Parents and teachers need to support, encourage, provide healthy learning opportunities and environments, and help students realize that THEY are responsible for what they learn, not the other way around.  What good would it have done for me to force him to comply to a standard I set, only for him to get into a college at which he’s not willing or able to succeed?

The passive learning attitude we see so often is a direct result of exactly that — parents, teachers, “teaching” the child that they are not responsible. This has to change.

Teachers also need to be qualified, and some simply are not. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten syllabi from high-school teachers filled with grammatical and punctuation errors. If we aren’t providing a good example for our students, how can we realistically expect good work from them?

I often think also that the bar is set too low. The Vice Principal of First Son’s middle school was overheard saying once that his job was just to get them through the day. This premise is ridiculous. If students are challenged, interested, stimulated, they will get themselves “through the day.”

And testing, especially today’s standardized testing, is making it worse; Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” does leave them behind, because it fills the teacher’s day with the broadest base of factoids known to man and requires them to cram it down their students’ throats. This leaves no time to be sure students actually understand, or can apply, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate this information — in other words use this information to further their own understanding. Because teachers have to teach only to Bloom’s lowest level of learning, there’s no depth to the knowledge — it consists merely of factoids, information, to be memorized and regurgitated. This is a mistake and has to change.

Students are also not taught to respect those in positions of authority. One comment touched on exactly that — parents need to be parents first, friends later (as in when their children are in their 20s). And if parents are demanding respect but the teachers are not, children will constantly challenge that authority.

When I was a Masters student, back in the 80s, and needed to contact my piano teacher, it was suggested to me that I call him. Call him? Really? I could do that? I still call my piano teacher from my undergraduate days Mrs. V_______; she has asked me numerous times to call her by her first name. I just can’t. I’ve had students call me to my face, and in email, by my first name, despite the fact that I name myself Dr. (Lastname) in the syllabus and in every email. I’ve had students email me to challenge the fact that I have information on the review sheet that I said wouldn’t be on the test; I’ve been told that she (the student) didn’t “like my attitude.” Technology allows for this; I would hope at least that most students wouldn’t dare say such a thing to my face. But the fact that they can say it at all astounds and disturbs me.

Students don’t move their feet when I walk between them in the hallways. Students have failed to write down what was going to be on a test, or failed to show up to an exam, and then gone to my department head and lied, telling him that I “changed my mind” or wasn’t where I said I would be. Sometimes the chair supports me, sometimes I get a long email explaining how I need to be more student-centered. This lack of support by administration, and giving students the benefit of the doubt over teachers, needs to change.

I could write for at least this long over the loss to our students as arts and music programs are cut while the football team gets new uniforms and trips to away games that cost thousands of dollars. If there is anything that teaches comprehensive, evaluative, synthetic thinking, it is literature, arts and music. Not to mention “building” adults who are automatons, unable or unwilling to recognize or understand beauty, music, or poetry.

To get back to the point of the original post, the problems I see in writing aren’t merely of this type: lacking of capitalizations and textspeak and using “what” instead of “was.” Students don’t know the difference between there their and they’re, write “could of” instead of “could have,” don’t bother (or don’t know how) to have their verb tense match the rest of their sentence, or the subject is plural and the verb is singular or vice versa. While this isn’t “functional illiteracy,” as I can interpret what they mean, it is a definite problem that should be being addressed in 4th grade, not a college humanities class.

Thank all of you so much for your interest and contribution to this important discussion and topic. This is obviously a source of great concern for many. Knowing this, NOW what do we do?


Acquired ADD

Even if our children are not born with it, chances are that all of the available distractions provided for them through technology will create it.

My son was watching Romeo and Juliet the other night while texting with his friends. He stays up until 4 a.m. — when I noticed this the other night I went downstairs to see why his light was still on — on the way past I noticed that the computer in the kitchen was open to facebook, downstairs the TV had a video game paused, and he was sitting on his bed playing his guitar and texting a friend. No matter what they say about teenagers and their unusual biorhythms, this can’t be helping. When we were teenagers we stayed up late, but not that late — there wasn’t anything to do. What happens to the body’s need for sleep, to digest and order and process the information taken in during the day?

Meanwhile, even for the rest of us living and sleeping in a more conventional pattern, what used to be called “down” time is now time you’re expected to use keeping up with every email and phone call and text that comes in. What happens to opportunities to think? process? imagine?

This can’t be a good thing.


To Cheat or Not to Cheat, or is it Even Cheating? Ethics in the 21st century

I’ve been mentally toying with this topic for a couple of weeks now, where to begin, what “tone” to take; it now seems to be rising to the fore with this latest op-ed/Room for Debate piece in the New York Times.

I wrote a couple of months ago about the “children” of today (meaning teens and college students) and their propensity for stealing “downloading” their media from the internet, including their college textbooks, movies, and music. This saddens, frustrates, disappoints, and worries me. Jason Robert Brown, a popular and illustrious composer, posted this debate he had with a teenager regarding the impropriety of her offering his music for “trade” on the internet. It is a frustrating conversation, which he handles with grace, dignity and respect. I’m not hopeful that this particular argument was won, but I do hope that the attention this discussion has gotten will at least get these kids thinking, and maybe help prompt interested techies out there to work vigorously to create a solution. The alternative is that we end up in a cultural dark age because no one can afford to produce anything stealable “downloadable.” The problem is that it is now culturally acceptable to cheat, to steal, to justify it and believe wholeheartedly that there’s nothing wrong with it — nothing physical has changed hands, no one was “hurt,” “I” only wanted to “borrow” it or “use” it or “trade” it, and it is, ultimately, all about “me.” (Isn’t it?)

My husband and I both teach at the college level. It has recently been brought to his attention that there is a website called “Course Hero” which is touted as the “Number 1 Study Resource for College and High School Students.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? And haven’t we all been grateful for the ease with which information can be found via this wonderful tool known as the internet. Just the other day I was able to track down the exact procedure used in 2005 to remedy a pesky problem with the emissions system of my now very old and much driven minivan.  The problem is that this website is not a “study resource,” it’s a ginormous electronic arm with the answers written on it. Apparently one of the requirements for “tutors” to upload their homework answers and test answers and completed papers is that they provide a copy of the assignment without the answers filled in, so that cheaters students can test their own knowledge by completely ignoring reviewing the questions before stealing checking their answers against the completed work. Right. I can’t even comprehend why someone who has done this work themselves would want to give it away. Do they value their own efforts that little? Is that part of the problem? Is peer pressure so great that friend A can’t say to friend B, when asked for the answers to yesterday’s homework assignment, “Ummm, no, dude, but duh, do it yourself”?

One of the arguments put forward by the contributors to the NY Times piece is that students cheat when they feel that the teacher has set up a system (i.e. curving the grade) where they are being unfairly compared with their colleagues, or when the teacher isn’t adequately doing their job. This sounds, to me, an awful lot like it was written by someone who did some cheating of their own and wants to justify it by blaming someone else. Wow, that sounds familiar. Perhaps the real cause of this problem stems from the fact that the “children” of today, hell, even some of the adults, think everything that happens is someone else’s fault.  I don’t care WHAT the situation is, CHEATING IS WRONG. Your work should be exactly that, YOURs. Why is that concept so hard to understand, much less sympathize with? Besides, if that were the case, why are they not ALL doing it?

Another contributor points out that technology has also made it easier to catch cheaters. (It’s also made it a lot easier for them to text in class, play internet poker, or look up the answer to a question I pose in class on Wikipedia rather than trying to make sense of their own inadequate notes.) While I have routinely caught students plagiarizing their papers for the music appreciation course I teach — easy enough to type in particularly and unusually articulate sentences and then be lead immediately to the performing group’s website — how does one catch a student cheating on a test or exam? Right answers are right, often singularly so, and presumably we have talked about this material in class with the expectation, optimistic as it may be, that the students will study and learn it. And while we can all point out that “cheaters never prosper,” the problem is, sometimes, they do. Unless they are so foolish as to routinely perform abysmally and then suddenly ace an exam, it might not even occur to the teacher to call the student in to have an impromptu discussion about the topic to see if they actually know what they are talking about. There are also incidences where the student has been called in for exactly that, senses impending danger, and refuses to answer any questions at all.

I see two more key contributors to this epidemic: 1. The focus of acquiring an “education” has become more and more about getting The Grade (has anyone heard of Grade Inflation?) and then The Job than it is about advancing The Mind (Seen on a billboard for an area university: X State College in 2 words: You’re Hired), and 2. students have gained too much power.


A barely-earned C changed to a B+ after pressure from a student’s parent; despite FERPA laws which prevent US from talking to a parent, apparently parents can talk to provosts.

A student sends an email at 11:30 p.m. in a panic that I’ve included material on the review sheet that I said wouldn’t be on tomorrow’s exam. Not only am I expected to reply, sympathetically, but am subject to the student’s observation, ~ 7 emails into the discussion, that she “doesn’t like my attitude” when I point out that some things are just worth knowing, and ask her why her discovering something at the last minute on a review sheet that has been available for 3 weeks is suddenly my problem. If I don’t reply, helpfully and promptly, the student can indicate on her faculty-evaluation form that her professor is ˚unsympathetic to a student’s difficulties and/or ˚unavailable for help outside of class. These evaluations are given tremendous weight by those in administration, who see students as customers, tuition dollars as profit, and instructors, especially those of the adjunct persuasion, as dispensable if not downright disposable. There are also plenty of stories about perfectly qualified, articulate, and dedicated tenured professors forced out of positions because of the nature of their student-generated faculty evaluation forms.

What’s wrong with this picture?

So many things. . .

The first, and most obvious problem, is that we seem to be forgetting what the word STUDENT means — one who, through force of diligence and discipline, applies him or herself to a topic in order to learn something. Students who cheat cheat themselves out of this very thing. I would ask, if they’re only paying money to get the grade, and not really concerned about whether they actually learn something, why do they even bother? And something every administrator and teacher and parent and student should know and/or remember is this: part of what this student needs to learn is how to get along in the world as an ethical, diligent, responsible person, one who acts, in all events and circumstances, with integrity. I’ll even go out on a limb and propose that this might even be the most important thing.

The second most pressing problem comes from the idea that the STUDENT is qualified to evaluate the TEACHER. This premise is ludicrous, but routinely sanctioned through the actions of the administration. There are a great number of things I hope to impart to my students beyond the immediate topic at hand. I don’t even necessarily want to tell them what that is. Sometimes I pose a problem without giving any hints about the solution because the best way for them to learn what I’m trying to teach involves their wrestling with that very thing. (˚Professor does not provide guidance in problem solving. or ˚Professor does not explain topics sufficient for understanding. or ˚Expectations for the course exceeded that which was reasonable.) If I provide the powerpoint outline and the notes and the listening guide and the answers to the questions not only have they not invested anything of their own — time, attention, thought; the act of organizing their notes, constructing outlines, researching and pondering and solving problems themselves, the means by which they will develop complex understanding, has been taken from them.

Instead, I have been compelled to add to my syllabus, under the heading “Student Outcomes” goals such as that they will develop independence, self-sufficiency, and responsibility through RECORDING THEIR ASSIGNMENTS AND QUIZ TOPICS themselves. Apparently this is unusual, unexpected, and interpreted by students as evidence of my lack of concern for their success. I announce it in class, I write it on the board, but I don’t hand out little slips of paper (as they do in elementary school) nor do I post it on Blackboard (makes it too easy not to come to class; my philosophy: if you want to know what’s going on today, and what’s going to go on tomorrow, show up).

There are cultures where “cheating” is not a word or concept that’s discussed, not because it doesn’t happen, but because it is the norm — where plagiarizing is seen as paying the original author tribute, where The Grade is The Most Important Thing No Matter How It’s Attained. Unfortunately, I think that the path we are headed down is even more insidious, because it seems to involve all areas of our children’s lives: from how they get into college to what they do once they’re there, from how they access culture to how they’ll behave on the job. Junior wants to win the Pinewood Derby or the essay contest so dad makes the little car or writes the paper; what has Junior actually learned from this endeavour? All you have to do is look at the financial services industries, shortcuts taken by oil executives, the desire of every overpaid businessman to avoid taxes and incorporate their business on a “favorable” island — something for nothing, with the highest possible benefit to “me.”

The New American Way? At what cost? We should all shudder to think.


The Freeloaders

This article in the Atlantic describes today’s reality: the tendency of this generation to get as much of their media — music, movies, games, books — for free.

I ask my students, and my children, to pay for that which they use. They scoff, and consider me old-fashioned. But what will become of all of us when the people making the music, and the movies, and the games, and writing the books, can no longer make a living at it?

“Sharing” should not equal stealing. Buy your own stuff.

Hmmm. . .I just downloaded a picture, as I always do, from Google images to headline my blog post. It is my understanding that if I post the link to the source, it’s okay. Any input?


Bullying, Hierarchy, and Happiness

Nine students of a Massachusetts high school have been charged with various felonies after a student they were systematically bullying at school and on social networking sites committed suicide. This type of action taken by our prosecutors and our courts can only be seen as a good thing.

We each can remember the terror felt walking down the hall with a new boyfriend or a new outfit or a new haircut — do we look okay? did we make the right decision? will we be admired, laughed at, or, perhaps worst of all, ignored? Many of us have also witnessed bullying — sarcasm, ridicule, scorn — taken to excess, and struggled with our own response, or lack thereof. What kind of risk do I take if I stand up for what is right? Will I be next? Am I strong enough to bear the scorn of my peers? Most of us, when in high school, would probably have answered no; many of us maybe still.

And there’s no need to wait for high school — I witness this even with young children. My super-athletically-thin daughter comes home and tells me she’s going on a diet because her 50-lb-overweight friend told her she was fat. Two of my nine-year-old piano students  thump their chests at each other at the half hour as one lesson transitions into the next. It’s like watching puppies jockeying for position next to their mother when they’re not even hungry. We can’t even generalize and say it’s a guy thing; “women” are probably harder on other women than men are, even when we’d like to believe that we should all stick together.  In any case, we’re each trying to find our place in the hierarchy, and to the immature or simplistic mind making someone else feels small makes “me” larger.

In an article in the New York Times, David Brooks points out that “Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions.” Interestingly, though, the Brooks article was not about the case regarding the bullying, but about Sandra Bullock’s “difficult” week last week —  you know, the week when she won the Oscar and lost her dignity because of her philandering and apparently, possibly abusive, husband — and whether professional success trumps personal tragedy in our individual and societal quest for happiness.

Are these two things related? Are we doing what we need to to teach our children about the subtle and surprising manifestations and effects of bullying? Are we stressing enough the importance of how we get along in the world, how we present ourselves, how we can, and need to, build ourselves up without tearing each other down? How the social decisions we make, from how we make and keep friends to how we choose our lifetime partner, impact our lives?

If our children perform a “Yes Dance” with a group of friends at a talent show, are the closeted gay students in the audience intimidated even more than they were before into keeping their identities secret? Do the performers get a “pass” if their actions were harmful but their intentions were not malicious? If we agree to buy our children trendy clothes are we contributing to the idea that these things matter so much that those who do not wear them, for whatever reason, are “wrong”? Should we all just breathe a huge collective sigh of relief that we are safely OUT of the halls of high school? Or is our work just beginning?

We need to teach our children that what we think, what ANYONE thinks, doesn’t matter a whit compared to what they think of themselves. If your child asks if you like a picture that she drew, ask her first if SHE likes it. When a student asks how they did in a competition compared to other students, steer the conversation toward how they did compared to how they HOPED to do, how they EXPECTED to do, how they would like to do next time.

We all like to pat our little charges on the head and bolster their self-esteem. But maybe there are better ways to do it than letting them beat us at card games, and cleaning up after them. Teachers should command respect, stop the grade inflation trend, and not let students text in class. It’s hard to keep after it, I know. Mentoring children, as either a parent or a teacher, is often not the beautiful, inspiring, profound experience we imagine it would be. I liken it more to erosion — they’re the dripping water, I’m the sandstone. What happens when we’re worn down? Despair?

Until then, I’ll try to keep fighting the good fight, and hope that every other parent, teacher, administrator does the same.


Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

So I noticed on the cover of one of those magazines that none of us “buy” but which we all read with great speed (so as not to be “caught”) and interest in the supermarket checkout line that Tiger has returned from rehab, hired a publicist, and is out to make his comeback in an upcoming golf tournament.

As I already mentioned about Kirstie Alley and her chronic weight problem, I do think it’s too bad when celebrities have to live out all of their vulnerabilities in the public eye. Perhaps Tiger did have a responsibility to the public that extended beyond his responsibility to his wife and family.  And yes, I think if you’re in a position that benefits from your celebrity, perhaps you should hold yourself to a higher standard. Maybe that would be a good thing for all of us — I remember a very helpful point made in Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care: when you’re having a really bad day with this baby/toddler/adolescent, and you feel yourself losing your grip on the kind of parent you want to be, pretend that someone whose opinion really matters to you is in the room with you. (You know, like God, or Santa Claus, or maybe Dr. Spock himself.)

We know all of the stories about early stardom and consequent self-destruction; Drew Barrymore comes to mind, as does Lindsay Lohan and Gary Coleman. But do we really understand what causes it?

So much of the Tiger Woods persona hinged on his youthful prowess of an adult-man’s game — prowess built on a certain innate gift combined with years of disciplined training and supervision by a hyper-involved and motivated father. A little like Mozart, one might say. The problem with this that I see is that he never had a chance to be a teenage fuck-up. If the world, and your DAD, is watching your every move from the age of 14 you never have the chance to crash the car, flunk geometry, sleep through your ACTs or spend your last 2 years of high school broke, bored, and unemployed.

Maybe those lessons are too important not to be learned, so they have to be learned some time, the hard way, even if the whole world is watching.

I’ll try to keep that in mind as I watch my 16 year old look halfheartedly for work in the worst economy in 100 years while he spends most of his time playing XBox, “networking” on facebook, and playing guitar.


As if!

My son (16) actually told me yesterday that he thought I should “pay him for his time” spent transporting his sister 2.5 miles to gymnastics one day a week, in the car I own, pay insurance on, and subsidize the gas for through a very generous allowance system.

It might have actually been funny if he had been joking.

And then there’s the whole issue of the value of his time — here I am making these unreasonable demands which directly interfere with an underqualified, unemployed teenager’s earning capacity.

Maybe I should start charging him for the 27 lbs of simple carbohydrates he eats every week.


Care, Dammit!

I don’t know why herds of wasted youths, much like I consider myself to be, continue to congregate around plastic digital-cable systems instead of with one another, organically. Like many of the people with whom I interact on a day-to-day basis, I’m growing apathetic about my apathy. We don’t care that we don’t care. . .But if we continue along the path we’re collectively treading, our children are going to care even less than we do, and our leaders will be even better at bending the rules.

We’re very comfortable. We owe the world an interest in ourselves. We’re the superpower. But if we continue to hardly bat an eye when our leaders lie and cheat us, we could very easily just be an ordinary country, like, I don’t know, France.

Just imagine. France.

Apathetic youth hinder global change

He likes me!

Remember, in high school (ugh! would you go back if someone paid you?), when that cute boy that you really really liked but were afraid to talk to came and sat down next to you in algebra? Asked you how you were doin’, if you had heard the new album by Styx (god I’m old), maybe even said he liked your hair that day? Remember? The thrill? How it would carry you through at least one day like you were walking on a cloud? He likes me! He likes me!

I get that feeling every great once in a while when either of my sons actually chooses to talk to me.

I have these fun, smart, quirky, clever, sons who like interesting music and love movies as much as I do and who share my sense of humor for the inappropriate or mildly perverse. But I can’t get them to talk to me.

My older son did actually call me from college a week or two ago, and we had a long, very lovely conversation. One of maybe 3 in the past 2 years. Since that conversation he’s broken up with his girlfriend of 3 years (she’s headed off to the Air Force, thousands of miles away; they’re not necessarily perfect for each other, but I’ll get into this another time) and when I email to inquire if he’s okay I get no answer. He will answer my science questions (i.e. Does coffee cool off faster in the bathroom when I’m taking a shower than it would in my kitchen?), but definitely not the personal ones.

And then there’s the 16 year old. Anything I ask is answered “I don’t know.” “I don’t know. I guess so.” “Why are you asking me this?” (Like I’m the FBI or something.)

Maybe it’s a guy thing.

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