Shit happens

imagesShit happens. It’s one of those proverbial laws of nature. Given that, I’m not so sure why it always seems to knock us for a loop when it comes to pass. The truth is that we craft our lives in ways we think will allow us to bypass the shit nature inevitably is going to splatter all over us. Until we can’t. Until one day you meet the shit storm of your life and it confronts you, collides with you, commands your attention. And when that happens, you’re almost always naked, or wearing your crummiest pajamas and no make-up. But shit is not something you can ignore. There’s no room for denial on the day the facade crumbles. No euphemistic way to steer clear of the storm that threatens to destroy you and decimate your home and family.

I had a friend who used to say, “The only way through stuff like this is…through stuff like this. There’s no plane you can take to rise above it, no speeding locomotive through the beautiful countryside, not even a Vespa.” You have to walk your path, wherever it leads. I guess that’s the scariest part. Once you realize that all the planning, precision and platitudes aren’t worth a hill of beans, you can’t ever go back to the myth that you’re in control of your own destiny.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it doesn’t matter how you play the game. It matters — a lot. But sometimes the rules change and you didn’t get a say in it. At that point, you can sit on the bench and opt out of playing altogether. But the better options seems to me to be to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, resolve to memorize the new handbook and go at life with a renewed vigor and determination to win that’ll prove to the world who you really are and just what you’re made of.

So forgive me for sparing the details in this little diatribe. Suffice to know that we are regrouping, huddled tightly together as a family, and preparing to face the challenges and uncertainties of life’s fickle finger with bold, fearless persistence, tenacity and commitment.

It’s an adventure. As one of our newly proclaimed villains used to say, “We asked for a roller coaster. Life’s never going to be boring.”

With heartfelt gratitude to all for the love, support and positive energy.
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Zillow be damned!

UnknownYou know how you just know certain things about your kids? Like, your daughter may be delightfully quirky, but she simply wasn’t born with the grace to end up as an Olympic figure skater? Or your son might be the next Jay Leno, but chances aren’t good that he’ll win a Nobel economics prize? We all make certain assumptions about our children based on the reality of who they are and their strengths and weaknesses. Take my eldest, Levi, for example. He’s unusually bright, brimming with kindness and one of the funniest 13 year old boys I’ve ever encountered. Barring some unexpected psychotic break in his early twenties, (God forbid a million times), I feel fairly confident claiming that he is not and never will be a stalker, terrorist or mass murderer. But we live in unthinkable times where kids aren’t allowed to keep score in flag football leagues, lockers have been outlawed at most middle schools and bringing a PB&J sandwich to school can get a kid expelled for attempted homicide.

So when the fill-in vice principal at my son’s middle school called me today, I was a bit taken aback. He gently introduced himself and I immediately went into panic mode. “Is everything alright? Is Levi okay?” I asked with a tone of terror in my voice. Clearly he hadn’t spoken to enough parents in his early tenure to know that one must always begin the unexpected parental phone call with the obligatory, “Hello Mrs. Gettleman, this is Mr. X from your son’s school and EVERYONE IS JUST FINE.”

Turns out he was calling because of my son’s inquisitive mind and untraditional interest in real estate. Apparently, Levi and his classmates were sharing home addresses on googlemaps and Levi, imbued with curiosity, checked out their living quarters on Zillow.com. I cannot tell you why my son is fascinated by Zillow. Perhaps it has something to do with his unusual interest in HGTV and the myriad of home-buying programs they air. While it doesn’t float my boat, he loves watching “Love it or List it,” “House Hunters International,” and he’s entered to win the 2014 “HGTV Dream Home” at least a thousand times this year. I’ll admit it’s not typical, but I’d hardly call it risky teen behavior.

But of course, what one sane parent sees as idiosyncratic and amusing, another parent might judge as dangerous and threatening to their offspring. So I sat, slack-jawed, as I listened to this man’s explanation that a parent had called with deep concern about my son’s “inappropriate” behavior. After I determined that this was not a crank call or a set-up for an upcoming episode of Punk’d, I spoke rather tentatively. “Um…have you met my son Levi? I can assure you he’s not stalking anyone or posing a risk to other students.”

“Well, I did get a chance to talk to him,” he said, “And I too determined that he is a really sweet kid who just didn’t realize that looking up other people’s addresses on Zillow is a breach of privacy.” A breach of privacy? Really? Like every geographic, economic and political piece of information about each of us isn’t part of today’s public internet database? You’ve got to be kidding me. My kid’s in hot water because he Zillowed another kid’s house?

Maybe I’ve lost all sense of reality. Maybe I really don’t understand how dangerous the world has become. Maybe finding out that a 7th grader knew our address, square footage and Zillow Home Value Index would actually freak me out enough to call the principal and complain. Or maybe…maybe…I’m a little less neurotic than the average parent today. Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

Refuse to sink!

Repurposed vintage lampshade and sample of wood burning art

 sample of wood burning art

 

Repurposed vintage lampshade

Repurposed vintage lampshade

I’m fairly used to rejection. As an actor, writer and artist, rejection has kind of become part of my daily diet. But I learned early on that getting roles was more the exception than the rule and that even the most successful writers wade through piles of rejection letters before anyone deems them publishable. As sensitive a soul as I am, I can take most rejections in stride. But there is a limit, and I discovered it today.

This weekend I did my first art fair. It’s a funky fair in Cave Creek called “The Big Heap.” This show is different from any other art show I’ve ever been to in town. It’s a lot of repurposed art, architectural salvage and vintage creations. It’s also a lot of junk. There’s not nearly as much finished art as I expected. Patrons are bargain hunting for rusty mixers from 1962 not foraging for quirky objets d’art. Needless to say, my clever collection of whimsical wares was not drawing in crowds. After a day and a half of continuous disregard I was more than a little disheartened.

I took a break to get out of my 10X10 tent for a few minutes and to use the porta-potty (definitely my least favorite part of the gig). On the way back, my eye caught a glimpse of a silver trinket at one of the neighboring booths. Upon closer examination, I saw that it was one of those trendy dog-tag necklaces which are typically engraved with hip, meaningless inspirational phrases like “Be here now,” or “Believe in truth.” I almost walked right past it. But something told me to stop, to “be in the moment,” and “trust my instincts.” I picked it up and read its poignant message; a message clearly and obviously meant for me. “Refuse to sink,” it said. I smiled.

I have to admit, my first association went to that guy in Hillsborough, Florida who got swallowed up by a sinkhole last March as he lay in bed sleeping. But after that, I took a breath and really tried to see the more personal meaning of this heaven-sent communique. “Refuse to sink.” That’s not as easy as it may sound. The undercurrent has a heavy tow. In this case, it’s pulling me powerfully back to my bedroom to crawl under the covers and lick my wounded ego in solitude. But that’s not an option.

I guess I could always pretend that I wasn’t the artist. “Did you make these?” people are constantly asking. “Um…no…I…found them…at a second hand art store for…really quirky people. It’s in…Laguna Beach.” That might provide some momentary comfort. Full disclosure though, the people who do venture into my colorful kiosk seem genuinely delighted by my playful pieces. At least I think they’re being genuine. They say things like, “Wow, these are awesome,” or “They’re so unusual and creative.” I’ve used their enthusiasm to keep me from plummeting into sinkhole despair. But in retrospect, I’m wondering if the plethora of positive praise isn’t in the same category as “It’s out of this world,” or “I’ve never quite seen anything like this.” You know, the standard retorts people give when they feel pressured to provide verbal response but refuse to sully their souls with anything short of brutal honesty.

Bottom line, it’s not easy putting yourself out there day after day. But I’ll remind myself and you of one of Martha Graham’s famous quotes about art: “It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll keep the channel open, and I’ll keep hoping that it doesn’t suck me in, swallow me whole and snuff out every last bit of hope in my being. Oops, did I just write that? Anyway check out my website at www.yes-and.com. I’m up for a bit of gentle (yet honest) artistic feedback.

p.s. I did go home today for a nap and left my husband and son to man the tent for a few hours. They sold multiple pieces. So maybe I’m not a useless bit of wasted energy…er…um…maybe I should keep plodding ahead and believing in myself and my creative vision.

Letting go

imagesI think I have completely lost it. My son’s Bar Mitzvah is in exactly one week and I just broke down sobbing in the middle of Summer Winds plant nursery while trying to select a few trees to beautify the front entry of our home. My husband, a bit taken aback by my sudden onset hysteria, asked me what seemed to be so upsetting about two Red leaf banana trees and a flat of succulents. To which my only reply was, “They’re going to die. They’re all going to die.”

You see while many may miss the logic of my distress, it is more than obvious to me what is transpiring inside my twisted psyche. My baby boy is becoming an adult, at least in Jewish terms. What does that mean? It means in 5 years he’s off to college, then grad school maybe, a job, a marriage, his own family. The cycle continues. The same will happen with my youngest, at least that’s what I hope and wish for. But it also means that my reasons for existing are only temporary and will go off to live their own miraculous lives and leave me as a distant (and likely annoying) memory. This feels unbearable to me.

I complain bitterly about never having enough time to do the things I want to do, to read the books I want to read and write the stories I want to write. The pressures to work and mother and create meaningful art overwhelm me most of the time. But the reality that in the not-too-distant future I’ll have nothing but time is the most painful acknowledgement of life’s tragic progression that I’ve ever experienced.

I am fully aware that I was somebody else once; before I was a mother. I was somebody who lived alone and went out with friends, who always cleaned up her dishes after she ate, who worked 80 hours a week and went to the gym whenever she felt like it and sometimes just laid around the house watching reruns of “Dick Van Dyke” and “I Love Lucy.” But I don’t do those things anymore, mostly because I’m too busy running errands, supervising homework detail, carpooling or doing perpetual loads of laundry. Yet suddenly it seems impossible to imagine meaning in any life that doesn’t include my eternal sorrow over dirty socks on the floor, unpicked up dog poop in the yard, or two day old breakfast dishes still sitting at the table wistfully hoping that some thoughtful child will place them neatly in the dishwasher.

I don’t enjoy every moment I have with my boys. For that I am grief-stricken. I waste the precious time we have being angry about stupid things and longing for time to be alone, with my own thoughts, my own agenda. Can it be different? Can anyone keep her eye on the essential reality that everything is fleeting, that each moment brings us closer to loss, emptiness and solitude? How can anyone live life with that kind of uber-awareness? Ernest Becker explains in The Denial of Death,“To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.” Getting caught up in the minutia is our only escape from the devastating reality before us.

I long to appreciate the fleeting moments I still have with my children. I promise to try to relish every second in this tumultuous week of family drama, party plans and Bar Mitzvah preparation. My goal is to celebrate the amazing young man my son is becoming, to love him with every ounce of my being, and to joyfully release him to become his own man and forge his own path through life.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Sniff sniff. It’s not likely to be an easy week.

Are you an adult at 13 or a child at 26?

imagesI am thoroughly dumbstruck. I was just informed by our mail-order prescription drug company that I do not have the rights, under newly amended HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws to manage my 13 year old son’s prescriptions. This information was dumped on me after two hours of tech support idiocy as I attempted to set up an on-line account to streamline the process of ordering prescription refills for my family. Please note the irony here.

After finally being told that it would take 3 to 5 more business days to get the online account up and working, I decided to end the call before I dismantled the phone and furiously ingested its portable batteries. Then I remembered one more thing. I said,
“Well, can you at least tell me how to connect my son’s account with mine so that I can manage his prescription refills?”

“That depends,” the heavily accented voice on the other end of the phone stated.

“On…?” I took the bait.

“On how old he is,” she answered

“He just turned 13.”
“Oh, well then no. You cannot manage his account without his direct written permission.”

“But he doesn’t have an account. He’s 13.”

“Well, he will have to set up his own account and then he can order his own prescriptions.”

“But he doesn’t have a credit card. He has no way to pay for them. Wait a minute, is this a gag? You’re just joking with me because I sound like I’m about to lose it, right?”

“No ma’am. Once a child is 13, the new HIPAA laws require the child to give written permission to a parental caregiver to have access to any of their prescription drug information.”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Who made that law? Seriously. I really want to know. Because it obviously wasn’t someone with a 13 year old child. Because my kid is a great kid. He’s responsible, practical, thoughtful. But, I can pretty much guarantee that left to his own devices, the last thing he’s gonna be focused on is ordering his allergy meds on a monthly basis.”

“Well, if he chooses to set up his own account and grants caregiver access to you then you will be allowed to order his medications.”

At this point, I excused myself and hung up, knowing that no good could come from my continued attempts to reason with the ridiculous automaton voice on the other end.

Let me be clear here. My 13 year old son requires my assistance to oversee and manage his pharmaceutical needs. And there’s no way I’m going to allow him (or his brother in 3 years) to do it themselves. Call me a helicopter parent, but setting 13 year old kids free to access their own stash of pharmaceuticals sounds like a pretty big recipe for large scale disaster. Am I missing something here?

So back off HIPAA. I’m the sheriff in this town. My kid takes the meds I buy him based on his doctor’s recommendation and I am not about to let a 13 year old boy make his own health care decisions without my express consent and input.

I just have one question. The new Obamacare laws allow kids to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they reach 26, even if they’re married and not living at home. HIPAA insists that 13 year old minors manage their meds on their own. So which is it, are we raising 13 year old adults or 26 year old children?

Crying shame

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I am a crier. This is hardly a shocking admission to anyone who has spent more than twelve seconds with me. I cry at everything; from touching Maxwell House TV ads to tragic hit and run reports on the nightly news. I cannot seem to detach myself emotionally from anything. It’s always been a problem for me. But it’s getting worse.

I now find myself crippled with anguish as I peruse the aisles of Walgreens or CVS. I am not exaggerating. They play horrible, sad muzak everywhere I go these days. And for some reason, drug stores play the most heart wrenching songs imaginable. Why do they do that? I mean, what’s wrong with some upbeat Jazz or twangy Blue Grass? I bet they did research and found a link between devastating dirges and increased profit margins, kind of goes with the whole “retail therapy” concept. The more depressed the consumer, the bigger the buy. Well, it doesn’t work for me. I have been unable to step foot in a grocery, big box or other retail establishment in weeks since I broke down in front of the dairy case at Frys listening to John Denver singing “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

I just can’t block it out. That’s what everyone tells me to do. “Just don’t listen.” “Think about something else.” “Turn your attention elsewhere.” But, I am mentally unable to do that. Music has a direct path to my soul. It bypasses my brain and intellect and goes right for the jugular of my internal core. It’s like my Kryptonite. A soft lilting tune, even barely audible in an elevator or as I walk to my car in a mall parking lot, can reduce me to a whimpering idiot after mere seconds of listening to it.

The other day we attended a birthday celebration for a friend’s mom who had reached the age of 90. Quite the joyous occasion. They showed a video montage of the honoree’s life. I was sobbing by the second photo. I tried biting my tongue and digging my nails into my arm to create physical pain that might distract me from the pictures and the medley of sentimental Frank Sinatra ballads. But, nothing worked to slow the flow of tears that gushed from my baby blues.

My husband offered me a napkin with embarrassment. “This isn’t even your family,” he chastised. “You don’t even know these people.” “I can’t make it stop,” I lashed back. “It’s not like I’m doing this on purpose.”

I weep at services at our synagogue every single time I go. My son’s taking bets on whether I’ll be able to make it through his Bar Mitzvah service without mascara zebra striping running down my cheeks. I’ve bought commercial grade waterproof mascara for the event. You need turpentine to remove it. But I’ve yet to find anything to address the bulbous red nose, blood-shot eyes and crackling voice that always accompanies my tearful outbursts.

About a year ago I had a play reading at a theatre in LA that happened to be connected to a church. The actors had a meeting prior to taking the stage. They concluded it with a few moments of shared prayers for people in need, asking Jesus to step in and guide the poor souls who were struggling. While everyone else seemed to manage hearing the tales of poverty, divorce and other unexpected woes that had impacted people’s lives, I became completely overcome with anguish and wept as if each story was about my very own family. Please understand, I’m not talking about a faint stream of tears inconspicuously streaming down my face. I’m talking about a waterfall of wetness, snot pouring out my nose, and hyperventilating gasps of air as I tried to compose myself unsuccessfully. “Remember, you’re Jewish,” my friend whispered as everyone held hands and thanked the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It didn’t matter. Nothing could suppress my sobs.

How do I live? Well, basically I’m trying to avoid every person, place or event that might trigger some sort of sentimental reaction. As you might imagine, this makes living life rather tricky. No TV or radio for fear of an update on Nairobi or a reality check regarding Rwanda. No mall shopping in avoidance of sad, twenty-something break-up songs. No grocery jaunts or prescription pick-ups so as to miss those sappy Carpenter songs (It really was tragic what happened to Karen).

So, if you’re hanging around and have only good news to share, call me or shoot me an email, just don’t attach any .mp3, .wav or .aiff files. K?

It’s all about perspective

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So this morning I walk into the kitchen at 5:20a.m. Don’t even ask me how long the rest of my nocturnal crew has been awake. I see my husband, Mark, standing in front of the island sink. He is absent-mindedly spraying the sink basin with Pam cooking spray. He does this for approximately 10 seconds as I silently watch with perplexity. Next he returns the Pam to the pantry and pulls out his carton of Egg Beaters. After a few violent shakes, he opens the carton and proceeds to pour several servings of Egg Beaters down the drain to follow the Pam cooking spray. At this point, I am finding it hard to keep quiet.

So I say, in a less than kind tone, “What the hell are you doing? Why would you waste food like that?” I am irritated, and yes a bit concerned, that during the night he has lost or hopefully only misplaced some of his mental faculties. He looks up and simply says, “I’m making my breakfast.”

Now Mark enjoys a good joke and has never missed an opportunity to tease, toy with, or good-naturedly yank my rather easily accessible chain. But at this point, I am not amused. We are working hard to make ends meet. We are living sparsely, avoiding waste and trying to maintain a cash only spending regiment. Why would someone in that position carelessly spill an entire meal down the drain?

“What is seriously wrong with you?” I ask more with bewilderment than ire. “Nothing,” he retorts, still standing over his eggless creation in the sink. At this point, I’m taking into consideration the possibility that he has had some type of brain aneurism and can no longer be held responsible for his behavior. I quickly move towards him to catch him in case he topples over from the force of the bursting vessel within his brain. But as I get to him, I see that sitting on the bottom of the sink is his microwave egg-cooker, filled with plenty of Pam and two servings of Egg Beaters. He, of course, is snickering madly. He picks up his cooker, places it in the microwave and turns it on for 1:30 seconds.

“Why did you do that?” I continued my interrogation despite his giggles and snorts. “It’s more efficient,” he explained. “I don’t get Pam all over the counter and if I spill any of the Egg Beaters, I just turn on the faucet and clean the sink.”

I had to admit that did actually make a lot of sense. But from my perspective across the room, watching his actions was like watching an inane rerun of The Three Stooges. But then it hit me; that is truly what life is about. (Not watching inane reruns of The Three Stooges.) Life is about how we each view the world from our unique vantage points. Thus our challenges in life, our relationship difficulties, our negative attitudes are only as accurate as we allow them to be. If we change our perspective, by say walking across a room, or bending down, or climbing a few rungs of a metaphorical ladder, we may actually see the entire world differently. That’s an enormous realization.

When we argue with people or when someone close to us hurts us, it’s so easy to accuse, condemn and vilify whomever has done us wrong. But maybe we’re not really seeing the full picture. Maybe what appears to be careless or random idiocy is really thoughtful and considerate conduct. Maybe if we shift our mental or emotional viewpoint we will see that the situation is vastly different from our original interpretation. And maybe, just maybe, we too will find ourselves laughing at misconceptions that never actually even existed.

Middle school mayhem

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Throw away every kind, thoughtful or genteel thing you’ve ever learned. Do not offer your hand upon introducing yourself. Never hold the door open for anyone — especially not for a girl. No, strike that, boy or girl, same story. And whatever you do, never, ever admit to liking, respecting or even tolerating your parents.

This is a page out of our middle school preparatory training manual. My 12 year old son, Levi, starts middle school at a new school in four days. It’s his first foray into the public school system and he doesn’t know a single soul. So we’re all a little nervous about how he’ll like it and whether or not he’ll fit in easily, etc…

For those of you who don’t know Levi, he’s not your ordinary 12 year old boy. He’s delightfully chivalrous,  amazingly mature, deeply thoughtful and incredibly sensitive. Having these traits has necessitated some serious middle school tutoring.

My best friend in LA told me a horror story about her eldest son holding the door open for other students the first few weeks of his middle school experience. He was “dork” labelled and alienated for three quarters of the year. Luckily he found his niche and figured out that kindness and consideration were not attributes a middle schooler ought to display.

Another friend of ours was horrified upon meeting my son that he had warmly extended his hand, smiled broadly and happily introduced himself using his first and last name. “He’s not gonna do that in middle school?” My pal asked anxiously.

“No,” I stammered. “Of course not. He can be just as unfriendly and ill-mannered as any other child.” I grabbed Levi and fled the scene.

Once we were safely ensconced in the car, I clarified to him that going to middle school was a lot like going to a foreign country. It’s important to observe the culture and learn the language so you don’t inadvertently find yourself in the middle of an uncomfortable international fiasco. No standing out. No drawing attention to yourself. “Middle school is like a water color painting,” I advised, “Best done in muted shades that blend together easily.” What can I say? It was the best I could come up with on short notice.

“But I thought I was always supposed to be myself?” My son curiously inquired. “You’ve always told me to let my unique personality out and if people don’t like me it’s their problem, not mine.”

“Yes. Yes, I did,” I conceded. “But that hasn’t worked out all that well for us thus far. And all bets are off in middle school. Fitting in, laying low and not rocking any boats — that is our new M.O. By the way,” I added, “Do not, under any circumstance, admit to liking your parents or enjoying our company. That is a number one middle school faux pas.”

“I don’t think I’m going to like middle school, mom,” he said with the resignation of a soldier being sent to the front line.

“That’s okay,” I told him. “In fact, that’s perfect. Because no one likes middle school. Good job, buddy. Way to fit in.”

Why did the boys cross the road?

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Why did the boys cross the road?

Long pause filled with uncertainty.

To get smoothies from A.J.s and scare the bejeezus out of their mother.

It may not be the funniest joke ever, but my two tiny, helpless, toddlers… okay, they’re not really tiny anymore, and technically they’re not helpless. I guess you could also argue that nearly 13 and 9 no longer designates them as toddlers. But they’re crossing a busy street and I’m not with them and this is freaking me out!

It’s summer vacation, camp is over, I have no help and I’m feeling like a dried up piece of sand paper. So I made an appointment for a manicure and pedicure. I thought my husband would be off work this morning when I originally made the appointment. But he had to work at the last minute. I didn’t want to cancel. Does that make me a monster? My heels are coarse and leathery, and my feet look like they’ve been through a Crayola blizzard with so many splotches of colors on my toenails because I’ve been layering over my last pedicure for a month. The salon I go to is across the street from AJs. So the boys convinced me that they could come along with me and venture off alone to get smoothies while I soaked peacefully in the pedicure tub. I gave them money and instructions, several times. “Be careful crossing the street!” I said. “It’s a busy street. And call me if you need me. Maybe text me once you get there. No, that’s silly. You don’t have to text me. Yes, text me.” Okay, seriously, they’re only going across the street. Motorists are cautious around here. I mean it’s a residential neighborhood. But there are a lot of elderly folks in this area. Maybe they wont notice two innocent little tykes, one toting a beloved stuffed polar bear, darting across a four lane freeway. Okay okay, it’s not exactly a freeway. But it gets really busy sometimes and it can be as treacherous as the 51 on a Friday afternoon.

Why is it so hard to let kids grow up? I know this is good for them. It teaches them responsibility. It allows them to learn independence. When I was 12, I used to peddle my bicycle 10 miles across town to the local Bunny Hutch to meet friends and enjoy the best french fries in town. What were my parents thinking? Did it scare my mom that I rode in the street? Did she just not think about it? Why does it freak me out so much?

Levi, my nearly 13 year old, went away to sleep-away camp for a full month this summer. He managed to brush his teeth without my constant reminders. He got dressed by himself and handled a litany of daily responsibilities without a single word from me or his dad. (Although I do confess to putting a few brief instructions into the loving letters I wrote on a daily basis.) But he probably ignored those.

I really don’t remember my parents being this over-protective. I don’t think it was that much of a safer world back then. I’ve even read numerous books and articles that insist there are not more child abductions or mass killings today than there were back in the day. It’s just the way the media covers them that makes them all seem so looming and prevalent. But parents’ levels of angst have sky-rocketed since the time of my childhood. It’s like we’re so scared of something happening that we don’t want to ever let our kids out of our sight.

I think it ultimately cripples both them and us. It keeps kids in a perpetual state of childishness. We protect them from anything that even hints at grown-up responsibility which keeps them completely void of the experiences they need to grow up and become responsible adults. In turn, their neediness and inexperience prevents us from letting go and keeps us stuck in perpetual parenting mode without any hope of escape or eventual freedom.

The funniest part of all this is that we’re only doing it because we love them so much. We just don’t want to see them hurt or watch them struggle or worse, possibly fail. But that’s really the only way to learn anything, isn’t it? To fall down. To make a mistake. To err. Without error, life poses no challenges, no opportunities for growth.

So take a deep breath. Love your kids. But let them cross the street by themselves once in a while. It’s really the only way to get from here to there anyway.

Backpack ban. For real?

No drinks. No boomerangs, No backpacks. No...circus ringmaster jackets?

No drinks. No boomerangs, No backpacks. No…circus ringmaster jackets?

My 12 year old son, Levi, will be starting middle school in August at a brand new public school. We’re all excited and nervous and trying to figure out how life operates in this totally unknown environment. Up till now, he’s been highly sheltered by our local private Jewish day school.

There’s a steep learning curve here and I admit it is causing us some anxiety. LIke the other day, for instance, he was perusing the district web site and confronted me in a panic.

“Mom,” he voiced fearfully, “It says on the website that kids are prohibited from carrying backpacks on campus.”

“Levi,” I responded with a doubtful glance, “That’s ridiculous. I’m sure you didn’t read it accurately. I mean, how are you supposed to carry your stuff to school? Picnic basket?”

He assured me that what he had seen had been real and urged me to call the district office to confirm it. His anxiety was growing and I figured that calling the office was the perfect way to allay his concerns. “Hello,” I started to the kindly woman who answered the phone, “I’m a parent of a new student who will be coming to your school in the fall and my son saw something on your website about backpacks not being allowed on campus. I know that sounds rather crazy. So I just wanted to check and make sure that he misunderstood whatever he thought he read.”

“Um…I’m not really sure what to tell you,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “Can you hold for a moment?” Then she disappeared for like three minutes and I waited, wondering if she was using the same trick my insurance company uses every time I call to check on a benefit. I like to call it the “indefinite hold tactic.” It’s when certain organizations systematically put you on hold forever, knowing you’ll eventually get so frustrated you’ll hang up and decide it’s easier to just pay whatever remaining balance they insist you still have, even though you’ve already paid them three times already. But I digress.

Finally she returned, “The backpack rule is a campus by campus decision and I’m afraid no one at the district can give you the backpack requirements for an individual school. You’ll have to wait till the school reopens for the school year to call and inquire about it.”

“But…I mean…Are you saying there may be some rule against students carrying backpacks?” I’m stammering at this point because this sounds as silly to me as if she told me that number 2 pencils were being outlawed.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to call the school after July 22nd,” she curtly ended the conversation.

Baffled by this, I started to do some research and found that yes, backpacks have been items-non-grata at schools across the country for over a decade. Huh?

I found articles as far back as 2003 explaining the dangers of backpacks containing concealed weapons, drug paraphernalia, even bombs. The answer to some lunatic potentially stuffing a bomb into a backpack? No more backpacks. Maybe it’s me, but that sounds like the most inane answer to school violence and drug abuse that I have ever heard.

But that wasn’t all I discovered. There were other equally lame reasons for prohibiting the dreaded back carriers. The Academy of Orthopedic surgeons had come out with some declaration a few years back about the risks of long-term back and neck injuries and posture problems from kids hauling around overweight backpacks.

Other schools had outlawed backpacks because, and I’m not making this up, they proved to be dangerous threats to teacher safety both inside the classroom and in the corridors of learning. Apparently, teachers find themselves tripping over backpack straps on a regular basis during the school day. They also complain that they have been severely injured in the hallways by backpack-clad youngsters racing from one class to the next.

OK, now I am deeply sensitive to teachers’ needs. Teachers deserve all the credit, gratitude and respect we can give. Their jobs are important and critical to our society. However, this is a little bit silly, don’t you think? I mean, are they sashaying down the aisles between desks while reviewing the Spanish American War? Tap dancing around the classroom as they pose thought-provoking questions about Odysseus? Kids can’t carry backpacks because teachers are tripping over them en masse? Maybe we need to have an in-service day focused on cautious strolling protocol.

And one more question: in what, pray tell, are our children supposed to carry their personal items, notebooks and other school supplies? Hefty trash bags? One girl somewhere out East faced this very dilemma and started carting her load around in a plastic, yellow sand castle pail. Come on! We have got to get a grip. Yes, someone hid a pressure cooker in a backpack and murdered innocent victims. That’s deplorable and hideous. But banning backpacks wouldn’t have stopped the Boston bombings. Believe me, they would have found another way to hurt people. That’s what evil people do. They figure out ways to destroy and ruin good, unsuspecting people’s lives. We need to address evil, not the outward accoutrements of it.

We didn’t ban underwear after the underwear bomber tried to blow up an airplane. We can’t outlaw every single item that some sick, twisted cretan uses to accomplish some heinous activity. We just can’t. It would be like…like…like…trying to eliminate peanuts from every elementary school in the country. Oh wait, we have done that.