Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Favorite Things This Week

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: It's not anti-flashcard, but it is anti-fad-based-parenting. Lots of great info on how babies' brains develop, how they really learn, and how achievement-oriented parenting got sidetracked by political agendas and scientific sound-bites.

Creme Fraiche: less sour and lighter than sour cream, I can't believe I was 25 before my first creme fraiche experience. I dollop it over fresh berries with a sprinkle of unrefined sugar. Oo-la-la!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Heartwarming, touching, and just downright funny, this book provides a constant stream of chuckles punctuated with a few good belly-laughs in just the right places. The beautiful story explores the power of literature during a time of great stress.

Confessions of a Shopaholic, the movie
: Isla Fischer is downright adorable. While it's 100% fluff, it's refreshing to watch a movie that is totally CLEAN. Makes me want to read the book.

After-Sun Replenishing Gel by Mary Kay: the sun is brutal here in the summer, and this cool blue gel is such a treat! Almost totally botanicals and not at all greasy, I use it on my girls after intense sessions on the playground.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Aspirations of Mediocrity

I'm going back to school, and I must say that I am shocked at how far the attitudes of undergrads have degenerated since my last venture with higher education. We have a very generous teacher. Not soft, mind you! He doesn't give you a grade you don't deserve, but he does a lot, I think, to make sure you understand the material. He tells you exactly what material will be covered on the test, so that you know what you need to study. And still over half the class is flunking. Now, this is a pretty good class. There are several who ask a lot of questions and participate in the discussion, but everyone except for two people make a 'C' or lower on the test. There can be no reason for this except that they do not study. Now, this is not a shock in and of itself. What I find completely shocking is that these kids think a 'C' is a good grade and they shouldn't need to do any better.  Now, when I was in college before, a professor told me that a grade merely reflects (or at least, SHOULD reflect) your knowledge of a subject: 'A' means you know the material cold; 'B' means you know it pretty well; 'C' means you barely know the material; and he basically equated 'D' and 'F' as the same grade, insinuating that you could guess and B.S. your way to a 'D' grade, but didn't really know your ass from a hole in the ground. I tend to agree with this. 
Now, I realize that each generation thinks the next one is lax and lazy, but I'm fairly sure there has ever been a time before where a 'C' grade has been glorified as a "good" grade. I thought 'C' students were poor students! And it makes me incredibly sad to hear these students, whom I can tell are actually very bright, happily sharing their 71 with their classmates and saying, "I'm so relieved. That's what I wanted to do!" Really? You only aspire to mediocrity?
What does this imply for the future of our country? What will it mean when these kids enter the workforce and think they should not be expected to do any more than the minimum to get by? What will it mean when these kids become parents, and pass this mentality on to their offspring? It does clear up one thing for me, though: it is no wonder this country is headed towards socialism when its rising generations equate "not failing" to be the same thing as "succeeding". 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gender Roles

I've been thinking a bit about gender roles recently. This was brought on after a trip to a lake, where I over-heard a mother express concern about her eighteen-month-old son who was afraid to go in the water, "We hope he'll grow out of it. His dad is worried he'll be a sissy."

I go back and forth in my head about whether I should say anything, but I always come to the conclusion that it's none of my business, even though comments like that burn the fire out of me. The child was in no danger, the parents were within their rights, and I'm afraid I just don't have the blatant gall to stick my nose where it doesn't belong. But still, it's had me thinking about children and gender roles.

Once, at Christmas time, I was in a Pottery Barn Kids and overheard a woman complaining loudly to her companion over the toy displays. "I just think it's awful that they have the doctor's kits on the boy's side and the dolls on the girls side." Even as she said this, two robust boys were happily playing in the girl's section with the pink kitchen set while their dad got some shopping done (I know they were with their dad because he kept coming over to quiet them down when they got a bit too rowdy). But it does bring up a point: do toy makers design toys for boys and girls based on natural gender preferences, or do kids gravitate towards "gender appropriate" toys because of the labels and pressure we put on them? In other words, which came first: the chicken or the egg?

My first inclination is that it is a little bit of both. Boys and girls are wired differently, that much is obvious, and so it would only make sense that their interests lie in separate, but overlapping, areas. I think when dealing with generalities this is not a bad way to think about it. However, I do agree that some of the stuff marketed to girls is just downright offensive, and the things marketed to boys are downright oppressive. It seems the idea of girls as sex symbols is being marketed to younger and younger girls, which I think is both horrible and devastating. And while a part of me believes that it is a parent's job to filter our the garbage and shelter the girl's self-esteem, that's a bit hard to do without becoming a hermit these days. We don't watch live tv in my house, not because I'm against tv or even the programs necessarily, but I hate the commercials marketing junk food and toys to kids. They simply make my job so much harder.On a recent trip to the mall, a walk through Dillard's in search of a bathroom took me through the juniors section, where a pair of short on display were too small for the mannequine. I won't lie: as a parent of girls, there was a part of me that rejoiced at Mattel's decision to give Barbie a boob reduction. Debate over how all of those Hollywood images and unrealistic bodies negatively affects a girls self-esteem has been debated ad nauseum.
But on the flipside, I believe that there isn't necessarily a double standard against girls in modern marketing: boys are just as oppressed and forced into roles. I think that putting the doctor kits on the boys side and the kitchen set on the girls side is every bit as offensive to boys as it is to girls. Those boys playing on the kitchen set were having a great time. In fact, kids always want to immitate whatever their parents do. So if a little boy sees his dad or mom cooking, or running a vaccuum, or caring for a baby sibling, that's what he will want to do. But those toys, he is told, are off-limits. They are for girls only, and he shouldn't want to play with them. What sort of message does that send to a little boy? How will he interpret that message as an adult? My guess would be that he will grow up to believe very strongly in "a woman's place", etc. Little boys are told again and again that they must be strong, that they can't cry, that it's not "manly" to feel emotion, that they shouldn't be afraid of anything or they're a sissy. I would think that these boys would grow up to be emotionally distant and poor communicators, with low self-esteems and the decreased ability to value the opposite sex for anything but their gender role. In other words, I think they would grow up to be lousy spouses and poor parents who most likely will just perpetuate the cycle of gender roles for their own children.

I am just speculating here. I haven't done any research on this subject, but I would like to one day. These are just my current inclinations. What do you think?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iranian Regime Commits Horrific Crimes Against Its People...But What's the Shock?

The scene playing out for us on the news is as if from a horror movie. The crimes that the members of the basij have committed against the Iranian protesters would be unspeakable if they were not plastered all over the media, thanks to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. As I go through the motions of my daily life, I hear worried voices asking around me, "Have you seen the news? Have you heard about what's going on in Iran?" The shock and horror of what is being done to Iranian citizens who support Moussavi and are protesting the certainly rigged election to keep President Ahmadinejad in power is like a slap in the face to the American people. What? Democracy and freedom don't dominate the world? What? The election was just a pretense to keep the Iranian people in line while sinister rulers work out their evil plans and cut down everyone in their paths? How can this be?

The truth is, I don't understand why the people around me are shocked at reports of the basij going after protestors with axes and hatchets, or intentionally shooting a woman who was not part of the protests. These are the kinds of actions that happen commonly under the Iranian regime. And why would you expect anything less of a regime that has gone to great lengths to make one half of its entire population invisible and sub-human? Every day, armed morality police patrol the streets, arresting anyone they will for any reason they can fathom: women eating apples too provocatively, standing too close to the opposite sex, posessing eyelashes that are too dark and alluring (all examples from the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi). Where crimes against morality are punishable by death...which in the more turbulent crackdowns are usually carried out in public executions broadcast on television. But what do you expect when the all-powerful Ayatollah can suggest bestiality to men as a way to curb their sexual appetites, but will lash or kill women for inspiring lust within men? What do you expect when the government propoganda posted in the airports reads, "Death to America! Death to Zionism!" The truth is that these crimes against humanity have been committed every day, the U.S. population simply did not care: it wasn't as interesting as the latest spat between Brangelina. In fact, the only reason we know about the faked election and the protests at all is because of the rise of Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps if these sites had existed in 1979, Iran would be a very different place today.

My thoughts on Iran are complicated: my heart is with the people obviously. Finally, they are united against the fear and torture that they have been forced to live under, and maybe, just maybe, they can pull together and take their freedom back. Would I be for sending U.S. intervention? Well, that's where my feelings get complicated. Who are we to police the world? The financial cost of another war could very possibly collapse our teetering economy. We obviously have our own problems to deal with here at home. How can you ask a mother here to possibly send, and lose, her child to a conflict which really has nothing to do with us? After all, it is doubtful that the U.S. is the target of Iran's nuclear weapons program...as much as they would like to destroy us. The true target is Israel. And judging by President Obama's stern words and soft action on the situation, I seriously doubt that we will get in another conflcit unprovoked. We are already over-extended as the global peace-keepers as it is, and the financial burden is bearing down on us, as it did on the Roman Empire, the Spanish Empire, and the British Empire, until we will most likely collapse into history. Still, I know in my heart that if my daughters were living under a brutal regime, I would be the first one to cry, "Where are the Americans?" Obviously, as a patriot to my country, I feel that freedom, a Divine Establishment given by God to ALL men, is worth fighting, and dying, for. But it gets more complicated: is the freedom of a nation not at all connected to you worth the sacrifice? Is what made us a great nation been our power-house private sector, enormous natural resources, and "don't tread on me" mentality? Or is it our compassion for others: our love of freedom that is so great we would send troops to die so that others could taste it, too? Don't just think of WWI and WWII and those crosses and stars on the shores of Normandy, but think of Kuwait, Kosovo, and Iraq, too. And how many of those countries are now considered to be U.S. territories? In fact, what has the U.S. ever asked of the countries it has helped to free, except enough land to burry our dead who could not be sent home? But at the same time, is it a moral responsibility for the U.S. to guaruntee freedom to other nations at the expense of the security of our own country?

I can do little to participate in the conversations going around me, because I simply do not know what to say. All I know to do is try to help people understand that the rest of the world is a very, very different place from the U.S. And while we seem to be in a pattern of gladly giving up our freedom for "security" these days, we still enjoy more freedoms here than any other country in the world. I really shouldn't get too uncomfortable, though: all I have to do is bide my time until the conversation inevitably shifts to the latest sports victory or public celebrity break-up.