Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Politics of Parenting

            With my journey as a parent nearing a decade, I have come to learn more things than I ever could teach my children.  Most of my lessons are of a diplomatic or some sort of political nature.  They came early and fast and have not stopped since.  The early ones were the easiest, small differences of opinion with family and friends over what type of baby products to use or how my beginning family should handle colds and coughs.  Some of these differences escalated beyond what they should have and feelings were hurt.  But we were only starting as a new family and needed to make our own decisions and our own mistakes.  Is that not what growing is all about?
            Some lessons, and the decisions made during these lessons, were more difficult and life-altering.  Careers and babies do not always travel well together.  Initially, we clung to the belief that family helped each other out and that non-working family members would aid in filling time gaps to allow for dual incomes.  Stress and selfishness quickly reared their heads and my wife and I just as quick altered our careers.  I have spent nearly a decade working in the dark.  It has allowed me to curtail any thought of job growth or income potential while providing the time needed with my kids.  I have traded a more lucrative position for smiling faces and a proper, hands-on upbringing, and I wouldn't trade that for the world...especially the world the way it is now.
            Which brings me to the politics at hand, the politics of the playground, or the soccer field, or the Girl Scout troop.  I witness the parental chess game daily as I walk with my kids to school.  It begins with jockeying for parking spaces with the near military arms race of status cars.  It carries into the playground with the designer clothes and shoes to match, the overflowing jewelry and the talk of real estate and home additions, this all in the five minutes before the school bell rings expertly executed by moms decked out in gym suits ready for their personal trainers.  The birthday party circuit during the school year is a whole separate circus of one-upmanship, followed closely by the better-than-yours vacation ring.
            Most of these pitfalls are merely precursors for the truly hardcore events beginning in the fourth grade with the advent of the Honor Roll and "serious" traveling sports teams.  The latter of which allows highly competitive parents with little or no coaching/teaching background to throw their overwhelmed children into a meat grinder of practices, forsaking school work and childhood, in an attempt to burn them out before puberty. (This topic is in need of its own forum and will be covered at a later date.)  The Honor Roll obsession brings glares in the schoolyard.  Test scores are guarded and projects are treated like nuclear secrets.  For some, every score, every assignment, every project is treated like a photo-op or a celebrated accomplishment.  Each course, each fourth, fifth, sixth grade decision is another bullet to add to the resume.  There are parents that would hop a child from classroom to classroom in an attempt to find a teacher that allows for improved grades, never once addressing the learning needs displayed by the child. 
            And so I stand, isolated, back by the fence, within earshot but out of the circle.  Perhaps my children will suffer socially because of my "anti-social" behavior, but they will grow intellectually.  They will achieve their own maturity without my jaded influence.  They will gain friends for who they are and not what their parents can provide.  I will not dictate their social circle based on affluence or influence inside or outside the schoolyard.  They will learn hard lessons about true friendship and the reasons behind "parties".   Grammar school has been twisted into a social minefield and I will not let them go through it unprotected.  However, I will allow them to earn their experiences for the tougher lessons that life has ahead of them.  I will always be within earshot but I will also always be outside of the circle.

             To be continued, I'm sure....

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Fading of a Generation

            Yesterday I saw a quote someone had used to convey a loving thought to their spouse.  To paraphrase, it related that Romeo and Juliet dying together to be less romantic than "Grandma and Grandpa" growing old together.  Besides the fact that Romeo and Juliet did not exactly die together, or that as romantic as committing suicide to be with a loved one is the actual circumstances were much more tragic than romantic,  I was somewhat puzzled by the lack of reality behind the sentiment.  As much as I look forward to the adventures ahead for my wife and I, and all the life we have left to live, I do not look forward to those final twilight years.  The years where one of us passes and the other continues on, heartbroken.  Perhaps we will both grow old enough together to forget who lays besides us in bed at night, Alzheimer's or age catching us.  In the end, grief may lead the one left behind to wither and give up to be with their love, quite similar to Romeo and Juliet, I suppose.  Still, more tragic than romantic, or tragically romantic?
            All this, and plenty of alone time in the dark at night, left to me think of Irma.  (I was also perplexed that the person using the quote did not think of this mutual relative.)  She is my maternal grandmother and nearing the century mark in age.  I believe this year she will have seen 93 years on this Earth.  With it being a decade into the new millennium, she has experienced much of what most of us have only read in history books.  She was alive for prohibition, hid sugar during the Great Depression, experienced the Second Great War first hand married to an Airmen, watched the Sixties blur by, struggled through Vietnam and the arrival of grand kids, continued briskly through the '80's and '90's, and witnessed the end of a century.  She was here to be a great-grandmother.  And, now, struggles each day to stay mobile and, more importantly, to stay within her own mind.
            Her husband passed many years ago.  She carried on with her children.  My paternal grandparents left this world awhile ago, also.  The only evidence of history within my family is this withered lady that stands stoically against time.  Her mind can recall, on good days, stories of the past.  Yet, they come like shadows or wisps of smoke on the wind.  You need to be there when they come and need to listen even more closely to the whispers of the past.  She is surrounded today more by ghosts than by the living.  All her contemporaries have left her behind to carry the burden of memories.  The young, me included I guess, are too busy with their lives or families within the bustle of today's world to wait on the slow, quiet roll of the past.  And so she fades softly away.
            I do not see the romance in any of this.  I do see the tragedy.  I see the good-byes.  I see hard decisions ahead.  I see the family drama.  I see the silent sadness.  But I do not see the romance.  The journey of life can be romanticized but it always ends in tragedy.  And, so I offer, choose your words wisely and your path even more so, live romantically to make the end all the more tragic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Searching for Satellites

            A conversation at work the other day turned into a fit of exasperation by one guy.  He was completely perplexed by not only the overall work ethic and attitude of today's workforce but the utter dependence on technology.  The most notably enslaving piece of modern electronics being the GPS.  Today most truckers can not move without a little screen telling them which way to turn or a power outlet in their dashboard to plug the device into. Now I am a truck driver by profession, and have been for nearly 20 years, and had found it a source of pride to know where I am going.  I could get anyone or anything from Point A to Point B in a timely manner and had a stockpile of road maps for the entire East Coast just in case.  This exasperated guy was my senior by a decade and had those 10 years' worth of experience to show.  He could not even begin to comprehend the need for a little TV on the dashboard to tell a person where to go, or with this modern marvel how a person could still get lost.  Which leads to my quandary.
            Have we, as a community, as a society, grown so reliant on computers and technology that simply driving down the road needs to be computer assisted?  Some new cars even park for us.  The manual transmission is a museum relic made only for "true enthusiasts" and even then a computer stills helps with the shifting.  The phone is dead, replaced by mini-computers that dial for us and turn our speech into mis-spelled words.  From what I see in print (newspapers, magazines, etc.), e-mails, or any other correspondence, spelling has become an afterthought, proofreading be damned.  We have grown too lazy to even use "spell check", simply forwarding along the butchered note.  Texting has shortened every word in our language.  "Ok" needed to be abbreviated to "k" because the extra letter may cause a complete system crash and the nano-second spent reaching for the "o" would have cost precious time.
            We robotically hand our children these phones, allowing them to circumvent education and transition into a population that no longer knows full length words.  Some schools have gone so far as eliminating script from the curriculum.  Our children are returning to history and signing their names with an "X".  They communicate in half-words and symbols.  Communication has become a modern day cave painting art form.  People can no longer have or need the ability to interact physically, in-person.  Most merely hide behind the keyboard, mouse, or touch screen.  Even the most primal of instincts has been altered by tiny cameras.  Sex is no longer an act of intimacy but a public performance sent to everyone through the touch of a button.
            Technology is increasingly moving us closer to our roots.  Soon, the younger generations will speak in clicks and grunts, print their letters, and make their marks "x".  They will mindlessly move about the world following the directions of a voice in the dashboard, never truly seeing where they are going.  They will be lost when the battery dies, the electric goes out, the satellites are lost, or the system needs to re-boot.  We are embedding in our children a dependency, a weakness.  The future will be confusion when those fateful words come blaring,  "Recalculating......recalculating."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Trucker Looks at 40

           I will be turning 40 shortly.  I do not feel that old.  I almost feel like these might be some of the best years of my life.  Sure my joints ache in the cold and my muscles are sore at the end of the day.  But alot of those pains are the results of years of hard work and harder play.  Some of my ails can easily be traced back to years of sports and some to the many hours of physical labor through all types of weather.  Other symptoms could be laid at the doorstep of fatigue, or burning the candle at both ends.  Still others could be attributed to the abuse I inflicted on my liver (and other organs), as well as my brain, through never-ending parties, probably most of my 20's & a good dose of 30's (the kids slowed me some towards the end).
          I can honestly say I hold no regrets.  I wear each scar proudly.  I bear each pain with a good sense of accomplishment.  I earned each and every one.  These aches have built me a family, founded a family farm, and gave me all I could ever ask for.  I know this aging body has a lot left in it and I fully intend to squeeze every last breath of life out of it before I am done.
          However, looking forward, I will not waste anymore energy on useless pursuits.  I refuse to sacrifice my pain for the ignorance of others.  My experiences were too hard won to be given lightly over to the undeserving.  I will keep this body strong for my growing daughters, and the trials (and bad dates and stupid boys) that lie ahead of them.  I will keep this mind sharp for the challenges of establishing a legacy for my family, both young and old.  I will keep my heart true for the love that stands the test of time beside me.  I will not go quietly into....anything.
           The years behind me are gone but the memories will linger for a long time, hopefully not just in my mind but in all those who were a part of those memories.  The years ahead are all memories in the making, and I fully intend to have them linger long after I have faded away.

Happy Birthday
To all the years ahead
and the memories that are on the horizon.


            The coming of a new year brings the avalanche of resolution suggestions.  Everywhere you turn is another advertisement, commercial, or article about what to do in the coming year.  It is time to diet.  It is time to save.  It is time to make changes at work, at home, in the world.  Their is a resolution around every corner just waiting for attention.  And as quickly as these resolutions are made is just how quickly we depart from them.  I am not one to make New Year's resolutions.  I never have been.  But this year is different and I am making one.  My resolution is to be realistic.
            I am not going to diet.  I am "big boned" and perhaps too short for my size.  But I am not about to give up food and drink.  I'm being realistic.  I may try to be healthier and I will definitely increase my exercise but not at the expense of beer and wine and good, wholesome fired foods and pasta.  I have already traded up to EVOO for frying and bought an infra-red fryer, but I'm not dropping proteins, carbs, or anything else.  I refuse to set myself up for failure.
             Forget about saving.  The economy can tank.  The banks can collapse.  I will continue to work.  I will always find a way to provide for my family.  I will take on any task necessary in order to ensure their comfort.  But I will not forgo the occasional "night out" or the "one thing" the kids "want so bad" in order to put money in the institutions that are causing most of my economic agony.  I have never been a saver.  I am more of an indulger but I work damn hard for that indulgence.  I do not see myself sticking to a Scrooge's resolution.  It could only end in failure.
            I can not change anything about work.  It is a place of indifference.  The people are stuck in their small-minded way of thinking, each after their own selfish agenda.  Perhaps this is the sole reason we do not prosper?  It is not for me to figure out.  I have come to the stoic realization that if people wanted change, they would.  And so I have resolved to be realistic and not try to change anything but merely attend my station.
            And so I have made a resolution to do nothing, to change nothing, and, in doing so, fail at nothing.  In my attempt at keeping this resolution, I hope that the people around me realize my new indifference, my lack of ambition, and the general sucking of life effect they have had on me.  I hope they see my resignation and air of defeat as a sign of the dismal future ahead.  Hopefully, this realization brings about a small change, a glimmer of hope.  And if not, maybe everyone will just leave me alone to indulge my diet and continue being realistic.  I guess, it's a win-win.