Forbidden

I have all manner of items—ranging from helpful to slightly odd—stuck to my refrigerator with magnets. I have magnets with helpful information—the non-emergency number for the local fire department, the hours for the dump, my plumber’s contact information. I have photos of my kids when they were much younger, the rehearsal schedule for the high school theater department, information for an upcoming summer camp job, a small calendar, and various magnets and magnetic clips.

Some things have been on my refrigerator for so long that they have become invisible to me. For example, one day last week, I suddenly noticed I still had a 2017 full year calendar stuck on the refrigerator. It had obviously arrived as a Christmas card in 2016, and it hadn’t been moved since. Until last week when I re-noticed it.

But the most unusual item on my fridge—depending on your perspective—was brought to my attention over the weekend. C was home from college for spring break, and while he was waiting for his bagel to toast, he was studying the items on the fridge. I had gone to the basement to get something, and when I returned, he said, “Hey Mom?”

“Yeah?” I responded.

“What’s this note on the fridge with the phone number that says ‘Do Not Call’?”

I burst out laughing because something that seemed so harmless to me suddenly took on a much more ominous and taunting quality. A post-it note with a phone number that we were not to call. Perhaps I was provoking my kids to see if they would take the bait and call this forbidden phone number.

Really, that was not it at all. I had been at work one day when I received one too many robo-calls on my cell phone. I contacted my carrier, and they gave me the number for the national “do not call” list. I had called, but now my kids needed to call from their own numbers. I had scrawled the number on this paper, and carefully labeled it, so I wouldn’t forget, and then, I stuck it on the fridge, so it wouldn’t get lost.

But my son’s interpretation of this note has given me an idea. If you suddenly find a note like this around your house, it’s probably not the national “do not call” registry, so I would suggest you not call it. Just don’t ask me where the note came from….

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Courage

I am at that point in my family life when my children are starting to wander farther, stretch their wings, and take on more responsibilities and adventures of their own. As I send them out into the world, I often think about advice I would like to give them. What I wish for them is the same thing I wish for everyone: the courage to take on the challenges they will face. And so, as you head out into the world, this week and in the weeks to come…

I wish you the courage to pursue your passions with persistence. Now, pursing one’s passion doesn’t mean being irresponsible. It’s important to go after what you want in life, especially if it matters to you. If your passion doesn’t [yet] allow for financial stability, you can still pursue it around the work that does bring the paycheck. Or better yet, you might work to figure out a way to weave your passion into your gainful employment.

I wish you the courage to be true to yourself. But in order to be true to yourself, you need to know who you are. That knowledge requires connecting with your very core. If you can connect to who you are on the core level, you will be able to connect with others in the most authentic way. And if you connect with people who know who you are on the deepest level and are okay with your core identity, the rest will fall into place.

I wish you the courage to stand up for the causes you believe in. I wish you the courage to step in when needed and step up when challenged. The causes you truly believe in will connect with your core identity and help to strengthen it. And hopefully, they will promote justice and freedom and peace—maybe on a personal level, but maybe on a global level. Either way, if you stand up for the causes you believe in, you will promote your authenticity and make way for a better, brighter world.

And finally, I wish you the courage to stay in the present. In this day and age, it is so difficult not to focus on the future at the expense of the present. And it is also difficult not to get caught up in electronics and devices and social media, so much so that you don’t enjoy the here and now and the experiences that are right in front of you. But if you don’t focus on the present, you may miss out on a valuable moment with those who mean the most.

As you head out to start a new week, don’t forget your courage!

Painfully Obvious

Yesterday morning, I awoke from an odd and somewhat unsettling dream. At first, I wasn’t really aware of what was unsettling, only that something wasn’t right. The dream was one in which I was interacting with people—one, a friend from childhood who I hadn’t seen recently, and the other, a woman I knew of but had never met.

I was sitting between the two of them. The woman to my right was wearing a bright sweater—striped in bold blues, yellow, and teal—and I noted that it was knit from the same yarn I had used to make a scarf. This fact intrigued me, and I got stuck on the bold colors and the coincidence. I listened as she talked, and I responded, but through our conversation, I never looked directly at her. Somehow, I just knew who she was.

As I looked back on the dream, I realized that I was unable to look at either of these two people, unable to see their faces. It wasn’t that they didn’t have faces in my dream. It was that I couldn’t look at their faces. This one small but important fact made the dream very unsettling.

As I moved through my day trying to process this strange dream, I came across an article in the New York Times that discussed Smartphone addiction and its effects on us and on our children. Sherry Turkle, a social scientist, “found that children now compete with their parents’ devices for attention, resulting in a generation afraid of the spontaneity of a phone call or face-to-face interaction. Eye contact now seems to be optional” (Popescu). If we are not making eye contact, if we are not looking at the people we are interacting with, we are not fully experiencing the moment, the conversation, the relationship.

And this article brought me back to my dream. No doubt, the dream emerged from the stress of adjusting to the hectic schedule of a new teaching assignment added to my other responsibilities. The need to juggle so many different pieces often takes away from my ability to be in the moment, experiencing interactions and relationships as fully as I might. This juggling ties me to my computer and keeps me connected to technology.

If we pay attention, our dreams can tell us things we didn’t already know, but sometimes they hit us over the head with the painfully obvious. The other night, I had one of those dreams and I woke up confused, but as the day wore on, I began to see how this dream fit into my life and the message I needed to gain from it.

I am a creature of habit. I do things because they work in some important way. Or maybe because they have worked at some point in the past, in some other iteration of my life. Perhaps, if I were to really examine what I have been doing, these things might not be addressing my current needs. They might not be feeding my soul. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate and restructure in important ways that will permit me to grow with the changes in my life.

And maybe it’s time we all recognize that by not interacting with others—over dinner, over the phone, standing in line, etc.—we are doing our children a disservice. It is up to us to teach them how to interact with us, with each other, and with the strangers they will encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps it’s time we recognize that technological connection is minimal and human connection… it’s everything.

Tools for Online Pursuits

As a mom, I feel it is my job to make sure my children know everything they need to know when I send them out into the world, but there are two problems with that. First, how could I possibly know all that they will need to know? And second, I can’t keep up with the ever-changing world to make sure my children are fully protected with an armor of knowledge. I can only give them tools they will need to build their own armor and change it as necessary. And the tools they will need are constantly evolving.

Take the recent situation of one of my students as an example. She did everything as she thought she should, yet she still got stuck in a situation that seemed a bit sketchy. Thankfully, she recognized enough signs of danger to seek advice.

I entered the situation as she was negotiating feelings of mounting unease around a potential job opportunity. She had responded to an interesting job posting she found on a professor’s course site, a seemingly legit opportunity because of where she found it. She applied, and—through communication completely via text message—was asked to attend an interview, which she did. But the interview situation was a bit off. First, the student was greeted by the father of a client (here is where age and experience are beneficial—those of us who have been in the real world for any amount of time know that a professional organization would never have a client greet a potential worker in the first interview.)

When the interviewer finally did show up, she was dressed in leggings and a t-shirt and made excuses about the work not being conducive to business attire. Both of these things caught my student off guard, and made her more attentive to her feelings about this job.

It wasn’t until the following week that she dug in her heels. The woman texted my student that she had scheduled an orientation session before the second interview—in fact, it was before she had officially been offered a job—and it would be that afternoon. The student was given an address and a time and told to bring her identification documents.

It seemed like an odd turn of events, and this is where I started asking questions: What is the name of the company? Where are they located? What will you be doing? When she could answer none of these questions, we sat down and did some research. We looked up the address that she had been given for her “orientation.” Google maps gave us a nondescript office building on which there was no company name. We Googled any and all information the student had, but we came up with no more answers than when we started. At that point, I advised her to forgo this particular job and look for something more certain.

A few days later, she and I sat with the Career Planning director to figure out where the job posting had originated and how best to deal with it. The director had the same advice that I had already given the student. Even if this was a legitimate job offer, the company was so unprofessional that she didn’t want to work there, anyway.

In truth, there is no way of knowing what might have happened if my student ignored her instincts and went to the orientation session. However, this situation got me to thinking about how best to guide my children as they navigate the tangled web of the “business” aspects of the online environment.

Teach your children—and any young people you are in contact with—to be aware of fraud and scams such as this may have been. Teach them to look for inconsistencies, to be alert to potential problems, and help them to determine when something is legitimate and when it is not. The fact that there was no searchable company information on this job posting was the first of many red flags.

Let your kids know that the rules of safety in social situations also apply to any other situation that is unknown—professional opportunities, buying/selling items off Internet sites, meet-up groups, etc. Bring a buddy, let others know where you are, check in, and meet in a neutral and public location.

If things don’t seem to add up, don’t pretend they do or dismiss any warning signs. It is easy to excuse one issue. Okay, the interviewer is dressed for comfort because the company works with children. However, when there are two things that don’t add up, three, or four, pay attention. The pieces don’t fit together because the situation may not be what it seems to be.

Encourage your teens/young adults to listen to their instincts. That “bad feeling” you have? It’s there to warn you. Too often, we encourage ourselves to deny our gut reactions to situations. Animals are equipped with instinct to protect them from harm. We, too, are animals, and if we pay attention to our instincts, they will help to guide and protect us.

Teach them to ask for help when they need it. If young people need advice about a situation, or they are feeling threatened, they shouldn’t hesitate to seek help—even if that means making some noise. And likewise, if you see a young person who seems to be struggling or needs some advice, step in and offer to help them out. So many young people are left to figure out the subtleties of life, of growing up, on their own, and they may welcome the guidance an older, more experienced adult.

The Process of Learning

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At dinner recently, my children mentioned the struggles some of their friends face with their parents. They recounted stories of friends who are grounded for having unacceptable grades when their parents check their Powerschool account.

Ugh, Powerschool. For those not familiar with academic technologies, Powerschool and other similar online grading tools can be valuable for checking on grades and making sure your child is on task, and also allowing them to adjust their studying and homework as necessary before grades close. But this type of technology can just as easily be abused as a micro-management tool.

When I was a student in high school (as with most parents of teenagers today), my parents saw my grades at the end of each quarter when I received my report card. Between report cards, I had the choice of what I would share with them and what I wouldn’t. If I chose not to share an “oops” grade, I had to be pretty certain that I could bring up my grade in that subject before the end of the marking period; and not sharing a bad test grade would give me extra drive and motivation to do so. Nowadays, parents can see grades along the way. Every day, if they’d like. Every. Single. Grade.

Here’s the thing. Learning is actually about growth, not grades. Learning is a process—one that we hone over time—that is sometimes successful, and sometimes not so much. The process of learning requires constant revision and self-evaluation.

Grades are part of the process of learning, and can help students with the self-assessment and re-evaluation necessary for improvement. Grades are not merely a product of the learning process, as people often think.

I work with college writers on a daily basis, and by the time students come to my office, they are already focused on the grade they will receive and not on the process of improving their writing. Very seldom does a day go by when I don’t say to one student or another, “Writing is a process.” Students want to focus on the product—the final, graded draft—and be done with it. But it is a rare writer (at any level) who can write a quality, finished essay the first time around and not have to go back and revise.

Overall, learning is a lot like writing. As students learn more challenging material [or learn a different subject matter … from a different teacher… in a different textbook or context], they have to put into practice what they know about learning, the subject at hand, and their past experiences, all while they constantly adjust their process to fit the situation. What worked last week for one bit of material might not work as well this week. A poor grade on a test or quiz will alert the self-aware student to what is not working, and will allow that student to re-evaluate and revise what he or she is doing.

Come to think of it, this is a lot like life. We are constantly editing and revising; we are examining our approach and making adjustments—fine-tuning, if you will. If we, as parents, don’t step back and offer our children some space to figure things out and some room to grow and examine their own performance, we are teaching them that learning is about the product, in this case, the grade. This parental approach to academics does a grave disservice to our children. Not only are we hijacking our children’s learning process to get the result we desire, we are teaching them that the grade is more important than fostering the innate intellectual curiosity and creativity that comes when they follow their learning in a direction that is of interest to them.

When children are conditioned to only look at the end result—the grade—the fear of failure can become paralyzing. And more than likely, children in this situation will learn not to take risks, but to take the “safe” path. Learning how to deal with failure, on the other hand—how to bounce back from a low essay grade or a bombed test—is a far more effective life lesson than learning to be afraid of failure. They also begin to realize that failure is an integral part of the process.

My son recently completed his first semester in college. For the first half of the semester, he struggled with one particular class—it was a subject he had never studied, and the professor had a well-earned reputation for being tough. In the end, my son received his lowest grade of the term in that course. However, I believe that grade was the one he was most proud of because he learned more about the process of learning, approaching the academic rigors of college, and self-advocacy from that class than he did from all of his other classes put together.

If I were to give advice to parents, I would say, step back. Give your children some room to fall while they still have you there to guide them and help them navigate the rough waters they encounter. Without a little room to figure things out on their own, not only will children have no motivation to get up when they fall, they will not learn how to get back up—to recover from setbacks and move forward.

Let your children stumble so they can assess and reassess and redirect. Help them to learn the important lessons that lead them toward resilience. Now, more than ever, our society is going to be looking for people who can not only face setbacks with grace, but can help others do so, as well.

Changing views

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Yesterday, I was having coffee with my boyfriend, and we were planning a future day-trip to Boston. Because of my daughter’s art and her interest in art supplies, I suggested to my parents that they give her a gift card to Blick Art, a place where she has never been but I have (and love!). The main point of our trip will be to visit this amazing artists’ supply store, an awesome excursion for both my daughter and myself. And my boyfriend—he’s a trouper for coming along with us!

We looked at dates and other possible activities, and I pulled up the bus schedule. Sometimes, we take the train into the city, and other times, we drive part way and take the T in. However, because it’s winter, we decided this time, we will take the bus. That way, we won’t have to worry about navigating the narrow, snow-clogged streets. Or parking. And we can relax on the journey.

We chatted and planned, and I began to reminisce about the times I traveled into Boston with my sister when I was a teenager. My parents would take us to the “bus station” in our small town (really, it was just a glorified bus stop) early in the morning, so we could catch the first bus. From my hometown, it is a 2½ hour bus ride into Boston. My sister and I—and sometimes a friend or two—would spend the better part of the day in the city, sightseeing, shopping, and grabbing a bite to eat. Then, we would catch the last bus home, arriving close to 11:00 pm.

In those days, there were no cell phones, and no way to keep in touch or check in. It is possible that we made a quick collect call home from a payphone just to say we had made it to the city, but the specific memories are foggy. I just remember I was in high school, and this was a great adventure.

As I reminisced, I thought about putting my own children on a bus for such a day trip. Would I be content to let them go? Were we more “worldly” than the children of today? My children have cell phones and would be able to check in with me on such a trip.

I looked up from the bus schedule and said, “Is the world really that different—,” and my boyfriend opened his mouth to answer. But I continued….

“—or are we?”

He paused and closed his mouth. He looked at me, and didn’t say anything for a moment. “You know,” he said, “I really don’t know. That last part… I don’t know.”

Perhaps we have been jaded by what the world has become. The constant deluge of media focuses on what is wrong with the world. It plays and replays and replays the same stories of violence, death, and destruction with graphic images and videos until we believe that we are doomed. At the same time, we have become accustomed to constant contact, not only with our children, but with our spouses and partners, our families, our friends, and even our acquaintances.

Maybe the world really hasn’t changed as much as we like to think. Maybe… just maybe… we—along with our views and expectations—are the things that have changed the most.

Alternate Reality

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I have gotten behind in my TV viewing. In fact, I have gotten VERY behind in my TV viewing.

First, let me clarify. By “TV viewing,” I mean the one show I once watched regularly, the very evening it aired: Grey’s Anatomy. It was a brief escape from reality, offering me one hour a week when I could be in an alternate reality. But as I mentioned, I am behind.

Today, I was folding laundry, a task I typically relegate to my children, but one was sick, one was out of the house at rehearsal, and one is away at college. So folding was my job today. And it was the perfect chance to watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

I became completely caught up in the show as I smoothed shirts and matched socks, stacking the clothes pants-shirts-underwear-socks by wearer. I was right back into the characters and the story line.

For the most part, I remembered to fast forward through the commercials (don’t you just love DVR technology?), but when a movie trailer came on, I watched it. It was for Joy, the movie with Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, about the woman who created the self-wringing mop. I saw the movie, and I have to say, it did not rank among my favorites.

And yet, here was an ad for the movie, and it seemed that they were planning to release it again. On Christmas Day. Did the movie really do well enough the first time for a re-release so soon?

But wait… After so long without watching TV, it didn’t take me long to cross the bridge and enter the television’s alternate reality. Remember I mentioned I am VERY behind on my TV viewing? Yep, I am watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy from LAST year!