Saturday, November 30, 2013

Silly Old Bear

Around our house, if you are being ridiculously pessimistic, you’re Eeyore, if you’re being a scaredy cat, you’re Piglet (pronounced, “P-p-p-piglet”) and if you’re being all happy and excitable, you’re Tigger.

We are not alone in this. Lots of people have noticed that the different characters of Winnie the Pooh are representative of different personalities or outlooks, though there is a distinct tendency, if my quick Google search can be depended upon (which found this and this and this and this), for people to say, not just that the characters represent different human tendencies, but that they have different disorders. Eeyore is depressed, Piglet has anxiety disorder, Tigger has ADD, Rabbit has OCD and even Christopher Robin is schizophrenic. (Come on, people, in the story, he’s a small boy playing with his stuffed animals, though later on, as an adult in real life, he did seem to be a bit of a curmudgeon.)

Why does everything, even Winnie the Pooh characters, have to be pathologized?

About 15 years ago, I went to see a lecture by an expert on children with learning differences. At the start of his talk, he joked, “Once you know about learning differences, you will see them everywhere.”

It’s TRUE.

The people who talk a million miles an hour, don’t define their terms or identify the person they are talking about, they just expect you to know, they are having trouble with pragmatics or the social use of language.

Jittery people, tapping their feet, drumming on desktops, who clearly have no patience for lectures or books, who need to get out and be doing something, they have issues with attention.

We’re not “disordered” or “damaged.” We’re just all, at some level, silly, "imperfect," idiosyncratic, different.
Maybe we should just embrace it.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A- to Infinity

During my junior year abroad, I had a (British) professor who had never given grades, but my college had asked him to.

He had fun with it. On one of my papers, he had scrawled “A- - - - - - (to ∞)” and then “So close, but not quite.”

Story of my life.

I had an A- average in college over all. Not terrible. Pretty good, really. But not perfect.

Having children is an educational experience. You get to see stuff you went through, from an outside (though loving) perspective. Though, my children, in high school, are running a gauntlet of grading and testing and assessment and judging that didn’t exist when I was their age. Of course, it’s not just educators (and in my daughter’s case currently, college-admissions people) who are assessing and judging, their peers do as well.

I tell my kids, “Don’t turn the power to judge your worth over to anyone else” – not to the art instructor who doesn’t understand graffiti, not to the English teacher who decrees that you cannot use linking verbs or she will mark you off. (What the hell?) Take what they can teach you and move on.

I can see, now, that so many high-school kids see their world as one big competition. Some – bless them – are mature enough to give someone else a compliment or some support. But others cannot. Too insecure. Those catty, gossipy girls, I try to tell my daughter, the reason they attack you is they feel threatened; you could try taking that as a kind of compliment.

Of course, she can’t. I can’t either.

Sometimes you’d just like a yardstick to tell how you’re doing.

But there really isn’t a true one.  And nothing you do will ever be perfect or universally liked. Just keep going.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

what a surprise :(

© Diana Thomson
I could tell my husband exactly what I want for Christmas.

I could even email him the links to the Amazon pages.

Ba da bing, ba da boom, he’d be done.

But I can’t.

Because if I do, he won’t get it for me … it wouldn’t be a surprise, then, he says.

I don’t want a surprise; I want what I want.

(For the record, I’d like an espresso machine.)

My son, age 14, gets where I am coming from. When I asked him what he wants for Christmas, he asked if he could just get the equivalent in cash.

I talked to a woman today whose teenaged sons say the same thing, but, she said, “There’s no way I’m telling their grandma that.” Even though this grandma buys a 16-year-old boy toys and sweaters.

I think teenaged boys, in particular, because they have so little control over things, really relish the opportunity to get exactly what they want. And the 16-year-old whose Grandma gives him a scooter must really feel frustrated.

For some reason, people feel better giving a gift card rather than cold, hard cash. Less crass, perhaps. But for the illusion that you put some effort and thought into the gift, you limit the recipient to buying from just one retailer. Or, for a universally accepted gift card, you can pay a fee at your bank but, then, that’s money your recipient or you could have spent on something else. And that just hurts my flinty Yankee soul.

I confess, however, that I’m not just going to hand my son cash on Christmas (though he’ll get that too), because there are things that I think he’ll like, even if he doesn’t think so yet himself.

Here’s hoping they’re pleasant surprises.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

May I Never Be Grouchy About Halloween

Halloween is my husband’s favorite holiday; he likes it even more than Christmas. I’m a Christmas girl, but Halloween is a close second. I have a nephew, an adult, who goes to great lengths with his Halloween costumes. One year, he shaved his head for it. My own son, age 14, soaked a ripped t-shirt in fake blood this Halloween, then lay out in our yard for hours, jumping up whenever anyone walked by. He made one lady scream.

What’s not to like about Halloween? It’s candy, it’s kids, it’s costumes.

But some people manage to be grumpy about it.

Some would rather turn off all their house’s visible lights and sit in a back room watching television then open their door to children and hand out some candy.

One year, when our children were small and we lived in an apartment building full of little kids, one
family brought their child around trick or treating but didn’t hand out any candy (or have it in a bowl by their door) like the rest of us did. It was like they violated a social contract. The father said that kids might take more than one candy from the bowl if they just left it out. Oh, yes, and that would be so terrible. Jerk.

Some people have religious objections. There are schools here in Texas that celebrate “Harvest Day,” not Halloween and don’t allow their students to dress as any magical or supernatural creatures. You can dress up as a farmer but not as Superman, because Superman is Against God. I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid.

Buy some candy, give it to kids, get over yourself.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

One Reason I Like The Y

Every time I go to the gym at my local Y, this big old Cadillac is parked in the same handicapped parking space, the one immediately next to the entrance.

Note the large signs declaring SAFETY PATROL. And the several years’ worth of 100 Club stickers fanned out on the back windshield. The 100 Club is a charity that gives money to the families of police officers and fire fighters who have died in the line of duty; rumor has it that having its sticker on your car, or better yet, a bunch of them fanned out so that a police officer can tell at a glance how many years you have given to the organization, can get you out of a ticket. (Note question #1 – and its ambiguous answer – on the 100 Club’s FAQ page.)

Though I always see the car, I have never seen the driver – and I really, really want to. My theory is the driver is at least 80 years old. I speculate, perhaps unfairly, that this person must peer through the steering wheel while driving.

Maybe she is one of the little old ladies, none over 4 ½ feet tall (and that’s counting their teased hair), who sit at a round table in the Y’s entrance area, laughing and playing cards.

Or one of the old men who stroll on the treadmills, most often in their street clothes. It could be the old man I always see, an amputee in a wheelchair, who lifts an impressive amount of weight while shooting the shit with the trainers.

Maybe having old people at your gym would not be a selling point for some. Maybe they’d like a “hot singles scene.”


I like the Y; it’s a force for good.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Girl Power, Twisted

When I started in middle school, a funny thing happened to the girls: they started using the words “slut” and “lesbian” (“lezzy” for short) on each other.

I had never heard those words before, didn’t know what they meant (though, clearly, they were bad) and figured that some girl’s parents were horrible and had taught her to use them as insults.

Once past high school, I didn’t hear “slut” again … until my daughter went to high school.

Are there really that many aberrant parents teaching their daughters the word “slut?” Or do girls seize on the concept, as they first deal with thoughts and feelings about sex?

According to this recent article in the New York Times, researchers “say that this ‘intrasexual competition’ is the most important factor explaining the pressures that young women feel to meet standards of sexual conduct and physical appearance.” In other words, it’s not the media damaging girls with their messages of female beauty and behavior (one expert quoted in the Times article said the media reflects trends that are in society, it doesn’t create them), nor is it, really, men. It’s other girls and women.

My daughter says she sits with her (female) friends at lunch, wishing she could sit at the boys’ table. (She doesn’t, because “everyone would talk.”) “At our table, everyone’s like, ‘Who likes who?’ and ‘She’s not my friend anymore,’ but I know the only thing the boys are worried about is whether the lunch ladies have run out of ice-cream sandwiches,” she says.

Looking back, my closest friends have almost always been boys – gay boys, even when we were both young enough not to know what gay was. The whole sex thing – desire or competition – was absent and we could just be friends.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In Your Dreams

I have a favorite roasted-garlic pasta sauce recipe (from Emeril Lagasse). What I always forget, when I make it and scarf down three helpings, is: (a) I am now going to smell like garlic for the next 12 hours and (b) I am going to have strange dreams.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici

Or rather, I am going to remember the strange dreams that I always have.

I have long suspected that most of my dreams are anxious – but research tells me I am not alone. According to this New York Times article by Natalie Angier, about 75 percent of all dreams are negative.

No one knows for sure why we dream – or even why we sleep. Sleep may be a time when the brain repairs itself. Some believe that dreams are just the result of random firings of neurons which, given how vivid and intricate dreams can be, doesn’t seem right. Others point out that the body goes to great lengths to dream. During REM sleep, your body becomes paralyzed, a process known as atonia, so that you have your dreams but don’t act them out. Some say that dreaming may allow for “fear extinction,” a process where we learn to set fears aside.

The classic anxiety dream is you discover you have to take an exam for a class you forgot to attend – and you don’t even know where the exam is being held.  According to this article, this type of dream is becoming more common, as educational achievement is seen as increasingly essential for success, with children having them starting as young as 6. Sad.
My latest recurring anxiety dream: I am in an airport, about to miss my flight, and I can’t find the gate.
What passes through your mind at night?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Do You Tell Your Kids They Are Good-Looking?

My son recently started on his high school’s swim team: seed times, meets, heats, Speedos.

At my first meet, I noticed a boy who was clearly very shy. He stood, in his baggy sweatpants, his shoulders hunched, making eye contact with no one, his body language all awkwardness.

And then he stripped down to swim.

Not to sound like a dirty old woman, but this boy had the body of an Adonis, of Michelangelo’s David, of a Ralph Lauren model.

And he didn’t realize it.

I’ve heard parents say they don’t ever tell their children they are good-looking or refer to appearance at all because they don’t want to their kids to think that looks matter and then become anxious about them. Apparently, their theory is, “If I tell my children they are good-looking, then they will worry that they are not.” This makes no sense to me.

Nor does the idea that, if parents don’t talk about appearance, then appearance won’t matter. That ship sailed thousands upon thousands of years ago. (See Adonis, above.)

Nope, I think parents need to act as a counterweight to all the buffeting and doubt and bad ideas children are going to get from other sources.

I tell my kids they are good-looking. I tell them about their fabulous features, like my daughter’s movie-star hair.

What I don’t do is comment negatively on their appearance. And I am not after them to “do” anything with their looks. (That movie-star hair is generally up in a pony tail.)

Because the most attractive thing in the world is confidence.

And confident people can enjoy physical attractiveness, theirs and other people’s – which is what I wish for all kids, including that young Adonis.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Human Touch

Houston is not a pretty city. In fact, it’s been rated as one of the ugliest cities in the world.

 A Huffington Post writer pointed out, “This is a city so ugly that sometimes you may be tempted to put a bag over its head.” While you can duck down certain side streets to find residential neighborhoods of pretty houses under beautiful oaks, by and large, Houston, the largest American city with no zoning regulations, is an unending sprawl of strip malls: concrete, municipal signs and advertisements and cars, cars, cars.

And when you spend much time in your own car driving around, which you do, if you live here, you start treasuring the sight of actual human beings. Marketers know and take advantage of this, putting out real, live human beings to hold their signs or human-like figures.

I like the things that are a bit more home-made, like the goofy figures that mechanics make out of odds and ends and roll out to the street in front of their shops. I like funny signs. I like graffiti murals and street-art stickers and posters. Anything that shows we don’t live inside some kind of ugly, broken-down machine, that some other individual human being has put something up hoping we would see it.

These heads are outside a warehouse
near our neighborhood Target store.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Trailing Clouds of Glory

My favorite part of going to the movies is watching the trailers.

It’s like how the appetizers are always the best-tasting part of a meal in a restaurant.

Perhaps my attention span has been conditioned to be short. Remember when television commercials used to be a minute long? Now, they are down to 10 and even 5 seconds.

I really feel like I can get the whole gist of a movie through the trailer. (And sometimes it’s painfully clear that they didn’t have enough “good stuff” to even fill the trailer.) It’s kind of like how you can read a book review, particularly one from the New York Times or The New Yorker, and feel like you got all the good parts of the book. I guess what I’m saying is that a trailer is kind of like Cliff Notes for a movie.

Sometimes, when the trailers come on, I realize that I am not the demographic that the movie-makers are aiming for, which gives me the sinking feeling that I’ve chosen the wrong movie to see. Last night, for instance, I went to see Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. (Here’s the trailer.) I liked that movie, but when I saw the trailers before it, two of them were for the most awful-looking horror movies: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Devil’s Due. I don’t recommend watching these trailers. Really. Yuck. I guess they are meant for 15-year-old boys, frighteningly disturbed 15-year-old boys.

The trailers in art-house movie theaters can be funny, though not often intentionally so. (Unfortunately.) Like this movie, which is called Two Mothers (trailer here) but which really, would more aptly be called “Wishful Thinking for Middle-Aged Women” or, as this review has it, just plain “porn”.

Still, I was entertained.