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Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

Somewhere in a small town in Minnesota, recently, three eight-grade nose pickers decided it’s be fun to piss off their teacher by staying seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. You see, even in junior high schools around the country, kids stand once a week and recite the Pledge. They don’t HAVE to say the words, but they do have to drag their asses out of their desk chairs and stand.

But these no-brained brats in smallville thought it funny to dis their teacher, the school rules, the flag, their country, and the men and women fighting for our freedom by thumbing their noses at the Pledge and staying on their fat bums.

Naturally, the nosepickers’ mommies and daddies are now contemplating how they can make a quick buck and sue the principal who suspended the kids as well as sue the school district the principal works for.  You can read the whole diatribe in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

What’s the solution here? Clearly it’s twofold.

FIrst, many parents have forgotten how to teach the basics about respect. Respect for property, people (including authority figures like teachers and police officers), animals, and the freedom that, believe it or not, isn’t so free but comes at the utmost highest of prices everyday in far away countries. Teaching respect is a chore and I personally know parents who gave up on putting forth effort to teach their kids what they need to know to excel in life.

Secondly, we have to get it out of our heads that kids under the age of 18 have any real rights at all. Just like respect, rights are earned they aren’t automatic. When an immature child makes a bad decision, causes someone or something harm and then shouts, “It’s my right!” they should be duly laughed at and punished appropriately.

Respect for right conduct is felt by every body.”  -Jane Austen

Society is moving towards this mentality of Rodney Dangerfield. We have to stop the “no respect” mentality before it’s completely out of control.

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Yesterday, April 9, I read about Randy Pausch and his “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University (yes, sometimes I feel like I live under a rock). But, thankfully, I read the New York Times and journalist/reporter Tara Parker Pope’s article about Mr. Pausch, which drew me in. I was hooked on his concept of living life fully based on the dreams we established for ourselves as children.

Then, last night on ABC Television, the network aired a story in which Diane Sawyer interviewed Mr. Pausch and discussed his mind set behind not only the development and delivery of his Last Lecture, but about his thought process on how he lives joyfully each and every day – even at a time when he knows he’s going to die.

Let’s face it, we’re all dying. But Pausch learned he had pancreatic cancer in the Fall of 2007 and was told he only had three to six months to live. That was the impetus for his “last lecture” at Carnegie. If you haven’t seen the clips on YouTube or read the transcript, do it; do it now. It’s not morose. It’s not “oh, woe is me. I’m dying and I’m only 46 years old…life’s not fair.” In fact, it is quite the opposite.

From his childhood dreams, Pausch conveys the importance of living and living well. Developing friendships and nurturing them, challenging those around him to be their best, to take risks. As a professor, Pausch taught and mentored thousands of students. Through his work he touched the lives of thousands of people and what resonates so clearly for me in reading the lecture and hearing his story is that each person he has touched remembers and has somehow reflected back on him in countless ways. There are few people on the planet who have that kind of impact on others.

I’ll paraphrase a great deal here, but from the transcript of his lecture, Pausch believes that, in life, we all must strive to:

1) Bring something to the table

2) Accept criticism, because it means someone still cares.

3) Realize that experience is something you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

4) Get through the brick walls. Brick walls are in place to keep out the others who don’t want it as badly as you do.

5) Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you. No matter how angry you might be at someone, give it time.

There’s more to the story beyond my few hundred words here. In fact, there’s so much to Pausch’s Last Lecture that he’s written a book about it…a book I plan to buy today – several copies in fact, so I can share it with friends and family.

Most importantly, the Last Lecture, as Pausch so adeptly states, isn’t for the masses. It was for his three children. But through it, his story and philosophies on living have already touched the lives of millions.

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Here’s a truth: Kids will be kids.

They learn to play the situation to their advantage. It’s human nature to play to the strengths and weaknesses of those we have relationships with and kids are the experts – because, in many cases, they want the “normal” that they lost in the divorce back in their lives.

Who can blame them.

When I left my marriage after 20 years, I wanted that normal aspect of my kids’ lives to remain in tact. I only removed some personal belongings from the home they’ve known most of their lives – some clothes, a couple pieces of furniture that came from my Mom. Everything else stayed in place by design. In the process I made sure the kids’ Mom could keep the house that had no value to me, but immense value to her and the kids. Stability. In the meantime, I established a home not far away where each of my teens have their own space. It’s no frills, but comfortable. They are taken care of, by many measures, better than a lot of children get taken care of by parents who reside under the same roof.

But, I think, in the two years since leaving that marriage, I’ve painted a false image of what “taken care of” means to me in order to accept the simple fact that I broke up my home and family.

The kids want to know they’re loved, at the end of the day. They want to be happy and not feel weird about having conversations with each parent about who’s job it is to pay for a prom dress, or whether or not a computer is going to get fixed so it can be used for school projects, or if there are enough clothes in the closet to wear to school. These are just simple things that should be automatics…givens…in order to ensure issues don’t pile on the other REALLY important kid issues of the day.

Teenagers face so much in their teenage lives. Peer pressure, teachers who don’t give a damn, puberty, emotion, and an innate desire to just want things to fit in with the crowd. Sometimes going unnoticed is bliss.

Each day, as a parent, it’s our duty to our kids to express that inordinate, unconditional love that proves to them normalcy can exist no matter what situation they find themselves in…even if just for 10 minutes a day.

Who doesn’t want that?!?!

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In toney Eden Prairie, Minnesota, high school students have been busted. Busted by dozens of photos they or their friends have posted on their profile pages found on social networking pages like Facebook (see the previous post about this story as it broke on Jan. 9).

So far, 42 students have been disciplined and 13 have been suspended from school sanctioned extracurricular activities – activities in which many students signed a pledge to abstain from using alcohol or drugs or face consequences.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports today that students organized a classroom walkout today due to the controversy of whether or not school administrators have any authority over photographs and content found on Facebook. Not only that, apparently some parents are talking to lawyers to see if they can sue the school for taking measures they view as “too harsh” for the indiscretions and stupidity of their children.

It seems (as has been done through the ages) kids will be kids. I drank when I was 17 years old. In fact, I drank beers before, during and after high school events that I was involved in. I did not, however, share pictures of my activity with teachers, friends or parents in any public way. But today, with the accessibility of the Internet, these kids checked their brains at the login window and chose to upload photos of themselves at parties, holding beers or cups of beverages believed to contain alcohol.  The school administrators were presented with the evidence and felt obligated to take action. Case closed.

Except not only do the kids affected by the district’s discipline policy feel it’s too harsh, but so do the parents – who apparently also checked their brains at the door.

Helloooooo! Your child is consuming alcohol and brazenly posting pictures of their actions on public web sites. If you don’t want the school district to interfere and discipline then perhaps you should pull your heads out of your asses and be the parents!

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Oh my god! Are teenagers really this stupid?

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported today that more than 100 students from toney Eden Praire High School (a ‘burb of Minneapolis) have been suspended from participating in athletic events and given other punishments because of incriminating photos posted on various profile pages found on Facebook.

I have a daughter. She has a Facebook page. She goes to parties where, at times I’m sure, alcohol gets served (you know those theater groupies – they love their booze and pot) *cough*. But I’m thinking that even IF a photo of her standing next to someone who appeared to be drinking a beer or other form of alcohol were taken, she’d never allow it to be posted online anywhere. Just a hunch. And if a photo incriminating her were to be posted online, someone’s head would roll. Her group of friends are above average in recognizing the public nature of the Internet. Unlike this student from another high school in suburban Minnesota who said:

I think it’s a huge invasion of privacy.”

Oh yes. That huge private thing called the Internet (rolling my eyes).

Many children today, for various reasons (read: most parents choose to be friends to their kids instead of serving as parents), think there are no longer limits as to what they can do. The drinking age is 21? Ha! Watch me drink. No cell phones in the classroom? Right. Sure. (sound of typing a text message as their pal’s phone across the room vibrates…loudly).

As an aside there was a hilarious joke going around just yesterday about Bill Clinton being in near-constant cell phone communication with Hillary as the two campaigned in New Hampshire. The punch line dealt with Bill’s phone being on vibrate, making the calls from Hill all the more wanted. Ok. Not so hilarious perhaps, unless Bill’s cell phone is shaped like a cigar.

Back to the story…

So a preponderance of kids today think it’s a “no-holds barred” world for them and all they have to do is show up to have life handed to them on a platter. And parents enable this attitude. Junior drives Dad’s 2003 Beemer to school five days a week, and sits in the “great room” of the fam’s 4,000-square-foot-house while mommy serves him and his five best buds plenty of pizza and ego-building compliments about what good kids they are. They, in turn, lap it up and ask for more.

And what will the result of this Facebook scandal net these kids who are caught with beers in hand? A few missed games if they’re an athlete. A wag of the finger from school administrators who’ll say,

“Don’t you know better?” And of course, mommy and daddy just might smirk and say, “Next time you have a party, all cameras and phones will be checked at the door!”

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Yet another first day of school is in the books. Both kids started back on September 4: One in 7th grade (first year of junior high), and one now a junior in high school. They scrambled to tell me how their first days went and I listened, congratulated them and patted them on the backs for taking on another school year with such enthusiasm. In the back of my mind I kept telling myself, “They want something. Here it comes. It’s coming. They’re going to ask…”

 

They never asked.

It was just me and my two kids talking. Well, they talked and I listened. And today they’re back in class. So as a parent, I must be doing something right. Right?

I vividly remember both my start in junior high and my junior year of high school.

Junior high is such a huge transition year. You quickly become a big kid. It’s awkward for boys because we’re sweating and smelling and growing hair in places previously untouched by hair. We start noticing girls in a serious way and have to deal with our mature immaturity. One minute we’re all grown up, the next minute we’re sucking the air out of an empty Mountain Dew bottle and vacuuming it to our cheek, unknowingly leaving a large red hicky on the side of our faces. Just try to explain that to an older kid who’s pointing, laughing and calling you hicky face.

High school juniors, on the other hand are all grown up. They’re practically the top dog and they’re faced with their most challenging year of education they’ve ever had. Eleventh grade teachers are brutal. They pile on the homework in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff. They want you to know by the end of your junior year if you’re going to a university, a junior-college or straight into the workforce. Of course there’s always the threat of joining one of the armed service branches for those who refuse to turn in assignments on time.

My junior year was filled with dating, music and drinking…and a few nights of studying when I had to. And even with a lowly ACT score, I still got accepted at a major university, proving that if I can handle it, any average kid can. But what is average? It’s the best of the worst, right? So why not strive for excellence? That’s a tough lesson to teach any 17-year-old.  

You lead by example, set expectations and hope they’ll see the rays of light you shine on their path. Then you remain realistic, knowing they’ll stumble along the way and that you’ll be there to pick them up and dust them off.

In the end you can pat yourself on the back if, during the year, you’ve congratulated them more than admonished them and, when spring time rolls around in six months, they’re still just as enthused as they were on that first day back to school.

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The Great Minnesota Get Together starts on Thursday and runs through Sept. 3. This year I’ll find myself at the fair. Last time I strolled the Fairgrounds along Snelling Avenue in St. Paul was 2005 and my head wasn’t in the game, so to speak. I’ve always liked a good fair. The sights and sounds — the carnies, the corn dogs, the cacophony from the inaudible loudspeaker systems — take me back to my hometown, which was host to the World’s Greatest County Fair.

I grew up on The Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa. Each year, this rural fair draws CCFhundreds of thousands to a town of less than 12,000. It was the main event – the one thing every resident planned for and participated in either as an attendee, a worker, a consumer or people watcher.

Several moments from my fair days as a kid still mark my brain (maybe scar it).

The first and most dominant scar caused by the fair happened when my Uncle Earl took me there to wander the grounds. Uncle Earl was my “rich” uncle. He was rich in a way that surpassed money. And while he always drove a nice new Buick and made half dollars fall out of my pockets when he lifted me by the ankles, he never bragged. His presence in a room, advice, spirit and belief in God made Uncle Earl revered.

So on that day when we wandered the fair grounds, Uncle Earl was most interested in poking through the cow barns and striking up lengthy conversations with livestock owners who were showing off their best Holsteins or Herefords. I was 10. Bored with conversation and wanting for the Midway where I could quickly blow the half dollars that had magically appeared from my pants pockets. Naturally, when I spied I large pile of hay I had to take a running leap into it. Mistake. As I later learned when Uncle Earl smelled me and realized I’d jumped into a pile of used hay – manure filled.

We stopped by an ice cream stand and I wiped myself down with napkins. But the cloud of manure hung over me, not to mention the embarrassment of having to take off my pants before my uncle would let me into his Buick sedan. This story continues to get much laughter at family events, so I can proudly tell it here. Rest assured, I have not ventured back into hay pile jumping since that famed day at the fair.

Part Two of my fair remembrance deals with my dad’s booth at the fair that he managed and staffed until I was in my early teens. Dad owned his own business called Spencer Radiator Works. We called it “The Shop” and it blossomed as a business in my pre-school years. He worked it hard and expanded it, selling anything with a small engine as well – primarily lawnmowers but including chainsaws, generators and other two- and four-cycle things.

The Clay County Fair was the perfect demo ground for the latest in riding lawnmower design and Dad cleaned up during fair week. It was like getting an extra month’s income each year. But the hours were long and sometimes frustrating. By the time I was four or five, Dad would take me with him, usually in the afternoons, to hang at his booth outside and watch him sell lawnmowers. It was exciting just to be on the grounds, but watching Dad in action as a salesman was riveting, too. He was engaging, knowledgeable and could tell a looker from a buyer almost immediately – a critical skill when investing time in a sale.

I’d help him in the booth, serving as “runner.”

“Butch,” (his nickname for me and I have no idea why), “run and get me a coffee.” Or, “Butch, why don’t you go get yourself a corn dog and bring back a turkey drumstick for me.” Sometimes he’d leave me alone at the booth while he went to the bathroom or found a pay phone to check with the boys at the Shop. When he returned he’d bring a treat – a slushy lemonade or ice cream bar.

Those days in Dad’s booth at the fair were bonding days for the two of us. He probably didn’t know that he was giving me some of my greatest and fondest memories by taking me along. But thinking about those afternoons I spent with him during a week each September always make me pause. For a father-son relationship that was far from perfect, we shared many perfect days — common ground on the grounds of The Worlds Greatest County Fair.

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