Monday, August 31, 2015

A Clump of Kids

My wife was visiting a friend for the weekend. Friday, I had a clump of kids at our house. (That's the new term, at least for me. You know: a flock of birds; a school of fish; a murder of crows; a clump of kids.) There was going to be a sleepover. The girls were not invited to stay for the sleepover with the boys, in case you were wondering, but I did invite them to stay for dinner.

Pizza, you know... You just have order another one. I like simplicity. (I also drink "Afternoon Tea" in the morning. I'm crazy that way. Carpe Teaum.) Also, I like that the guy at our local pizza shop actually calls me "Goombah."

As the kids gorged themselves on besauced and becheesed carbs, I retreated to the adjacent room with a few purloined slices to watch a TV show. They were loud. Very loud. The presence of girls who are my sons' friends -- and who are delightfully rough-and-tumble with the lads, woods-tromping and ball-throwing and all that -- can really crank up the ambient decibels, let me tell you. I put on the "closed captioning" so I could follow the peril of Captain Archer's Enterprise without yelling at the kids to, as they say in Bugs Bunny gangster cartoons, "shet ep."

Yeah, it was a tad frustrating. They were really loud and I felt like a bit of a prisoner in my own home, but they were having a great time being ridiculously silly. And loud. Not sure if I mentioned how loud they were being.

As they finished demolishing the pizza and they were moving the party out to the back yard, one of the girls said to one of my sons, "Your family is really nice."

After dark, out in the yard for a marshmallow roast (read: waving around of flaming sticks in the dark), it hit me again, as it often has: being a parent, in the eyes of those who are committed to never being parents, seems like too much sacrifice of personal space, time and silence. It is a sacrifice of all of those things. But I am not the first philosophical type to point out that sacrifice can pay a fee to one's heart: The next day, after their friends left, my sons said, in unison, "Thanks for the sleepover, Dad." Hugs followed.

And it's not too shabby to hear one of your sons' friends say, "Your family is really nice." I want my sons friends to want to hang out at our house, now and into the future. If you have to ask why, you don't keep up with the news...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How to Raise an Unhappy Child

Yesterday I saw a video of a child -- maybe seven or eight -- throwing a tantrum in the back seat of his mother's car. I won't post it, because it enrages me when parents intentionally violate the privacy and dignity of their own children. (I've visited that idea before.)

What struck me about the post -- it was on Facebook -- was the responses that took such a harsh view of the kid; comments that said he needed to be smacked and put in his place with a good beating for being such a little brat. Now, it's true -- the kid was completely flipping out and pulling his mother's hair and even grabbing for the wheel. I understand the reactions people had, but what bothers me is that no one had the initial reaction I had: It's his mom's (parents') fault. The discussion under that video prompted this post, from me, on Facebook:
How to raise an unhappy child: Allow child to get away with bad behavior over and over; then, finally put your foot down; then, when he flips out in frustration that his usually successful tactics aren't working, hit and humiliate him so that everyone admires how you "laid down the law."
(Ego among peers can lead to so many parental mistakes...but that's another post.) 

Tantrums worked for this kid, probably all his young life. In this video, the mother proclaims, weakly, a few times, "I'm the mom..." as the boy gets more and more riled up. Talk about a clear illustration of your ineffectiveness; to have to say that...and to threaten posting his behavior on YouTube... Awful. 

It is not fair, to the kid, that his mom, out of nowhere (and very likely prompted by the awareness that a video was being shot) decided to finally be firm with him. Of course, this was a convergence of things; it seems, in the video, that he is going somewhere he doesn't want to go -- maybe to the doctor's or to school. Now, the mother is forced to not give in to a tantrum, even though she has done so in the past. 

So the question remains: Does "the little creep need to be smacked"? Maybe or maybe not; it depends on your philosophy on hitting kids, first of all. But, if he does "need to be smacked" I would submit that it is the fault of his parents that he needs to be smacked. I think we all understand that but hate to admit it...

There is a treacherous line between personal responsibility and parental responsibility for a child's behavior. One person on Facebook said "he chose to act this way." There does come a time when one has to stop blaming his or her parents for his or her own flaws. (Some people never stop doing that; I know a few.) What we sow as parents grows, though. There's no denying that. But this is a little kid, still. He chose to act that way because he has been rewarded for acting that way. 

As for tantrums...if you want your kid to keep having them, let him "get away with it;" or, worse, still: give him what he wants because of it. But don't have the audacity, later, to throw up your hands and act as if it is a circumstance beyond your control; because, if it is beyond your control, you allowed it to get there. (I can list many things my sons do that are my fault. Now I am correcting those things; I would not have had to if I had done the right in the first place.) 

I know one thing: Never, ever use humiliation as a "parenting" tool. You will pay for that, later, I guarantee you. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Invisible Horizon

To transcend the world is to row out from the shore, but not to put out to sea forever. Putting out sea forever is death. Transcendence is rowing away from the shoreline and rowing back in when necessary -- coming back in for supplies and for necessary human interactions.

Mostly, transcendence is living on the water, within sight of the land, but floating on the bosom of the hissing, sparkling, salty enormousness of the wine-dark ocean. One cannot stay on the water, but if he manages to spend more and more time there, most of his life is gently rocked by the rising and falling of the water, and he is peaceful and ever aware of the unimaginably huge limitlessly gentle power of the Universe. That peace is the best thing in life, but it cannot sustain life. Time ashore is necessary...

...but travels between sea and sand require crossing the breakers, both heading in and out, and sometimes one gets wet and sometimes the boat is capsized. Travel between the place at which one is in the world and the place where one is of the world can be treacherous and riptides lurk there, unseen but deadly.

The Sage knows that he must stay aware of his position. He must know when it is time to stray farther from the strand and when it is time to come back to the land for the fresh water of necessity.

After a lifetime of practice, the Sage might even be in control enough to take the final journey on his own terms; to row and row on the last day, out toward the horizon, and to disappear...out to sea, forever. Not to throw himself into the water and sink, coughing and convulsing in panic, but to close his eyes and will the boat silently away to the invisible horizon.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Two God Concepts

The range of people's --what? -- "God concepts" often staggers me.

Over the past three days, I have seen two things that have underscored how differently people can see the universe.

I was reading an article by Neil Peart, the drummer of the legendary prog rock band Rush (who is a fine writer as well as a groundbreaking drummer). He referred to the too-early death of another drummer who was just reaching his peak and he commented: "And people think there is a benevolent God." I certainly don't begrudge him this opinion; he did suffer the loss of both his wife and young daughter some years ago. How would we feel under similar circumstances?

Right after reading this, however, I exchanged emails with a person I know who is older and who is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. She is having increasing difficulties. When I mentioned that I have been praying for her, she said that she thinks the prayers are working; she went on to relate that her goal is to walk around her dining room table four times per day and that the other day she managed fifteen trips around the table. Imagine. It brought tears to my eyes.

I don't know how to feel about the idea of faith or lack thereof being related to individual breaking points, but the connection is undeniable.

Ansel Adams

Monday, August 17, 2015

Lark or Nightingale? (Who Cares?)

As I get older, I become more aware of a feeling of alienation. The paradigms that were once familiar seem to disintegrate. The things that would have been "outrageous" become "no big deal." I suppose this is natural, to some extent, but I can't help feeling that people of my generation have seen quicker and more extreme shifts in mores, morals and societal concept than many others in human history.

So it goes, I suppose.

Still, sometimes it's hard to adopt an "it is what it is" attitude -- especially when I think a change I see is insane. Or potentially harmful.

My son, who is thirteen, just related a story to me about what he had heard about a friend's behavior at a "sleepover." It was nothing outrageous. Just a slightly gross practical joke; the boy had put his socked foot into the mouth of a sleeping friend. The sleeping friend, I learned, however, was a girl.

Parents are allowing their daughters, at the age of thirteen, to "sleep over" at the homes of boys of the same age. Absolutely absurd, in my opinion. If you disagree with me, you really might as well not say anything, because my belief is unwavering on this one: it is foolish and irresponsible to allow teenaged kids of the opposite sex to spend unsupervised time together overnight.

An exasperated Facebook friend, when I posted about this, suggested that this is all a byproduct of the "new genderless society." What a sad idea. But she has a point. The lines between the sexes are becoming more and more...dotted.

I do find it interesting that young people, in recent times, seem to play in groups of both sexes. I never played with girls when I was a kid. My sons have two very nice girls that they play with. In the high school in which I teach, there are groups of good friends composed of girls and boys and their friendships often seem very sweet. I have to wonder, though, if the lack of conceptual separation is such a good thing.

I like the way I saw girls as I was growing up. They seemed mysterious to me; a better class of people, in some ways. They walked in a glow of bright colors and enchanting scents and they shared secret jokes that just were not for boys to hear. They were poetry and we were prose. They were melody and we were rhythm. My mother taught me the usual things: respect, honor and all that. My dad exemplified how to be a gentleman (talk about your anachronistic ideas...).

What I like, sadly, isn't that important, in the grand scheme. But, in a recent conversation with a friend of a younger generation, she mentioned that she was always the "friend" of a boy who would say: "I wish I could find a girlfriend like you." And she would think (if she was interested in the boy): "So...what about me?" Alas...

...the friendly familiarity they shared had erased (or somehow disqualified) the romantic dynamic.

When young ladies spend the night with young men, the dynamics become, at least, the dimming of the sparkle of mystery, or, at worst -- and most potentially costly -- the passions of proximity. True, Romeo and Juliet do not exactly serve as models of self-control and rationality, but what poetry would the Bard have conceived about two teenagers who hook up at a sleepover?  With their parents snoring away upstairs?

ROMEO: "Lark or nightingale? What difference doth it make? Thy parents will cook us breakfast or a midnight snack."

Quite a bit more prosaic. I don't want my son's lives to be prosaic.