Posts tagged ‘parenting’

Mainstreaming the “F Word” or How Not to Promote a Civil Society

I don’t watch much television these days.  Maybe a little Wheel of Fortune while I’m on the elliptical trainer before dinner, or occasionally kicking back in front of a rerun of The Closer after a tiring day.  For one thing, free time is at a premium, but I’m also just plain turned off by the current programming on that machine I’ve been turning on since I was four years old.  Even at seven o’clock in the evening, I can’t imagine kids and parents sitting down to watch together.  That slot used to be called the Family Hour.  Howard Stern’s family, maybe. 

I can hear the husband of a certain friend of mine now, as she reads this and says to him, “This week Sue Anne is offended by the content of commercial television,” and he says, “What isn’t she offended by?!”  In my defense, behind these particular convictions is painful personal experience and a long  history of trying to squeak out small protests amidst the oceanic roar that is the American Viewing Public, voting loudly with their viewing habits, week after bawdy week.  

What set me aboil over this hot topic, after decades of escalating coarseness?  Well, I got behind in my schedule and ended up having dinner alone at 7:30 one recent evening, so I looked to the TV for a little company as I ate.  Channel-surfing led me all the way around the dial, passing up The Big Bang Theory (frequent sexual innuendo, juvenile references to masturbation); Grey’s Anatomy (crude language and uncommitted sexual hookups, staple elements); Bones (fixated on kinky fetishes and provocative subcultures, as well as their characters’ pulsating libidos during brief periods of [gasp] celibacy); The Vampire Diaries (sex scenes including teenagers, some involving coercion, violence, and occult lore); and $#*! My Dad Says (profanity – there’s a shocker – and gratuitous references to oral sex, masturbation, genitalia size).  This jaunt landed me briefly in the smack-middle of an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, featuring the out-of-control rantings and ravings of restaurateur Gordon Ramsay. 

The violent tone of this side-show was the first thing to reach out like a slap in the face, but when I realized that participants were screeching the “queen mother of all dirty words” back and forth at each other across the counter tops, it almost put me off my dinner.  It takes a lot to put me off my dinner.  Even the short time I sat stunned, my thumb frozen in mid-air above the channel selection button on the remote, exposed me to scathing diatribes and rude antics (like throwing cooking utensils across a crowded room) I would never tolerate in a friend, acquaintance, family member, or co-worker.  Why would I choose to spend precious time wincing my way through an hour of it from a spectator’s seat? 

I don’t care how effectively the film editors patch together a dramatic crescendo or flesh out sympathetic real life characters, nothing can make this horror show seem like entertainment to me.  But let’s say I got into it, and started caring about those characters, and started loving to hate the Chef Almighty whose artistic temperament and directorial mandates give him license to verbally abuse those around him.  The question then becomes, should I risk desensitization to lewd, destructive behavior by exposing myself to it, packaged under the guise of entertainment? 

I have learned to say, “No,” but it’s not always easy, as when I get momentarily intrigued by the abject shallowness of the characters on (more…)

November 17, 2010 at 5:02 pm 1 comment

Momisms and Popisms: Stuff Other People’s Parents Told Them

   A few weeks ago I posted a sampling of quotes I recall from growing up with a dad who was full of good information, and I asked for feedback from others who remember tidbits from their own childhoods.  I am enough of an inveterate divulger to remain astonished that not everyone leaps to share their personal experiences with the world at large.  But the smattering of responses I got, while small in number, were gems with no need of polishing.  Some are telling anecdotes that encapsulate a general philosophy and others, small snippets that might be stitched onto cloth and hung on the wall.

The invitation to contribute to this exchange still stands.  To grease the hinges on the vault door to your own memory archives, consider these offerings from fellow readers:

From my cousin … “Oooh, this advice [see 9/6/10 posting] sounds so familiar… possibly because my father was your father’s brother.  But also I love the way fathers give quintessentially practical advice, so precious for its sensible, unemotional quality.  It is their way of loving…and it truly helps you through life, for it stays with you.”

From a friend who knew me when … “For our 40th anniversary, our oldest son put together a DVD for us with pictures of my husband, Bobby, and me when we met, and of our early parenting years, along with recordings from old reel-to-reel tapes.  I cried happy tears as I heard my babies’ voices, plus those of my mom and dad, and even my beloved sheepdog, Pookie; voices gone from us for many years. 

“Two outstanding quotes from my mother were, ‘Did you learn to cook yet?’ and ‘You take care of Bobby and he’ll take care of you.’”

 From a fellow parishioner … “I recently found a card with this quote, in with a bunch of photos and such from my mother’s belongings.  I wish I had adopted this advice long ago but it has always been a weakness (part of the sin thing).  ‘The Art of Governing the Tongue, a quote from Benjamin Franklin:  The mouth of a wise man is in his heart.  The heart of a fool is in his mouth.’

“There are a lot of good things we could have learned from our parents, if we had only had our ears open and our mouths shut.”

And another jewel, from Ecclesiastes 7:5, on using discernment in who you listen to … “It is better to be criticized by a wise man than to be praised by a fool.” 

From a family friend whose father was in the Navy with my father … “Dad would say to me, ‘Well, I think we’ve learned something here, and nobody was killed!’, anytime a big lesson was learned or whenever some kind of momentous calamity occurred – and I caused more than my share. 

“For example, when I was around ten, I had a chemistry set and somewhere, I don’t remember where, I came up with the recipe for black (more…)

October 12, 2010 at 11:04 pm Leave a comment

Stuff My Dad Told Me

   Note: September 6th marks both the Labor Day holiday and what would have been my father’s 90th birthday. I dedicate this posting to his memory.

There I am, a fifty-something woman, sitting in my eighty-something father’s living room, as we commiserate about our mutual hot flashes. Mine arise from mid-life changes and his from hormone therapy for elevated PSA levels, but this is still not a scenario I would have ever predicted in decades past. I wasn’t, in my very early years, much inclined to imagine scenarios of any kind. I did, however, ask a lot of questions.

As a highly inquisitive kid, I had been born into the right family. My father was a well-read, well-educated guy with experience in many areas of work and life, always able and willing to help me come up with answers to that endless flow of queries. 

In the late 1980s, I started a Father’s day tradition of recounting remembered paternal homilies from my youth. Dad claimed no recollection of having shared many of these bits of advice. Funny; they stuck in my mind like bubble gum to the underside of a schoolroom desk.

Following is a small, paraphrased sampling of those “sticky” bits of wisdom, on subjects ranging from grammar to etiquette to mental hygiene.  (more…)

September 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm 1 comment

Tough-Love Letters to a Troubled Teen – III

    Dear Maisie, 

I haven’t heard from anybody down there since you got invited to spend a long weekend with the local authorities, so I find myself piecing together a mental image of what your days might be like during this separation from home. It grieves me to picture you in that unfamiliar, institutional place, but perhaps you have been granted some precious time to think through your past and your present and your future. 

I feel helpless right now. Sort of like when Uncle J. has a severe insulin reaction and all I can do is flutter about and offer orange juice and stroke his neck and provide a cool, damp cloth for his brow. Except I can’t even do that much for you.  And at least with his temporary hypoglycemia, I can watch as he slowly returns to me and that glazed, distant stare begins to refocus, his words gradually starting to come together in full sentences and his mind re-engaging with the world around him. 

With you, I have no idea whether anything I do or say helps – or hurts; no gauge for whether my caring and worrying mean anything in the midst of the turmoil that swirls around you in the form of legal repercussions and family estrangement; no direct contact to allow me a sense of the disorientation you must feel, being wrenched from your daily routine and the cozy nest of your own neighborhood and circle of friends. 

I can only keep writing these weekly letters, as I have for the past few years, since long before you misstepped your way onto the “Down” escalator of self-defeating behaviors, and pray that something will click, and you’ll soon find your way back to us. 

For I believe with all of my heart that you are not a lost soul who has chosen doom for yourself. What nonsense! When all the possibilities of a sunny and contented future lie within such a short reach, why would you? Nothing can be so overwhelming that you and God and your many loving supporters together can’t handle it. 

My prayer and my urgent yearning is that you will release yourself from the drama and the heartache now, rather than later, and choose without delay for tomorrow to be your next bright day.  

                          Love you and miss you always, 

                                             Aunt Suz


September 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm 1 comment

Tough-Love Letters to a Troubled Teen – II

   Dear Maisie,

I am listening to the drone of a lawn mower outside my study window as I sit down to write to you this week. The sound reminds me of how life is made up of so many seemingly insignificant events – small tasks or daily routines – that we don’t give much thought to. Yet when you add them all up at the end of a year, they form the patchwork quilt, the running narrative composition, of our lives on earth: each little effort as we work toward a goal or create a pleasant experience for someone else; every opportunity to use our gifts for scholarship or art or craftsmanship, or for working the soil to produce good things. 

That’s just me feeling philosophical today, but I have often had to remind myself that sending a note to a discouraged friend or baking cookies for a sick neighbor or taking someone to the store or a doctor’s appointment are not time-devouring side trips off the path that carries us toward the really important things, the Big Stuff that we hope to accomplish. They are more accurately the atomic particles that give forward momentum to our existence.  

And then the Big Stuff becomes the road markers that we aim for as we are being propelled along by these humdrum, everyday duties.  

When I was in high school, I coasted; couldn’t see the point of any of it; deprived myself of the joys of accomplishment. I didn’t know how to dig inside myself for a purpose. Heck, I didn’t even know who I was, so ready was I to let others define that for me. How ever was I supposed to know what to do with me?  

I’m still not always sure to this day how to define myself, or whether I want to fully accept the “Who” I have grown into, but when I keep plugging away and let the Lord direct my steps, then my days start to fill up with meaning. And if nothing else, I can tell my own story as a cautionary tale, and share the sweet sustenance of stories about people who inspire us to endure with grace. Serving others is always better than trying to please them. 

Some day I will write about you. It will be an account of struggle and triumph; it will have a happy ending, bursting with encouragement for those who read it. And it will be the story of a young life redeemed, with God’s help and your own “everyday” efforts. 

I love you…

                                           Aunt Suz

August 27, 2010 at 3:28 pm Leave a comment

Tough-Love Letters to a Troubled Teen I

     Dearest Maisie,

I usually look forward to sitting down to write to you every week, but today I find that I’m procrastinating, thrashing about for words; no idle chitchat about homework and weather seems appropriate under the circumstances of our bright, beautiful grandniece having gotten herself kicked out of school. I guess I’ll just dive in, and pray that God will guide me to say useful things. 

I need to start by assuring you that I do understand resentment and anger. Life on this earth is fraught with reasons to accumulate both. Uncle J. knows that firsthand. He was only twelve when he learned that he would never get the chance to live a “normal” life; that he would have to watch everything he ate and drank, and give himself insulin injections multiple times each day. As he grew older, he learned that diabetes could cut his life shorter than some, and that he might have severe problems related to his condition, problems like heart disease and loss of vision, or even amputated limbs. 

When he was only 33, he lost his youngest brother, first to mental illness and then to a premature death from a seizure. And perhaps his greatest agony was when he lost his family to an unwanted divorce and he didn’t see his children for months on end. He used his faith to get him through each hardship, but still, there are scars and there is underlying pain. 

I, too, have known reason for emotional distress. My mother – damaged by the desertion of her own father at a very young age – passed along her defensiveness and insecurities to me, communicating confusing messages about relationships; my own family turned their backs on God and my parents’ marriage ended in a bitter divorce; my brother chose drugs and alcohol over his family, even over his beautiful baby boy; and I spent many years accepting poor treatment from others because I had such a low regard for myself. Floundering and searching for two decades, I accumulated a huge load of anger – eventually mostly at myself, for wasting so many of my early years. 

We also have a friend who suffers from cerebral palsy, traceable to physical complications at birth . From his earliest years he has been virtually wheelchair-bound and often ostracized by others, left to reasonably wonder why his lot in life is what it is.  

So we certainly recognize how life can deal you blows that cause deep and excruciating wounds. Of course, we can never know exactly the degree or the nature of the anguish that churns inside of you because of your family split and your early shuttling between households while your parents sorted out their own issues, but we do understand that it exists and that there may be good reasons for (more…)

August 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm 2 comments

Teaching Our Children What It Means To Be an American

    On Sunday, July 4, like thousands of Americans, I attended church – the freedom to do so being a particularly poignant privilege on the occasion of Independence Day. Our pastor gave an exceptional sermon inspired by Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty by which Christ has set us free,” and warned of the dangers of incrementalism. To open the service, we sang Christ, by Heavenly Hosts Adored, a hymn by Henry Harbaugh. Two lines into verse three, my throat tightened to an aching lump and biting tears stung my eyelids. See if you have the same reaction:

                                                  Let our rulers ever be

                                                  Men that love and honor Thee;

                                                  Let the powers by Thee ordained

                                                  Be in righteousness maintained

                                                  In the people’s hearts increase

                                                  Love of piety and peace

                                                  Thus united, we shall stand

                                                  One wide free and happy land.

My pained response to these sweet sentiments welled up from a harbor of uncertainty deep inside of me. We like to believe that things will right themselves within a political system that encompasses a brilliantly designed set of checks and balances. But even the noblest of systems is as corruptible as the men and women who operate within in it.

When many have come to accept a 30% return on their tax dollar for the privilege of allowing political entities to perpetuate the social problems they claim to address, I have to ask myself:  Have we actually availed ourselves of the Founders’ intended protections from the creeping expansion of centralized power over the lives of individuals, or has post World War II abundance lulled us into complacency –  like Martin Luther’s smug frog, who sits and enjoys his warm saucepan bath, not noticing that the water is getting dangerously hot?  Have incremental exchanges of personal freedoms here and now for the vague guarantee of future benefits slowly sapped us of our reverence for self-sufficiency and fierce individualism?

A recent YouTube clip circulating on the internet features talk show host Dennis Prager being asked the question, “What is the biggest single threat to the future of America?”  Mr. Prager replies, “The single biggest threat to the future of America is our failure to teach our children what it means to be an American.” He argues that if people cannot even articulate what it is that makes America unique, they’ll never comprehend the importance of preserving those principles that led Abraham Lincoln to call it “The last best hope for mankind.”

And I argue that perhaps we’ve stopped teaching the historical facts that lead one to an awed respect for the cycle of events and the degree of personal sacrifice that brought about this grand experiment. Exceptionalism isn’t arrogance, and it isn’t a shallow sense of parochial devotion to one’s homeland. It is the magnet that pulls others from all corners of the globe to seek a better life for themselves and their families; it is the difference between being a land of opportunity and a wasteland of underachievement. (more…)

July 14, 2010 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

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