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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Required Reading

This may sound lame or strange to some people but every year I get excited to see my son's list of required reading.  Part of the reason is that I get a kick out of going to my local used book store, tracking down the title, and paying a pittance for a decent used book.  The other cause for my eagerness is to see what literary works he'll be tackling and if they reflect what I studied in school way back when.

I hate to say it but this year I'm a little disappointed with 'the list'.  The great thing is that I actually own six of the nine books on the list.  So, I can greatly appreciate that I'll be shelling out a mere pittance from my lean purse.  The disappointment comes into play when we realize he's read a majority of the books.  What's the problem?

Well, to some of you, you don't actually see a problem.  In fact, you may say something like, "Oh great, then he won't have to read it again" or "English will be an easy A for him this year".  And, when I hear comments like that I shudder deep inside.  Some people fail to understand that when you have a child who is an avid reader, who actually enjoys opening a real book (not a Kindle or other electronic gadget), and who consumes and thrives on the words on a page, a syllabus that lists books he's already devoured is like eating a loaf of stale bread.  Totally unappetizing. 

To a person who enjoys the literary world and gets a type of inner fulfillment by sitting down with themselves and a book taking a class to discuss already explored waters can become rote and mundane.  It's not about not having to read it again.  It's not about an 'easy A'.  To an academically gifted person who excels in language arts it is about the discovery of new characters, new worlds, new expressions, and new points of view.

I am on the fence about bringing this point up with his teacher.  I don't want to start off on the wrong foot and dis (disrespect) his teacher's itinerary.  At the same time, I feel I should share my voice, opinion, and concern.  This time, I probably won't say anything too loudly.  Or, perhaps I'll make an inquiry on Parent's Open House night next week and ask what the motivation was to choose the following books:

Anthem by Ayn Rand
Nicolas has not read this although it looks like an interesting story.  We like dystopian fiction.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Nicolas has not read this and if it were not on his required reading list I doubt he would choose it.  My mother and I saw the movie this past weekend (we have not read the book).  I'm not sure how closely the movie follows the book but I guess he'll have to muddle through this read.  It does not seem like a story that would intrigue a 14-year-old boy.  The discussion on racism will be the saving grace for this choice.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
Nicolas has not read this but after reading a short synopsis it sounds like this might be a winner.  I'm not sure how this fits in with the curriculum other than to engage in empathy for those with mental disorders?  I may be totally off on this one but I will tackle the book myself.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Since the format of this book is comic-style Nicolas read this almost five years ago when it was assigned reading for his older brother when he was in tenth grade.  They have since made a movie of which I've seen.

The Odyssey by Homer
Yay, finally, a classic!  Unfortunately, Nicolas read this two summers ago (under his own initiative).  Luckily, he enjoyed it.  We also watched the high school production two years ago.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Another classic, another book that Nicolas already read under his own volition.  The movie is also one of my favorites.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
A classic that Nicolas has not yet read.  There is also a couple of versions of the movie out there so maybe the teacher will engage the class with a viewing?

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Easily one of my favorites.  The movies are great too.  I especially like the creativity of the remake with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio.  I hope the class gets to incorporate any of the movies in their discussion.  Thankfully, Nicolas appreciates Shakespeare and has read a couple of his other plays.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Nicolas read the entire trilogy at the beginning of this summer.  His motive was because the movie is being shot in North Carolina and there may have been an opportunity to be a part of the project.  We all enjoyed the books (see previous posts) and we are all looking forward to the movie scheduled for release in March 2012.  Perhaps the teacher is planning a class excursion to the movie theater?  One can only hope!

I am not sure if this list of required reading reflects the skill level of academically gifted ninth graders.  I think there are too many books of contemporary fiction.  Whatever happened to some of my favorite classics like:  The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, or A Separate Peace?  Perhaps, they are no longer relevant for class discussion.  My dilemma is and has always been to keep my child interested in school by providing new challenges and interesting material.  At the same time I would like him to get good grades.  And I am forever left with the question:

Is it better to be challenged by difficult material which will enhance your knowledge and test your strengths or is it best to be rewarded with an 'A' by exercising mediocre effort because there is nothing to 'up' your game?

Dog Days of August

August has been brutal so far.  Never mind that it has been near or above 100 degrees for the past month at least 80% of the time there is just a lot to do all of a sudden and I can barely muster up the energy to get through the day.

I stay inside most days because here in Raleigh, NC when it's 100 degrees the humidity makes it feel 10 degrees warmer.  You can cut the heat with a knife and get drenched when venturing out even to your mail box.  This kind of heat gives me a headache and makes me extremely cranky.  

Since I have limited access to transportation (we've been down to one car for over two years now) I have to plan running errands on the weekend (first thing in the morning) or during the week in the afternoon if my husband gets home before 5:00 p.m.  I really don't have that much running around to do, truth be told, since I have limited funds but sometimes I just need to get out for a change of scenery.

This past weekend was 'tax-free'.  Meaning, there was no sales tax charged on certain back to school items and some electronic stuff including computers.  I love saving money but I hate crowds so normally I would bypass such an event because it really doesn't add up to much savings if you factor in the aggravation and time spent in line.  However, this year the tax-free weekend coincided with our need for a new computer for our son who is starting high school in a couple of weeks.  His computer died about two weeks ago.  It was over five years old any way.  I really don't know much about technology (I always shut down when people start spewing out terms that sound like a foreign language that I have no interest in learning).  The whole thing just gets me sick to my stomach. 

So, after checking out BJ's to see if they had something in our price-range and compatible to our needs we headed off to Best Buy.  I hate that store.  But, I will say that they had it 'organized'.  Basically, you stood in line and waited for a salesperson to assist you in answering questions and matching your needs with the 'right' computer for you.  After five minutes or so I lost it.  I had a meltdown in the store and had to walk away.  I cried in a corner.  I just got totally pissed that they try to sell you a computer and then there's all of these 'extras' which in my mind should be included in the original friggin price.  Every time I go there I feel like I get bent over and raped.  Warranties, back up systems, tech support...if you really need that stuff then include it in the first place for Christ's sake!

Other things going on that have caused unnecessary anxiety and made this month smell like a dog (hence my usage of the term 'dog days of August'):

- Having to learn how to use a Flip video camera to record an audition and then submit it online.  As I said before, me and technology just do not click so this caused me many a sleepless night.  Never mind the fact that there were lines to remember, lighting to figure out, practice, and cut after cut.  I'm happy to say we made it and I feel glad that I can cross this off my list.

- Nicolas going to 'Flight School' or orientation this week and then starting high school later this month.  My little boy is venturing out on a new chapter in his academic career.  His schedule looks pretty good.  We've been studying for the SAT this summer and doing some math review so I'm confident that he will do well this year.  He knows how important it is to get good grades so that you have a good GPA and class standing when college application time rolls around.

- Sending my oldest son Justin back for his second year of college next week.  The good thing is it is not as stressful as last year when we ended up over-packing and worrying about everything under the sun.  This year he knows what he needs, he knows we can always bring him any additional items at a later time, and we are all much calmer.  This doesn't mean I will miss him any less but we will all feel an emptiness when he leaves.

- The recent inability for our government representatives to work as a team and put the reputation of America and the needs of its citizens first really has me dragging my butt with a sense of dread.  The manic machinations of Wall Street for the last couple of days in response to the dropping of our credit rating has me worried.  And, it is evident that the global economy and world is responding to America's inability to pull it together.  Everyone will be effected by America's inability to get our act together.

And, as we near the end of the dog days of August we approach the serene, and calming cat days of September.  One can only hope!

(Please note:  This post was created on 8/8/11 and edited/posted on 8/30/2011.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

This Time Last Year Looking Back

It is amazing how much can change in one year.  The contrast between this week and that of last year is so drastic; not quite black versus white but certainly white against a dark, heather gray.

Last year we were feverishly getting Justin ready for his freshman year at college.  Boxes, crates, and duffel bags crowded our dining room for weeks before the morning we left Raleigh and dropped our first-born baby an hour and a half away from home.  The first time our child was on his own.  Nervousness, stress, and anxiety was pretty thick back then.  We just wanted everything to go well and without a hitch.  He made it through the entire year, unscathed, and with passing grades.  We were all happy to have year one under our belts.

This year, by contrast, he's leaving in two days and we have not started to pack.  He knows what to bring and what not to bring.  Basically, last year we over-packed.  This year we are taking the bare basics and if he happens to need something we can always bring it to him in September during Parents Weekend or sooner if it is urgent.  We are all pretty mellow this time around and it is cool.  We will miss Justin just as much, if not more.  But, we know he's only a short drive away.

His first summer home after being on his own went pretty well too.  He worked, hung out with his brother, and pretty much did what he wanted.  I stayed out of his way for the most part and kept the nagging at a minimum.  I'm proud for how much he's matured and conducted himself.  Justin is a great kid but an even better young man.

Most of the change has taken place in our immediate neighborhood.  When we arrived back home after dropping Justin off last year we received terrible news that our neighbor passed away.  I can't believe she's been gone a year already!  Her husband (in his eighties) lived on his own, alone in his 2000 square foot  home up until a month ago.  He had a fall and before we knew it a family member picked him up and moved him to Arizona or somewhere out west.  I feel bad for him and pray that he's coping with his wife's one-year anniversary in heaven.

Our neighbors in the cul-de-sac finally sold their home after listing it on Halloween 2010. This was probably the worst time to list your home.  I knew it was over-priced from the beginning.  Every one should know that the only reason a house doesn't sell is the price.  I believe they ended up reducing their price almost 10% from the original asking price last year.  People just get unrealistic and create a personal attachment to their homes and basically think they are worth more than they really are.  In the past month there has been another four listings sprouting in our neighborhood of 150 or so homes.  This has been the most at one time that I've seen in years. The new neighbors moved in this week.  We haven't met them yet.

The next life-changing moment will come next week when our youngest starts high school.  I cannot stress enough how quickly time flies when you have kids.  I realize now that there is no going back and there are no do-overs.  If I can pass on one thing to the parents of young kids I would stress over and over that you MUST enjoy each and every day with your child.  One day you will look back on the tantrums, sibling arguments, and boo boos and relish in the feeling of being needed by your child.  They grow up way too fast.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Things That Are Not My Cup Of Tea

Yes, many an inspirational book sermonizes the benefits of positivity and love.  While it sounds like an awfully rosy and colorful world if we operated under such a code it is far from realistic.  My theory that in order to reach that higher echelon and continue to ascend the hierarchy of self-actualization one must first clear their mind of all the garbage taking up space.  Call it a mental colonic.  The following are things that irk me, annoy me, bewilder me, or get me pissed off in some way, shape or form.  It is a free-flow list of things that come to mind so there is no rhyme or reason why one might come before or after another.  It is just a random list of things that I've got to get off my chest so that I may embrace my oneness with a more positive outlook on my little world.

1.  Women who smoke during pregnancy.  C'mon people, we know the effects of tobacco not only on smokers but through second-hand smoke.  Do you really have to be that selfish?  Can't you just give up that one addiction for the health and future of your baby for Christ's sake?  I quit smoking months before I got pregnant with my second child.  It was the smartest thing I did.  I believe my conception would have been that much harder had I not conditioned my body properly beforehand.

2.  Tattoos.  I don't care.  Call me judgmental, call me a stuck-up prude.  It just doesn't look nice.  It looks trashy.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I am all about self-expression but decimating your body is not the way to do it.  We finally went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for the first time this past year and I was totally turned off by the sheer number of tattoo parlors available to vacation-goers.  Never mind the bikers. Nor the bars.  The place just wasn't my cup of tea.  We did find a few places that were 'acceptable' like Alligator Adventure in North Myrtle Beach or my favorite restaurant, The Sea Captain's House, but overall it was not for me.  Tattoos are tacky, period.

3.  'Tea-Partiers'.  It's bad enough you have conservative Republicans but then you add in the far-right wing, radical element and that just fucks things up for the majority of Americans.  The majority of Americans are middle-class or lower and rely on a government that works for them.  A government that hears them and listens to them.  A government that understands their struggles and empathizes with them.  Keeping in mind the unnecessary, nail-biting delay in raising the debt ceiling it is clear to me that most politicians have no appreciation for America's standing in the global economy and how critical it is for each and every one of us Americans to make decisions that are helpful to Americans.  Not favoring one party over another.  These damn politicians appear to let power get to their heads, they forget the struggles of their constituency, and play a pissing game with our future.  My family is directly effected by the caveats of the agreement and I dread round two of getting nothing done when they assemble their so-called committee.

4.  Sarah Palin and her followers.  For real it is mind-boggling how close America got to having a female dingbat as Vice President.  Yes, I'm sure we've had male dingbats hold positions of power previously (Dan Quayle anyone?) but having this broad represent a powerful, political presence was a scary joke.  Her track record of short-lived stints is ever-present in her attending at least five different college institutions before receiving a degree.  Her tenure as governor of Alaska was a mere 31 months, quitting before the end of her commitment.  Her previous appointment as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population 7,800 or so) is equally a joke.  To put this in perspective, Wasilla has about one third the population of Wake Forest, North Carolina.  It is barely twice the size of Rolesville, North Carolina.  That's like me going to the local bar and paying for a round of shots just to win some votes.  I'm sure it wasn't a difficult task to round up the posse back in Wasilla.  Women like Sarah should stop making a joke out of how naive some Americans can be.  It takes away from the real women in power, like Hillary Clinton, who exude the intelligence, commitment, and understanding of the majority of Americans.

5.  Parents who don't discipline their kids, are too lenient with their kids, and are out of touch with their kids.  Parents these days seem to have a hard time keeping their kids in line.  They appear to be out of touch with the critters they brought into this world.  First of all, if you cannot control your kids behavior in any capacity don't take them in public and subject the rest of the world to their unruliness.  It is unfair, rude, and bothersome.  If I'm going to spend my hard-earned money on a night out with my family at a decent restaurant you better make sure I can enjoy it in peace and quiet.  A number of times I have told the hostess not to sit us near any kids.  I try to nip that situation in the bud from the beginning.  It is not necessary to bring the entire brood to the supermarket.  But, if you lack the resources for a sitter or your husband is just an inconsiderate bastard and can't watch the kids for an hour be smart about it.  Give the kids a 'job' to do when you are shopping.  Give them each a coupon and have them find the item.  Or, demand their attention by teaching them how to select the proper fruit or item on your list.  Make it a teaching moment about the cost of items or budgeting.  Assign them a task.  Just because Janey or Johnny wants the newest gadget and 'everyone else has it' does not mean they should as well.  Parents these days are more about avoiding confrontation with their kids by giving in to their every demand.  It is a damn shame.  Parents are trying to be the kids friend and avoid being the 'bad' guy.  For those parents so involved in their own life and social drama that they put their job, love life, or own personal goals before the needs of their children you are to blame.  For by being an 'absent' parent you are adding to the cases of teen pregnancies, teen substance abusers, and wreckless and untimely deaths whether by drugs, suicide or vehicles.  As a parent you can't give your kid a blank pass to experience what they think is their right.  It is not their 'right' it is a privilege.

I'm sure there are a few other things that will come to mind after this rant is published but I'll just store it away in my second helping of things I can't stand the taste of.