On Being Cool

Had a meltdown on my tween son when he asked, yet again, for an iPad at breakfast this morning.

Before the iPad he wanted a laptop. He insisted he needed my HP the moment I purchased my Toshiba, though could give no reason why he had to have it since he had a powerful PC with an enhanced graphics card for gaming in his room. After weeks of needling me I finally gave him my old HP to share after backing up [mostly] everything. He loaded the same games he had on his PC and played them in bed on the laptop for about a week, until he inadvertently downloaded a virus [that ironically sold security software] which destroyed every program, every file including seven years of my labor. Between ‘mostly’ and ‘everything’ turned out to be the Grand F**king Canyon.

Prior to the laptop he needed an iPhone. He’s had a cellphone since the 5th grade, when he started walking the quarter mile home from school. In the two years he’s had it, he forgets it at home most of the time unless I remind him to bring it with him. More often than not the phone has no charge because he doesn’t remember to charge it. Though all his friends have cellphones, he’s exchanged numbers with no one, and this seems fairly typical among his contemporaries upon inquiry.

Before the iPhone he had to have a video camera, which he used a few times to tape episodes of Sponge Bob off the TV so he could view them later through the camera’s viewfinder. That lasted about a month until he tired of it and he hasn’t touched the camera since.

An iPod was before the video camera. I use his iPod when I’m recharging mine since in the four years he’s owned it he’s used it maybe 10 times collectively.

He sat at the kitchen table this morning eating his cold cereal telling me how badly he needed an iPad. They are so cool, he insisted, giving me his puppy face, and good for school, though was unable to define how since a PC with internet access was all his middle-school required. He kept at it throughout breakfast, bargaining away all other gifts for his upcoming birthday in exchange for just one iPad2.

And I blew a gasket.

He wanted too damn much! He asked for too much with no purpose. What the hell was the point of all these things when he didn’t even use them?

To be cool, mom, he said through tears.

His palpable shame was a knife through my heart. At 12 years old, crying had ceased to be acceptable except in tragic situation, and me yelling at him wasn’t one. I sat down at the table adjacent to him and stared at my son, fighting tears from overwhelming me as well.

Being cool isn’t about what you have, I reminded him gently. Cool is about what you are, who you are, what you do that makes you special, separates you from the crowd. He was a straight A student, in advanced at math, played electric guitar, but every accomplishment I pointed out just made him cry harder.

None of that matters, he insisted. No one cares about that stuff. And being a nerd might pay off later but right now no one his age knew or cared who Bill Gates was, he said, throwing my refrain back at me.

Your dad would ask why cool matters, was the lame response I came up with. I knew cool mattered, even to me, but especially for a kid becoming a teen.

It just does, my son assured me. And I’m not, he added shakily, unable to stop the new round of tears.

My heart in my throat and struggling to swallow back my own tears stopped me from lecturing, but I again reminded my son that iPads and iPhones and video cameras are tools, nothing more, and possessing them doesn’t make one cool.

Yes, mom, he patronized me. But an iPhone is still cool, and so are iPads. I felt him lighten before I saw him grinning to himself.

They are cool, undeniably, which makes the engineers who invent Apple’s products cool, but not so much the people who use them. I needed to be sure he understood what cool really is, and perhaps remind myself as well.

Michael has an iPhone and an iPad and he’s totally popular, my son insisted. Everyone likes him. He has tons of friends and no one picks on him, ever.

Cool means Popular when you’re 12, and I suppose even for adults. Most of us want to be liked, admired, feel special, unique, seen as cool. But I knew Michael wasn’t popular because of his iPad and went about trying to enlighten my son without losing his attention. I spoke of Michael’s extensive involvement with his church, attended by many in our area. I pointed out Michael’s rather jovial demeanor, and reminded my son that his friend was also an avid sportsman, into soccer, basketball, baseball…etc, the ultimate key to cool for kids in school.

Perhaps Michael’s popularity had nothing to do with his iPad, I suggested. And to further my reasoning I asked, If Evan had an iPhone or iPad do you think he’d be more popular?

Evan is a jerk, my son proclaimed. He’s mean and rowdy, and he has an iPhone, mom. His eyes seem to sparkle with awareness of his own words. Then he smiled. He got it, and I smiled, too, for about a second, until his expression darkened again. But I’ll never be like Micheal, do what he does. I’m not discovering religion any time soon, and I suck at sports and don’t really care about ’em, and I’m not exactly what you’d call upbeat.

And I’ll never write like Stephen King, or Ray Bradbury, or John Fowles—

Who are they?

Famous authors you’ve obviously never heard of. Forget it. Tell me, who else is cool, dude? Name five, other than your friend Michael. Anyone, doesn’t have to be one of your contemporaries…

Greenday, he looked to me for approval.

Okay. Who else?

Death Cab [for Cutie] (another rock band). Thomas Edison. Einstein. And Jason, at school. All the girls really like him.

I laughed. Why?

I don’t know. He’s short but kind of buff already, I guess. He’s on the track team and the basketball team and he tells everyone he lifts his dad’s weights. He’s really into working out.

And what do all five you just named have in common?

He fiddled with the remainder of the Crispex in his bowl as he pondered my question.

They’re all good at something.

And how do you get good at anything? yet another of my canonical refrains.

Practice.

You bet. Find something you love, that turns you on, and work at it, my beautiful son. Practice your guitar more and become a great musician. Invent a new video game instead of playing someone elses creation. Learn how to program and develop apps, show us you need an iPad as a tool to create with.

He brightened, smiled at me. I had his full attention again, my reason for slipping in the iPad comment.

Owning an iPad is easy, my baby, and meaningless, just one of many who do and more who will. Creating with one is cool. Cool is as cool does, kid. Pursue a passion and you’ll be engaged, entertained, and so enraptured in the process you won’t notice or care if you’re popular. And how cool is that! ; – )

The Difference Between Men and Women

I’m a guy’s girl, meaning I’ve spent most of my life hanging out with men instead of women. Like the freight train comin at ya, I prefer men’s straightforward nature, their directness, their unwavering, solution-oriented trajectory. Men are simpler than women. Not less intelligent, just not round-about, underneath, from behind.

Women, by contrast, are the poison in your food. Eons of subjugation have forced us to become puppet-masters to get what we want. Not a judgment call, simply a fact that until very recently might was right, and men assumed they controlled the household with superior strength—at first to kill the mastodon and be the provider of food, and in the modern world, until recently, be the supplier of money. Back as late as the 1990s, women were still, and believe it or not still are, the primary homemakers, caring for the kids, shopping for and preparing the meals…etc. In fact, 99% of all household product commercials still show the women cleaning up, even when the men create the mess.

Notice I said, “men assumed they controlled the household.” Well, you know what happens when you ass (of) u (and) me…; -}

Seriously though, probably pretty early on, like cavemen times, women figured out how to get men to do what we want using our wiles—wits. Genetic transfer of memory over thousands of generations of women passing on how to be manipulative eventually became woven into our DNA and imprinted on our XX chromosomes.

Regardless of why women became…complex, the fact that we are scares me about us. Women don’t only manipulate men. Quite often our children, sometimes even our friends. I’d much rather face a freight train because if I’m paying attention I can get off the tracks before getting slammed. This also plays to why I’m a guy’s girl, why most of my friends have been men.

I knew I wanted kids for as long as I can remember. Two boys, I’d told any possible stakeholders, because boys are easier to raise. I now have two kids—a boy, 19, and a 16 year old girl, both of whom I’m madly in love with. Beyond proud, I’m humbled to know them. True to their ‘nature,’ my son is very direct with his feelings, practically the instant he feels something. He rarely lies, probably because he sucks at it, his facial expressions to the pause in his delivery clear indicators he’s not telling the truth or copping to. He’s a consummate whiner, but he respects the family rules and parental restrictions. My son is trustable, for which I’m eternally grateful.

My daughter, on the other hand, listens carefully, expresses just the right amount of contrition and understanding with every lecture, then does whatever she wants, whenever she wants, if she can get away with it. Went to kiss her goodnight a few nights ago and she was underneath her blanket watching Manga videos on her cellphone. She’d been viewing nightly since we took away her Kindle two weeks ago for watching videos on it instead of reading. Reading is all she’s allowed to do on the tablet, per our agreement when she got it for her birthday. (Is it too much to expect a 16½ year old to honor such an agreement when she gets plenty of electronics time on the weekends?)

While my son barely notices his reflection, my daughter spends hours in front of the mirror, preening. For eons a huge part of a woman’s value was/is defined by our physicality, so it’s natural, part of our nature now that our looks are important to us, or at the very least, more important to us than most men. My son likes violent movies. My daughter does not. She is deeply affected when families split up, or a parent or child dies in films, and even in books. Maternal instincts—reproducing and then caring for our offspring—is genetically encoded in our DNA. In fact, her reaction is not uncommon for most women.

Violent movies and video games are targeted at men because they are by far the predominant audience to engage with them.

Times truly are changing, though. Want part of a mastodon, a small ice-age relic? Buy one on Amazon. Most educated women who pursue a career path can pay their own way through life now, even if we still typically make less than men. Most of us don’t need a man’s support to survive, or even thrive. Technology, from the Pill to the personal computer has made it possible for women to control our own destinies, and function equally along side men in today’s business environments.

Sociological shifts in behavior are glacial, and true sexual equality is probably still a few generations in coming. Perhaps our great-grandchildren will share equal incomes, and split the household tasks of rearing the children to doing the dishes equitably as well.

From the dawn of man to present day the divide in humanity is not our race, religious orientation, education or income level. Our greatest division has been between men and women. I’m humbled to bear witness to a quantum shift in our evolution, that, for first time in our history, technology is providing us the ability to become an egalitarian race, and close this great divide.

 

 

 

The Good Life

37623-Cute-DogTo escape the bickering, and whining, and needs and desires and everyone’s demands, I took our dog for a walk on a quiet fire trail near our house. Bright and beautiful out, a sweet sea breeze came over the Oakland Hills with the afternoon sun. The mile and a half dirt path cut along the base of the foothills was mostly vacant, rarely used by even residents of the neighborhood, so I did not leash my dog for the walk.
 
I saw someone from the ridge while I waited for the dog to finish marking her territory in the open field atop the hill. A woman was coming towards us on the trail below, and I tensed as I scanned for the dog she was most likely walking, but saw none. Still, I called my 70 pound Shepherd-mix to me. My beautiful pound hound was passionately in love with people, but most didn’t appreciate her bounding up to greet them.
 
My dog came to me and I held her collar as we stood on the ridge and watched the woman trudge up the hill; her white hair looked almost like a silver helmet in the sunlight. She walked slowly, and carefully, and hunched. I made her out to be in her mid-70s. The dog started whining the moment she noticed the woman approaching, pulled to get away from me and go meet her potential new friend.
 
The woman was 30 feet away when she noticed us, looked up and stopped. I loudly assured her my dog was VERY friendly and loved everybody, that I held her securely, asserting there was no need to worry. The old woman looked at my dog wagging her tail wildly and whining incessantly, and she smiled. She confidently told me she loved dogs and then called mine to her. I let go of my dog’s collar and joined the woman on the path where she stood stroking my hound.
 
She gently ran her hand along the length of my dog’s back again and again while extolling the animal’s Sphinx-like appearance and friendly nature. Dog was mesmerized with her touch, as she was with just about anybody’s, but the old woman seemed to really enjoy the contact as well, her expression set in a soft, contented smile. She explained she’d had several dogs during the years she and her husband raised their three kids. The dogs had passed on, the kids had moved on, now with families of their own. Her husband died two years back and for the first time in all her life she was alone.
 
Her kids, even her grandkids kept telling her to get a dog. I chimed in with words of encouragement, told her about getting my dog at eight weeks old from a kill shelter in Manteca, and ranted about some great local shelters where she could rescue a dog.
 
My graceful hound took off after a squirrel, startling us both. The woman began brushing the dog hair off her pants, but a lot of short hairs were woven into the navy polyester and clung to her pant legs where the dog had leaned against her. “I’ve spent the last 50 years of my life attending to others needs—cooking, cleaning, and more cleaning, and taking care of everyone else. I told myself I deserved a break after my husband lost his three year battle with brain cancer. I would travel, get out to the movies and play canasta, live the good life.”
 
Dog came bouncing back, long tongue dangling from panting (grinning?) mouth. She came up to me first to get my pat then went back to the old woman for more strokes, which the woman gave willingly. “I’ve been on three cruises in the last two years. I play canasta twice a month, and see all the new movies I want.” Again she seemed…pacified, by patting the dog. “Turns out, the good life was when I was needed. Being counted on made me feel vital, and valued. Now, no matter what I do, I mostly just feel lonely.” She straightened and brushed her pant legs off again as my dog swaggered over to the tall grass and lay in it. “I think you all may be right and it’s time I got a dog.” She gave me a pleasant smile. “It’s been a pleasure chatting. Good day to you.” And she went on her way.
 
My dog trotted after her a few steps then came after me as I started home in the opposite direction. I stroked her as she walked by my side, glad to have her with me, counting on me, as my kids and my husband did, and probably would for many years to come. I imagined the old woman’s empty house and anticipated the tumult in mine.
 
And suddenly I felt very lucky indeed to be living the good life.

Making a Difference

Typically on Sunday mornings my husband and I share articles from the New York Times. He’ll often read me pieces while I prepare breakfast or visa versa, and we’ll discuss the ones that pique our interest. The year end edition of the Sunday Magazine runs detailed obituaries on a handful of famous and infamous people who died that year. Though many are well known—actors, x-presidents and the like, some are more obscure, but they all share one thing in common. They all had [at least] 15 minutes of fame.

As my husband read on from person to person I began to feel more and more irritated. Where was the balance with the everyday hero—the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom? Their stories are equally interesting as some one hit wonder, or marginal actor. Even the most common among us had lives that mattered, that touched many, and deserve to be told.

On my mother’s death bed she asked me “Did I make a difference?” She stared at me with sunken eyes, her skeletal face practically begging me for an affirmative answer. And I gave her one. And, of course, it was true. She was my mom. She made a difference to me.

She turned me on to love, light, color, beauty, nature, music, art. She would often point out a vibrant flower, stop everything to view a sunset and be truly awestruck by its magnificence. She genuinely liked people. She was open to most all ideas as long as they weren’t filled with hate, or born of ignorance.

My mother was a humanitarian, and without prejudice, and she taught me to respect all things equally.

She was a wife for nearly 50 years. My father used to call her his ‘sunshine.’ Laughter and joy came easily to her. She exposed him to simple things—good talks during long walks, exploring new places, trying different foods. She sang all the time, had a beautiful voice that blended perfectly with my father’s melody.

My mom was a passionate and devoted teacher. She created a magnet ocean science program she taught to underprivileged and gifted kids that is still active today. I’d met several of her students, decades later while with my mom in the market or mall, who claimed they became oceanographers and biologists because of her influence. She loved kids. They were uncomplicated—what she pretended to be, even wanted to be, but wasn’t. She was childlike in many ways, always curious and loved learning.

As I sat on her bed and ran through her list of accomplishments, her expression became sadder and sadder, and my “turn that frown upside down” mother started to cry. She wanted to give so much more. She had so much more to give, but she realized, laying helpless in bed and gasping for every breath, her time had run out.

Two weeks later I stood over her grave and refused the dirt filled shovel the Rabbi handed to me. I knelt down and scooped a handful of moist, sweet earth from the freshly dug ground, smelled its musty richness, then let it fall off my hand and run through my fingers as I released it onto her casket. And then I silently thanked her for teaching me to recognize natural beauty and engage with it at every opportunity.

My mom died of cancer at 73. Over 100 people attended her funeral. Another hundred or more have contacted our family since her death to give their condolences—lives she touched, who will touch the lives of other, and so on.

Andy Warhol was wrong. Most of us live and die in obscurity.

But we make a difference.

We ARE What We DO

catLion21In the car with my 10 yr old daughter the other day, she asked me what Ego meant, one of her vocabulary words for the week.

I laughed. Good question, I replied. What do you think it is?

I wouldn’t ask if I knew, mom.

Well, use it in a sentence, in context. You’ve heard the word enough to have an inkling what it means. And an inkling is as close as you’re going to get to defining an abstract like Ego.

Her brows narrowed and I could see her pondering in the rear view mirror.

My ego got hurt when Ms Brown told me I was singing flat this morning. She paused. And she did, mom.

Sorry. We’ll get back to that. OK? So Ego is feelings then?

Not exactly. It’s more like how we see ourselves. To me, I’m a good singer. You can hurt my feelings by being mean to me. But you hurt my ego when you tell me I’m not how I think I am.

Do you think you were flat this morning in glee?

Well, yeah. When I listened. I guess I’m not such a good singer.

Ah, but you could be, if you practiced singing. And not the perpetual off-key humming you do, but really practiced, daily—sing along with your favorites, or sing the notes when you practice piano. I glimpsed her rolling her eyes at my suggestions in the rear view mirror. Being a good singer doesn’t happen inside your head. What is the only way to really get good at anything? (One of my many canonical refrains.)

Practice, mom. She sighed.

I sighed. My beautiful daughter, I think your explanation for Ego is excellent—it’s how we see ourselves. Ego is an idea, even an ideal—who we want to be, but it isn’t real. We are what we do, my dear (another of my refrains). If you want to be a good singer, you’re going to have to practice becoming one.

So you don’t think I’m a good singer, she asked woefully.

Were talking about ego, right?

Yeah. And my ego says I am one. So is ego always fake, just pretend inside my head?

You tell me. Do you think our ego ever gives us an accurate depiction—paints a real picture of how we are, who we are, in the real world?

Probably not. She sighed again, deflated. Just cuz you think you’re good, or talented, or special doesn’t mean you actually are to anyone besides yourself, except if you’re famous.

Really? So, there’s a famous chef, recognized for his delicious creations. It’s not just his ego talking that’s telling him he’s a good chef. He decides to create a new dish, and serves it to five friends. And all five hate the meal. The combination of flavors tastes just terrible. So, is the guy delusional that he’s a good chef—it’s just his ego talking—or is he really good?

My daughter considered my little tale carefully before answering. Well, if he thought of himself as a great chef with everything he made, then his delusion was that he could be good all the time, that everything he created would be a masterpiece.

So then, ego is never an accurate depiction of self?

I guess not. Just like there is no such thing as smart, mom. She quoted another of my canonical refrains. Her bright smile in the rear view mirror lit up my world.

My DH and I NEVER tell our kids they’re smart. In fact, when other people do, we smile politely, turn away and snicker. Our kids are consistently at the top of their classes because they work at it. A lot. There is no such thing as smart, we preach. Smart is an abstract, merely an idea, a concept, like democracy, or love, potential, or ego. Smart is as smart does.

It is not how we think, or what we believe, it’s ONLY what we DO that defines us.

We are what we do.

My TEEN is ADDICTED to VIDEO GAMES. HELP!!

I so rarely get personal online, but I’m at a loss and would love some advice from my friends here, cuz someone among you all must have some direction for me, hopefully…
My teen is addicted to video games. And while parents are nodding here, and kids are shaking their heads in disgust of my dramatic prose, I don’t mean he likes playing them. I mean he’s playing them whenever he can, on whatever device he can, for as long as he can without getting caught, even though finals start in 5 days, he has 3 Cs, and he should be studying.
Take away his devices, parents say. OK. We did. Many months ago, when his grades started slipping, for the first time, since until mid-October last year he was a straight A student since grade school.
We took away his phone priviledges–he has to have it on the kitchen counter from when he gets home from school until he leaves for school in the morning. Same for his Kindle, and his laptop. Saturday from 6:00-10:00pm is his only time for electronics, in any form, gaming, movies…whatever. He’s allowed FB time during the week, but only at night, after finishing studying, and only for half hour a day. Collectively.
The only device left to him is his PC. And we can’t take that away, because the public school he goes to works almost exclusively through the computer. Homework, worksheets, research–the school ask for specific links to be read to complete assignments and study for tests. All grades go through School Loop. The school feeds his addiction with every grade they post, that minute thrill of anticipation as the kids obsessively check if the teacher has posted grades yet. So, no computer at all is out. Clearly.
He has to keep his door open all the time now, but we can’t stand in the threshold watching him all day and night! And we go over his history, but he’s already figured out how to open too many tabs for the stupid interface to record all online interactions.
I wanta help my kid make better choices and to stop gaming. And yes, we’ve seen pros, with a lot of theory, but really without a clue.
What to do?…Practical solutions are welcome!!

j cafesin