Saturday, March 30, 2013

Freely Given

When I was a kid, teachers handed out Unicef boxes at school before Halloween. The idea was a child would either collect money for starving children or trick or treat for candy for their own selfish selves, but never both.

I never understood why the two things had to be connected, but when I said that, adults recoiled, staring, from their great heights, down their noses at me. Clearly, I wasn’t just selfish, I was shockingly selfish.

But I still don’t get it. It seems to me that this idea that giving always has to involve sacrifice and always has to hurt, coming from whatever nasty Puritan roots, causes people, including children, to be less giving, not more. Others have noted the same thing, dubbing it the “feel good, do good phenomena.”

When my kids were small, I would give them whatever quarters I had to put into the parking meters we passed that were running low. They were so tickled to be able to do someone, an adult no less, a good turn.

When my high-school daughter stays after school and wants to walk to the Jack in the Box on the corner, she invites her friends along, her treat. We think that's great and give her money to do it. Surprisingly few of her friends carry money – another impediment to teens’ generosity. And nothing is sadder than watching a voraciously hungry teenage boy grubbing in his pockets for change, hoping to scrape enough together for a lousy candy bar, only to realize he can't.

I believe if you give kids a few bucks, and much more importantly, a sense of abundance rather than scarcity in their own lives, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how generous they can be.

Friday, March 29, 2013

I Love These Guys!

Epic Rap Battles of History!

My son introduced me to them months ago -- and now our family anxiously waits for their new videos and watches them, often over and over again, at dinner.

Here's one of our favorites, featuring Snoop Lion as a special guest:

(Click the x on the ad to see the captioning.)
(Click here for link if you don't see it.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dress Your Children Well

First and foremost, don’t dress them funny, particularly as they get older.

Growing up, I knew a girl who, in hindsight, probably had other issues, causing her to be awkward. But her parents also apparently had issues … with her growing up. Far into high school, while the rest of us wore the tightest jeans we could slither into and concert t-shirts, they dressed her in Toughskins, the children’s jeans from Sears.

That didn’t help.

There is a nice-looking, sweet boy who has had a crush on my high-school-age daughter since middle school. She has no interest in him. “Ma, it looks like his mother dresses him,” she says.

I happen to know that his mother does dress him. She says she’s saving money. Perhaps she thinks she is teaching him to dress “properly.” She sends him to school in pants hiked up to his armpits, held in place with a grandpa belt.

She is doing him no favors.

I’m not saying you have to let your daughter dress like a pole dancer or that there’s no room to point out that sweatpants are not appropriate for a wedding. But you have to give your child some freedom in their clothing choices. And sometimes, you even have to nudge them to start paying attention.

If they wear ridiculous designer jeans (as I did in the 80s) or way-too-big jeans (as my daughter’s male classmates do now), it’s doesn’t mean civilization is about to end.

That said, years from now, when your children are looking at pictures of themselves wearing the fashions of the day, they are going to turn to you and wail, “How could you let me wear that?”

Sorry. That just goes with the territory.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Warning by Jenny Joseph

In response to the post I wrote on little old ladies, my mom sent me this poem:


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Boy Theory

My advice to my teenage daughter:

When it comes to a boyfriend, the emphasis should be on FRIEND. The girls at my daughter’s high school think of boyfriends as trophies, proof that a girl has been approved. (And the boys know they hold this power.) No. He needs to be someone you like, who has your well-being in mind, someone you can trust.

If he’s a jerk to other people, even if he’s nice to you, he’s still a jerk. (To paraphrase Dave Barry.)

Watch how he treats his mother. It shows how he will treat you and other women. He doesn’t always have to agree with her. But he has to respect her.

It’s OK if he’s older. I’m not saying you should get into a statutory-rape situation. But as boys mature, they become less likely to drink dangerously, to drive recklessly, to pressure a girlfriend to do something stupid, like have unprotected sex. In short, men, as opposed to boys, are less likely to be idiots. Plus, they’re often more assured and more experienced – both pluses.

You can’t fix him. If you meet someone troubled, by all means be kind if you can. But do not date him. You cannot fix him and he cannot be a decent boyfriend.

Try not to date a drunk, sure, but never, ever date a cheap bastard. Advice from my grandfather.

It’s best if he’s a little more in love than you are. Advice from every female relative in my family. Sound calculating? We’re just saying, protect yourself a little bit.

Finally, it’s OK not to have a boyfriend.  You’d think every girl and woman would know this, but, sadly, some don’t. You are great all on your own, with nothing to prove.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Does Anyone Else Find These Funny?

In Hawaii

In the trunk of my car

Someone else does: the person who used to do this website, from Japan. Sadly, he or she seems to have stopped adding to it.

Do you think the people who designed these symbols realize they are kind of funny?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Little Old Ladies, No Apparent Distress

The other day, for some unknown reason (maybe the planets were aligned a certain way), I ended up interacting with several eccentric old ladies.

There seem to be two main categories.

There are, on the one hand, the ones who are eccentric on purpose. These are the ones who might wear a jaunty hat decorated with a spray of flowers or red cowboy boots or a cloak. They tend to wear dangly, handmade earrings and make pottery.

Then, there are the ones with the wild hair going every which way, who wear slippers while walking around outside. Their favorite clothes are house dresses and sweatpants. They keep a lot of stuff in their purses. They are often accompanied by a very patient dog. These little old ladies love to buttonhole you. Don't be surprised if you can't follow what they are talking about.

This second type of little old lady is not trying to be eccentric. She is not even aware that she is being eccentric.

I have a suspicion which type I will be.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Do We Have to Call Them Ear Worms?

A while back, I wrote about songs that I have had stuck in my head for years, sometimes decades. The weird thing about these songs is that I don't know all the words to any of them.

I thought I was the only one.

Well, the Well column in the New York Times recently covered this. Actually, the Times has covered songs that get stuck in your head, referred to as ear worms (what an awful term), quite a bit over the years.

Ninety-eight percent of all people report getting them. (So I am far from alone.)

Ear worms have been the subject of a surprising amount of study.

Most of the time, what gets stuck are songs that you like, sort of, though sometimes you might not want to admit it. (Barry Manilow's "Copa Cabana" is, after all, a frequent culprit.) The songs tend to be upbeat, catchy but also annoying.

It is very common not to know all the words. The recent New York Times article quoted an expert speculating that, when you don't know all the words, your brain can't get closure, though it keeps trying.

Though there are a lot of supposed cures, from listening to the song in its entirety (to get closure) to taking OCD medications (!!), there really isn't a cure. The songs will come back.

Which is OK by me, actually.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Straight Poop on Bathroom Words

© Diana Thomson

When my sisters were small, they knew a boy whose mother had taught him to call poop “plop,” as in  the sound it makes when it hits the toilet water.

This strikes me as a mom trying too hard to be cute.

My sisters adjusted the word, as only little kids can. They started calling it “bonk,” expanding it sometimes to “ca ca bonk.” To this day, this expression remains in active use in my family.

The first time I brought my husband-to-be home to meet my parents, he spotted my mother, standing out in the rain in the backyard, trying to get Rufus, a sullen little lhasa apso mop-head of a dog, to pee.

“Make winkie-tinks! Make winkie-tinks!” my mother was crying.

My husband went out to join her in the cheerleading. He thought it was funny, which was good, since my family and I were letting our freak flags fly with him right from the beginning.

Rufus, not amused, did not pee.

I don’t like the terms “number one” and “number two.” These were obviously coined by someone who does not find poop, pee and farts funny – and I do not trust such people.

There is a septic-tank-cleaning company in Connecticut, however, whose slogan is, “We’re Number One in the Number-Two Business.” They also call their pumper trucks “honey wagons.” I like this company.

Kids in my family call their rear-ends “dupies,” from the Polish word “dupa.” One of the (many) roots of our family tree lay in Poland, you see.

If they haven’t already, I think linguists should study the development of bathroom words, particularly ones taught to children. Changing social mores, changing notions of children, of humor, the evolution of existing words, borrowing from other languages, it’s all there.

Article on Service Dogs

I just wrote an article on service dogs for The Buzz Magazines here in Houston. Service dogs, and the people who raise, train and use them, are very cool.