Monday, November 28, 2011

If Anyone's Going to Insult My Kids, It's Gonna Be Me

Anyone with a sibling can relate to the "no one can pick on my sister/brother but me," phenomenon. You may regularly beat the snot out of your most immediate family member, but if someone outside the bloodline gets in on the action, you're prepared to rise up in defense. I experienced this with my own sister and I've seen it happen with Ian and Abby.

A similar phenomenon takes place with parents and their children. It is perfectly acceptable for me to criticize, condemn, and express disappointment with my child(ren), but should a neighbor, teacher, or even another relative find fault with the fruit of my loins, look out cause momma bear won't stand for that.

Recently this momma bear felt the need to sharpen her claws after reading an opinion piece in the November issue of Philadelphia magazine. In his Off the Cuff column, a certain D. Herbert Lipson, 81, chairman of magazine, penned what amounted to an attack on today's young adults and the parents who raised them. Lipson began by bemoaning the general state of our nation and then specifically turned his attention to:

  • Occupy Wall Street/Philadelphia and the "ragtag bunch" of "perpetually unemployed" 
  • The "fundamental decline in our competitive spirit"
  • The dismal state of our educational system as evidenced by our ranking 9th in percentage of citizens who are college graduates and 51st in science and math education 
  • The fact that more students major in psychology than in engineering...because engineering, or physics, or math, "requires a great deal of work." And, "That’s not something our young people are interested in."

Lipson didn't hold back when describing the future leaders of this country:

There are very few 22-year-olds—excuse me, make that 25-year-olds, because most kids don’t graduate from college in four years—who impress me as going anywhere. They seem poorly educated and unmotivated. They strike me as lazy and immature. 
But he made sure to share the blame:
The fault isn’t entirely theirs—we’re all responsible. Somehow, we’ve substituted coddling young people, shielding them from pain and the problems of growing up, for the real lessons of life. Our culture now insists that childhood is a time to make sure no hardship punctures the pristine bubbles in which we keep our children. No wonder they’ve become lazy and uninterested in tough challenges. The great irony is that in protecting our children—and not introducing them to the obvious idea that nothing is obtained in life without prodigious toil and hardship—we are relegating them to lives that will not be as successful or happy as ours.
And most importantly, Lipson offers a solution:
They’d be much better off getting prepared for the real world instead of having a childhood of fun and games.

Okay, take a deep breath with me.

My reaction to Mr. Lipson's angry old man rant ran the gamut from "You make a couple reasonable points," to "I beg to differ," to "No one calls my kids lazy and immature but me!" Okay, technically I don't have children in this age group. I do, however, know several young adults who qualify based solely on their age and most definitely NOT as he describes them. In fact, since I first started this blog nearly two years ago, I've wanted to celebrate these young adults and write a post that recognizes them for the outstanding contributions they make to this world. Mr. Lipson's "off the cuff" commentary provided the incentive I needed. So allow me to celebrate:

  • The entire Northern Ireland young adult group that came to this country a few years ago to join my church mission team working in the poorest areas of western North Carolina. Today they are in ministry, teaching, and other careers that make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Neighborhood "kids" Richard, Ryder, and Bridget. Perhaps the most mature, well-rounded, intelligent young adults you ever want to meet. Richard is in his 2nd year at Swarthmore College (I don't know what he's majoring in, but even if it's not science or math related, he's going to kick butt with whatever he does), and Bridget and Ryder are in high school. And they're not just smart and respectful. They're funny, personable, and great to be around. And they made top-notch babysitters when my kids were little.
  • Salim, the boy next door. We watched him grow from a smart high school kid who built his own computers, to a  U of Pitt graduate in engineering and chemistry. He's currently working on his graduate degree (PhD, I think) in biomedical engineering and is employed by Pittsburgh's UMPC Artificial Heart Program. Oh, and his slacker sister is a child psychiatrist who works in war-torn countries with Doctors without Borders. How embarrassing for the family.
  • Our dearly departed Cara. She was God's gift to children's ministry before she left us for the west coast. She's now in seminary in California.
  • My kids' summertime babysitters. This exemplary lot included: 
    • Laura Jean - Newly married occupational therapist
    • Kevin - Physical therapy major at Ithaca College
    • Nicole - Student at Grove City College; children's ministry intern (and her brother Mike is in dental school)
Quite a poorly educated, unmotivated, lazy and immature bunch, eh?

Finally, I need to address one of Mr. L's concluding remarks:
They’d be much better off getting prepared for the real world instead of having a childhood of fun and games.
Wow. REALLY? This is where we parents can't win. On one hand, my generation and the one before has been criticized for stressing out our kids. Expecting too much. Overscheduling them with sports, music, volunteer work. Preparing them for the Ivy League when selecting a preschool. Baby Einsteining them into the Mensa society. Now this curmudgeon suggests our children are having too much fun.

As a parent I struggle daily with what to expect from my children. How hard I should make them work. What hardships they should endure. Will my parenting make them stronger and more resiliant or push them over the proverbial edge? The last thing I need is someone at least thirty years out of parenting young children to deliver such a scathing review of the efforts we're making.

What is your reaction to Mr. Lipson's "Off the Cuff" comments?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving Public Service Announcement

You often hear how smart animals are. The pot-bellied pig who saves his owner after a heart attack. The dolphins who guide a drowning man to shore. And of course, Lassie who always manages to bring help when Timmy is stuck in a well. I, for one, have not enjoyed the company of particularly intelligent animals. In fact, more often than not, I have had a front row seat for "animals behaving badly." The dog who eats cat poop out of the litter box, follows it up with an entire shoo fly pie, and spends the evening throwing up on my carpet. The deer which, despite watching his buddy get hit by a car, decides to cross the highway at rush hour anyway. And who can forget watching the chimp at the zoo scratch his butt and then stick his gnarly long "finger" into his mouth? This is not intelligent behavior.

It's a good thing we human animals are significantly more advanced.

My higher level thinking, much like my dearly departed dog Maddie, reveals itself when it comes to food. In the past I have had issues when making poor nutritional choices. But, being the intelligent creature that I am, I have learned from my mistakes. Yesterday was a case in point. I made a healthy lunch selection: chicken cordon bleu sandwich with fries and a Coke. I then treated myself to the required movie theater popcorn while taking in a 4:00 p.m. showing of the new Twilight movie (still more evidence of my advanced intellect). After sitting in ridiculous rainy evening rush hour traffic and arriving home past 7:00 p.m., I decided to indulge in the one food I've been craving for weeks: chocolate chip pancakes. Dinner of champions. I inhaled five of them in about five minutes flat, washed them down with a nice cold glass of milk, and spent the rest of the evening doubled over in the bathroom.

My purpose in sharing this story is not to make you feel badly about your less than intelligent choices. We can't all be as highly evolved as Maddie and me. But with Thanksgiving Day upon us, I wanted to give you the support and encouragement you may need to survive the onslaught of challenges that present themselves on this most gastronomical of days. Think of me and my example before you:

  • Drink too much in order to drown out the embarrassing family stories being shared around the table
  • Eat yourself into a turkey coma thereby missing the big game
  • Pig out on broccoli and other veggies to generate room-clearing gas
  • Consume an entire pie by yourself because your pants were already too tight anyway
As a public service, should you find yourself tempted by any of these scenarios, call me immediately and we'll go to the movies.

Popcorn's on me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What's Up, Doc?

Doctor's offices are a world unto themselves. Or maybe little universes with each specialty doctor making up its own little world. 2011 has been a banner year for the MacShimers and doctors and frankly, I've had enough. What other professional can get away with making you sit in a crowded waiting room for an hour or more for a scheduled appointment? How is it that they manage to book five appointments for the same doctor at the same time? Do many people decide to skip their appointment, ultimately leaving only two competing for the 2:30 time slot? I can't imagine that's a frequent occurrence given the hefty missed appointment fees they're now charging. And who do they think they're fooling when they bring you to the exam room, take your vitals, strip you down, and tell you the doctor will be in a "minute?" In this alternate universe, a minute is equal to at least fifteen.

And then there's the all-to-frequent "non-diagnosis." I suppose this should be relief. I know no news is supposed to be good news, but when you're feeling like crap and the doctor you just waited an hour for can't find anything wrong with you, it's more than a little frustrating. According to my latest scientific research, at least 95% of children's doctor's appointments are a complete waste of time and money. The diagnosis is invariably "a virus," or "allergies." I believe these are code words for "Who the hell knows. Kids get sick. Give him Tylenol and some 'fluids', and get out of my office since I have five other appointments booked in this same time slot." At least my recent adventure with shingles resulted in an actual diagnosis, with prescription meds and even a bit of sympathy. Is that too much to ask?

I would like to propose that doctors come up with a name for those mystery conditions that make you feel like your intestinal track is going to fall out of your backside, or your head is going to explode into a million tiny messy pieces, or with one more step you're going to fall over because your world is spinning and a mad case of puppy love is not the culprit. I suggest the medical community approves the use of the term MAD. We can pretend it stands for Mystery Ailment Diagnosis, but we all know what's really meant. And it's completely accurate because either I'm crazy or I'm really ticked off that you don't know what the hell is wrong with me. Yes indeed, I'm mad.

Finally, I would like to propose that you never leave the doctor's office empty-handed. If you're MAD, you should receive a small official-looking bottle of pills containing tic-tacs or cinnamon hearts or something so you can at least feel as if your visit and your co-pay wasn't a complete loss. And if you grow tired of taking those "meds," you can shout out "I may be MAD as hell, but I'm not going to take these any more!"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Just Don't Sleep Naked

I have always been afraid of getting older, even when I was a kid. Mostly it was a fear of the unknown. As one who wants to be in control of every situation, I was apprehensive of what was to come, particularly the BIG STUFF. In my early teen years, I distinctly remember worrying about exactly how I was going to...
  • Get my driver's license
  • Apply to college
  • Survive at college
  • Find a job
  • Get married
  • Buy a home
  • Have a baby...
Of course, I lived through all of those turning points (though I'm still questioning my decision to have a baby x2), and in retrospect it seems comical to have been afraid of them, but I definitely was anxious of growing up and getting older and what that meant I was going to have to experience, ready or not.

Recently my fear of getting older has been resurfacing, but with a different twist. Now, I am afraid of losing what I already know and I'm not referring to the turning points, but rather to the basic concept of "me." (Hold on, she's getting heavy here.)

Off the top of my head I can state that I'm afraid of roller coasters, water skiing, dancing, breaking concrete with my elbow, and putting my feet up on the dashboard of the car (only while in the passenger seat, of course). Let me clarify: I'm not afraid of doing these things, rather I'm afraid that if I don't keep doing them, or have an opportunity to do them in the very near future, I may never do them again. Got that?

Case in point. Sleeping naked. Once you quit doing that, you can never go back without frightening yourself, your partner, your children, or the UPS man.

I think my current aging fears are my Dad's fault (remember, it's best to always blame someone else for your problems). Dad's 72 years old but he looks about 60 and acts about 50. Despite being retired for years, he still works when called by his former employer (cause he's so damn good at what he does). When he's not working for the company, he's in his wood shop building some amazing piece of furniture or whatnot. When he's not in his wood shop he's doing yard work, chopping down trees, or fixing something for the neighbors. When he's not otherwise engaged, in the summertime he's on the boat, fishing, crabbing or cleaning it, and in the fall and winter he's 25 feet up in a tree hunting deer. If none of these are a viable option, he's sleeping. For good reason. I'm exhausted just thinking about his activity level.

Recently, however, my dad has had a few setbacks. In the past few weeks he has sliced open his leg with a chainsaw cutting down a tree limb for a friend (9 stitches). He damaged a tendon or muscle in his bicep climbing up a tree with his tree stand. And he caught his arm on the lathe in his wood shop, destroying a new shirt and breaking his watch, but thankfully leaving his arm intact. And did I mention he lost his brand new hearing aid in the woods?

One might suggest to Dad that it's time to find new, less dangerous and strenuous activities, but I know better than to make such a recommendation. Wood working, welding, helping others, hunting, these things bring my dad joy. No, actually, they keep him alive. I know he can't imagine slowing down and trading in his old life for a more age-appropriate one.

So, Freakin' Angels, let's take a pledge to continue living life as we know it. Let's sing and embarrass our children. Let's dance in our pjs in the kitchen. Let's make fun at rich, well-dressed women with botox injections. Let's eat pie, drink milkshakes, and toast our friendships with many bottles of wine.

Only promise to never sleep naked, just in case I decide to stop over for breakfast...

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Sexual Awakening, or Two, on Glee

"Glee" got lucky this week. ("And so did a number of its characters," she said smartly.) Were it not for the shocking revelations coming out of State College, PA, the FOX TV show's November 8 story line might have created a hailstorm of controversy.

If you're not a Glee watcher or know nothing about the program, let me quickly summarize it for you. It's about a bunch of diverse high school students who have two things in common: 1) they're in the Glee club -- a singing/dancing performance group, and 2) they're all outcasts of one sort or another. The show routinely tackles some difficult subjects, not the least of which includes intimacy with the opposite--or same--sex. I could write a whole post on the angles from which "relations" have been addressed, but today I want to focus on this most recent episode.

The show begins with two of Glee's stars (Rachel and Blaine) finishing a rehearsal performance of their West Side Story love song in their starring roles as Maria and Tony. Despite a goose bump worthy performance (at least according to this critic), fellow student Arnie, one of the school musical's producers, suggests that it lacks passion, the passion that one can only express by recalling his or her own sexual awakening. And, if they haven't been "sexually awakened," how can they be believable in their roles? We should note that Artie, though wheelchair bound, lost his virginity in another season's episode.

With their Broadway ambitions on the line and their significant others on their minds, Rachel and Blaine decide to lose their virginity to their boyfriends (Finn and Kurt respectively). Rachel seeks counsel from the fellow Glee girls who almost universally support the idea of her and Finn consummating their relationship, (though the trouble maker in the bunch notes that he was "terrible in bed"). In fact, one of the show's most understated and seemingly rational characters, Tina, warmly reflects on how special it was to lose her virginity to her boyfriend Mike because of the true love they have for each other.

In the end, both Rachel and Finn and Kurt and Blaine go through a fair amount of apprehension and missteps, but ultimately consummate their relationships.

First, let's disregard how awkward it was to be watching this with your child. Let's instead consider the pros and cons of Glee straightforwardly addressing the topic of losing ones virginity. On the plus side:

  • While Rachel and Blaine first consider taking action as a means of growing into their roles in the school musical, ultimately they recognize that this should not be the basis for losing ones virginity.
  • Kurt refuses a drunken Blaine's advances and waits till it's a moment they can both be certain of.
  • We know that at least Rachel and Finn use protection.
  • The big moment is presented with good taste and as much modesty as possible while still getting across the point that two people are in bed and are about to or have just had sex 
Now for the cons:
  • When instigator Artie mentions "sexual awakening," his two fellow adult producers, a guidance counselor and football coach, quickly display discomfort and leave the room. At no point do they engage the students in any way. No adult is involved at any point in this episode. 
  • The decision is made quickly for both couples. Seemingly within the span or a day or two. It is not one that has been contemplated or reflected on in many episodes over what can be seen as a significant period of time.
  • Glee is a life-changer for thousands of kids. Think I'm exaggerating? Just watch the movie, read the Facebook posts, listen to the Twitter chatter, and check out the dozens of websites created by fans. For many, Glee is a lifeline that makes them feel like they're not so different after all. A true gift during the most difficult stage in one's life.
What it comes down to is this. Glee is an 8 p.m. television show watched by millions of tweens and teens. Do I think these kids will choose to have sex because characters in a television program had sex? Yes, I do. If they're already considering losing their virginity with that beloved boyfriend or girlfriend, I completely believe that this episode can provide one of the impetuses needed to make the decision.

I don't want to know tweens and teens were having sex before this episode aired. I know kids who aren't having sex are thinking about sex. I realize it's our responsibility as parents to monitor their television viewing (easier said then done). I understand that we need to be communicating with our children about this difficult subject well before they see it on Glee (unless they're ten and you thought you still had time to get to "the talk"). But ultimately I also believe television producers have some sort of obligation to consider the message they're sending.

I did not have sex in high school (there, I said it, just in case you were wondering) and even though I was slightly older when "it" happened, I'm still not sure I was mature enough. Maybe it's because I'm a mom now, but I don't think you're emotionally and mentally read till you're about 30. Okay, 29. I'd hate to see kids (that's what they are) decide to "go all the way" with the "love of their life" (for that week, month, or even year) because a television show that they respect made it seem like the right thing to do. I hope Glee addresses the potential repercussions of this level of intimacy in future episodes, and that it won't come too late for the kids who already made their big decision.

I know you have something to say on this one, so let's see those comments.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I Went on Vacation and All I Got Was...

Some people go on vacation and come home with a t-shirt or maybe a sunburn. Me, I like to make a statement. I went to Orlando and "All I got were these Lousy Shingles." The good news is that we now know why my neck was aching for several days beforehand. And we also know I wasn't kidding about my stress level (see "Not Feeling the Love, People" and "I'm Mad as Hell"). Seems shingles are triggered by stress. Hey, when I want people to know I'm bugging out, I don't just settle for irritable and depressing blog posts. Nope. I give you physical proof! How many other bloggers do you know who would do that for you?

Since this is my first time even turning on my computer in almost a week (Wow! She really isn't herself, is she?), I'm going to keep this brief and share:

The Top 10 Things I Learned on My Trip to Orlando

10. Avoid booking a flight that arrives at your destination after midnight. That's the witching hour. Not only do you, your husband and kids start getting grumpy, tired, and short-tempered, but the folks still working in the airport become evil, especially...
9. ...Rental car agents. They're usually annoying, but they turn it up a notch when it's late, you're the only victim around, and you're half asleep. They try to rob you blind by suggesting a bigger car, insurance you don't need, GPS, toll passes, adding an extra driver, and fueling deals that benefit them and not you. It's just a matter of time till rental car companies charge you extra to put lugggage in the trunk or people in the back seat. If we start to see this happening, I want credit for the idea and a piece of the profits.
8. Obstetrics nurses cannot diagnose shingles unless your legs are spread and you're pushing them out of your birth canal. That's the last time I bring one along on vacation for healthcare purposes.
7. Regardless of how they make me feel, I will continue to go on roller coasters simply because I refuse to believe I'm too old for roller coasters.
6. When visiting the ER, even if you've only broken your toe, suggest that you might also happen to have a contagious disease. They find a room for you real quickly that way.
5. Traveling with friends may be the only way for us to go from here on. My children didn't fight, I didn't nag as much, and Rob didn't lose his temper once. I know it makes it seem like we don't want to be alone as a family, just the four of us. And that's about right.
4. Vacation ownership (a.k.a. "timeshare") sales reps are the devil's spawn. They make rental car agents look like nursery school teachers. I think crying, screaming, or throwing up on their desk is the only way to get them to stop with the hard sell. I'd rather spend the afternoon with a used car salesman, or (shudder) an accountant.
3. The world's longest lasting red lights are in Orlando.
2. The weather is always nicest on the day you're flying home.
1. Shingles makes psoriasis look like a walk in the park.

P.S. If you're really into gross stuff, I can send you a picture of my neck and ear. It kinda looks like rotting flesh. Neat, huh!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Not Feeling the Love, People

What we have here is a failure to communicate. Actually, I am communicating just fine. You, on the other hand, apparently have nothing to say. So what is it? Have my posts lately been too serious? Depressing? Boring? The only reader I've heard from recently is my pastor. That's a bad sign. Maybe I've been too religious or conflicted in my faith? I just don't know how to please you people.  And you know how sensitive I am. You know everything I do I do it for you for recognition.

Lately my bruxism (teeth grinding and clenching) has been so bad that I've had terrible aching in both sides of my neck and shooting pains in my right ear. Bruxim is caused by stress. I don't want to make you feel bad, but that stress is directly related to you never leaving a comment on my blog. It has nothing to do with being the mother of a teenager, or any of the other issues that have made me so angry of late. Nope, it's all your fault.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to take some time off from this blogging thing and let you decide if you miss me and want me back. And if you think I'm being harsh and that you don't deserve this, just imagine what it was like to date me. Rob was heavily into drugs when he proposed.

Before I sign off, I'm going to leave you with a new volume of HARO (Help a Reporter Out) "Weird Requests." Then, I'm outta here. Unless I hear from at least 50 25 10 5 of you, begging me to stay, I'm never coming back. Farewell, cruel blogosphere!

Top 10 Weird Requests from HARO (Help a Reporter Out )
  1. What should women eat to shed pounds?  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say "Less."
  2. Stressed relationships & arguing during Halloween  Seriously? Your relationship is in real trouble if you argue over costumes and what kind of candy to give the trick-or-treaters.
  3. Men willing to talk about menopausal partners  Better make those men sign a waiver because you know there is a strong possibility of bodily harm should their menopausal partner find out about this little "talk."
  4. How do dogs celebrate outside the USA? I confess, I didn't realize that American dogs have their own way of celebrating. But then, I've never been invited to one of their parties.
  5. Need diapering expert for major parenting website  Just goes to show you that everyone can be  an expert in something.
  6. Have ghosts damaged something in your home? So the kids were telling the truth when they both said "I didn't do it!"?
  7. Knife expert needed for Playboy Magazine This may represent a whole new level of kinky I just don't want to know about.
  8. Embarrassing parents/mates/family Really, they needed to put out a search for this? Just ask the guy in the next cubicle over. There's an embarrassment in every family.
  9. Is this a bad time to be a clown?  There's nothing funny about that.
  10. How has your life changed since you had a baby? Not at all, really. Though there is this little alien creature who occasionally cries and seems to want my attention. Not sure what that's all about...

You know what you need to do now, right?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kicking and Screaming and Nearer My God to Thee

We didn't have many traditions in our family when I was a kid. There was nothing particularly unique about our holiday celebrations. We didn't have a special way of celebrating birthdays. No stories were told around the campfire (probably because we didn't go camping). My parents didn't sweat it when I chose to skip college and grad school graduation ceremonies, or when I decided to write my own wedding vows, or when I opted to keep my family name instead of taking Rob's. I guess I'm just not a traditional kind of girl.

There is, however, one Shimer tradition that has carried over to my family:
The Sunday pre-church meltdown. 
When I was a kid, there was something about trying to get all four of us to church that resulted in rather unChristian-like behavior. Our church was about a half-hour away and my parents were big into punctuality. This meant we were always rushing around at the last minute, becoming stressed out and irritable in the process. By the time we got in the car no one was speaking. If we were lucky, our iciness toward each other slowly thawed during Sunday school and the church service. It was an experience you knew would repeat itself each and every Sunday. The result was that going to church was preferable only to going to the dentist.

The church that Rob, the kids, and I attend is about eight minutes away and I'm the only one who cares about punctuality. The three of them are always taking their good old time and I become stressed out and irritable waiting for them. We've I've been known to spiral downward into yelling, threatening, demanding, and bribing, while Rob prefers quietly seething or being the funny guy to break the tension. As for the kids, they react with whining, pleading, pouting, and sulking. By the time we get in the car, no one is speaking and you know the experience will repeat itself next Sunday. You see the similarities here?

Well, in an effort to break with the Sunday pre-church meltdown tradition, I have made the unquestionably most likely wrong decision to no longer beg bribe cajole require my children to go to Sunday school or church. Despite being an elder and a former Sunday school teacher, and although I know it looks bad to others, I just can't handle the fight that's involved. It's not so much a case of "picking my battles," as it is about the state of mind I find myself in after the battle. As you know or can probably guess, I'm an open book with my emotions and I don't need to bring that scary face to church.

This past Sunday was a case-in-point. Abby decided at the very last minute (I literally was already in the car) that she would come to church with us. She was wearing the clothes she slept in and I've seen rat's nests that looked better than her hair. My anger (which we already know is at maximum capacity these days) did not subside through the entire service. I was so frustrated with her I told her she shouldn't go up for communion looking the way she did. I know, I know. God would not approve of my behavior. He was perfectly happy seeing Abby in church regardless of how she looked.

I am really at a loss as to how to get my children to church, a place I love dearly, without going through the Sunday morning ordeal. I'm already preparing myself for next year when Ian has confirmation class. I've told him he's going whether he likes it or not, but that will in no way keep him from giving me grief about it each and every Sunday. I realize I can deny my children the things they most enjoy unless they accompany me, but that seems like a great way to ensure that they despise the mere thought of church.

I can't be the first church-going mom to deal with this, so I'm open to eager for desperately seeking your advice. What's worked for you?