Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Please put down the electronics

I love electronics - would be ironic if as I was writing on a laptop,  a blog that goes into the ether,  I would say I did not.  I think the internet is endless possibilities and the library of Alexandria rolled into one, apps and new devices fascinate and lure me and most of all I actually do like the connectivity. 

I am not a luddite in any way and have never been.  I shared with my father a love of new inventions. I loved the new stereos he liked because they sounded better and had more options, I liked that he had an 8 track player in his car because now you could take music with you, I had a walkman when they came out, the disc camera and polaroid, my cameras got smaller and then went digital.  I loved my boom box with it's dual cassette deck that could record songs one from another as well as from the radio, man that was time consuming you had to always have it on record and pause, fingers poised like in a Western gun battle to push that pause, releasing it so you could record whatever song you wanted from the radio.  Skills I tell you.  I remember our beta player, Pong on the atari, remote controls coming into our house and my VCR.  My dad got me my first CD player and it was a prized possession in my first apartment.  Are you seeing it now?  I had car radios whose face plates came off so they did not get stolen in the not so good old days in NYC.   My AOL dial up on my Radio Shack computer, color screen, was worth giving up my phone line for and when I discovered music on there - buffering so slowly that all songs were start stop sing sing stop stop stop sing sing stop, it was magic.  I obviously like the social media sites and embrace the changes.  

However, while I have appreciated the advances for my work with them as well as for my personal use, the cell phone is probably my favorite   The iPhone really did change how I use the phone, it is a mini laptop in so many ways.  So with that history how could I possibly have such a conflicted relationship with these devices when it comes to my kids?

I told a friend recently that we have created a problem that we, ok me and a lot of people I know, cannot really control the way we wanted to.  The kids should have access, we owe them safety instructions on the internet and social media with it's forever memory of your stupid moves along with it being a bully pulpit, and they are well poised to use it as it evolves because they have it.  A skill they need.  We give it to them also in public spaces because let's face it you at the next table thank me because they are quiet and the parents can enjoy their dinner without running around and minimizing the possibility of meltdowns (minimize because we all know you may still get one).  This is all fine, they like it, we like it until we don't. 

In my house we have rules around electronic use, much like most families, and at dinner time out or in it is put them down while we are eating.  This works well but then sometimes when they are with their friends it becomes harder.  It should be easier right ?  I mean they have their friends but their friends are on them too.  How are they going to learn conversational skills?  I may have found meal times the greatest source of my fights with my dad for he had a captive audience and I can still feel the lump in my throat of the food, anger, sadness that got stuck there when it was not a conversation but his issues parenting me.  I also found they were the best times for when I learned so much from him and my mom.  I learned to talk to their friends and to mine.  I love learning and find people who are knowledgeable and who can talk on almost any subject just swoon worthy.   

We get aggravated with our kids for not putting the screens that we gave them down and I struggle to not lose my patience and make the "meal knot in throat" moment by discipling them for not putting the damn things away.  I watched them this weekend with friends and they found ways to play at the beach, talk about their games and even play card games without the glow of the screen lighting up their good looking faces, so it can be done.  In the arsenal of parenting, which is so hard but amazing, we now need to help balance what is and is not acceptable electronic use. 

These are amazing devices but they are not replacements to human interaction and as they get ready to go back to school I want to make sure my boys have their supplies along with their ability to meet new kids in their classes and socialize.  They learn to be kind and how to make connections which probably will lead to them exchanging ways to meet electronically.  To my boys I say "Please put down the electronics not for good but just for long enough to remember that talking to other people is what led to the creation of most of these innovations and they will be replaced but the friendships you form or forgo will not, nor will the time you could have spent talking your grandmothers who will not be here forever and of course me (hey only child here of course there has to be an about me part) and my time with you which I treasure".

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Go to the park

Having grown up in cities and in apartments I have always thought of parks as communal backyards. From an early age I saw them as the place this only child could play with other children.  Where I could learn that sharing, cause you know how every parent of an only child heard the myth and is over the top OCD about making sure we only children share, did not mean letting someone take something home.  That it meant waiting your turn to get on a slide and that there are some mean ass kids out there.

As a teenager parks were the places you hid from adults in as night settled in.  They were you went to play handball if they had a handball wall or to watch a boy you liked shoot baskets through metal hoops.  These were the places that at night, especially Astoria Park - look it up, great view of the city and great Hell's Gate Bridge, you went to sit for hours on the railing and talk about boys and dreams and making fun of the adults that just didn't get us. You did some serious singing along too to whatever songs you were into.   It was where you saw boys going aimlessly back through a loop just to spin out by some girl they wanted to impress, or  for other boys who would appreciate whatever roar that engine gave.  It was where radios blasted next to us and from cars.  Where you learned to hide the beer you were too young to have bought, got the excuse for the reason you smelled liked cigarettes (but Ma I wasn't smoking the person next to me was that's why I smell like smoke).  It was the place you found love in dark spots and smoked that thing legal only in some States now, but for sure not legal anywhere then.  It was the places that fights broke out and sections were divided in unspoken rules but respected because it was better to be there than not.  Especially in the summer.

We walked to parks as kids, as teenagers.  We avoided nights in Central Park, Tompkins Square Park, Washington Square Park when NY was not cleaned up and these places were dangerous in the dark.  Probably learned our caution from them but who doesn't love to cross Central Park, smack in the middle of a wonderful metropolis, in the daytime. 

In recent years I have traveled with my kids and in London, Paris, Rome, Venice they got a kick out of going to the parks there.  While we of course sat and enjoyed the scene, the fact that they were getting some energy out and of course some wine (it is Europe they have great wines and beers at these places).

Parks - the places where I took my kids even living in suburbia because I did not want them to just play in the backyard with one another.  I wanted them to meet people from this town, took them to neighboring towns and they made friends that they count among their closest from those encounters.  I live in a town where it's a roughly 50 - 50 divide on caucasian, latino and other (mix it up in your head and we have it).  I love that about this town.  Just like when they were in Europe it exposes my kids to having to make friends with or deal with people who aren't like them but who like scaling that monkey bar or a good game of tag as much as they do.  They learned that not everyone plays fair in the sandbox because who the inside of a person is has nothing to do with what they look like. 

So imagine my dismay and my surprise to read that parks in Westchester are not always open to the public.  Now in my Village of Ossining they are.  We welcome all - how could we not?  They provide a good place to play regardless of economic status.  You learn "5 more minutes" said in any language is the kids common plea regardless of how long you have been there.   The Village part of the Town I live in has another Village in it.  The residents that I know who live there, both those lucky enough to be part of our school system and the ones that are not and part of their own good school system, are really nice people.   They are a town of much higher income and much lower diversity, ok almost none, but they seem welcoming.  Just painting a picture folks not making a statement. 

Our Rec Center allows non-residents to join at a higher rate than residents and theirs doesn't.  Our train station allows for non-resident parking, yes at a higher rate.  Our parks have no signs that restrict access except for the residents of our Village .. WAIT WHAT??? How do you restrict access to a park that is open, no gates, not gated community that sit where both Villages of the same Town are located?  It is not unique to Briarcliff but it is shameful to me.  I get it blah blah they pay taxes but don't we all?  How are their awesome kids going to be able to experience the wonder of meeting our amazing kids if they are kept apart by a sign??

When did public parks become not public?  I mean what is the point of a park if not to learn to play nice in the sandbox (that means for everyone).  They claim it keeps out people who may be disrespectful to rules and grounds - well then hate to break it to you we weren't always as kind to the parks we were in as kids as we should have been but have mostly grown up to be productive adults who taught their kids to be more respectful of those places than we were in many ways.   

This is like the rhetoric of a certain candidate who shall not be named in all of these towns - it is keeping out anyone who is not already here and that is not the nation we should be. Tear down these signs people, if Ronald Regan can ask this of a wall dividing a city and a whole government system and that city survived I am confident tearing down the sign and letting children play together will not be the death knell of Briarcliff Manor, Dobbs Ferry, Croton or any other other place.  Maybe their residents for the most part don't know about these signs, don't know that they appear to endorse exclusionary, elitist, outdated rules (since I grew up in the late 70s I am hoping these archaic ones around here predate that).  I believe that people love the areas they live in and I believe that we all agree if someone is destructive they should be punished by fines or arrest if warranted.  A sign won't deter either of those but it will deprive our children of each other and of understanding that the best place to learn to meet and deal with others is in a good game of tag at a public park.   Funny as an only child I was reminded over and over to share - hmm saying the same thing to the adults who make these rules, share the park.   "Briarcliff Manor, Dobbs Ferry, Croton and others tear down those signs".... in the immortal words of JFK "Ich bin ein Berliner".

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Stranger Things and First Times

My boys like to have certain activities with me, often not inviting each other so it is just time for me with one or the other as well as the times when they reluctantly agree to let the other one join.   

I treasure time with my kids for I understand it is fleeting - before long, they will be just like we all were, teenagers with their own plans and then on to college morphing into planned visits.  So I will watch some crazy movie with superheroes and pick my favorite ones, Batman and Iron Man of course (hot guys with billions who want to save the world .. duh), and partake in the debates that follow about who would beat whom.  I have played paddle ball at the beach more times than I can remember, swam and played tag in the ocean even at 49 and generally can be persuaded into their games except for video games.  I hung up my video games when it no longer required either quarters or playing tennis with a square ball was the bomb when it came out.  My skills though quite impressive were in the realm of Pac-Man, QBert and Centipede/Space Invaders/Tetris not these realistic things that they play. I have no patience to match my lack of skill on this front.  However, a good board game and I am in. 

One of the things we do is we find series to watch together.  It started when they were little and we watched a lot of Backyardigans, Jack's Big Music Show,  Noddy, Calliou (which I found strange), Little Bear and Kipper.  They were not Thomas the Tank fans.   These were all cute and bearable.  We moved on to Scooby Doo (the newer ones) and enjoyed the mystery, all 3 of us.  It was hard to find the next thing though we kept trying. I either gave up or they did.  These days my younger son seems enthralled with some of the tamer Brit detective stories like Death in Paradise so we watch those together.  My older son was partial to Luther and is trying to make a case for the Wire, think he should be at least 14 for that one so we have a couple of years to go.  

We just found a new show on Netflix - Stranger Things.  Now it appeals to me because it is 1984, ahh such a good year, details are awesome.  It takes me back and the soundtrack is great.  It is a good mystery and the child actors are truly outstanding.  Matthew Modine and Wynona Rider - seriously traveled back in time right there.  It appeals to the kids because it is creepy and has a sci fi undertone. 

In a recent episode there were a few scenes about that first real (not the one you held hands with and kissed only at spin the bottle parties) boyfriend, you know especially for the girl who isn't the most popular but just popular enough.  There was that first kiss, slightly awkward and tenative until it wasn't (ok that happens with every first kiss even later and if you are lucky with some people every time you get to kiss them - wowza, sigh you know what I mean).  

There were the moments where no one but like your closest friend knew you made out, once ok twice ok ok three times.  Where you debated how far to let him go each time, the horror of people finding out and being their usual mean judgmental selves battling with wanting people to know the super cute boy picked you.   There was the moment when you were kissing and you could literally feel how much he wanted to go further and you just weren't ready or weren't sure what to be ready for (bathroom talk, movies, some ed in school and of course everyone told you but it still was all fable for you).  You knew you liked it but was that good or bad as a girl? The pressures even in 1984 were to like it but not enough that he thought you really liked it.  Oh for fuck's sake it was all so complicated and delicious.  That thrill when you saw him and the kissing, man that could go on for hours.  That first time you took off your shirt, shyly getting a little bolder, your bra in 1984 was either pink, beige or more likely white, cotton not a thing of beauty I might add.  Yet there you were wondering if you should make eye contact or if his eyes were going to lift to make eye contact.  That first time when you felt his hesitation and then the power that touch had on both of you. It was amazing those firsts  - probably many times better, from what I know and hear, than the first time for sex (which was often fast, uncomfortable and frankly while you may have been thinking about what you should be enjoying it was done and he had that goofy grin on -- what was all the hoopla about is what most of us thought).  Those other firsts are great memories, I can see the growing facial hair of the boy(s) that these moments happened with and I was thrilled because mostly I was funny and boys liked me but many liked me only as a friend.  

So in my things I share with my boys I am sharing this show and it is leading to some good conversations on a variety of topics with my boys.  The older son is also wondering as he heads into that first zone about so many things I think we all wondered about, I did not talk to my mom as openly, and his curiosity reminds me of why I started watching these shows with them to begin with.  It is to have the time together, to talk, to make memories and to be there for them before they go on to adventures that I hope are amazing as their "firsts".  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Smart is as Smart does

Access to information is more readily available to more people than ever in the history of time.   Reliable information as well as pure malarkey (what I can use the word too) out there, for most the world with just a few clicks on a keyboard.

Yet increasingly we have seen a push for what is politely called anti-intellectualism and I call if we keep them uninformed they will follow.   This is not a new tactic.  Information and education have always been closely guarded and parsed out.  Religion has been great at this tactic and as usual religion and power are closely tied together, so those supporting said religion have encouraged this throughout the ages.  I do not want to use the word stupid because that implies a lack of ability to process no no I am going with ignorance. 

In previous eras religion and rulers were able to keep people uninformed by not giving them access to literacy and written documents.  Today they have found they could this through memes, websites and the old fashioned threat that it is Evil to be educated and embrace philosophy, science, knowledge or admire those that do.  
If you are a history buff, like me, you see that reading was kept from the masses for many years, the printing press through a wrench into that plan when handwritten, guarded manuscripts could not be produced and disseminated on a machine, literacy still lagged behind but all you need to plant a seed for knowledge was say one or two people who could now read the things.  In the Dark Ages the powers that be were afraid of the power of the Enlightenment movement.  In current day only certain people are still allowed access to scriptures within their religions (yes that would be most - need to do more research but even believe Buddhist monks fall into this, see full disclaimer I did not know everything).

We have terms for smart people and they are often derogatory, we do embrace the successful smart people of the world but is that for their smarts or their financial success? We reward physical beauty and strength financially and with power but do most of us know the names of the folks who invented rocket fuel, cures for diseases, the people's names behind some of the more successful apps?

I am not a conspiracy buff, hey among ten people a secret (never mind a plot) is hard to keep imagine that times a lot of people, but this is not a conspiracy.  It is not funny to applaud people who wear their ignorance like a badge of honor, it is not good to deny what is plainly demonstrated scientific fact because it is inconvenient to a belief and most of all it is ok to question science and other sources in a way to get clarity.

I am a mother of two growing boys in a world where they do not have to go to the library, pull out a little drawer, understand how the decimal system for book shelving worked, deal with that smell of those cards, only during the times a library is open to have access to educate themselves.  They should learn to be proud of the knowledge they seek and find.  It is so much easier to make a people frenzied and divided when you are the source of their information, but today unlike in previous eras we do not have just the people at the podium or in the media telling us their version of the truth we can research for ourselves, we are that smart as a people.  

Knowledge is power and as a mother, a voter, a person I will battle anti-intellectualism in any way I can because I believe in the possibilities that people can have not the small mindedness of those who want to keep them from that potential.