Big City Meets Small Town

“I was born and raised in New York City, I’m just getting used to Colorado…” – Joni Mitchell.

That song came out right as I moved out here.  For a while I thought Joni was stalking me.

I grew up in the heart of Manhattan.  New York, New York, so nice they named it twice!  The only parades I ever witnessed were massive holiday celebrations like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade which was an excuse for people to behave badly, litter atrociously, and vomit profusely on the street.  Growing up as an introvert, I generally avoided masses of people.

Corn Roast Parade 021 Corn Roast Parade 024

After the Color Guard came the Veterans.  Veterans are guaranteed to make me cry.

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And then there’s this …mascot?  I told my husband he’d missed out on a job opportunity.  He was disappointed.  Or at least he pretended to be disappointed.

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My son is in marching band (he won’t be pictured in this series.)  We were teasing him about the majorettes and the possibility of getting “hit with a stray baton” (see: Wild Hogs).   As it turns out his school does not have majorettes, as they spent their time getting stoned instead of practicing and found themselves fired.

 Corn Roast Parade 059If you are going to be in a Corn Roast Parade, do it with class, and commit to the theme!
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I kinda love the diversity in this cheer-leading squad.  That’s eventful for a small town in middle America.

Corn Roast Parade 109So this guy.

This is a pizza place near the high school.  The hubster and I thought we’d try it out after school was done, so it wasn’t so crazy.  It was pretty terrible.  The pizzas were NOT fresh.  The salad bar was not fresh.  Everything was frozen and/or bagged.  Not yummy.  So when we saw this … um… entry in the parade the hubby let our a grunt of derision.  

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“I’m gonna shove that chicken right off that van.”

“Yes, dear.”  (Saying yes dear always calms the savage beast.)

There were many other small town moments.  Around this part of Colorado, we are apparently fond of “racing” rubber ducks down any stream or river we may have in the area.  I swear I am not exaggerating when I say this is a very popular event.  No one floats rubber duckies down the East River unless they were very naughty rubber duckies and double-crossed Guido.  That’s never a good idea.  Then you get rubber duckies with cement shoes.  It’s difficult to win a race that way.

Lots of people come to these rural harvest parades.  The people in the floats toss prizes out to the crowd … candy, toys, rubber bracelets, pamphlets to guilt you into voting for personhood (anti-choice) laws, Bible verses disguised as lovely Corn Festival programs, the usual.  (If you are camouflaging your Bible verses, you know people don’t want them.  How about you stop trying to force them on people?  They just go right in the trash AND people view you and your religion as deceptive and dishonest.)

I also managed to get both the high school football team schedule so I know when my kid has marching band events, and the music program calendar for school concerts.  These things are like gold in my house.  It is ridiculously difficult to get scheduling information out of teenagers in advance of a performance.  Normally, one finds out the kid has to be at school, dressed properly and with an instrument about 15 minutes before the bus is set to leave, or in the middle of dinner with 2 minutes to spare.  I can cram an entire plate of pasta into my face and be in the car with my camera and tripod in under 45 seconds at this point.

In the city, we just got ourselves to events on the subway.  I always felt bad for the kid who played bassoon.  Then one day I was prop master and had to drag a coat rack from our apartment to the school on the 2nd Avenue bus.  That was the day I realized anything goes in NYC and most of the time people won’t give you a second look even if you a wearing a taxidermied cat on your head.  They just don’t want to know what your problem is…they’ve got enough of their own.

In rural America, you wave across the parade and call out the names of people you know.  You stop and chat.  People definitely get in your business, they do want to know what your problem is.  I’m not always sure that’s a good thing.  Casseroles are good things.  Gossip, not so much.

At any rate, the kid marched.  A good time was had by all.  I have a year to talk the hubby into creating a float for his company to enter in next years parade.  Pretty sure it won’t include a chicken.

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Raising Teens

There are no books to prepare you for this.  There is no road map.  No magazine article with the perfect solution.  No one on earth can prepare a person for parenting a teenager.

One day you have this sweet smiling happy complacent child.

The next day you have a person in you house with the vocabulary of an ex-Marine trucker prison guard.

You try to remind yourself “It’s only hormones,” and that “The brain is still developing” as you watch your darling baby make changes that will be devastating to him for the rest of his life.

You reason.  You beg.  You plead.  

Then you threaten, you yell, you contemplate sending the kid to some military camp in Paraguay.

At the end of the day, nothing changes.  You can’t make another person do anything, even if you spent 9 months gestating and another 16 hours in labor to create that person.  

Because that person is insane.

Yes – there are hormones and unbaked brownies for brains.  Yes there is the developmental need to break from one’s parents to become independent.  Yes there are sweaty socks and T-shirts that should be burned.  It’s temporary, but it’s insanity.

None of this new behavior and vocabulary comes close to being anything rational or useful for life.  You get to a point where have to question how any of us made it to adulthood at all.  Certainly many of us didn’t.  I have a laundry list of lost friends.  Kids who died doing all sorts of stupid things, and some who died because others were doing stupid things.  Car crashes, drugs, drownings, the girl who really thought she could fly, the boy who blew his brains out.

Why doesn’t this other person get it?  Why doesn’t he or she understand you when you plainly spell out how the world works and why refusing to do things one finds boring is a first class ticket to homelessness?

Positive reinforcement?  My kids found a way to take that away from themselves.  Instead of working towards something, they would decide that the payoff simply was not worth it.  They have no intrinsic value system, and absolutely no extrinsic value system.

Negative reinforcement?  My kids have decided it doesn’t exist.  But they won’t actually test that theory.  I promise that if they do the work, I will get off their backs about it.  They must really enjoy being nagged.

I have to wonder if this is some bizarre phase of evolution in which an entire generation is set for a big die-off because they refuse to learn how to sustain themselves.  There are only so many ways to teach a kid to shower.  I imagine if they ever move out that I will have to call to remind them to brush their teeth and do their laundry.  When I die, they will move into comfortable to square cardboard boxes under a bridge somewhere.  I suspect they will bring down the property values of the other hobos boxes.

They’ve been to therapy.  They’ve been to the school counselor.  The way they fail their gifted and talented classes, you’d think they love summer school and credit recovery.  They like to do things twice.  It’s apparently easier than doing it once.

Logic does not apply here.

You can’t give me an idea or a piece of advice that I haven’t tried.

I can’t use counseling techniques learned in school, because they are for a different kind of relationship than parent-child.

The school is useless.

Counseling has been fruitless.

My kids resist work as if it was death itself.

Don’t give the parent advice.  They’ve already heard it.  There is truly nothing new under the sun by the time the kid is a teenager.  Different distractions?  Sure.  But they are still distractions.

The fact remains, they are insane, we have to live with them, and they are hormonal lunatics with undeveloped frontal lobes.

Experience tells us that in spite of that, the chances for survival are pretty good.

DeTox – Day … oh who am I kidding?

There is no longer a detox.  I’m just not Facebooking as much as I was.  And there is so much to write about.  Today might be a two- parter.  

Let’s start with the post I never got to finish:  My Cat is a Mass Murderer.

She’s an indoor cat, she’s technically not allowed outside.  But the dogs let her out in the evenings.  They may be trying to get her eaten by an owl or possibly they have made a deal with a pack of coyotes.  Perhaps she’s just running between their paws.  Maybe she plans to split the catch with them.  No matter how she does it, she gets out.

And then she hunts.

When she was a young barn kitten, before we brought her in, she was a terrible hunter.  I, myself, witnessed mice outsmarting her.  In middle age, she’s suddenly become Queen of the … um… pasture.  

At first we thought the mice were getting in the house and she was catching them.  Then we realized that she was bringing the mice in and letting them go so she could refine her skills indoors.  (A previous blog post recounts how, as a result of this game, I had to refine my mouse catching skills as well.)  So far her count has been about 3 indoors, and perhaps 4-5 outside left on the stoop outside the dog door.

Maybe she’s trying to intimidate the dogs?  “I am a mighty huntress!  Look out or you’re next!”

She eats them just as BKliban describes.  We only ever have to clean up the back half of mousies.  She bites their heads off and then I don’t know what she does.  We haven’t found a secret cache of tiny mouse skulls anywhere.

Mousies

I would prefer a pacifist cat.  One that simply watches wildlife out the window as she contorts herself into implausible grooming positions.  One that is content with kitty kibble in her bowl and a soft kitty bed near the fireplace.  Living with a mass murderer who likes to sleep on your head at night is a little disconcerting.

DeTox – Day 19 Inspiration from a quote

“You see a person’s true colors when you are no longer beneficial to their life.”

A friend posted that this morning on Facebook.  (Oh yeah – that Detox thing?  Miserable failure.)

What are a person’s “true colors”?  Psychologically speaking, we are different people in different situations.  A person behaves one way in front of her parents, another way with her girlfriends, and still another with her boyfriends.  A fellow behaves differently at work than at a funeral, he behaves one way at the supermarket, and a different way at a bar.  We all behave differently when we are alone than when we are in the company of others. So what are a person’s “true colors”?  

It’s difficult to know.  I suspect that in the context of this quote, it means that the person who wants something from you will behave differently before they get that thing than they will behave after they get it.

This insinuates that people interact solely in order to gain something from the other person or people.

The idea of altruism is also psychologically believed to not exist.  We simply can’t do something for another person without benefit to ourselves in some way.  If we give money to a homeless person, we get the benefit of feeling like we have helped someone.  In a soup kitchen, we get the recognition of others working with us and those who receive what we our work has provided.  Even anonymous donations or acts allow the giver some sense of moral satisfaction.  In this, all relationships are selfish on some level, we are getting something for giving of ourselves.

This quote isn’t addressing the normal selfishness of human interaction.  This quote is specifically talking about people who use others for a specific end goal.  Sometimes that may be as simple as monetary gain.  Other times, it’s complex and the motives are hidden, possibly even to the person who is hoping to get something from the connection.  The gain could be knowledge, a business association, a different more influential relationship, admission to a club.

Sometimes the gain is in personal validation.  A person may seek out others who will simply boost his or her ego in some way.  She may seek out someone who idolizes her.  He may seek out someone who is not as smart or educated in order to have confirmation of his own intelligence.  She may seek out someone less successful so that her own ego is supported.

When I got divorced, I experienced a sloughing off of relationships.  In many cases, I had been holding up the egos of others while in my miserable and unhappy marriage.  My situation allowed them to feel good about their own.  When I got strong, when I learned to stand up for myself, when I set boundaries – that’s when problems arose.  In some instances this happened immediately.  Other relationships took weeks or months or even years before the “true colors” became apparent.

I had previously simply needed those people in my life, I needed friends. I was desperate for anyone to be my friend and was willing to be whoever they needed me to be just to make them stay.  In that way, there was a benefit for me as well.  It just wasn’t a healthy benefit.  I was still sacrificing myself and my needs in order to keep them in my life.  The difference was that I was willing to keep them in my life without sacrificing myself.  In other words, I was willing to keep the friendship, and just modify it to a relationship between equals rather than the relationship between a pedestal and the vase being supported by the pedestal.  I was still willing to support these people, but not only as the miserable example that made their lives look fantastic by comparison.

I was willing to have a mutually supportive relationship.

What became apparent was that they were not willing, or perhaps not able, to make that transition.  My success, my survival and eventually my ability to thrive after the divorce became a threat to those particular people.  I was valuable to them only as a bad example or as someone lesser than them in some way.  My ability to thrive somehow diminished them.  When I was a good example, it meant that they too would have to face themselves and their lives and recognize their own weaknesses along with their strengths.  

Human beings, it seems, are not very good at looking at our weaknesses.

When we are forced to look at them, and the way they make us feel and the way they make us treat others, we react.  That reaction is not always for the best.  Instinctively, we want to protect ourselves from hurt and from pain.  The easiest way to do that is to strike out in anger.  It intimidates others into returning to their former submissive roles, or it simply makes them go away.

I wasn’t willing to return to submissiveness.  I walked away from a lot of those relationships when it became clear they required me to be less than I was capable of being.  When they were unable to celebrate with me, I had to find new friends.

There were some people that I fougt for, those with whom I sincerely tried to translate the relationship into something more mutual and meaningful.  There were also relationships with people who were completely willing and able to accept the changing nature of the friendship, and allow it to strengthen and deepen for both of us.  They were not threatened by my personal growth, nor by my new found ability to set and keep boundaries.

If a relationship is solely based on the benefits one gains from the other, but not on what benefits one can provide, then there is simply no great loss.  If I am no longer useful to you, and you walk away, I haven’t lost anything.  In fact, I’ve probably gained time, energy, and emotional independence.  I should thank those people for walking away.

More importantly, I should thank those people who stayed with me through my growing pains, and allowed me to become more fully myself.  If my “true colors” are mutual respect, supportive equality, love, kindness, and a willingness to evolve, learn, and grow, then those are the people who deserve my “true colors”.  Thank you – you know who you are!

DeTox – Day 18 Survival Parenting, Driving, and the Internet

I was born the last year of the “Baby Boom”.  

In my life time, telephones have evolved from rotary to push button to cordless to whatever 4G is.

When I went to college the first time, I brought with me the Smith-Corona typewriter I had been given for Christmas my senior year of high school, a box of typing paper, and a bottle of Wite-Out.  Only one kid owned a personal computer.  The rest of us had to go to the computer lab and sign up for a time to use one of the 16 available IBMs, or 4 available Macs, armed with our five and a quarter inch floppy discs.  Printing was expensive and slow.

It is no wonder then, that few in my age group were prepared to deal with our own children and computer usage.  After all, aren’t computers great tool that help us find information, write papers, stay in touch with people who are far away?  Don’t computers enhance our lives by allowing us to relive old childhood TV shows, find friends from summer camp, meet our future spouses?

My children learned to use computers by playing matching games on the Blue’s Clues channel of Nickelodeon.  I bought them all of the Magic School Bus games, and they learned to navigate puzzles and quizzes that taught them about the ocean, volcanoes, dinosaurs, and other topics in science and math.  

Somewhere along the line, I lost control.  I’m not sure when or where that happened.  For a while, when they were losing teeth and learning to ride bicycles, they had little or no computer interaction.  Now I can’t pry their fingers off the keyboard with hot pincers.  How did this happen?

I remember, as a child, being grounded from going outside to play with my friends.  It was the worst 15 minutes of my young life.  I sat in the second story window, gazing forlornly out at my friends on their bicycles and skateboards.  I was the most pathetic child ever to take a breath of climate controlled air.  The only thing that could prevent me from wilting away to a husk of a 10 year old child was the ability to inhale deeply from the humid New York City streets below.  This air-conditioned prison was going to be the end of me.  My step-Father could handle only so much.  I was finally released back to the wild as the dinner calls from the doormen started coming in.  

“Peter, your mother wants you in now,”
“Corin, time for dinner!”

Evenings meant meals and books.  After all, there was only one TV in the apartment, in my parent’s room.  I could watch what they were watching, or I could read.  I read a lot.

I can not tell you the last time I saw one of my boys pick up a book to read for pleasure.  Perhaps the Lord of the Rings series, when the movies came out.over ten years ago.  I’ve since bought them such amazing classics as 1984 and Dune, only to be met with disinterested grunts as they turned back to the screen.

I’ve tried limiting screen time. I’ve begged for family time.  I’ve cited studies about attention span and sleep patterns and health. I’ve set the router to turn off at 9:30pm.  I’ve been met with such hostility and arguments of such high caliber that my determination was worn out within a few hours. (Not that it mattered, it turns out that the cell phones given to them by my ex-husband can act as wifi hotspots.)  I’ve tried getting interested in their games. I find myself baffled at how these online quests could hold anyone’s attention for more than a few days, or a week at most.  I’ve been promised by psychologists that the boys would grow tired of these games and want to live their own lives.  I find no evidence yet that this could happen.  Ever.

Worst of all, I cannot get these boys outside.  They won’t walk, they won’t bicycle, they won’t willingly go hiking or camping and we live in the outdoor paradise of Colorado.  Have you even encountered a teenage boy who wasn’t dying to get his hands on the car keys?  I have two of them.  My oldest didn’t get his license until he was 19.  The youngest, now 17, regularly grumbles about having to drive to get the hours required before he can take the practical test. 

I must be an awesome chauffeur.  

Nonetheless, today I am getting that 17 year old to the DMV and we’ll see if he has learned anything this past year of driving.  I’m exhausted.  I simply cannot drive him to every event anymore.  I have things I have to do as well.  

I expect great resistance.  There will be moaning, and probably groaning.  I suspect he will gravitate to that computer as if it had a mystical power over his every movement.  Voices might get raised.  With enough coffee, I could triumph, but the day is yet to be won.  Wish me well.

Welcome to the world of a Chimera