Saturday, October 30, 2010

By The People, For The People

Yesterday my seven year old, Natalie, described an incident on the playground. She and her girl friends were on the jungle gym and an older boy told them they needed to get off because a group of boys wanted to play on it. The girls got off and watched with anger and hopelessness as the boys took over their play area. Natalie said to me with great gravity in her voice, "I realized at that moment that segregation was happening all over again." I was tickled - clearly she's been paying attention in class during their social studies lessons, but I was also struck by how deeply the issue had touched her and how she was motivated to do something about the injustice.

With the midterm elections coming up on Tuesday and all the concern in the media about lack of voter turn out, her comment also reminded me of the importance of setting aside time in our very, very busy lives to have a voice, take a stand, continue to believe and have hope that we can effect change - no matter what you think that change is. There is often the feeling that we cannot change anything or that our vote means nothing. We may feel disappointed or let down by our leaders (left, right and center), and be tempted not to participate out of frustration, anger or disgust. Get over it.

If you think there is no reason to forget about the sink piled high with dishes, the report due at work, the PTA meeting you promised you'd attend, watch this clip outlining the stance of some of the candidates and then decide if your vote matters or not:

Tuesday could be one of the most important elections in the 21st century. Vote.

P.S. - if you want a good laugh with a message, check out this video from

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's the Little Things that Consume You

Is it just me or does it make your head explode when you end up spending a good portion of your time correcting mistakes that other people (aka the bank, the grocery store, the IRS) make? Last week we got a letter from the IRS saying that we owed a huge sum for our 2008 taxes. My heart stopped when I saw the letter. I actually turned it over and looked on back side to make sure it was addressed to me. And of course, I'd opened it after I got home at 6pm so I couldn't call about it until the next day. That meant an agonizing night of no sleep where I ran facts and figures through my head trying to figure out how we could made an error on our taxes so large that it would have paid for a nice trip to Hawaii. The following day I called my accountant, a man who is the epitome of calm and cool - which I like - who told me to fax it over for him to review. Guess what? When all was said and done, they were in error and we only owed six bucks (which won't even by 4 people coffee at Starbucks). However, after thanking my accountant profusely, rejoicing (and saying some prayers), I thought about all the worry and TIME that went into discovering that someone else had made a mistake and that their error meant time out of my day (time I didn't have in the first place and will never get back) and stress (which I have too much of already)that I don't need.

Soon after, I got a letter from my credit union saying I was ten days late on the payment for my car loan. Only problem was, I'd actually paid my car loan several days before the due date and the money had long since been out of my account. (I'm actually rather fanatical about sending bills in early, so much so that it makes David crazy because he insists it is okay to send it in right before it is due rather than as soon as I receive the bill). Of course I called and fussed and found out that they'd lost my check. But only after Bank of America kept me on hold for forty minutes...40 MINUTES...waiting to talk to the bill pay customer service rep. But guess what? When the rep finally picked up, Bank of America had transferred me to the wrong department, so I'd waited forty minutes for nothing! Finally connecting with the right person, I pointed out the error of their ways, insisted they send a letter to my credit union explaining their mistake and requesting a reversal of late fees and a reissuing of the check. Did I ever get an apology for the mistake, the error that took 4 hours out of my life that again, I'm not getting back (the older I get, the more I am aware of losing my time...okay, not just aware, obsessing). Again, someone else's error was eating into my time and screwing with my money. Two things that make me cranky...or rather crankier than I already am.

What I think frustrates me and worries me almost more than the loss of time, frustration and civility in discourse these days (did I mention that almost every customer service rep I spoke with was nasty and accusatory until I was able to show them the bill pay print out which proved I'd paid on time. Until then, they treated me like Bernie Madoff, trying to pull a fast one), is that we live in a country which has pretty much stopped making things and on the whole, have an economy which is based on customer service. The problem is - nobody knows how to provide customer service any more!

It feels like they are making less time these days. Like there is a shortage. In the past, it seemed like we had more time or maybe it just felt that way because our time wasn't being eaten away by all the little details, all the errors you have to correct, all the t's that need crossing and i's that would only be straight lines without the dot on top, all the gadgets and gizmos which do help our lives, but also take time to open, view, click and delete. It's time I'd much rather use going on a bike ride with my younger daughter or listening to my older daughter play the piano. But what am I doing instead? I'm waiting on hold for customer (dis) service. I'm only hoping that this time, they transferred me to the right department.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


This week we had back to school night at our daughters' school. BTS is where parents get to visit the classrooms, see their children’s work posted on the walls and listen to the teachers, room parents and principal talk about plans for the school year and how parents can help and support their kids through it. Here are ten things I love about Back-to-School Night.

1. Our principal has more enthusiasm than Cheerleader Barbie on her fifth shot of Red Bull and has brought the school into the 21st century and infused it with a much needed shot of energy!
2. Nurturing teachers who are still able to talk passionately about what they do and why they love doing it despite having been at school since 7am. (Twelve hours days should in fact be outlawed)
3. How the school holds school beautification day two days before open house so everything is tidy and pretty.
4. How the teachers manage to lay down the law about how they want the children to behave in class, while at the same time cleverly disguising the fact that they’re also laying down the law about how the parents need to behave.
5. Extra curricular activities. ‘Nuf said.
6. Teachers who are also parents who share a bit about their own lives and struggles balancing work, family, and marriage. You don’t feel so alone when your kid’s teacher also admits to struggling to get their kid’s homework done after school and practice and music classes.
7. Warm and fuzzy room parents. We have a pair of them, a husband and wife, who I swear, if they ran for elected office I’d be the first to volunteer to campaign for them. My daughter calls the whole family, the happy family because they’re always smiling, friendly and welcoming to everyone on campus and never seem moody, irritated or pissed off as if they just had a fight with their kid before heading off to school. (Unlike me at pick up and drop off, when I’m usually crankzilla after dealing with parking, morning clothing and hair battles and unfinished or lost homework)
8. That our school is a neighborhood, public school that has been around for sixtysome(?) years. We have parents at our school who attended when they were in kindergarten, now sending their own children there.
9. Information, information, information. The rest of the year, trying to get any accurate information from my children about what’s going on at school sometimes feels like I’m in a Soviet news blackout from the cold war era.
10. That for (at least) one night of the year, the principal, teachers, parents, staff can come together to support our kids and continue to make our school a great learning community.

Ten Things I Wish Were Different About Back-To-School Night

1. An over energized principal. It’s seven at night, I’ve been up since four in the morning, and at work all day…seeing anyone with that much energy can be a little overwhelming. Okay, I guess I really just wish I had whatever it is he’s on so I can be as peppy.
2. By the rules people. They’re just a guideline, folks.
3. Trying to get a sitter since kids can't come to back-to-school night.
4. Street parking or lack there of...
5. No pizza.
6. Okay, this I adore and hate – competition over who makes the best looking baked goods for the bake sale fundraiser. Some of the homemade items were over the top, looked like and were packaged as if they came from a high end bakery! I’m probably just bitter because I don’t think anybody bought my chocolate cake! If I’d only made the Halloween themed bloody finger sugar cookies with almond nails individually hand wrapped in cellophane with ribbons…
7. The fact that they made the janitor (and the teachers for that matter) pay a dollar for a cookie at the bake sale. I know it’s a fundraiser, but for Christ’s sake, the janitor cleans up the mess our kids make in the restroom, the crossing guard makes sure our kids get across the street without getting tire tracks across their midsection and the teachers spend (in some cases) more waking hours with our children every day than we do. Give them a cookie. Don’t worry about the buck.
8. How the school holds school beautification day two days before open house so everything is tidy and pretty. You can’t fool us. Yes, it looks nice for Back-to-School Night, but we know it doesn’t look like this all the time and the rest of the year there will be trash in the corners, dirty benches and tables, bathrooms which breed plague like bacteria – kids live here, we have them at home, we know. (P.S. I’m also probably feeling guilty that I had to work on beatification day and couldn’t go). Also, can I just say, I have never, ever before seen a principal who has a broom in his hand as often as this one does. First time I saw him with one, I did a double take. I wonder if he does that at home, too.
9. Professional room parents. Your kids have been at the school for five years and you’ve been the room parent in their class every single year? Don’t you think you could sit down and give someone else a chance??? (Not the couple I mentioned above. I actually have a parent crush on them – I’ve idealized them as the perfect parents. I know I’m probably wrong, but at least I can maintain my fantasy and feel like I have something to strive for).
10. Paperwork. If I have to sign one more sheet providing contact or emergency information, I think I’m going to scream and break my pencil. We have computer databases for that folks. Can’t we keep the info there and carry it over from year to year so I don’t have to spend more than three hours of my life (three hours I’ll never get back and am doomed to repeat) every year filling out the same old forms with the same old info?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thoughts in the Aftermath

Tyler Clementi, an 18 year old Rutgers University freshman, committed suicide recently because his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and Dharun's friend, Molly Wei, videotaped him having sex in his dorm room with another male and streamed it live over the Internet on a webcast. Dharun, who apparently was upset because his new roommate was gay, had also tweeted his frustration about his living situation. Tyler's death is a horrible tragedy. What was done to him was cruel and unacceptable, an invasion of privacy in its most extreme form aided by technology which is outpacing our ability to teach our children how to use it and unhindered by society's governance of how it should be employed.

It is almost impossible to imagine that Ravi and Wei could not have understood that their "prank," as I heard someone call it, would not be devastatingly hurtful and have horrible repercussions. Was their intent for Tyler to commit suicide? Probably not, but it doesn't matter. He's dead, they could possibly face expulsion from college and a good five years or so in jail. Honestly, three lives are destroyed because of youthful stupidity, selfishness and arrogance. But also because none of these people felt there was a caring adult in their world who it would be safe to turn to with their troubles. I'm sure there were people who would have supported him, his parents being the first in line, but he didn't feel like he had anyone to turn to. What if Tyler, instead of committing suicide, had reached out to his parents, dorm RA, a gay and lesbian group on campus? Someone who could have dealt with what happened and supported him through the horrible bullying he was enduring from his roommate? He needed someone who could have assured him that the embarrassment of what happened was, as awful as it felt, something that in time would pass and that others, relatives, friends, classmates, strangers, would support him against this invasion and support him for who he was as a person - not because he is gay, but because it is the right thing to do.

It bothers me a little that this is being framed as a gay rights, gay bullying issue. What was done to him could easily have happened to anyone, gay or straight. That this incident was most likely motivated by his roommate's ignorance, fear and bigotry of gays is what people are focusing on, but honestly, I can envision any young college freshman, male or female, gay or straight, having their privacy invaded like that would be humiliated and devastated on many levels. It is not only an invasion of their privacy, it is an attack on the core of who someone is as a person, something Tyler seemed not yet comfortable enough with to survive this assault. But at 18, again, gay or straight, who is really comfortable with who they are?

I was also struck by the other side of this tragedy, and again, how good parenting and support might have stopped this from happening. What if Ravi had been mature enough to express his upset at having a gay roommate by talking to his RA, going to student housing or just picking up the phone and talking to mom and dad about it, asking them to intervene on his behalf? But no, instead, in his immaturity, he turned to derisive and bullying behavior which resulted in someone dying. And I'm trying to imagine why Wei got involved in this crime rather than being the voice of reason when Ravi enlisted her help. In what universe do you think it's okay if a friend comes to you with an idea, "Hey, let's broadcast my gay roommate having sex," and you respond, "Yeah, great idea, let's do it!" I always talk to my girls about evaluating situations that they are presented with and if the situation looks like a bad idea because it will get them in trouble or be dangerous to themselves or others, to be the voice of reason or turn and go the other way and stay out of whatever mess your friends are about to get into. I tell them they can blame it on me, say, "My mom wouldn't want me to..." Lame, I know, but it works. So where was Wei's "This isn't a good idea" moment? Why did she willingly go along with something that these clearly smart, academically gifted kids should have known was both morally wrong and would get them in trouble...big trouble? I can only assume gang mentality kicked in. It was a way to get back at someone they didn't like because he was different. They thought it would be cool and funny, a joke. But it wasn't. And now, nobody's laughing.

My parents always taught me that it wasn't any of my business who someone was sleeping with. As long as they are a good and thoughtful person who cares about others and their community, that's all they should be judged by. And it sounds like that's who Tyler was. Too bad his community, and by that I mean not just the gay community, but all of us, weren't able to support him when he needed it most.

Out of this awful loss comes lessons to be learned about helping and supporting kids, teaching them how to be more mature and to think through the consequences of their actions. But what we are also left with is the question of how to deal with the rapidly changing technology and the new (and often destructive) ways that people, particularly young ones, find to use it.

For more on Tyler's story, visit:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

And So It Begins...

My soon-to-be 10 year old daughter got a phone call from a boy last week. As I listened to the very thoughtful, obviously well rehearsed message he left her, it took a moment for it to register with me that he was calling her because he liked her. The call wasn't a homework help request or to check the due date of a class assignment. It was a call to chat, to see how she was doing and to arrange to "hang out" together at a school function. It was the start of what I (think, fear and yes, for her sake, even hope) will be years of messages from (to quote my best Blanche DuBois) "gentleman callers" which will be left at our house. Not to mention the hours of phone time or cell minutes that will be burned up as tweens and teens try to negotiate the ins and outs of adolescent body changes, hormonal flux, crushes and first (not to mention, second, third and fourth) true loves.

The following weekend, my daughter rendez-voused with caller boy at the park. As they strolled around (always within our view), Nicole, who is usually a frenetic bundle of energy who can barely keep from bursting out into dance moves or stop from talking long enough to let another human get a word in, walked calmly and quietly next to caller boy, listening intently to him talk, nodding when appropriate and laughing a cute little laugh which clearly she reserved for him because it was a far cry from the snorting that she does at the dinner table despite repeated demands for her to stop. Whenever she passed us, she'd give a small smile which screamed, "I'm so happy right now," but would continue walking with him, self possessed and demurely, in an almost (dare I say it) flirty way in the playground area. Calm, soft spoken...AND flirty? Whose child was that? Certainly not mine.

Aside from the fact that I need to sit down with her and have a chat about being yourself around boys or anyone else, I was struck by (and yes terrified by) how easily and early attraction starts - even before they understand what any of it really means. Later that day, another boy from school started talking with her and told her he wanted to be her boyfriend. As she told me this, I tried to keep my head from exploding and instead, calmly asked what she told him. She said, "That's very nice of you to say, but we should just be friends because I'm too young to have a boyfriend." I was so proud of her for saying that without my prompting and it made me hope that perhaps some of the things we've been trying to teach her were actually absorbed and have started to work in action. But then she told me what she added as he started to walk away, supposedly to keep from hurting his feelings. She said, "Maybe in the sixth grade," to which he replied, "What school will you be at?" My head hasn't explode yet, but listen closely for the boom.