Sunday, December 17, 2017

Wheel of Torture

A year ago if you had told me I’d get into spinning, I would have told you that you were crazy. Like CrossFit, which I haven’t yet tried, spinning always struck me as one of those cults. It’s the beaming face of someone just dying to tell you:

“I used to be miserable like you, until I found:

Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior
The Paleo Diet
My Current Lover

I tried yoga for a while, but lacked the Zen personality and discipline. The challenge was finding the right outlet for my innately American bifurcation of hedonism and masochism. We like our masochism “lite” -- just enough self-flagellation to “take the edge off” the guilt of the anticipated cocktail of indolence and self-indulgence, later in the day.

In this worldview of Excess, Exercise, as a form of self-improvement and admission that we are innately Not Worthy, is the heir to Calvinist, Puritan culture. It is the ghosts of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” or Cotton Mather’s faith and works, as the two oars with which the righteous man attempts to navigate his way through the treacherous waters of life. At the same time, we’ve replaced the transubstantiation of the Body and the Blood, with diet cola, margarine, skim milk, the egg white omelette, and gluten-free diet (for non-celiacs) -- in short, the charming idea that we can have our cake and eat it too...even if it doesn’t taste very good.

I immediately know another person and I will understand one another and possibly become great friends if they admit to two things: hating egg white omelettes and exercise.

Two conversations inspired me to attend Wheel of Torture. The first was with a German woman, who told me how she had been a very accomplished athlete in college, so much so that she injured her back and had suffered lifelong complications. These had now flared up to the point where she could no longer attend classes at Wheel of Torture. She told me that she missed these classes so much so that she was planning to undergo an extremely painful and invasive surgery and recovery, just so she could return. I was immediately impressed. No wonder the Germans gave us Protestantism and flirted with the idea of a master race.

In contrast, a few years ago my French spouse thoroughly enjoyed the interlude of having a broken ankle, from a ski accident -- the perfect injury “lite,” where you get all the sympathy and don’t have to endure much pain. He delighted in such consequences as being catered to by his wife, not having to do anything or have anything required of him, opiate painkillers, and the ability to focus on Physics.

My second inspiration was entirely different. I was having coffee with a good friend. Every person should have a friend like “Jackie,” if they enjoy outrageous, irreverent and salacious conversation. Jackie had recently met up with an ex, who after dating her, decided he preferred men. That wasn’t what bothered Jackie. 

“‘Ben’ had completely buffed up. He proudly told me that he now attends the 6:30am class at Wheel of Torture every day. And then it struck me. Here it was: the prime example of sexism in our country: not the obvious pussy grab or the underhanded slur, but the fact that even men have to up their game when they start dating men. Meanwhile, the middle-aged, mushy body was good enough for us women. That f@cker, I bet he even started waxing too!”

I zoned out. I wasn’t thinking of sexism or the slings and arrows of Jackie’s love life. I was thinking of the quick fix. If one month of Wheel of Torture was enough for gay men to notice Ben, maybe it would achieve the necessary calorie burning and muscle toning for me? Perhaps even gay men would approve of me.

If you blended a Satanic ritual, tent revival and a rock concert, you’d come up with something resembling spinning. Wheel of Torture, appropriately, is located in a basement. Like many franchise meetings, I suspect each coven of Wheel of Torture reflects the local demographic. For my neighborhood (and the class times I attend), this means predominantly blond, middle-aged, lululemon-wearing women. Self-consciously, I tell myself I am not a Basic Bitch. I am not a groupie, I am not a follower, I am not like them. I search for some evidence of this. All I can come up with to mildly differentiate myself, is that I am a brunette.

The men in the class are a definite minority. I mentally divide them into three categories: gay men, middle-aged men trying to fight the “dadbod,” young hipster Millennials, often training for triathlons. You would think the opportunity to spend an hour ogling the backsides of a bunch of fit, appearance-conscious women, twerking and exerting themselves in tight clothing would be Shangri-La for straight men. The only possible explanation I can think of for why there aren’t more straight men in Spinning is that the workout or the estrogen level is too much for them.

The initiate enters a dark room of anonymous people, mounted on stationary bicycles, arranged in a semicircle (often prolonged by mirrored wall). The initiate will remain anonymous, unless he or she becomes a regular, in which case, the instructor honors you with a special shout out, as one of the “Saved.” In my case, I was only too happy to sweat off my sins in anonymity. Once class starts, the instructor calls out the cues. Pranayama breathing is one way to try and quiet your mind. Another way is to spend your time busily adjusting torque, speed, and moving between three different positions on a bicycle, in a dark room, blasting music at an ear-violating pitch. The Try Hard Die Hard’s register their names so they pop up on the class monitor. I haven’t worked up the courage to do this. I also can’t think of a cool enough handle.

One month into Wheel of Torture and I still can barely figure out how to fit the shoes into the clips and I hate it, but I keep going back, because I like the way I look and feel afterwards. Some days I’m trying hard not to throw up because if I don’t eat first thing in the morning I basically can’t function. I am pretty sure the guards at Guantanamo blast this exact same soundtrack to prisoners’ cells. Think up tempo, Trap version of “Life is a Highway.” Actually, on second thoughts, I imagine Gitmo guards probably blast the Original version of “Life is a Highway.”

Each instructor has their signature motivational cues:

Be stronger than your excuse!

Most people can’t do what you’re doing right now!

If you can’t keep up with the torque and speed, don’t beat yourself up. You already did the first, most important thing today, you showed up! (I make a mental note of this one).

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!

If you were able to believe in Santa Claus for 8 years, you can believe in yourself for 5 minutes!

Once you join Wheel of Torture, you can search for your “guru.” The nice thing about the class format is that you can shop around for this instructor with minimal awkwardness and commitment. It takes me almost a month to find her. She is petite and feminine, but tough, with muscular arms, a good-natured Irish face, and reddish brown hair pulled into a ponytail and a can-do attitude. “Mary Alice” has the right combination of workout and playlist, so that I feel challenged and don’t see time pass -- per my other compulsive gear check during Spinning -- using the mini “active recoveries” to look at my watch. When she plays an up tempo remixes of Prince’s “Dirty Diana” and Beyonce’s “Formation,” I’m hooked.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

"What Does She Do With Her Time"

Why thank you very much ______ for asking that question. My husband asks me the same thing. What do I do to while away my hours as a Lady of Leisure? The more pertinent question might be what DID I do in the past that enables my present situation?

In my case, the past specifically refers to the eve of the year 2000 - a very nice celebration for most people, but a particularly LOW point in my life. I was working at a 30 hour-a-week corporate job (that provided us with much needed health insurance) and taking care of an 18-month old toddler, when my husband's company unraveled. We lost all of our own and some portion of my in-laws' savings and I was recovering from a miscarriage that might have been brought on by the stress of the failed company, exacerbated by the threatened law suit by his former business partner. I don't have any real interest in explaining here what I did at this point (except to my own children, so that they understand the origins of the opportunities they now enjoy), but it involved picking myself up and getting back on my feet, rolling up my sleeves and putting myself to work helping my husband create the company that not only recouped our own and the family money we lost, but provided the basis for the financial security we enjoy today.

Did I have people to help me with some house work and childcare? Yes. What does that really mean? It means that, while these people have a set list of every day responsibilities, you have to constantly manage them. It is generally pretty hard to explain to somebody how to cook a meal or clean a toilet if you have never done so yourself. It also means these people generally communicate problems to you and you have to figure out how to solve them. The timing of these problems is rarely convenient. The moment you are in the middle of dealing with a PR nightmare where, unawares to one half of the company, the other half of the company has staged a walk-out and set up a competing shop, will be the exact moment your nanny calls you up to tell you that the washing machine is leaking water all over the kitchen or your child's school calls you to pick them up because the child has suffered a concussion.

But that's all in the past. What do I do today? When I worked outside the house, I shared the same challenges as many women of my generation. The difference is that now, when I or my contemporaries "work" in the house, very few people, including myself (thus the use of brackets around the word work) take what we do seriously. Still you asked for it, so here's a list:

Leveraging my technology skills: The glasses in the dishwasher are coming out opaque? Time for some Jet-dry!

Meal Preparation: Making sure my family enjoys a tasty variety of healthy meals that include protein and vegetables -- looking up recipes, grocery shopping, cooking and making sure the kids do the dishes. Note: the amount of time you spend preparing the meal and its healthiness will be inversely proportional to how much your family appreciates it.

On Children and Chores: Men tend to think that children will do things Because You Asked Them To. They give an order and trust in the results. This is a big mistake. Children (like husbands) make a habit of not listening to you 90% of the time. Also, while whatever you have just asked them to do is very important for you, it is a complete pain in the neck for them. And then you have you have to understand the logic of the child brain. This operates as follows: "Mom and Dad are always yelling at me anyway. If I don't do what they ask, I at least get to have more time for gaming, watching crap on Youtube, bla bla. There is a fifty percent chance I will get away with it. Even if I don't get away with it, then I'm no worse off than I would be anyway." Solution? Always. Follow. Up.

Managing the House: At any given time, ten issues will need fixing/taking care of at the house. Basic high-school level familiarity with Existentialism and the Myth of Sisyphus helps me understand how this process unfolds. Every time you fix one item on the list, another item will appear -- thus all the work I do, in addition to being unappreciated is essentially futile. I use my "Physics for Poets" class, taken to fill the dreaded C category -- math, science, technology -- college graduation requirement -- to understand the Quantum Appliance. The quantum appliance is that appliance that malfunctions 90% of the time with the EXCEPTION of that one rare day when "Cletus" the redneck repair guy with ear gauge and always-visible butt-crack, shows up. Cletus will then claim he cannot fix your appliance unless he sees it malfunction. Needless to say, that is the one time the appliance won't oblige.

Housecleaning: Given the fact that I don't have a brigade of domestic help 24/7 and my husband and children, Hurricane Fleury, are capable of trashing the house in one hour flat, not to mention the low level of attention to detail my kids put into doing the dishes at night, I would be living in a complete pig-sty if I were not frequently picking things up and scrubbing dishes or wiping down counters. Also, given these conditions, it is also hard for house-cleaners to be effective if you don't first (or simultaneously) pick things up and put them in order.

Healthcare Specialist: It's been a lovely year so far (like most mom's the year starts with the Hallelujah moment of "Back to School" in the fall and progressively begins to suck the life energy out of you from there): we've had Broken foot one (child A), mono (child A), Concussion (Child B), broken foot two (Child D), pseudo concussion (Child D) - the kind where he tells the nurse "everything is all blurry" but suddenly springs to life once he comes home and wants you to make him pancakes and plays some pretty lively rounds of GI Joe. This culminated in the call from the school nurse (she and I are best buds) on Friday - "Child C showed up with a panic attack in my office this morning claiming he is dying of a fatal disease whose symptoms include rash on chest, yellow liquid poo, and 99 degree fever." Oh and the most dreaded words any mother could hear? "Mom my head is itching," prelude to that other obligatory parental right of passage -- The Lice.

Homeschooling: No matter how good your public school system is or how much you pay for your children's private school education, you will probably wind up partially home-schooling your children. When I was in kindergarten through 3rd grade, I had no real homework and spent my free time happily watching Tom and Jerry or riding my bike. Somehow, despite the fact that I, and generations of kids like me, went to school with larger class sizes and no real homework until fourth or fifth grade, we managed to learn to read and write. Not so anymore.... and it only goes downhill from there. Everything has gotten lots more competitive. Unless your child scores at 750 or above on every category of the SAT, is an Olympic hopeful, concert-level musician and has a GPA of 4.5, you will be confronted (by more successful parents) with the horrific possibility that: Your Children Are Being Left Behind. Your child's school will bombard you with an average of three emails a day. Figuring out which of this pellet blast of emails actually contains important information is probably the business plan of a highly secretive Silicon Valley start-up right now. The only thing that will help you muddle through this is building your own network of parent-friends to fill you in on all the meetings you miss, and all the important information the school DOESN'T give you.

Chauffeur, Child Activity Coordinator: Not only do children require a lot of driving to regular and specialist healthcare appointments, sports practices and games, tutoring and extra-curricular activities; at some point your children will have a more active social life than you do. Be prepared to spend time responding to Evites and playdate requests, frequenting Jumpy Palaces, Chuck E. Cheese's, Dave & Busters and Six Flags, tracking down the parents of your tween or teen's friends to make sure everybody is where they say they will be and taking tweens and teens to friends' houses, parties, dances, high school spirit nights, etc.

Miscellaneous: self maintenance (hair salon appointments), exercise (usually avoiding it), time spent with friends.

Trying to do Meaningful Work: In my case this is writing. I envy my husband's ability to shut out all outside stimuli and devote himself to Physics or Music for hours. In my case, multi-tasking and taking care of everything above, in an environment where, at any given moment, somebody is complaining about a problem I need to solve or making a demand on my time, makes it difficult to finish even the most simple thought process. Add to this the challenge of being a person who likes neatness, order and silence in order to be able to concentrate. Then, try believing you have anything to write about when 90% of what you spend your time on goes un-noticed, un-valued and un-appreciated by those who benefit from it the most...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Feminist Raises Its Daughter

I am currently reading Naomi Wolf's "Beauty Myth" which I suggested to my 15-yr old girl to help in critical "methodology" for her IB MYP project on "The image of women in advertising" and have conjured up more enthusiasm for the book, after toiling through the first 50 pages of conspiracy theory. Interesting point that the only professions where women are consistently paid higher than men are modeling and porn. Automatically ruling out porn, why would mothers NOT encourage their daughters to ever enter any profession (not just modeling, but including TV presenter, housewife, etc.) where their most valuable attribute is their appearance?

Because to do so, would be condemning your child to a life-time of insecurity, always worrying that she will be too fat, or too thin (aka not voluptuous enough because every smart woman knows the commercial appeal of Kate Moss is that, until she drank and drugged herself into middle-age, she looked like a child, which is disturbing if you think about that too much), not young enough, not mainstream enough, not exotic enough, not this year's look...always subjecting yourself to a judgment criteria you don't control.

"Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at...confuse desiring with being desired...a beautiful heroine is a contradiction in terms, since heroism is about individuality, interesting and ever changing, while "beauty" is generic, boring and inert." "A man's right to confer judgment on a woman's beauty while remaining himself unjudged is beyond scrutiny because it is thought of as God-given." "Though God made Adam from clay in his own image, Eve is an expendable rib. God breathed life directly into Adam's nostrils, inspiring his body with divinity; but Eve's body is twice removed from the Maker's hand, imperfect matter born of matter."

"The beautiful woman is forever excluded from the rewards and responsibilities of particular human love, for she cannot trust that any man will love herself "for herself alone." "When men are more aroused by the symbols of sexuality than by the sexuality of women themselves, they are fetishists. Fetishism treats the part as if it were a whole; men who choose a lover on the basis of her "beauty" alone are treating the woman as a fetish--that is treating a part of her, her visual image, not even her skin, as if it were her sexual self. The woman's value as a fetish lies in the way her "beauty" gives him status in the eyes of other men.

Wolf's thesis is that in "modern" European and North American culture up through the 19th century up to WWII, in mainstream culture, a woman's value was determined by her moral and spiritual purity, her religious devotion. With the end of WWII and the conversion to the consumer era, this religious fervor was transferred to the "Feminine Mystique" the value of the woman as the ultimate house-keeper, mother and home-maker, opening up the possibility to sell them detergents, house-hold appliances, sewing machines, baking accoutrements. Cleanliness was next to godliness and the new holy waters were soaps and detergents. With the feminist revolution in the 1960s and the entry of large numbers of women into the workforce, this no longer became as economically attractive a business model, so a new standard was invented - the Beauty standard.

Like any ideal, ideal beauty can never be achieved. Beauty is made into a religion in our culture. Like any religion, you must suffer and pay a high price to be beautiful, whether it is through gym work-outs or endless beauty maintenance rituals, ranging in pain and invasiveness from eyebrow pluckings, to laser treatments, to plastic surgeries. The holy oil of purification in the Beauty ritual is the ultimate consumer product: skin cream which promises to revitalize, rejuvenate, replenish nourish, reverse the signs of aging, protect your skin from a "hostile" environment, provide the skin with the calorie-rich indulgences "caviares" and "mousses" that most thin women cannot ingest as a food. The holy oil of beauty cream has a 10x profit margin on the base ingredients, cannot be misrepresented because everybody knows these products don't actually do what they promise - since none of these products actually penetrates the stratum corneum to effect any changes on a cellular level, and the more you charge for it, the more people will pay.

My daughter is now plotting (she is 15 and her "future job plans" change every week) to go to work for the health and beauty division of a consumer products company.

How does a Feminist raise its sons? Well, in addition to educating themselves to the level they need to engage in a fulfilling and self-sustaining (aka not sucking off the parental teat) profession, like my daughter, before they leave my house, my boys will know how to clean a bathroom like nobody's business, cook at least three full, healthy meals, open the door for any woman or girl and treat women with courtesy, respect and old-fashioned manners, and maybe just maybe if they attend SEC football games, wear a coat and tie? Because, at the end of the day, George Clooney dated cocktail waitresses and television presenters, but he married an Oxford-educated international human rights lawyer (who also happens to be beautiful), and I want my sons to find smart life partners with character, moral and family values...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wife Drives Husband's Tesla

I had hoped Marc Fleury learned his lesson the last time he borrowed my "clean diesel" SUV to transport his pinball machine and forced me to drive the Tesla. This resulted in an unfortunate encounter with the right curb on those inconveniently narrow lanes on Piedmont road that led to tire and hubcap replacement that COST MORE THAN my first car. If you think handing your wallet over to the pretentious German motors garage (where they serve you cappucino!) is painful, wait until you get the service and maintenance bills from Tesla.

And, no you WON'T have a choice on where to go because only Tesla services and makes parts for Tesla. You think Steve Jobs and Apple's custom interfaces are bad? You haven't even begun to start kow-towing to Elon Musk. Tech geeks love Elon Musk. Elon is the alpha-geek's alpha geek. They even based Iron Man on Elon. How smart is Elon? Well, my guess is that he's so smart, he'll have himself cryogenically frozen so he can extend his dominance to future generations.

Giving a person like me a Tesla or any powerful car to drive is a waste. How bad a driver am I? My father, in trying to teach me to drive stick shift, after I had stalled out for the twentieth time, once famously suggested that I drink a loosen up. However, like most people who are aware of their shortcomings, my caution serves me well. I have never had any accidents (except those involving curbs or objects placed behind my car, like tree branches). Part of the reason for this is that when I get on the highway, I place myself in the 2nd to right lane and go at a consistent speed of 60-65mph, and don't move because that's EXACTLY the advice they gave me in the Driver's Ed educational movie I watched at age 16.

However, I am stuck driving the Tesla again because my 15-yr old wants to practice driving and feels the immediate need to go to Publix grocery buy air freshener for her room. So, the only thing worse than me driving the Tesla would be our daughter driving the Tesla. Did I mention she's 15 years old. My husband decides to drive with her. And, I find myself driving the Tesla on The Mission: Pick up the three boys from catechism and deliver them to their cousin's house in the ATL suburbs so they can go to his birthday party at SKY HELLZONE.

If you want to lose your religion, try getting out of a large Catholic church parking lot after the 10:30 mass and Sunday School. Every other person drives a Chevy Suburban or GMC Yukon, and it's not because they all have ten children. As I try to navigate around the butt end of some sort of monster 4x4 truck crammed into a parking space that is way too small, I start to experience the first symptom of driving a fuel-efficient vehicle: feeling self-righteous. I can barely restrain myself from leaving a note on the windshield of afore-mentioned monster 4x4. "Buddy, what do you think you are doing? We aren't within 60 miles of a farm, and you are driving this aberration in-town? It's thanks to nimrods like you that American lives are being lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention that we're destroying our environment back home with horizontal drilling..." Thankfully before I have time to compose said note, the line moving out of the parking lot moves forward.

The children safely acquired, I now have my husband's Mini Me in the car to help me figure out the Tesla. This is the child who, at age 10, surpassed my ability to control any automated device in the house. B is my co-pilot and his brothers are in the back seat.

Task One: Change the music station. Now Tesla has something I do love. Slacker Radio. Only problem is my husband, who has been kicked out of such exclusive groups as "Real DJs Against Douchebags" has the radio set to some boring electronic music station. Time for revenge: Slacker Top 40 here I come. In all honesty, 95% of this is total crap, but Slacker allows me to immediately click ahead to the next song, so it's better than regular Top 40 Radio, where you have to listen to the same tunes by Katy Perry, Maroon 5 and John Legend on infinity loop, not to mention the timeless pitch of Tom Shane, "your friend in the diamond business." Thanks to Slacker Top 40, I start to rock out to the latest by Lil Jon, Mary Lambert and Lady Antebellum and relax.

Until. Oh no you don't! Mini (My Husband)'s hand is reaching suspiciously for the radio controls. Time to reassert Vehicular Musical Dominance over the Progeny with The Speech. I have been giving variants of The Speech as soon as my oldest child reached age 10 and started having musical preferences. The Speech goes as following: "When you and I are in the car together, you will have a say in the music we listen to WHEN AND ONLY WHEN when YOU can afford a car, gas and car insurance. When is that going to happen? Not any time soon.... mwah ha ha ha.

On the surface streets, I start to notice pleasant things about the Tesla. It's low and heavy and hugs the road. Not only that, I discover that Tesla has some bitchin' acceleration. It's actually FUN TO DRIVE. When I get to Hwy 85, I am no longer driving like me. I am driving like 17-yr old boy jacked up on testosterone and driving this car is like mainlining adrenaline. All my risk-averse instincts get thrown out the window. I'm changing lanes, passing cars, left and right. The Children are starting to get nervous. I am completely oblivious as I sing along with Iggy Azalea and Charlie XCX:

I'm so fancy You already know I'm in the fast lane From L.A. to Tokyo I'm so fancy Can't you taste this gold? Remember my name 'Bout to blow

Whew ee. This is fun. I've just discovered the acceleration has something like a hyper-drive. I am Han Solo putting the Millenium Falcon into "lightspeed." All the lesser ships fall behind me. I forget to hate on Elon and decide I must find him immediately and have his love-child.

Friday, February 17, 2012

True Mom Confessions 1

"My nightmare is for some coach or extra-curricular advisor to tell me that my child has Olympic-potential, which they can only realize through extensive sacrifice and training."

I didn't come up with this, but I can sooo relate. I have four children, all of whom could be "optimized." Why do they need to be optimized? Forget special needs, almost EVERYBODY I know is afraid their child might be "left behind."

Why is that? Well, according to this horrific vision of a future world spewed out by every newspaper, magazine, blog and tweet -- if your child doesn't score 1600 on the SATs, speak three languages, play the piano at Carnegie Hall, achieve national recognition in some sport or artistic endeavor, found a successful entrepreneurial company or heart-warming charitable outreach by age sixteen--you can bet they will be LEFT BEHIND.

Welcome to the future of brutal worldwide competition. Your child is not only competing against "their category" -- every other Wonderbread, middle or upper-middle class kid whose parents are bleeding themselves to provide them with every possible advantage...they really don't look that spectacular compared to the kid in some other part of the world. Rest assured, the other kid, who if they aren't already smarter than your child, is working ten times harder, thanks to their Tiger Mother or has achieved some higher level of sophistication from their laissez-faire Continental Mother...or is that most coveted prize of all for college admission officers -- the touching "up from the ghetto" story.

Current things am not doing to "optimize" my children:

Our health insurance provider is Sanitas --and, please, Spaniards who hate them and Brits who hate their parent company, BUPA, spare me your complaints. Take it from me, they are Heaven compared to American health insurance. Getting ready to re-apply for that. Lucky me. It's going to be REAL fun documenting every hospital visit and doctor our entire family has visited since birth in hopes we'll achieve the privilege of paying $$$ per month--when you know, the whole time, that if push comes to shove and you actually need their coverage, they'll come up with some excuse not to pay for it.

Sanitas, bless their heart keeps calling me to schedule twelve year-old daughter's free "full-health assessment" with a team of specialists. Unfortunately, all I can handle, given her and her brothers long school days and busy after school schedule is the one well-child pediatric vist a year, unless they get sick.

Not only that, Sanitas' pediatricians have also given me "fichas" for full cardiology work-up to check out the heart murmurs, possessed by three out of my four children. I've had a heart murmur my entire life. I'm forty years old and unless I drop dead of a heart-attack tomorrow, it hasn't affected me in the least. My American doctors have never been concerned about my heart murmur; nor have my children's American pediatricians ever mentioned the need to see a specialist, but now I have a new possibility to obsess over.

Daughter's music teacher at the Conservatory is on my case to take her to a "foniatra" because she has a hoarse voice and can't reach certain notes. I had to look up what this. It is some sort of speech therapist, but not the kind you need for a stutter or serious problems. I took her to the Otorino-thingummy specialist last year and all she has are nodes on her vocal chords. They told me it's completely benign, like having callouses on your hands. She's had this since she learned to talk; it has something to do with not projecting her voice properly. If she had ANY problem communicating, I would not be getting reports from half her teachers complaining that she talks TOO MUCH --"very melodramatic child," "needs to make her self noticed in class." Give me a break, she's not going to be an opera singer. How in the hell am I supposed to find time for an aesthetic voice specialist for a child who gets home from school at 5:45, spends 11 hours a week at the Conservatory and gets home at 10pm three nights a week? And no, she doesn't do this because I'm a Tiger Mother or Black Swan smother mother...I'm far too lazy for that, she does it because she wants to...and, now, she's asking to see the "foniatra."

I'm sure an "executive function" coach (or God forbid, Adderol or Ritalin--because it would be so much simpler if there were a pill to "solve" these issues) could help one of the boys with his "focusing" and "organization" issues that cause him to "not perform to his potential." Other twin, seems to get overly "emotionally upset" when confronted with hard challenges and failure--no doubt there's some strategy that could help him. Oh, and my five-year old son hit a girl in class this week. Not only that, he refused to participate in a writing assignment, describing how he felt about the Cosmo Caixa field trip. I asked him about his and he said that he simply "didn't have anything to say."

No doubt this stress is impacting our kids. Half the American moms I know have kids who are "on the spectrum," have dyslexia or ADD. In addition to dubious "executive function," welcome to the world of children with phantom coughs and other tics. You'd think my kids would develop a tic where they could at least get some medical sympathy or helpful drugs. Nope, they develop stealth tics, preferably when they and I are exhausted with their homework. This week, one of the twins decided he couldn't go for one minute without burping...

Meanwhile the diagnosis we'd all love to be getting is "Higher Ivy Potential!" "Gifted and Talented!" "Not sufficiently challenged by their current academic environment!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Watching “Mean Girls” with my 12-yr Old Daughter

My husband felt that it was highly inappropriate that I watch this movie with my daughter.

“How can you think it might actually help her to watch this movie? You are just imposing your American neuroses about high school and coolness on somebody who has no relation to those neuroses whatsoever.”

Growing up in France shaped my husband’s perspective on high school and what it means to be a geek or cool. The most prestigious schools in France are public and those schools start to select students at age 16. The most nerdy kids are not only guaranteed the best jobs in the public and private sector, but higher pay than non-graduates of the Grandes Ecoles. They can also expect a fast-track career to the top of their chosen company or field. When you no longer interact with the subset of “cool” people in 11th grade and the reason for that is that most those people have been segregated into lesser tracks that prepare them for the second-tier opportunities they can expect in life…it’s easy not to be intimidated or impressed.

My fellow students in my private American preparatory school had other reasons to expect the choicer outcomes in Life.

“That’s alright. That’s ok, you’ll work for us one day,” they would cheer when we inevitably lost football games to the large county public schools. To the school’s chagrin, having the football team with the highest average SAT score in the state of Georgia did not translate into the winning-est football team in the state of Georgia.

Undoubtedly the “John Knox Institute” students behind that sour grapes cheer picked up the Class prejudice and un-sportsmanlike tone from their parents. Officially the school did everything to discourage such behavior. Along with the Protestant religious tenets underlying our education, the centerpiece of the school’s pride in producing morally upstanding young ladies and gentleman was the Honor Code – one of those pacts where you not only swear that you have not cheated on a test or assignment, you swear that you have no knowledge of such behavior on the part of your peers.

Well the TJKNI students weren’t perfect. Some of them did cheat. And, since time immemorial ratting out your peers (or “narking” as we called it) is about the surest path to social suicide -- it didn’t take long for your average student to figure out the Honor Code and the student Prefect System (basically a popularity contest) was a load of crap. If adults weren’t smart enough to figure to out the Honor Code wasn’t compatible with the emotional maturity of your average high school student, they were dumb.

Worse, if they did realize the flaws in these expectations, they were indoctrinating us in moral hypocrisy. The parents were often the administration’s willing partners. If TJKNI demanded that the students exhibit the same behavior off campus that they did on campus – basically don’t drink, do drugs, screw around and do the generally dumb-ass things teenagers do, the parents were often the first to lie on their child’s behalf.

The John Knox Institute kids not only felt superior to the children outside their school, many of them also felt superior to most of their classmates. My first introduction to the other students at The Institute, when I transferred in 7th grade, was a friendly “student ambassador”-type phone call from a girl I had vaguely seen around because her parents lived next door to my grandparents. She only had one question for me: “Are you popular?” My convoluted explanation of how, while I was not exactly popular, I did have a group of friends who didn’t think I was a loser didn’t convince her. I don’t think she ever said another word to me in the six years we went to school together.

Does that sum up my whole experience of TJKI? Of course not, I did make good friends in high school, I had some wonderful teachers and I received an excellent education. However, yes, I can definitely relate to the movie “Mean Girls.” Unlike the movie’s main character, the good girl played by Lindsay Lohan (how ironic is that) I never became close enough to these people for them to 1) notice me 2) think I was important enough to humiliate.

Regardless of how many times I watched “Sixteen Candles” in the hopes that I would come back in the fall and have it be my cool year or how many hours I babysat to buy that bitchin pair of acid-washed Guess jeans with the zipper on the ankles, I did not have what it took to be part of the cool group. They seemed to fall into two categories: DNA or attitude. Under DNA, appearance was most important for the girls and athletic ability was most important for the boys. Attitude was the trait that was more confusing for me to understand at the time. Self-confidence was central. Granted, it’s pretty easy to develop self-confidence as pretty girl or outstanding athlete in high school—people just naturally want to be around you. However, not all the girls in the group were that pretty and not all that boys were sports stars, yet they still managed to dominated people with their attitude. Sometimes, this was with good qualities –they might have had a great sense of humor or who were genuinely nice to everybody; sometimes they dominated with negative attitude.

“Queen Bees and Wannabes” explores the negative strategies girls use to intimidate their peers; often with the perverse outcome that the meaner the dominant individuals are, the more people want to be liked by them. This experience is not limited to high school and junior high girls. My work experience in the online mostly male-dominated, geeky software blogging world had its share Queen Bee and Wannabe behavior too. In "Sixteen Candles”, Anthony Michael Hall’s nerdy character isn’t any nicer to his geeky friends than the cool kids are to him. He humiliates and dominates them in his bid to be “King of the Dipshits” or, better yet, increase his social standing by leaving them behind.

Enough of me, I’ve gone way off course. How did this movie help me communicate with my pre-teen daughter?

She isn’t really acting like my friend.

No kidding. This girl constantly undermines you to make herself feel better. Her only interest in having you around is to have a courtier for her queenly presence.

But she can be so nice.

Yes, they can. It’s known as a “frenemy”. Or sometimes the nice girls in elementary school morph into little snots when they hit Junior high. In that case, she used to be your friend.

She’s so full of herself

Take a preteen girl and have enough adults tell her: “You should be a model” enough times. It’s a miracle if it doesn’t go to her head.

But she told me to do it.

Grow a spine. Evaluate the consequences of your actions. Learn to say no.

Everything about my appearance is wrong.

Let me spell out. There’s a downside to everything you claim you wish had.

Want be taller? Well, so and so is shorter than you and I’m also pretty sure that hasn’t stopped her from being a kick-ass dancer. Try finding a date in high school if most the boys are shorter than you.

Think your hair is too curly; well I’m sure plenty of girls complain that their straight hair is too limp and stringy. You want boobs? Do you really want “that” kind of attention from a bunch of Junior High boys? Want to be a well-endowed adult woman? For you, most the heterosexual “men” will morph back into good old Beavis and Butthead. Oh and do you really want to go jogging with two sports bras and have to worry about back pain?

You look just fine. And, anyway, its not like you can do anything about it, you got all that stuff before you were born, in your DNA. And, don’t dare think about blaming your father and me, because those same genes make you good at Math and a great runner. Stop worrying about how you look. You want people to look at you? Why don’t you DO something worthy of that attention?

The adults around me are less mature than I am.

Mean Girls don’t always happen in a vaccum. In the movie, the Queen Bee’s mother is portrayed as the “I Just Want to Be My Child’s Friend” archetype. We all know this type of woman. She is more invested in her daughter’s popularity than the girl is, herself. This is the kind of woman who boasts about a social life that involves partying like a 19-year old college freshman. Sorry Mrs. “She’s still pre-occupied with 1985,” the rest of us have left the snake-skin mini-skirt and the 80s behind us. You are your child’s parent. By definition you are not cool to them, the fact that you try just makes it worse. They may not be able to express it now, but your kid doesn’t want you to be their “friend” they want you to be their parent.

Some parents simply check out of the child-rearing process altogether or choose to remain willfully clueless. I call them Ostrich Parent. Their child or other parents may try to talk to them, but they just bury their heads in the sand. “Not my child” is their motto.

Thank you Amy Chua. If it hadn’t been for you, the rest of us wouldn’t have a name for the other kind of emotionally immature parent we find so obnoxious (as does your child) – Tiger Mom or Tiger Dad, also known as Helicopter Parent aka that rude parent at some run of the mill kids’ athletic competition who shouts coaching instructions to their child the whole time and then gives the child a 15-minute public critique of their performance…after they win! So often, the person shouting, “You gotta master that back-hand slice” to their child is the person who couldn’t hit a backhand slice if their life depended on it.

Things I didn’t like about “Mean Girls,” the movie:

I love Tina Fey to death, but sometimes the Saturday Night Live humor is out of place in a movie, destined to appeal to teens.

Lots of swearing. I’ve always been a fan of a creative and well-placed swear, but not when it doesn’t add anything, and not in a movie for my children. The girls in the movie call each other “bitch” and “slut” a lot. On one hand, girls really do say these things. On the other hand, the movie barely addresses whether they should and how this might just be reinforcing the images that boys, and later men, use to put them down. I think some women view the word “bitch” like rappers view the n word: it’s ok if we use it among ourselves, but wrong if a man calls us this.

The underlying connotation of “bitch” is a woman who stands up for herself – positive—but does it in an off-putting way – negative. I prefer bitch to slut. At least a bitch does. A slut is done to. The most negative thing about “slut” is not so much the sexual mores of the girl in question, but the fact that she doesn’t respect herself enough to make men respect her. It’s not just a question of her actions but the how and why, behind her actions. Boys in my high school were a lot more creative. They didn’t just call a girl a slut, they said things like “When X gives you a bj you have to pull the sheets out of your ass” or “She’d jump anything, even a whittled stick.”

The sad thing is I can remember those associations if I run into or hear about those girls years after high school.

Not only did the swearing not add anything, but the scene where the football coach gets caught having sex with two different high school girls did not add anything either. It wasn’t particularly funny. The most positive thing I can say is that I don’t think my daughter really caught what was going on, in that part.


In conclusion, did I use Mean Girls to exorcise some of my own memories of high school? My experience at The John Knox Institute did have an impact, even when I use it to define the things I don’t want for myself, or my children. I remember a conversation where The JKNI name came up as it inevitably would in a state where they are the academic reference – send more than 20 kids to the Ivy League a year, etc. My husband got tired of what he calls “people gargling themselves with their moral imperatives” and summed it up: “Yeah, yeah I get it: your mission is for these kids to get a good education like TJKNI, but not be dicks!”

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Don Raaaaamiiiiiiro

As I wait for my child by the entrance of our apartment building, I notice Don Ramiro walking out. The eighty-year old man in his pressed suit and tie, heads off to whatever pretend job he goes to, the kind where the “girl” fetches him coffee while he does the crossword puzzles and plans his lunch dates with his Franco-era cronies.

Is the middle-aged man deferentially following Don Ramiro a new man-servant? Could the old codger be getting more feeble? I discuss it with my husband. He’s doubtful “Nah, the bad ones hang on forever. Their toxic personality acts as a preservative.” I have another theory. “Maybe they’re secretly afraid of Hell?”

Don Ramiro is a machista who thinks he’s a gentleman. He feels immensely superior to women and to foreigners. He hates children. He has neither manners, nor education, nor culture, nor any professional distinction that I’ve heard of. He did, however, have enough common sense to marry the daughter of a president of a national bank. This means that he manages his wife’s inheritance, which includes three apartments in our building. No self-respecting third world dictator presiding over his domains takes himself more seriously than Don Ramiro executing his responsibilities as head of the Building Association of Serrano XX.

In this capacity, he once dragged us to court and tried to kick us out of the building on the grounds that our uncivilized American habits caused us to wake up too early in the morning (7am) and our children made too much noise.

Don Ramiro, if we have to leave this building, I hope the next tenant is an Arab or African soccer player. If it’s a childless Spanish couple. I hope they have lots of parties, smoke crack and play really loud music. I hope the next renter decides to use the apartment as the locale for his thriving Casa Putas. Don Ramiro, when you get older and more infirm, I hope the poor third world woman taking care of you isn’t very nice. I hope she forgets to change your diapers and lets you sit in them. I hope you sit there powerless in your wheelchair while she watches her favorite telenovelas every time there’s a Clasico or Champion’s League soccer game on TV.

And when it’s your time, I hope the chasm of Hell opens up and the demons drag you down while the orchestra plays the finale of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.