Sunday, January 30

Thinking about moms

I'm not a mom.  I'm a daughter and a sister, and an aunt both formally and informally.  I have friends who are moms, many of them are working moms and I do know it's hard to be a mom.

So I'm intrigued by three very different stories in the news.  The one attracting a lot of attention is about the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua and her recently published Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  The cover story of TIME magazine compares Chua's approach to the American Parens helicopterus, or the American helicopter parent.  When I taught, I encountered a few helicopter parents.  They were exhausting, especially the ones to whom I could say little because their college students were over 18.  Parenting never really ends and some parents really struggle to let go. . . ever.

I've followed the Chua story with interest, though I've not yet read her book and I'm not sure I ever will.  This is a topic that many are more than willing to talk about because how parents raise their kids affects us all.  Which leads me to the story about State Representative Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland, FL), mother of five, who has proposed a bill that requires teachers to grade parents: satisfactory, unsatisfactory, needs improvement.  You can be sure that has raised the ire of more than a few parents and been the catalyst for considerable conversation, criticism, and derision.  Much like Chua's book and subsequent interviews.

Personally, I like the idea of teachers grading parents.  Teachers are held accountable for students' performance in school; why shouldn't parents be held accountable for their kids doing their homework, getting to school, etc.?  Oh, I know it's not that easy and I know there are a zillion factors that influence parents' involvement.  Teachers grading parents?  No, not the answer, but I wonder how many parents wondered how they would be graded by their kids' teachers.

So here's what I find interesting.  First, a parent is taken to task because she has high expectations for her kids, perhaps excessively high by most American parents' standards.  Second, through her high expectations, she was teaching her children to be accountable and responsible for their own work.  Yea, that's a terrible thing.  Third, someone wants to pass a law to make sure that parents are accountable for their children, which is terrifying that such a thing even has to be considered.  BUT, it underscores, I think, educators' frustrations in getting parents involved in a real and productive way, but also reminding parents that they have a significant role in their kids' success.  Fifth, other than the Tiger Mom, we under-emphasize the importance of students learning to take responsibility for their learning, for their own success.

The third story?  I don't know how widely it was reported that Kelli Williams-Bolar went to jail for a few days for lying about residency so her kids could go to a better school.  Her father lives in the district and Ms. Williams-Bolar claimed his address as her own, claiming she and her kids lived with him part-time.  But she doesn't live in the district, so she and her father falsified papers and she doesn't pay taxes in the district.  There is so much we don't know about this story--why she couldn't move into the district, etc.--but it seems to be a drastic move for a mother to try to get her kids into a better school.

It's easy to sit on the sidelines and be judgmental about intentions, about parenting styles and strategies.  It's easy for other parents to compare to themselves and measure their kids and their kids' successes and failures as well as their own parenting successes and failures against other parents.  It's much harder to get the whole story, the rest of the story, and really try to understand why a parent takes a particular approach with a particular child.

Whether or tiger mom or a helicopter mom, or one who lies about residency, or one who wants parents to be accountable with and to teachers, the one thing that seems to be the same is this: these are all moms who want the best possible opportunities for their kids, which seems like a pretty good parenting goal.

Wednesday, January 5

What would you do with millions?

I woke up this morning to learn I had not won the $350M Mega Million jackpot.  Of course, I didn't buy a ticket and, as the commercial says, "You've got to be in it to win it."

But I could not help but think, for a few minutes anyway, what I might have done with $350 million or however much it will be after Uncle Sam takes his slice.  An article I skimmed suggested that people seem to have generally philanthropic goals for the big win.  Sure, paying off bills is a no-brainer.  Buying a new house or buying a house or car or such for family members is another lottery-winner plan.

My list tends to be similar: pay off bills, buy a new house, buy a new car, buy some necessities and then bonus stuff for family and maybe a few friends (who are really friends, not those "long-lost" friends who undoubtedly come crawling out of the woodwork) though I'd want to buy the friends' things anonymously.  And then philanthropic and charitable gifts.  I have a list of those, too: organizations to which I'd like to give vast amounts of money and foundations I'd want to support.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have been in the news because of their movement, The Giving Pledge.  They are encouraging the wealthiest Americans to donate their money to charity.  The movement started quietly, and I applaud the participants for not making a big deal of this, for not trying to garner headlines for their generosity.  It is that spirit I've always thought I'd give my lottery gifts anonymously and without strings.

Years and years ago I talked with someone who worked for a university and was trying to decide what to do with the promise of sizable corporate "gift" that came with substantial corporate strings.  The university opted not to take the gift because it didn't want to be forced to take particular actions that might not have been in the best interests of the university and its students, in the short or long term. 

That's one of the reasons I'd want to give my lottery gifts anonymously and without strings as I'd want the organizations to have the freedom to meet needs I probably wouldn't even know about.

After all, what would I have done to win the lottery?  I would have walked into a store or gas station and plunked down a few bucks for a ticket.  It's not as though I would have exerted much energy to win that money.  So getting all uppity about how it should be spent?  I don't think so.

But not just yet.  Maybe next time there's a big ol' pile of money in the lottery.  Maybe.  If I remember to buy a ticket.

Sunday, January 2

Reflection on resolutions

'Tis the season to look back.  Why is it that we look back and review the top 10 business stories, the top 10 sports stories, the top some number of whatever?  News magazines publish top photos of the year as well as top stories, etc.  We look back at the highlights as well as the low points.  I hope we want to learn from our mistakes, though we might just reminding ourselves how miserable humanity can be.

I believe, however, that we hope this fresh slate of a new year will help us stand straighter, put our shoulders back, and proceed with hope and confidence.  I believe that's why some people make resolutions to stop some vice or to start some healthy habit.

I like to say I don't make resolutions, but I know I do.  I hear whispers in my head about blogging more regularly, getting that tattoo, writing real letters more often, staying in more regular contact with my family, and, oh yea, working out more.

I think we make resolutions because we recognize that humanity can be miserable; that each of us occasionally, maybe often, falls short of what we want to be, what we need to be.  Perhaps what drives us to improve or change is something spiritual or an inner desire to have a few regrets as possible or a competitive spirit of looking for an improved personal best in something or a whole host of reasons, some of which collide and interwine.

I rarely get my Christmas cards out on time any more.  That's why I like the ones that read "Season's Greetings;" I can always add a personal greeting and "Season's Greetings" is sufficiently general that it could mean Christmas, Epiphany, or even winter.  Each fall I resolve to get my Christmas cards out.  I don't even try for "on time" any more; just getting them addressed and in the mail by Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas can be a Christmas miracle for me.  Sure, Epiphany is in January, but it is when the Magi were to have visited Jesus, so it's still during the season.  I won't digress to far here, but the Christmas season doesn't really end on December 25 or even December 26 with all of the returns and post-Christmas Day shopping.  The season of Christmas never really ends, I suppose, but is marked by Epiphany.

January 1 did mark the beginning of a new year.  The sun rose as it always has, and I thank God for that.  The Rose Bowl Parade went off without a hitch and bowl games were played.  In many ways, January 1 was no different from any other day.  And today, January 2, is the day we check to see how many resolutions we've broken already.

But here's what's really cool.  There is always tomorrow, or so we hope and pray.  And as long as we have a new day, we have hope to improve.  As long as we take time to reflect and to learn from our actions or mistakes without wallowing in self-pity, we have hope to improve.  Today is the only day that matters.  Yesterday is done and gone.  Yes, reflect on it, learn from it, and move on.  Tomorrow isn't yet and will bring its own issues and concerns. 

Yep, today is the only day that matters.  Resolve to live it well.