It's that time of year when parents lament about everything. There is the balancing act of splitting your time between the families you grew up with, sometimes former spouses or partners who are still involved in our children's lives, and your very own, the-one-that-you-created family. There is the nagging feeling that you are giving your children too much, strangely coupled with the fact that you are not giving them enough. Most people also struggle with countless gift-giving dilemmas with family, friends, coworkers, along with trying to recognize the many people who serve us all year long. Many of us struggle with middle or upper class guilt at this time of year, and try to volunteer, donate food or gifts, and generally try to live up to the "spirit" of the season. Now pile on all of what we usually call obligations. We feel obliged to attend parties, events, and multiple celebrations with coworkers, friends, our children's schools, social clubs, etc. The result for many of us is incredible stress and exhaustion. I am here to tell you that you can change this. It is really pretty simple. You must prioritize your kids and yourself, in that order. Think about what will make this season the most peaceful, meaningful, and fun for your kids. Where do they want to go? What do they want to do? Who would they like to include on their gift list? What do they really want and need for themselves? Plan your calendar and your shopping accordingly. Then do the same for yourself, fitting your needs in between and after your kids' needs. Forget about everything else. You are obligated to the family you created and nobody else. Enjoy the season - every minute of it. Life is way too short for anything less.
When we think about science, we have this belief that it is full of facts and absolutes. The fact is, there are no absolutes in science. The new guidelines on mammograms highlight this very well. I was elated today when I learned that there is justification for my procrastination. I just turned 47 a few weeks ago and I have never had a mammogram. While there was a bit of rational thought process in this decision, it was mostly just because I have been really busy since age 40, when most of my friends were starting down the road of yearly breast cancer screenings. The only doctor visits in my life have been those that were necessary to deal with minor issues that have presented themselves. So this year, armed with an excellent new health insurance plan, I was all set to start taking charge of my health again. And I am doing so. But...putting my breasts in a vice and having them shot with radiation can wait for 3 more years. Hooray for the non-exact science of medicine...and its intersection with politics, public fear, economics, and the media. When we are parenting and teaching, it is critical to help our children put all current events into context. In order to make sense of the world around them today, they must learn to be savvy consumers of all things science. It is our job to help them become strong, critical thinkers, capable of connecting the dots.
...but not really. Sarah is doing what most Americans do when they get their fifteen minutes. She is trying to hang onto it. Many people scratched their heads and wondered how someone could walk away from being a governor. I completely understood. No matter what you think about her competency, her politics, or her character, you have to appreciate the fact that she wanted to cash in. There is really nothing more American than a capitalist behaving like a capitalist. In our culture, fame is a treasured commodity because it can lead to what we believe will be an easier life. Sarah stands to make millions from the sale of her new book. She is touring all over the world and commanding huge speaker fees to boot. It must give her peace of mind to never have to worry about the financial security of her five children and one grandchild ever again. So, she decided that it was her turn to make some money from all of the attention. At least her fame was born from accomplishment. You can't say the same thing for Levi. He is famous for knocking up her teenage daughter. He was paraded around during the campaign as he pledged his love for his girl and his yet-to-be born child. Now he is cashing in too by posing nude and sitting in on talk shows. And then of course there is the papa of the balloon boy. This guy wanted fame so much that he faked a near death experience for his son. He and his wife will now have to face formal charges, but I am sure when it is all over, he will be seeking the spotlight again.
So, how do we help our kids make sense of all of this? We start by helping them understand that people are just people. A famous person isn't any better or worse than an unknown person. Famous just means that lots of people know your name. That can be good or bad, depending on how much fame you have and what you are famous - or infamous - for. Just ask Bernie Madoff. If they aspire to become famous, ask them what they are willing to do to make it so and what they think the consequences might be. Help them understand the down side of fame along with the fortune that can come from it. Help them really understand what they want from life and whether fame can propel them toward their dreams, or deter them. Most of all, help your kids process just how our famous people of the moment have gained the spotlight. Be sure they know the difference between accomplishment and really dumb mistakes!
Our digital natives, those born late enough to have computers and cell phones at their disposal while still in diapers, are finally developing their language skills. I have been worried about this since AOL messaging first appeared, followed quickly by texting. Kids engaging in this type of instant communication learned how to use a new type of short-hand so they could pay less per message, and write more quickly. This occurred at the same time that I noticed a sharp decline in their command of the English language. Like many educators, I blamed the new technology. At my school we fought back by instituting new spelling and writing programs with some success. However, pushing against the coolness of incorrect spelling was overall a losing battle. Enter social networking. Just when I thought there was no turning back, we got MySpace and then Facebook. By the time you receive this message, there will probably be something else taking its place. When MySpace first appeared, it was mostly the young who were participating. But now, many of my friends - and even my parents' friends - are getting into the act on Facebook. At first my children and others from their generation were horrified that their grandparents were interacting with them. I had a personal policy not to allow my students to be my friends. But then, I moved a thousand miles away, and my former students started friending me. I thought it was so sweet that they wanted to keep in touch. It would be awkward for them to pick up the phone, or even to email. But social networking is just right. What I have been noticing over the last couple of months is that their spelling and grammar is starting to improve. It is not perfect, and I wouldn't expect that on this medium, but it is really improving. I am not sure if it is because the technology is easier to use, or if it is because most of them have parents and teachers reading their posts, but they suddenly seem to care just a little bit more about what they are writing. Reluctantly, I am becoming a fan of our brave new world, and all of the potential it offers our kids to use their English skills.
I have had several students and many friends join the military over the years. They enter for a variety of reasons. For some it is a family tradition. For others it is a lifelong dream fulfilled. Yet, for others, it is because they are searching for something. Direction. Discipline. Passion. Meaning. Most of the people I have know who join the military do so in an effort to bring purpose and order to their lives. It is truly stunning what the military does for them. They enter the service with wide eyes, sometimes fearful eyes, and within a few short weeks they transform into responsible, disciplined adults. As we have seen this week in Fort Hood, many become heroes at a tender age. The young woman who provided first aid to her fellow soldiers, and later learned she was wounded herself, looks like a cherub. She is freckle-faced and sweet and might give you the impression she is off to the mall or out with her friends somewhere. Yet, she is an American soldier; one of our finest young (barely) adults who fight the battles that are fueled by a twisted world of politics, religion, greed, fear, ignorance and hatred.
So, today, Veterans' Day, I offer a huge patriotic salute. To our soldiers, and the organization that propels them from adolescence to greatness at warp speed.
Janine Walker Caffrey writes about reading, education and a few other topics related to happiness and life in general.