Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Relationships with Humans



Relationships with humans are hard.

I’ve been having interesting conversations with folks about teens, rebellion and the ‘need’ (experts tell us it’s a need, so it must be, right?) for children to butt heads with their parents in order to leave the nest.

I’ve written about this before, but today I’m thinking about it from a slightly different angle… in a conversation about ‘normal teens,’ in response to this:

Some children really DO need to "butt heads to leave".

I said this:

In the same way that people who are genuinely frightened (the result of a break-in, or even a physical attack) start arguing when they don’t know what else to do with their fear, people who are leaving or on the verge of being left will often lash out, because they simply don’t know how to handle the fears or the overwhelming feelings that come with large life changes.

I’ve lived in a navy family my whole life, first as the daughter of a sailor, and later married to one (still). I am experienced in the leavings (and returns) of loved ones… and I’m familiar with the dysfunctional and the enlightened ways of handling both.

Dysfunctional is what is considered the norm: depression, lashing out, infidelity, worry, ptsd, insomnia, ocd… the list goes on and on. But however ordinary and common those responses are, they’re hardly enlightened or even helpful. They are simply what people do with overwhelmingly large emotions when they don’t know what else to do.

It’s not surprising that people don’t know what to do –culturally, we don’t know what to do, we have few models of more enlightened or mature responses, and few teachers who could pass that information on. If I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, ‘I could never cope with my partner leaving’ or ‘how do you manage?’ I’d have a room full of nickels. And, it took me a long time to stumble across healthier ways of handling it.

Children leaving home brings up the same kinds of overwhelm, for themselves and their parents –and their friends, and their siblings… and we end up with the Freshman 15 (kids who eat to displace their feelings when they’re at college the first year) and Empty Nest Syndrome (for parents who can’t sit through long-distance ads without bursting into tears), et cetera.

There are two keys, I found, to understand comings and goings:

1. worry and,

2. control

There are two primary reasons people mind so much, life transitions of this kind: they don’t know what’s going to happen, and they don’t like feeling out of control of what’s going to happen. So they worry –that’s personal and internal stress that just adds to the real issues in their world—and they seek to control what they can reach, which is generally the other people close by. [I think it’s hilarious how rarely most people think of themselves when they’re looking around for something to control.]

Now, how to avoid and minimize both of those is a completely other post for another day, but that’s the core of it: children who express an apparent need to butt heads are picking #2. Parents who become depressed, teary or insomniac are using #1. Lashing out and ocd are #2. PTSD is #1.

Handling comings and goings with equanimity is hard:

  • it’s hard to lean into the pain of separations, to know that the pain is not just okay, but perfect
  • it’s hard to open a lifestyle up when someone comes home after the heartspace they had lived in has healed

Neither are anywhere near as hard as the results of lashing out, butting heads, depression… et cetera.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Year-Round Education


Here comes the same-old same-old again: kids need continuous instruction lest they ‘lose’ what they’ve learned so far, over the 9 week summer break.

British Columbia has recently moved to allow schools to step out of the traditional 180 days between September and June model that we all grew up on and think of as ‘normal’.

There is going to be fallout. It is not going to be pretty.

And, from Ontario, appears this study from which comes this hilarious quote:

However, the Second Career students achieved significantly higher grades than any of the others. The Second Career program was designed by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to provide laid off workers with skills training to assist them in finding employment in high demand occupations. Individual received government grants to support them in their studies. Since most members of this group have probably been out of school for some time, this is a result of particular interest. It should certainly stimulate further deliberation over the factors that affect achievement in college mathematics most significantly.

Where oh where is my sarcasm font? Hmm… this one looks good: The longer students are out of school, the better they perform in math?! Could it be that living and working in the real world is better for learning real math skills than learning from teachers in schools? Get away!

Now, what are the Educating Eyeores (thank you, Benjamin Hoff, and The Te of Piglet!!) going to do with this? The EEs say ‘ooh, it’s not working –start it earlier!’ ‘Oh, no, it’s not working –do it longer!’ ‘Eeek, it’s not working –try it harder!’

Which part of ‘it’s not working’ is failing to get through?

I’m not as darkly cynical (if you can imagine!) as some of my friends. One of them claims the reason it doesn’t matter that the entire school system has been a proven failure for decades, because it’s primary mandate is a total success: jobs for adults.

A young adult I know claims it’s worse than that: free babysitting.

Well, at least it will be year-round babysitting jobs for adults.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Messy Bedrooms –by design


If anyone is ever wondering why it is that kids’ rooms today tend to be (a lot) messier than they were in Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, allow me to make a list:

  • musical instruments
  • computers
  • software
  • peripherals
  • game systems
  • games
  • tvs
  • dvd players
  • dvds
  • books and magazines
  • 81 pairs of underwear and shirts, more than 12 pairs of jeans, multiple sets of every season’s outerwear
  • multiple pairs of shoes (more than 2)
  • sports equipment
  • cds
  • accessories (hats, necklaces, jewelery, belts)
  • arts, crafts and school supplies
  • decor items
  • gifts from every holiday and event throughout the year, including one from every single party they took a gift to this year

In 1955, most kids would have owned play clothes and ‘good’ clothes, possibly enough shirts and underwear to make it through a whole week without having to wear anything but pants twice. They would have worn their ‘good’ clothes to any special event requiring them, from weekly church to weddings and funerals.

In 1955, kids would have, with rare exception, owned nothing but the gifts they received for their birthdays (supposing it wasn’t clothing or bath supplies) and Christmas, usually only from three or four people. Bikes lived outside, ski gear lived in the attic or the basement with the (solitary) box of seasonal decorations.

The TV Distortion

Watching M*A*S*H reruns so many times meant that I realized TV is different from real life in one really important way: props storage.

Within a couple of seasons of that show, they had so many silly costumes (gorilla suit, kimonos, everyone in pinstripes, Klinger’s dress collection), strange props (the bathtub, the party props, art supplies, Radar’s animals, horse tack) and new things (Christmas gifts, presents for BJ’s birthday, Margaret’s growing collection of things from gentlemen callers) run through the hands of those characters, they could (and probably did) fill a warehouse. Not a set of tents made to collapse, put in trucks, and drive down the road on two days’ notice.

Old Time Design Today

Today’s kids’ bedrooms have not be dramatically re-designed, with 50 times the amount of storage as the houses built in 1955. In fact, it’s the opposite: bedrooms are smaller, and there is less storage space built into homes today –no unfinished basements, no attics, linen closets are a rarity –than those of the 1950s and 60s.

Today, kids have less drawer-space per wardrobe item they own, less closet space per sports team they play on and less shelf-space per category of toys than kids had in 1955. The Beav played baseball with nothing but a glove, a bat and a ball –the softball girls I umpire have sliders, cleats, gloves, batting gloves, uniforms, batting helmets and a great many of them have their own bat. The Beav could leave his glove on the top of his high-boy bureau; these girls can’t even fit all their equipment for this sport on a 6-drawer dresser… supposing they don’t also play hockey, soccer… et cetera.

Until bedrooms (playrooms, rec rooms and houses) are re-designed with the volume of objects a ‘normal’ child owns in mind, the idea that an over-filled room can be kept incidentally-clean is irrational. By ‘incidentally clean’ I mean that without spending a great deal of the day carefully stacking, and re-stacking everything in piles alongside the woefully-lacking storage available, to keep it all neat.

We live in a ‘grab and go’ culture, with kids often racing between activities. That they (also) drop things in the hallway or on the floor of their rooms before rifling through the pile that’s already growing to find the stuff needed for the next thing… well, it’s simply a design flaw.