What Would My Blog Self Do?

vbiI have been thinking about my VBI lately. You know, my Visual Business Identity. Okay, so technically, I’m not a business. But this little blogging thing I do has become a job of sorts, and I find myself at the point of wondering if this whole thing is going anywhere. And if it is, where? And why? And how? And am I a “mommy blog“? A humor blog? A write-whatever-random-thoughts-come-into-my-head-blog?  An anti-Chuck E. Cheese blog? A blog where every post would be about The Monkees if I didn’t think it would drive away 98.4% of Continue reading “What Would My Blog Self Do?”

The Littlest Misanthrope

When I was a teacher, one of my favorite pieces of literature I had my students read was The Misanthrope by Moliere. For those of you who may not be familiar, it is a 17th century comedic play, written entirely in rhyming verse, that pokes fun at the hypocrisies of the French aristocracy. Moliere accomplishes this primarily through his main character, Alceste, the misanthrope, who very simply hates humankind. Alceste easily sees through insincere words and is quick to point out the despicable behavior so prevalent in aristocratic society. The piece is quite witty, and the rhyming verse makes it as fun to read as a good children’s book. Only it makes you feel all smart and sophisticated since it’s French…and old.

I bring up The Misanthrope not because it would be a smashing addition to your summer reading list (though it would), but because God must have mistaken my admiration and love for the play as a prayer for a misanthrope of my own. Because he gave me Michael, the littlest misanthrope.

I. hate. everything.
I. hate. everything.

Not only does Michael hate humankind, Michael hates just about everything. I know this because regardless of what I bring up to him, his response is often that he hates whatever it is. Michael, it’s time to go to school. I hate school. Michael, we’re having chicken for dinner. I hate chickenMichael, why don’t you go see if those kids by the sandbox want to play. I hate those kids. Michael, did you see that huge possum just cross the street? I hate possums. I think I might head to Target this afternoon. I hate TargetSCREEEECH! Okay, I won’t let that one slide. Saying “I hate Target” is pretty much the supreme profanity in my house…the house that Target built…well, that Target decorated, and made cleaner, and populated with candles, and filled closets with cute, affordable clothes and shoes. WE don’t hate Target. That is not how I raise my children.

So my kid hates everything. Well, almost everything. The only things he seems pretty adamant about liking are sugar and, for some unknown reason that makes me laugh and weep all at the same time, Justin Bieber. On more than one occasion he has named the Biebs his #1 favorite musician, despite never having heard an actual Justin Bieber song. Well, I actually like Justin Bieber. I just do. Fact: I am more worried about my child being a Belieber than a misanthrope.

Hey, stinky winky poopy little horses. Do you know how funny I am? Really funny.
Hey, stinky winky poopy little horses. Do you know how funny I am? Really funny.

For a time I thought maybe Michael might be outgrowing his misanthropic phase (and hopefully his Belieber phase along with it). Instead of hating everything, he started wanting everything to be a joke. Usually that  just means he adds the word pee/poop/butt/eyeball/diaper (or some compound combination) somewhere into his statement. Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the dirty diaper eyeball station! If I ask him what he wants for lunch, I might get an answer along the lines of a poop sandwich…with celery. Sometimes his humor comes in the form of bodily noises or other sounds that only other kids think are funny. Once, after I told him that his preschool teacher commented that he was doing really well in school, he was not surprised. He knew exactly why he received that compliment:

Well, I’m funny. I’m so funny. I’m the funniest one in the class. When I took my tortilla to the trash, I was an elephant with my arm and everyone laughed. I also know how to snort now. *SNORT*!!” (Side note: He was likely taking his tortilla to the trash because, you guessed it, he hates tortillas. )

While so far, his brand of humor hasn’t tickled my funny bone, I do prefer this demeanor over that of the littlest misanthrope. Fingers crossed that I could end up with the littlest Will Ferrell. I could get behind that.

So?
So?

Only it looks as though Michael may be adding yet another facet to his personality. Recently he almost seems to have found a certain meaninglessness in things. Michael, “Team Umizoomi” is on television. So? Michael, you get to go to Mimi and Papa’s house today. So? Michael, it’s time to pick up your sister from school. So? Michael, world peace has broken out and the Hershey’s company has decided to now make their chocolate bars in our backyard. So? I’m just playing with my Transformers right now. 

Great. Now I have the littlest Existentialist on my hands. I hear they are beasts to discipline with that whole I’m-an-individual-who-creates-my-own-values-and-true-essence-so-stop-trying-to-thrust-the-absurd-and-meaningless-outside-world-onto-me-lest-I-cast-myself-into-the-pit-of-despair-or-at-the-very-least-become-anxious-that-I-even-have-the-possibility-of-casting-myself-into-the-pit-of-despair. I need to nip this thing in the bud right now because the last thing I need is a teenage Existentialist.

Did Dr. Spock have any suggestions for parenting through this? Because I’m pretty sure neither Kierkegaard nor Camus ever wrote any parenting books. And the only parenting advice I could find from Will Ferrell was this quote from Parade Magazine“Don’t let them play in old abandoned refrigerators. Let’s see, what else? If you’re flying with your children, it’s better to book them on the same flight as you and not on a separate one just so they can have more leg room or something. Travel as a family.” I mean, it’s good advice. It just doesn’t help me with my particular situation.

Man, maybe Alceste was right. Human nature can be a real pain in the eyeball-poop-butt sometimes.

*Nerd Notes: If you are interested in reading The Misanthrope by Moliere, I recommend the version translated by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Wilbur, which is superior to all others. If you are thinking that what your summer beach experience needs is an Existentialist page-turner, you can’t go wrong with The Stranger by Albert Camus. Cool pop culture fact: The song “Killing an Arab” by The Cure was inspired by and based on The Stranger, and not a song with racist overtones as the title suggests. 

 

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It’s Time to Move On…Seriously

I have a problem when it comes to endings. I know I am not alone in this, as I was reminded when The Middle referenced a genius Shel Silverstein quote in this week’s episode:

“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”

Suffice it to say, this time of year can bite me. Here are some of the reasons why. Continue reading “It’s Time to Move On…Seriously”

Star of Video and Print, But Still Just an Acceptably Mediocre Mom

Whew!

It has been something else around here. Thanks to my minivan music video, this blog received more hits in a few days than probably the last two years combined. Next, the Life Sherpa of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch devoted his entire column to my post “Apparently All-Inclusive Attitudes Aren’t Part of the Resort Package,” where I took issue with an earlier piece he had written chiding parents of young children. And then he went and briefly mentioned me again in this Sunday’s column. It appears that a younger woman offering to buy an older man a beer is newsworthy. I will take it, especially considering the fact that when my version of “Texaco, Texaco over the hills to Mexico” differed from my daughter’s, she told me that now they sing it different from how we did in “the olden days.”

I feel a little like a celebrity. I mean, the video has caught on like virtual wildfire. My daughter said  that her friend told her that her older brother told her that practically the entire 6th grade class has seen it because a boy in their 2nd grade class showed it to HIS older brother who then showed it to all his friends when they came over. Um, did you follow that? Basically, I’m the Justin Bieber of the elementary school. Not quite Taylor Swift yet, but give it time. All I know is that I’m kind of a big deal in the parking lot at pick up time. And my daughter has been dubbed “famous” for her starring role in the video. Part of me hopes this doesn’t make her too popular though, as I have decided it is better for my kids to be nerds. Not tortured outcasts, mind you. I simply want them to have just enough social clout that people find them likable, but not enough that I will have to spend my Friday nights waiting up for them…because they will be at home watching 80’s movie classics and eating cheese balls with their nerd friends.

mary catherine gallagher
SUPERSTAR!

But these past weeks have also taught me that I am semi-uncomfortable with semi-fame. Compliments are like a funky little form of sadomasochism. They make me feel good, but at the same time, a part of me feels very uncomfortable. My immediate way of dealing with compliments is to make it seem like it wasn’t a big deal: Oh, the video wasn’t really that hard to make. They have programs that any dummy can use. OR I’m just weird like that. I don’t know why I spend my time doing this stuff. OR Thanks, but it was just a fun little family project. The kids were just happy to be hams in front of the camera. In reality, I do spend a lot of time and effort on most things dealing with this blog. And I am over-Saturn’s-moon-slap-me-jazzed-do-a-high-kick-yell-SUPERSTAR-like-Mary-Catherine-Gallagher-happy when people respond to it in a positive way.

Then I got an email from a friend I went to high school with. This is what she said:

I just have to tell you that the reason I had been thinking about you is because in between all the mom stuff, house stuff, grocery shopping, etc (YOU KNOW!), I feel like I can get extremely short and cranky with my family and when I read your blogs and posts, I am truly inspired by your zest (decided to use a good word like that, with your love for words and all) for life and how much fun you seem to have.  I seriously think of you and think of how lucky your kids are and your husband is and how much fun you have, while still being a great mom and teaching your kids what is right and wrong.

First off, that email made my day, more than the excitement of all the hub-bub that had been surrounding my blog at the time. To know that something I enjoy doing somehow helps other people navigate through their lives in even the smallest way is the gold medal of compliments. But here comes that flip side of accepting something nice said about you. She painted such a glowing reflection of me, a reflection I feel on most days I can’t claim to be mine. I joked with her that while reading my blog might help her stop being cranky and short with her children, I am usually JUST THAT with my own children while WRITING THE VERY BLOG she feels inspired by. Wow. I felt a little like a fraud. I stumble through motherhood just like everyone else; I just usually choose to only write about the more lighthearted moments of it. I don’t like to complain too much in public, mostly because I have little patience for others who do. But in doing this, am I unintentionally portraying a false image of my life? Am I somehow making other mothers say things to themselves like, “Why can’t I be more like THAT kind of parent?” Trust me, I am no model mother…nor do I want to be.

But I had to realize that wasn’t the point of her compliment. And you know what? My kids ARE lucky to have me: an imperfect mother who loves them like no one else can and who lets them star in music videos. And every mom who reads this has children who are lucky to have her: another imperfect mother who loves them like no one else can and who sometimes needs to read about the funny, heart-warming moments of my life to remind her that she has moments just like that in hers.

Needless to say, it has been nice that things have settled down a little around here, at least on the blog front…because my darned life won’t take a break long enough to let me ogle my site stats to find out exactly how many people have been reading my posts or let me plot my next strategy for taking over the viral world. In the meantime, here is a link to a post by Rage Against the Minivan that will make all parents feel better about striving for acceptable mediocrity most of the time. Happy Easter!

The Slacker Mom’s Guide to Dying Easter Eggs with Small Children

dyed eggs
Um yeah, ours don’t look anything like this.

A Sideways New Year’s Greeting

I have been feeling uninspired lately. Which is funny, because I have been having a lovely time of things. Christmas was merry, providing gathering after gathering of friends and family for whom I am ever increasingly grateful. Our typical Midwestern grumblings about there being no point in getting the kids new snow boots thanks to global warming has been silenced by a smattering of powdered fluff…not quite enough to cover the tops of grassy blades, but enough for some good snowballs and the breaking in of brand new sleds that sat untouched last year. And of course, tonight is New Year’s Eve, which we will spend with good friends. There will no doubt be a lot of laughter as we sit on the brink of yearly rebirth.

237987161529057325_5S1KRotJ_bTrue, I have been busy. It is a busy time of year. But it has nevertheless been in the back of my mind that I should be writing some cleverly witty post about New Year’s: a new take on resolutions (i.e. a new way to beat a dead horse)? A reflection on the past year (i.e. regurgitate my archives)? Make a montage to Dick Clark (i.e. play the sentimental card)? But I just could not muster the desire. I just could not think of anything to say that I felt anyone should devote even a few minutes of their time to read.

But then I read these words as I was checking Facebook: “Life grows sideways.” It is a line from a book written by Michael Nesmith called The American Gene (available for download at videoranch.com), which admittedly, I have yet to read. But the notion intrigued me; it made sense. Life does not build on itself in a linear sense with predictable moments of change. The only reason we see the changing of December 31st to January 1st as a new beginning is because we have assigned that meaning to it. For some of us, it becomes a new beginning because we make it so. We use the excuse of a tumblr_mfp1jq1LBa1qzn9pno1_500fresh, unmarked calendar as the impetus to make changes. And there is nothing wrong with that in the least. But for others of us, things stay relatively the same, including our attitudes. Or if we do change, it is not because we are suddenly writing 2013 at the end of the date. Metamorphosis can happen at any time. We can choose to reinvent ourselves on a Wednesday in the middle of September. Or life can choose to throw something at us when we least expect it, giving us no choice but to change.

More than anything, pondering the idea that “life grows sideways” helped me understand why perhaps I have not been feeling so motivated to write a New Year’s post. Instead, I stopped worrying about it and went outside to watch my kids play in the snow. Then I sat down and let all these thoughts flow out of me. Inspiration does come when you least expect it. Now I can feel as if I have met my self-imposed deadline, and enjoy watching the ball drop exactly when I expect it to.

Happy New Year. Happy Life.

Dr. Spock, Freud, and Grade School Soccer

Both of my kids started soccer this past week. Naturally, that got me thinking deep philosophical thoughts about life and parenting. That’s normal, right?

The world of children’s sports is one of those arenas that tests my parenting skills. I have some really strong feelings about the ways in which we school our kids in competition, and I have also found that involving my own children in sports has led to the surfacing of some lingering insecurities over never being “a cool jock” in the days of my youth. Neither of these are things I want to project onto my kids. But I have to admit, it was hard to quell the emotion I felt at Grace’s first soccer game the other day when I watched her sit on the bench for over half of the game.

I will be the first to admit I have absolutely NO delusions about Grace’s talent as a soccer player. She is not the fastest runner, she needs a heap of lessons on how to be more aggressive, she’s much better at looking like she’s doing something on the field than actually doing something on the field, and she is likely spending most of her time admiring the other teams’ hair ribbons than paying attention to the goings-on of the game. But her team is not playing for Olympic gold, where the best players should be the only ones playing. They are simply in a second grade soccer tournament.

My friend Nicole wrote a really great post about participation trophies, and how it seems we have created a climate for kids where they get rewarded for just showing up, not for actually being good at something. I couldn’t agree more, and even commented, “Kids need to experience failure so they don’t go out into the world thinking they will win at everything…and this is the perfect time for them to experience failure because we are right there to help them through it.” (I know, feel free to award me with my child expert degree.) So after feeling a little upset that Grace seemed to have landed the role as team bench warmer, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I was being hypocritical. Everyone can’t be the star after all.

good sportsmanship sign in Metropolis, Illinois
Brilliant.

And then I remembered a photo of a sign posted at a Metropolis, Illinois little league field that made its way around Facebook earlier this summer. Maybe we shouldn’t be giving out consolation rewards to our kids when they don’t win, but we also need to teach them that winning isn’t everything. My husband and I aren’t seeking out uber-competitive select sporting teams for our kids to play on. We sign them up to play on their school-sponsored teams, where everyone can be on the team regardless of skill, where they can build camaraderie with their friends and learn about teamwork, and where they can actually have a chance to play and build some skills in the sport. Oh yeah, and where they can have fun. These words are spoken at LOT at our house: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It only matters if you have fun.”

So there I was, agonizing over the fear that my child was getting cheated out of a fun soccer experience all because she is not the best player. As the game came to an end (we lost, by the way), I was trying to think of what to say to Grace when she asked why she did not get to play as much as the other kids. But she never asked that question. Instead, this is what she said to me:

“Well, we didn’t win. But I had fun anyway.”

(You can revoke that child expert degree now.) She didn’t even care that she probably had the least amount of playing time than anyone else on the team. Heck, I don’t think she even noticed. Parenting lesson learned: don’t make an issue out of non-issues.

Man, apparently being second-string on the freshman basketball team stung my subconscious more than I ever thought. This parenting thing is hard. Coach, I think I need a sub.

Addendum: I want to admit I had second thoughts about posting this piece in fear that it would be taken as a bash against Grace’s coach. It is not meant to be. He is a great guy who is volunteering his own time to teach a bunch of little girls how to play soccer. There may have been reasons unknown to me why she didn’t play much; or it could have been an accidental oversight altogether. And considering Grace’s statement after the game, he is obviously making it a fun experience for her so far. As I agonized over whether this would be seen as disrespectful to him (are you starting to understand that I agonize a LOT?), I realized that 1) the whole purpose of this post is to highlight how I was the one who blew the situation out of proportion and 2) I am not writing for the New York Times and have an audience size of about one millionth of theirs. The chances that Grace’s coach, or any other parent from the team, would read this are pretty small. So I need to take my own advice and stop making an issue out of a probable non-issue. Then again, one of my neighbors did happen across my neighbor post a few weeks ago, so just in case….Coach, you’re going a great job 🙂 

Oprah Finally Leads Me to an “Aha! Moment”

I have decided to change my opinion of Oprah.

Oprah Winfrey
Yes, Oprah, you can finally come to my party.

If you have read my twenty-five random facts about myself that I posted on the “About This Girl” page, you may have seen that I have this hypothetical party to which I invite celebrities I’m infatuated with. To be clear, the “invitation” consists of me simply saying, “I like him/her. He/She can come to my party.” I have no intention of having said party or expecting any of the guests to show up. Anyway, on the guest list was “Oprah’s best friend Gayle (but not Oprah).” It’s not that I didn’t like Oprah; I’m sure she would be a very polite party guest, and I did for a split second think about hiring her to announce each celebrity as they came in (Jooooel McHAAAAAAAALLLLEEE!). But she always just struck me as a bit too much of a name-dropper (I get it, she’s your “good friend Maya Angelou”), and Gayle just always struck me as the kind of girl who would travel to St. Louis for the sole reason of trying some fried chicken at Sweetie Pie’s. I’m down with that.

However, my view of Oprah changed the other day while watching her special, “Oprah Builds a Network” on the OWN channel. We all know Oprah has done countless works of charity, changed people’s lives all over the world, given people cars…you name it, she’s done it. But on that television special, I saw her do something that immediately made me see that she can literally change a life with the simplest of gestures that come from a place of authenticity. And it was all in a few words she said. She had just arrived someplace and came across a little girl, probably around my daughter’s age. I wish I could remember her exact words, but she looked at the girl and said, completely unprompted, something like, “I didn’t know YOU were going to be here! I had no idea I was going to meet such a beautiful little girl with such beautiful freckles. You have just the perfect amount of freckles.”

Simply, it made me smile. All Oprah had to say to that little girl was “nice to meet you,” if even that. Instead, she seized that brief moment to build a little girl’s self-esteem, to let her know she is enough to impress even Oprah exactly the way she is. For the rest of her life, that girl can remember the day Oprah Winfrey told her she was beautiful and that she had the perfect amount of freckles. If that doesn’t warrant giving Oprah an invitation to my party, I don’t know what does. I have certainly invited others for much less…like Pee-Wee Herman for teaching me there is no basement in the Alamo.

Being that I have a young girl of my own who has already felt the sting of low self-esteem, I might be hyper-sensitive to this issue. And so are a lot of other people. The assault against the positive self images of girls is a hot button topic. But as much as I agree that something needs to be done, I am often left feeling that so many of these “true beauty” campaigns seem too contrived, too inauthentic, too commercialized. Are girls really going to start feeling better about themselves because a soap company tells them they are beautiful, buttering them up so they will buy their soap? Maybe instead of making a special point to say the average girl is beautiful like some public service announcement, it just needs to become part of our normal rhetoric. And maybe we should throw in some other even more important attributes, like strong, capable, creative, worthy, and intelligent. Then maybe we can continue to raise generations of girls who will feel empowered enough to pursue the roles they choose, and be confident and proud in the choices they make for themselves, whether they want to be a politician or a stay-at-home mom.

Verily magazine
A new promising fashion magazine for women

Eventually, hopefully, the media will catch up. There ARE media sources out there trying to make a change (check out a new magazine called Verily). And I’m not talking about magazines who use one plus-sized model and then make a big deal about how they are using a plus-sized model because they “want to represent real women.” I don’t get that phrase. Does that implicate the other models as unreal women just because they are skinny? And pointing out that you are doing it in the first place automatically implies an inferiority of the plus-sized model AND the women she represents. Like please make sure you realize we are doing this to make you feel better about yourself, otherwise, we wouldn’t likely be doing it. 

In the meantime, we can’t wait for the media. And we shouldn’t be letting the media raise our children anyway.  WE are responsible for making our daughters feel good about themselves, and teaching them to look inside to find their self-worth. Let’s all be a little more like Oprah, saying and doing things to make our daughters feel as though they are enough to impress us just as they are. That’s all Oprah really had to do to impress me.

But if she wants to give me a car too, I wouldn’t stop her.

The Firefly Effect: The Disappearance of Childhood

“Hey look! A firefly!”

My kids scampered off into the duskly shrouded park to chase the lone intermittent yellow illumination, as my husband and I sat listening to the music of Cornet Chop Suey’s free concert.

“Remember catching fireflies as kids and putting them in mason jars with holes punched in the lids?” I mused. “You don’t see as many fireflies these days.”

“Because there aren’t as many as there used to be,” my husband replied.

Silently, I mourned that childhood just isn’t what it used to be. It seems even fireflies are finding themselves in the same company as trick-or-treating, riding bikes around the neighborhood, and imagination…the vanishing company of childhood.

We accuse many thieves in the robbery of youth. Mistrust of mankind keeps us from allowing our kids to knock on strangers’ doors and see how much candy their costumes can bring in. Rising violence and fear of child kidnappers and pedophiles make us wary to let our little ones roam in carefree exploration of new ventures of play. We blame technology for doing the legwork of imagination for our kids, or claim that they are too overloaded with school and extracurriculars to have any time to daydream. And in the case of the disappearing fireflies, the culprits appear to be industrial development and light pollution. With all of these things becoming endangered species, what kind of childhood is left for our kids to enjoy?

FirefliesBut maybe things are not really as different for our kids as we think. Maybe it is just OUR perspective that has changed. We see things with the practicality and rawness of adulthood. True, the world may be changing…but this is the only world our children have ever known, and the only childhood they have ever experienced. We might see the absence of a few fireflies, but our kids simply see the ones that ARE there. And they have just as much fun chasing the five that are in their backyard as we did chasing the fifteen that were in ours. So the only thing that can rob our kids of childhood is if we tell them there aren’t any childhoods left to live.

It was silly of me to mourn that night in the park. Because as I looked around, I saw families sitting on blankets and nibbling on picnics…a playground full of kids giggling and squealing with the delight that comes from swings and merry-go-rounds…bikes and scooters gliding along paved paths…little tongues turning shades of blue, red, and purple from sno cones…and oddly enough, more and more blinking, glowing orbs lighting up the darkening sky.

Long live childhood.

Snookie and Star Wars: Teaching Our Kids to Be Culturally Literate

A few days ago, on the morning of May 4th to be exact, Grace emerged from her bedroom and greeted me with the phrase, “May the fourth be with you.” I must have looked at her a little strangely because she followed with the explanation, “It’s from this movie called Star Wars, in case you didn’t know.”

Duh..

My first instinct was to say sarcastically, “Thanks. Of course I know that’s a play off of Star Wars…EVERYONE knows that.” But then I realized why I must have looked at her strangely in the first place: because SHE wouldn’t know that phrase was a play off of Star Wars. She is a seven-year-old little girl who has never seen the movie, so she obviously learned “May the fourth be with you” from someone at school. And since she didn’t know why it was a cleverly funny phrase, she assumed I wouldn’t know either.

I think sometimes we parents take for granted that our kids know about things that seem obvious to us, things that are part of our everyday social fabric. It is something called cultural literacy, a body of general and collective knowledge that we expect everyone to be familiar with. Like Star Wars, for example. One would assume that at the mention of that movie, every person within listening distance would know what was being discussed. But we are not born knowing this stuff, and part of our job as parents is to raise kids who have a good fundamental literacy of our culture…which means yes, we do have to answer all those seemingly endless stupid questions that flow from their mouths in a steady current of mind-numbing frequency. Thankfully, our exasperated answers are really helping to build our children’s ties to society’s collective knowledge so they are less likely to always be that person figuratively just climbing out from under a rock.

When I was in college I read the book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.  In it, Hirsch takes the position that children are not learning what they need in order to become culturally literate members of society, and he also includes what he believes are necessary pieces of information that every American should know. It is no secret that many believe Americans are getting “dumber” with each new generation. Jay Leno has his popular “Jaywalking” bit that proves the average American can struggle with information that SHOULD be a no-brainer. I am not so sure that we are really dumber than we used to be, but I would argue that what is considered to be “common knowledge” has been changing.

And it changes quickly. What seems to be something everyone in a certain age set knows can be completely unknown to another age set, even just a few years younger. As a new teacher, I figured I had an advantage in being able to identify with the culture of my high school students who were sometimes less than ten years younger than me. I would often compare literary characters to celebrities in modern culture to make things more relevant. This usually worked, but there were a few occasions where what I thought would be hysterical and helpful just fell completely flat.

“Like sands through the hourglass…”

Like the time I spent hours creating a lesson plan where I compared each of the Greek gods and goddesses to characters on “Days of Our Lives” (mythology really WAS the first soap opera), only to find out that pretty much none of my students had ever watched the show. WHAT???? Didn’t they grow up with the afternoon drama of Bo and Hope as the background soundtrack as they played Barbies and their moms ironed clothes? Didn’t they try to arrange their high school class schedules so they had last period free and could watch “Days” in the senior lounge like I did? No, apparently they did not. And then there was the time I thought I was SO funny when I recreated the last act of Julius

My attempt at humor with the final act of Julius Caesar

Caesar as a movie storyboard to help my students keep all the events of the final battle straight. After listing out the “starring” cast of characters from the play, I playfully added “and DON KNOTTS as The Messenger.” Funny, right? Except that none of my students knew who Don Knotts was. Part of me wanted to tell them to watch some “Nick at Night” for homework. As far as I was concerned, that was a failure of cultural literacy.

But I guess that begs the question is cultural literacy a static concept? Obviously, it can’t be. As time marches on, there are more people, events, concepts, books, movies, etc. that inspire and change our culture, and therefore should become part of our common literacy. But once something is considered part of our collective knowledge, must it always maintain that status for future generations? Snookie has certainly become a person of reference known to the masses, but if the average person on Jaywalking in the year 2112 fails to know who the orange-tinted guidette on “Jersey Shore” is (or what a “guidette” is for that matter), should the American public be appalled? I am going to say no on that one. I would argue that there are two types of cultural literacy: generational (to which Ms. Snookie would belong) and trans-generational (to which George Washington would belong).

Considering that the “may the fourth be with you” joke has clearly amused a new young generation of fans, I’m guessing Star Wars has safely retained its spot in trans-generational cultural literacy. But I’m wondering, what will remain common knowledge to my children’s generation?  What will fall by the wayside? And I’m interested to know what YOU think should be taught to today’s children to ensure a society of a culturally literate public. As Linda Richman of Coffee Talk used to say: I’ll give you a topic. Cultural Literacy. It’s both cultural and literate. Discuss… 

Parenting Advice from Some Hippies

It occurred to me today that I should add something new to my children’s diets: dreams.

This suggestion did not come from my pediatrician, or Dr. Oz, or some celebrity chef who would likely scrutinize my sometimes questionable lunchbox choices on days when I hit the snooze button too many times or on mornings before the weekly grocery shopping trip.  In this case, my unlikely nutritionists go by the names of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Wait, not Young. No, yes Young. Let me check….yes, & Young.

Teach Your Children.” I have heard the song more times than I can count, mostly thanks to my father and his almost pristine taste in music. So when I heard it on the radio today, it should not have been any different from the thousands of other times. But then those voices in silken harmony began their sage advice: “Teach your children well. Their father’s hell did slowly go by. And feed them on your dreams…” BAM!

CSNY...parenting gurus?

It was as if I had heard those words, “and feed them on your dreams,” for the very first time. I apparently had never been listening before. But now I was. And all I could think was how beautiful that statement was. How poetic. How decadent in imagery. How representative of the generation of peace and love. How…wise and oddly practical. It was the best parenting advice I have heard in a long time. And it came from hippies.

Parenting is a competitive sport these days. We train prior to the big event. We scout experts and other parents, researching new approaches to the game. We are constantly adding pages to our playbook. We scrutinize every move we make. When we fail, we analyze where we went wrong; when we are victorious, we are awarded the right to brag about our “natural” skills and our abilities to outplay our children. And we are all working toward the same championship prize: for our well-rounded, intelligent, successful child to smoothly transition into a well-rounded, intelligent, successful adult.

That is what I have been told anyway. By whom? Pretty much the entire world, that’s who. Everyone has an opinion on parenting, and we are constantly bombarded by “experts” telling us how we should parent, how we should not parent, how much we should parent, all the things we are doing wrong as parents, and so on and so on. Are you a Tiger Mom? Are you a helicopter parent? Would you be a better parent if you were French? Is my child overweight because there are toys in Happy Meals? Are Disney princesses warping my daughter’s brain?

I am starting to think we are so busy reading about how to be parents that we forget to actually parent. Just pin that parenting tip on your Pinterest board labeled “Kid Stuff” and that’s all you need to do, right?

I am certainly guilty of all of this. I can be a bit of an over-analyzer when it comes to just about anything, my own parenting skills included. This is compounded by the fact that as a high school teacher, I was exposed to teenage behaviors on all points of the spectrum, thereby contributing to an irrational fear that every time I screw up in the parenting arena I have most definitely set my children on the path leading to the defiant, disrespectful, morally corrupt section of that spectrum. Maybe I should hover a little closer. No wait, maybe I should stop catering to my children’s needs like French parents. Or maybe I need to just nip this in the bud right now, pull out some Tiger Mom moves, and start calling my kids “garbage” until they start acting correctly.

Or maybe I just listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and feed them on my dreams.

My dreams for my children are pretty simple. Love and happiness. Sure, I want my children to do well in school. Sure, I want them to have ambition and drive. Sure, I want them to be successful in life. Would it hurt if they ended up making nice, hefty livings for themselves so they could one day hook up their old crotchety parents with a sweet retirement timeshare in Florida? No, it would not. But deep down, I truly believe that everything I want for my children, everything I dream for them stems from love and happiness. If I feed them love and happiness everyday, that will nourish their spirits, their confidence, their minds, their hearts. It will grow them into beautiful people, and beautiful people do great things.

I know, I know…it sounds a little hippie dippie. But it is not as if I am never going to yell at my kids again, or tell them little white lies, or take away toys, or hold them accountable for their actions. I am still going to do all that. Maybe now I will just start trusting that the kind of parent I am is exactly the kind of parent I need to be, and that losing my cool after asking my children to stop using the couch as a trampoline for the twenty-fourth time is okay as long as it is accompanied by a large helping of love and happiness. Just like it is okay to have a Happy Meal every now and again, accompanied by a usually balanced diet. (That’s right crazy society, there ARE parents who do not need you take toys out of fast food meals. Some of us can make educated decisions all on our own. Shocking, I know.)

And because any view on parenting would not be complete without a healthy dialogue from  many perspectives, I am curious: what ingredients go into YOUR dream meals for your children? Or maybe you think this whole dream diet is just another fad? Or maybe you think I am plain crazy for taking parenting advice from hippies?

Or maybe you find it ridiculous that I just wrote a parenting blog post about how we over-analyze parenting?