Unrivaled Siblings


    But then they’re supposed to be circling wagons of their own.




    I missed the lead-up to my nephews coming near blows with one another. And I wasn’t in the kitchen when my daughter fell to “ratting out” her brother via text.




    But something’s atilt.




    In the Us vs. Them ideal that set off this blog in the first place, our kids are supposed to stay the “them.” And when they cross over enemy lines, even if only for reconnaissance, something’s not right with the world.




    An editor friend who follows the blog and knew of Michael’s ironic help in its development, suggested I offer him his own forum. A rebuttal of sorts, for him and his kind.




    When I threw out the idea, I received a shoulder shrug to the notion of work.




    C’mon, I urged, it could be your very own parents-suck-dot-net.




    But that pretty much says it all,
he assured.




    And, of course, that was the appropriate response.




    What isn’t is silence between brothers or tattles from sisters.




    I could leap to the obvious and pull from the song   –you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone- but that too-far-off concept is likely as lost on them as it would have been on me.




    I was in college when I first got a clear picture that my family might be different from those of my peers. Not in the solidarity they had among their own siblings but rather in the harbinger of their future in the form of their extended families. Everyone back then assumed I had a huge family. I didn’t. But while they had cousins they sort of knew, mine were like siblings. Second and third cousins along were still included in our family gatherings. Bonds that were long ago formed in my family had apparently been set in concrete. On the contrary, their families seemed small –they weren’t- because aunts weren’t talking to aunts and uncles had forsaken their brothers.




    Huh?




    I still don’t get that.




    Family comes first. Those weren’t just words my father said. They were condition and creed. Fact. As sure as the sun. Family before god, before country, before anything else. Always.




    My brothers and I fought as kids, didn’t always see eye-to-eye on our way to adulthood, but there are no take-backsies with family. You get what you get –and you stand by it. No matter what. For my brothers and me, we knew the drill like we knew our name. Family first.




    So when our kids are fighting, although I know that they’ll land where we did, I still take pause. Because I look to the too many others with whom they’re surrounded. Girls who don’t talk to their sisters; boys who can’t stomach their brothers. And I look to the adults in my own life who’ve left behind siblings like neighbors from first neighborhoods. For reasons espoused, laid well and sure. Someone wronged, slighted or slurred. It’s money or rivalry or challenges or lack of support.




    And I hear. Really, I do. There are so many shades of gray that can splinter a family.



But in spite of the rainbow that acts as my Facebook photo, there are areas where gray isn’t my favorite color. Black and white are the only shades I understand when it comes to family. You stand by them, no matter what.



    And whether it’s in mimicry of Joan Baez or Counting Crows or the next generation of singer who follows the mantra, I’ll reiterate the line: you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone….

But sometimes they do



    Not that my blog is any sort of a democracy, but just for the record, I get that you don’t like its title. Totally understand, actually. Even agree.




    But I’m not changing it.




    I considered repasting the first posting to get this point across, but instead, I’ll just reiterate.




    I am sorry about its title. Mostly because I hate that word (see, I can’t even say it, most days)  In fact, prior to the decision to name it as such, there had only been a single instance in my life when I thought that the word “suck” was THE most appropriate word choice in the English language (even raising teenagers still pales in comparison). However, the level of frustration I reach as a parent on a pretty regular basis, combined with deadened brain cells and kid-induced restless sleep has left me with a dearth in vocabulary selection. I’d like to use another word. Just don’t have one.




    You just have to understand –this isn’t what we signed up for. We wanted those cute little guys in the pages of Parent Magazine: babies, toddlers, preschoolers. We could handle colic and night terrors and even those not-so-terrible-twos. Baking cupcakes for the whole third grade class -piece of cake. Riding the bus on the hours-long route to the fifth-grade field trip –let the little darlings scream and sing away. Hours on fields, in rain –and snow. Let it snow. Climbing Mount Manadnock in 95 degree weather just to reach the top with the sixth-grader -worth every upward inch.




    It’s just all this other stuff. It’s a roller coaster ride over which we have absolutely no control. The girl dramas, the boy idiocies.  All the bad decisions of my own kids and all those other kids to whom I’m way too connected.




    Usually it’s the day-to-day stuff. The us always telling and the them never doing. I never thought I’d be one to sign onto an Us vs. Them mindset. But here I am. Circle the wagons. Unless we gather our defenses, we don’t stand a chance.




    Stupid stuff really. Most of it genuinely not worth losing sleep over.




    But –




    Some of it is. Some of it’s scary.




    And the problem is we have no crystal balls. If we did, then we could look into that misty future where some aged version of ourselves is uttering the words: it was all worth it.




    So until I’m at the other end of the tunnel, I take whatever pinpricks of light I can find along the way. I’ll seek sanity where I can -vent to a few, blog to a few more.




    And, I’ll keep the title –because sometimes, they really do.

The Audacity of Youth

    When I was younger I wished that I had been born sooner. But not for the reasons you might think. In my idealistic version of the alternate person I could have become, I envisioned the possibility of someone who would have been caught up in that tidal wave of young people who questioned generations of acquiescence to authority and stopped a war.


    I don’t really know on which side of life’s tightrope my parallel self would have landed. Anti-war activist? Free love advocate? Or someone merely led astray by the too many choices of too many altering activities? Likely, I might have merely given in to the gravity pull of a strongly-centered family and remained grounded, well below the circus fray of that raucous political era.


    I want to think not. I want to think that the cocktail mix of passions and youth and times that were ‘a changin would have had some effect on me. And that I might have been one to make a difference. In some way.


    I know that I would have believed it possible.


    That is the audacity of youth.


    And its contradiction.


    Question everything, believe nothing.


    But believe everything.


    In the blink of youth, the possibilities are limitless; potential, endless.


    In terms of the age of its citizens, Egypt is one of the youngest countries on the planet. With a median age of only 24, more than two-thirds of its population is under the age of 30. By contrast, the median age in the U.S. is 37.  Too young to parent those Egyptian youngsters, we old Americans are nonetheless in a very different place. They’re in their 20s; we’re pushing 40.


    And it is exactly because of where they stand on the timeline of their own lives that Egyptians were able to stand tall, speak up, and change the world. Rarely do the contradictions of youth align strategically enough to yield such astounding events. But they did, and as President Obama rightly opined, Egypt will never be the same. The world will never be the same.


    I wonder if there is any cause which could so inspire the youth of our own country. What might impassion them to action? In my cynic’s brain, I think –not much.


    But I don’t lay the blame solely on their apathetic shoulders. Instead, I think to their age –and ours. Not only do we parents hold a stronger demographic foothold; we strongly hold onto our children. Too strongly, one might suggest. Whether you refer to it as helicopter parenting, or simply over parenting, there is a unanimity in agreement that most of us have gone over the top with regard to our presence in our children’s lives. We more than observe and advise; we manipulate and control. And the stranglehold of power we have may be doing an irreparable disservice to our kids.


    In lessons of old, communist and dictatorship regimes often began their stint in power with a comparative analogy to a benign parent figure which knew what was best for its simple citizenship. But time and evolution and unsatisfying conditions of life eventually saw many of those countrymen throwing off the shackles of their leaders, like adolescents pulling away from parents. With good reason, they sought –and got- the change they wanted. Independence. Autonomy.The right to make their own rules. And their own mistakes.


    We need to grant to our children those same rights, but also, they need to want them. Unfortunately for all of us, we’ve blessed our children with some pretty comfortable circumstances. Maybe, too comfortable. From what do they have to rebel? Even those angry and angst laden adolescents seem to come to terms with our offerings by the time they’re leaving college. Instead of making their way out into the world, many of them seek a return to the motherland in the guise of all the right reasons. Better timing, a better job, a bit more education. And too many of us dictatorships-in-training acquiesce to their non-transition.


    It took three decades for the forces of change to rise against Mubarak’s autocratic control of Egypt. In his oft-maligned tenure, he survived six assassination attempts.


    I hope that after 30 years, the citizens of my own household will be well on their way. And rather than plotting their strategies for takeover or assassination from within the palace walls, I’d like to believe that they’ll be off building their own country, with its own set of dictatorial rules.


    My mom always said she wished upon her three children, children who were like them.


    Ditto.


    And when my future grandchildren are ready to overthrow their own kingdoms, I’ll hope for the sake of my kids that it will be from foreign soil.


When It’s Theirs to Give


    Encouraging volunteerism in our young people is a great idea. Unfortunately, like so many good ideas which came before it, I think the execution of it has missed the mark.
 



    Several years ago, when the notion of making community service a requirement for graduation was still in its infancy, I attended the commencement exercises of a small high school in an affluent town north of us. Very small. There were 85 students donning caps and gowns.


 


    The ceremony was beautifully touching, belying the intimacy of kids who had known each another their whole lives. The feel of it all was more reminiscent of family than formality. And these students’ comfort level with one another and with themselves offered a glimpse of all that could be right with an educational experience. Bright futures for all.




    But in a right-minded idea, the high school had decided that all of these privileged children should give back. That they should have an idea and appreciation of what it means to volunteer. So they insisted that they do just that.




    My guess is that the new policy was well-received, quickly approved and met with acquiescence by all.




    All but one, as it turned out.




    It seemed that the class valedictorian, who had actually done quite a bit of unprompted community service on his own, didn’t like the oxymoronic bent of forced volunteerism. Emphasis on moronic.




    He refused to participate in the new requirement.




    Even with the threat of a withheld diploma, he stuck to his principles.




    And so on graduation day, when the classmates with whom he had shared twelve years of school and life shook their principal’s hand and received their diplomas, he did not.




    Volunteering is such a good idea. It’s a shame we’ve allowed it to become just another peg in the light bright picture of that perfect package being built for college admission. Too many students (and lets face it, their parents) look at every move and moment in high school with their eyes on transcripts that will be eyed by admissions officers. It’s become less about doing good and  more about looking good.




    In addition to the misplaced motives of indentured servitude in the guise of community service, there’s also something disquieting about the price tag that comes attached to some of these volunteering opportunities. It seems giving is its own thriving industry. But it’s not really the kids who are doing the giving.




    Sure, they’re likely a great help to that far-flung village or orphanage or hospital.  But c’mon, who among us would pass up free travel and full life exposure for a little work among the downtrodden? Particularly when it’s not junior who’s footing the bill for his foray into famine, it would seem that there’s more of a nod to self than selfless in these volunteering expeditions.




    Something’s off kilter. 

    Have we so perfected the art of hypocrisy that we can’t see that it’s not volunteering if they have no choice? We cry foul at the tricks played on us from atop Capitol Hill and in the shadows of Wall Street, but then allow our kids to begin resume padding in middle school. I think the reason Adam Wheeler’s Harvard scam went so far is because we’ve let all of our children go a little too far in the build-up of their bios. Instead of being met with an awe of disbelief, his well-packed Phillips Academy transcripts, perfect SAT scores, and 4.0 MIT GPA were likely greeted with a ho-hum hyperbole that had him standing alongside a lot of other outstanding scholars. I read that if someone, somewhere along Wheeler’s conned path had taken a moment to do a bit of math, it would have been pretty evident that there simply weren’t enough hours in his academic days to do what he claimed to have done. 

    But it seems that over-the-top is the new norm. So included in all those resplendent resumes are now hours and hours of saving-the-world work by kids who are somehow still maintaining grades, playing sports and musical instruments, and socially mingling with their four thousand friends on Facebook.


    Hmm. How many hours are in their days?


    And why is it that so few of these altruistic adolescents are opting to pull up their sleeves and do a bit of hard work at the most local of levels -at shelters and food pantries? When was the last time that a kid shoveled out his neighbor’s drive without a community service form and pen in hand? Sure, they’ll be good citizens. As long as they get credit for it.


    Nice message.


    Maybe it’s time to repackage the message, then. Time to get back to basics a bit. Instead of sending them off with the sense that there’s a whole lot of free out there, maybe it’s time to make it clear that not much is. Before they give, maybe they need to earn. A part time job teaches a whole lot about effort and value. Then, if they choose a worthy cause to support, it can come from their pockets instead of mommy’s pocketbook. And if they decide to give up a Market Basket shift and its corresponding pay to serve meals because they want to rather than have to, they’ll likely have a better notion of what service is all about and what it really means to be a part of a community.