Monday, June 30, 2008

College advanced

I had no idea how much college life had changed until No. 2 son’s orientation last week. Now I’m concerned he’s going to miss out on some important character-building opportunities.

For one thing, he’ll never develop the fortitude necessary to wait in line for hours to sign up for classes and then survive the panic of finally reaching the registration table only to learn your final required course is full or meets at 8 a.m. on Mondays. What personal growth comes from registering online in your PJs or from the local Starbucks?

My son also might never experience the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of fighting off classmates to grab the last copy of an obscure textbook that costs as much as the average U.S. weekly salary. I doubt he’ll break a sweat punching in Mom’s credit card number so his books will be waiting in his dorm room when he arrives on campus.

There’s no need for him to learn restraint to avoid the “freshman 15” extra pounds from an unlimited variety of cafeteria offerings if he takes the free advice of a nutritionist who’ll walk him through the dining hall to point out good choices. Apparently “eat your fruits and vegetables” sounds better from an expert than your mother.

My boy also might never learn patience from waiting for a campus shuttle bus. For a fee, Sprint’s RAVE system lets students use cell phones to check the shuttle’s progress. That way they can avoid the major inconvenience of looking out a window or enduring the mild temperatures of Washington, D.C.

But what I’m most concerned about are the life skills he’ll never acquire from doing laundry on campus. In my day it took planning to scrape together enough quarters and snag an empty washing machine at a reasonable hour. Then you waited in a dark and depressing laundry room until your load was done -- or took the risk of missing out on a dryer and your clothing disappearing while you ran up and down several flights of stairs to periodically check the progress of your laundry.

I’m not going to spoil him by paying for a laundry service. Instead he’s going to be spoiled by something called eSuds. It’s the college’s computerized laundry system that lets him check a Web site to find out if a washing machine is available in the laundry room down the hall rather than tire himself out by walking a few feet to check on his own.

If all the washers are in use, eSuds sends him an e-mail or text message when one becomes available. No need to search for quarters or beg from friends – the machines operate by swiping a campus card. And he won’t have to waste any of the 153 hours he’s not in class each week by checking whether his laundry is done because eSuds sends him a message about that, too.

Now that’s a service I’d like in my life -- and not just for laundry. Wouldn’t it be great to get an e-mail or text message notifying you there’s no traffic or lines at the grocery store? Or how about a warning when someone’s in a bad mood so you can avoid them until there’s an update that things have improved? Imagine the possibilities. I’d gladly trade building character for such convenience, wouldn’t you?

Monday, June 23, 2008

How Cultured Are You?

I watched the 1973 film “American Graffiti” again last night, this time as a mother. I was flabbergasted that no adult found it odd that all these teenagers were out cruising around town all night in 1963.

Then there were a couple of scenes where teenagers became marooned but managed to survive and meet up with their buddies without cell phones. That shocked my children.

We were watching "American Graffiti" as part of our quest to view as many film classics as possible this summer, inspired by an earlier English assignment for No. 2 son in which the teacher wrote:

I am often surprised by the number of important films people have NOT seen. Many of the films selected for this assignment have become a part of our culture and are classics in the same sense that many of the novels and plays you have read are classics in literature.”

So, in an effort to “get culture,” we’re watching classic movies borrowed from the local library like "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Dr. Strangelove. " It's surprising how many of the themes are still relevant today and repeated in current films, although not done nearly as well.

How many films on this list have you seen and loved? Can you name any movies that should be added to the list?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Personal computer (and uterus) on overload

"Husbands (and children) think we should know where everything is: like the uterus is a tracking device.” – Roseanne Barr

As the only female in our household, I had visions of being treated like a princess, or maybe a goddess.

I never imagined the males in my family would view me as their personal computer and tracking device. (Mom, have you seen my….? No, honey, but maybe if I turn my uterus this way…)

I was reminded of this yesterday when my teenage son glared at me, stomped up the stairs and growled, “You never told me today was Father’s Day.”

Huh? OK, I get that he might have missed the “Father’s Day” notation on the kitchen calendar or on the one in his bedroom where he records his various social events.

But how could he ignore that big white board downstairs where everyone’s weekly schedule and major events (like Father’s Day) are listed in black marker? And just two days earlier I’d even braved the “don’t come any closer and embarrass me zone” at his supermarket job to say in my cheeriest voice, “Don’t forget that Sunday is Father’s Day.”

When I reminded him of this yesterday, he snarled, “But you didn’t tell me that today is Sunday.”

So now I’m supposed to announce each day’s schedule? These guys expect entirely too much of a woman who has been known to put her purse in the freezer by mistake.

I’m drawing the line at daily announcements. My uterus needs a vacation. The last time I took a stand like this was the day my husband said: “Do I like to eat this?”

He never asked again.

Monday, June 9, 2008

An intriguing question

Given what you know now, what advice would you have offered your younger self if you had the opportunity?

It's an intriguing question. And apparently others are thinking about it, too. Parade magazine’s “Advice to the Young Me” Sunday featured celebrities revealing what they would have told themselves. And the new book “If I'd Known Then: Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters to Their Younger Selves” explores the same subject.

With recent college and high school graduations in my house, I’ve thought a lot about the counsel I wish I'd followed and should pass on to my sons. It is:

“Don’t be afraid to take risks.”

After so many years of wishing I could keep my children safe in bubble-wrap, these are difficult words to say. Voicing them is a risk in itself. But just maybe it also means it's not too late for me to take my own advice.

How about you? What advice would you have given yourself?

Monday, June 2, 2008

In the Moment

People forward all sorts of e-mails to me: jokes, cartoons, “chain letters” (forward this or die), words of inspiration (if I’d known what having a teenager was going to be like, I’d have saved the anesthesia for later) and some Nigerians have even written to say they’ll share their wealth if only I’ll send a check first.

It’s rare that I think about these messages longer than it takes to skim and delete them. But a recent e-mail containing the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Anna Quindlen was a significant exception. In it, she expressed regret that:

“I did not live in the moment enough.”

Although Quindlen was addressing parenting and how she often was in a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, etc., I think her words have wider application.

“I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less,” she wrote. I agree. We often are too busy thinking about the “what’s next” instead of enjoying the “what’s now.”

There’s a lot going on in my own life right now – a college graduation, high school graduation, husband celebrating a milestone birthday, and a deadline to read 113 short stories as a judge for the crime fiction contest I was so honored to win last year. In addition, there are graduation parties and gifts to buy for friends and relatives PLUS cooking for various events PLUS my mother breaking a bone and possibly two in a fall (at Rehab, no less) PLUS having a job where people expect me to actually show up.

I’m grateful that many of these are happy things. Nonetheless, I am a bit overwhelmed. It's a struggle to repeat the mantra “live in the moment” to stop my subconscious from making lists. But it’s helped me truly “be present” during these life passages.

As a fiction writer, it’s necessary to be “in the moment” to keep writing. If you think too much about the mechanics of getting “on to the next thing,” the story suffers.

Maybe it’s the same with real life. If you don’t live in the moment, your own “story” suffers in the end.