Friday, December 5, 2014

Everything, All At Once

Another 16 year old in my circle just got a car for her birthday. That is awesome for her, but it worried me to hear her mother complain less than 15 minutes later about the affordability of college. 

In today's world it seems that every 16 year-old I know gets a car.  This is very different from when I was a high school kid.  Very few of my friends had cars, and no one I ever knew got a brand-new car.  One of the reasons was that their parents were saving for college.

I suspect that the next thing today's car-lucky kids will do after getting a Bachelor's degree they couldn't afford (what with the big, fat car payment, natch!) is to go on to pursue a Master's degree, get married, take out a giant mortgage and then complain about how in debt they are. 

Must they have everything all at once?

I keep reading how we need to make college affordable. Can someone tell me exactly what is affordable? At 18 I was extremely poor.  I was working at McDonald's and taking a few classes at San Antonio College, all that I could "afford." I could not, however, afford a car so I walked, bummed rides or took the bus to class. I rarely bought any books. It was hard, but it was the most important and very best investment I have ever made in myself.

Today people think it's perfectly OK to pay $30,000-40,000 for a car but then they balk at that kind of investment, at the very least, in a bachelor's degree.  I have to say this sounds like maybe it's a matter of Prioritization rather than affordability. The real issue is that we want to be able to pay for college AND have all these other things too. Right away.  And/or we want to go to a really expensive college and not be deprived of anything else as a result.

At you can find all kinds of helpful info about the price tag of college.  After reviewing this site, I think there are three things to consider about paying for college:

1. Prioritization (which we just touched on),
2. Cost (Affordability), and
3. Choice (so many choices)

Since we've mulled over Prioritization a bit, let's look at Cost.  According to the College Board, "the average cost for one year of tuition and fees for the 2013–2014 school year (was) $8,893 for state residents at public colleges..."*  This is about $35,000 for a 4 year degree. For comparison's sake, here is the average price of a new car, and for the cost of maintaining that car: 

Average cost of a new car in 2014:  $31,000 - 32,000 ( with interest rates averaging 4%)
Average cost to drive a car in 2014: $8,000 - 9,000 a year 

In terms of investment, in 6 years the car will have significantly depreciated in value (if it hasn't been totaled - 1 in 5 of 16-year-old drivers has an accident within their first year of driving), while a college education will be even more valuable and complemented by experience.

Now I can hear some of you parents out there saying, but what about the cost of room and board, and books and meals?!  That's where Choice comes in. 

First, consider this:  whether or not your child goes to college there will still be a cost to feed and shelter him or her.  The choice is whether or not to live in the dorms or live at home.  There is also the choice of whether or not that child has a job while in college (or whether or not he/she lives off of you and/or student loans**).  Adding in the cost of living arrangements, meals and books adds about another $12,000 to the cost of college (which I still maintain that, other than books, are the costs of being alive, not college.) 

Then there is the choice to attend a private or out of state institution.  This is where it really gets crazy.  According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2013–2014 school year was $30,094 at private colleges, and $22,203 for out-of-state residents attending public universities (as opposed to the $8,893 for state residents at public colleges we discussed above).  From my bumbling middle class perspective, there is no choice here, there is just common sense.  Or debt.  

Another factor is student loan interest rates, which seems to fluctuate between 3 and 5 percent according to my internet research.  I am not an expert on these things, having never taken out a student loan (I was on the pay-for-classes-one-at-time 10 year BA degree affordability plan) but I have paid 7% interest rate on a home mortgage for the last 15 years and I still owe just under what the sale price of the house originally was.  But even if I took all of the most expensive routes to college it still wouldn't add up to just the interest I have paid on my house over the last 15 years -- which could burn down tomorrow, but until dementia sets in I will always have my college education.***

The last thing to consider here is financial aid and scholarships which certainly can make college more affordable if you qualify. The first is based on need according to a student's particular circumstances, and the latter on ability which is dependent on talent and/or work ethic. I won't go more into detail on these since since it applies to only a fraction of students.  Also, if a students gets financial aid or a scholarship, it often doesn't cover 100% of the cost so we then come right back around to choices. 

I hope this doesn't come off as sanctimonious or insufferable.  I can see how it might****, but I am still going to post it because I'd like to see more consideration of responsible and realistic priorities and choices in determining the affordability of college to balance out all the righteous indignation.  I know we all want our kids to have the best possible college experience.  We all hope our kids are better off than we were.  But do we really need to make everything so easy for them?  Doesn't a little deprivation still develop the highly useful ability to delay gratification and appreciate bounty and good fortune? How do we make it better for them by letting them tumble into irresponsible debt and then expect some sort of "forgiveness" of that debt?  Who exactly is responsible for that debt?  The clueless kids?  The parents who let it happen?  The banks who gave them the money?  The colleges who charged them for expenses?  I don't have the answers to these questions, but I do know how to stay out of debt.  

*backed up by data on the cost of attending the University of Texas at San Antonio

**OMG it should be illegal to give loans to kids for living expenses.  My daughter told me that her boyfriend frequently spends his loan money on comic books!  I cant even begin to write about how awful this whole concept is. 

***It's fast approaching, carpe diem...

****one of my helpful blog post editors said this, and that I am getting old and increasingly prone to making "back in my day..." statements that make the eyes of today's youngsters roll

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Zoe the Wise and Entertaining

In August 2013, my youngest daughter Zoe started middle school.  As the parents of most 6th graders know, this age is a delightful stage of discovery and wonder.  The developmental characteristics of the average 11-12 year old include the following: 

  • Intellectual interests expand
  • Increased ability to see world from various perspectives
  • Improved abilities to use speech for self-expression
  • High interest in current events, politics, social justice
  • Increased ability to think abstract in intellectual pursuits
  • May offer “ideal” solutions to complex problems

As Zoe began to display these characteristics in abundance, I had to share her thoughts and comments with others, and I took to Facebook in earnest.  Over her 6th grade year and into her current 7th grade year, I have posted her thoughts and questions, and had lots of positive feedback.  Everyone loves hearing from Zoe. I was told that I better be saving all those posts, so, I was compelled to go back through Facebook and compile them all into one blog post.  First up are posts from 6th and 7th grade, including the famous Health Class, followed by the posts from 2009-2012.

You're all very welcome.  :) 

On School

2013 Aug 27:
Me: "How much do I owe you for chores today?" Zoe: "All I've done so far is my homework?" Me: "Let's be clear, I don't pay you to do your homework." Zoe: "Why not?! It's on my list of things to do!" Me: "It's your reason for being -at this point in your life -you're a student. Does anyone pay me for being your mom?" Zoe: "No, but have you ever really tried to find a donor for that?"

2013 Oct 17:
Zoe: "We had to do a group project today in school. I suck at group projects." Me: "Why do you think that?!" Zoe: "That's not the important part. Our project was to form a new country and make all the laws and everything. I wanted to design the flag but someone else took that. I had to be on the group that made the laws." Me: "Well, that sounds interesting." Zoe: "Trust me, it was not. The first law they made was No School. I told them that was just stupid. Turns out that they want to be stupid. This is why I suck at group projects."

2013 Nov 6:
Zoe: "I like English homework because you can help me with it." Me: "Is a back handed way of saying I suck at Math?" Zoe: "I did not say that."

2013 Nov 18:
For those of you who are following the middle school adventures of Zoe, here's the latest: Zoe: Guess what we're learning in math? Me: What? Zoe: Ratios! Today we watched a speed dating video. For every one word the girl spoke, the guy spoke 7. Me: Speed dating. Of course.

2013 Dec 9:
Me: "So, how did your book report go?" Zoe, "Perfect. I did an amazing job." Me: "Nothing wrong with your self esteem, is there?" Zoe: "Nope." Minutes later.... Me: "Zoe take off those socks, they smell terrible." Zoe: "Now, that's the kind of comment that might lower my self esteem." I retreat. Type this. She still has the socks on. Eww. 

2014 Jan 15:
Me: How was school? Zoe: Well, PE is interesting. Today we watched a video teaching us how to ride a stationary bike. The video's background music was "Fat Bottom Girls." Me: Interesting choice. (Zoe sings chorus, which is then stuck in my head for the afternoon).

2014 Jan 23:
Lacey to Zoe: You're probably going to have a snow day tomorrow. Zoe: What?! No! Tomorrow is the worst day for a snow day. I have solo practice! Lacey: Tell me about it! I'm missing a very important class. Me to myself: My kids are freaks.

2014 Feb 17:
Zoe: So I've been going to the sewing club in my after school program. Me: Does anything funny happen there I can entertain with on Facebook? Zoe: Uh, people poke themselves a lot? Me: Really? Zoe: We aren't being actually taught how to sew, we just get to do it. That's why that bear I made was so bad.

Apr 23 2014:  Text conversation
2014 Feb 19:
 Zoe got in trouble at her after-school program today for being disruptive during homework time. After listening to the teacher tell me about the incident, this was how Zoe started her defense as we drove home: "Mom, this is like the telephone game. By the time the story gets to you it sounds worse than it actually was. I'm the one who knows the real story and you need to hear it."

2014 Mar 5:
Me: I'm going to talk to your teacher tomorrow. Zoe: Ok, but don't embarrass me. Me: What?! When have I ever embarrassed you with your teachers? Zoe: There's a first time for everything.

2014 Jun 2:
Me: Hey Zoe: Someone blew away the STAAR test! I'm not gonna name names. Zoe: It was Bramble! Me: Ha! Here are your fabulous results. They came last Thursday. You're as amazing as we knew you were. Zoe: Oh, stop. <Pauses> Never mind. Keep going...

On The Famous Health Class

2013 Nov 13:
Zoe's health homework tonight was to interview me and ask a bunch of questions she was given and record my answers. This is the gist of that assignment: Zoe: How do you get an STD? Me: Having sex. Zoe: Duh. Zoe: Is sex fun? Me: Yes. Zoe: Ick. Zoe: Should I sign an abstinence until marriage pledge? Me: At 11?! Zoe: I know, right? The conversation actually lasted over an hour. Zoe took 6 pages of notes and had me revise the abstinence pledge she will take and at the end of the questions she said, "thank you for your time." Wow. Surreal.

2013 Nov 14:
 Zoe's health class is making our evening discussions very interesting. This happened tonight at dinner. Zoe, age 11: We watched a date rape video today at school. Me: Chokes on soup.

2013 Dec 18:
Zoe: "So, today, in health class we watched a video about drinking too much and this man drank a beer, then threw up into it and then kept on drinking it." Me: "What?! Slow down, Facebook has been waiting for a new health class story, let me write this down." Zoe: "Facebook doesn't want to hear about this, Mom - it is not funny, it's disgusting." Me: "Sure, they do. What else?" Zoe: "We had to look at a poster of what smoking cigarettes does to you. Just trust me on this, ok?" Me: "Ok." (posts on FB).

2013 Dec 19:
 Zoe: "Tell Facebook we can only make fun of health class for 2 more days, but I'm pretty sure that even my health teacher is ready for it to be over."

2014 Jun 14:
 Zoe: My 89 in that Health class last semester everyone thought was so funny kept me from having a straight A average all year. Me: I guess health class gets the last laugh. Zoe: That's not funny.

On Life

2013 Aug 20:
Zoe says "I am so tiny in the universe."

2014 Jan 11:
Zoe: What are you talking about? Me: This is an adult conversation. Zoe: I'm an adult. In some countries.

2014 Mar 27:
 Zoe: Middle Schoolers are a lot more likely to lie than CEO's. Me: (Reaches for phone) Zoe: Are you going to tweet that?

2014 Oct 6:  
Pondering life's big questions as posed by a 12 year old on the front porch, as Atlas sits sentry. Tonight Zoe tackled:
Gay marriage: "No one says you have to attend their wedding."
Abortion: "Why are there unwanted babies?!"
School lunches: "Pizza's awesome and it's a big hit, but, come on, kids know it's not healthy."
Juvenile detention: "It's like taking a class on how to be bad."
I'm pretty sure this never happened all in one night at age 12 with my older two girls.
I'm overwhelmed. Now we are having a "how to shave" demonstration.
Isn't it bedtime yet?!

On Music

2013 Sept 12:
Zoe just excitedly told me that way back last year before she could read music she had no idea that the song "This Old Man" was the same as the Barney theme song.
2011 Sept 29:  Zoe is clearly trying to decipher the meaning of a great rock song

2013 Sept 22:
Discussing "Blurred Lines" with Zoe: Me: "Would you want someone to say to you that "you da hottest b**ch in this place"? Zoe: Horrified, "OMG! No! I would slap them. And then pepper spray them. Who would want that?! And if they do, then they need counseling."

2013 Dec 3:
Zoe was playing a short sequence of chords over and over on her violin while I was making dinner. I finally realized it was the Steve Miller Band song, "The Joker." When I told her, she said, "That's been in my head for days!"

2014 Jan 30:
Zoe: I feel like 80's music is the best. (Said while not being able to stop herself from jumping up to dance to my music on shuffle while she's supposed to be doing homework).

On Her Dad

2013 Sept 21:
My inspection sticker has expired and Zoe and I were discussing proof of insurance. It went something like this: Me: "Do you know what proof of insurance is?" Zoe: "Yes." Me: "You know everything! How are you so smart?" Zoe: "I know about proof of insurance from all the times Dad's been pulled over." Me: "Yikes." Zoe: "Dad says the cops go easier on him when I'm in the car."

2014 Feb 10:
Zoe: Dad always blames the car when he gets pulled over by a cop. Me: How's that?! Zoe: When he's driving the red SUV he says studies show more red cars get pulled over. When he's driving the Gold BMW it's because cops pull over more BMW's. Me: What do you think? Zoe: I'm afraid to tell him but it's probably the driver, not the car.

On Pop Culture and Current Events

2014 Jan 12:
 Zoe: "Everyone says they were unprepared for winning. I would have written a speech anyway." #goldenglobes

2014 Feb 3:
This just happened: Me: Dammit! Zoe: Janet!? Me: Did you just make a reference to Rocky Horror Picture Show? Zoe: Maybe. Me: You're so old! Zoe: What?! I'm only 12! Me: You are not even 12 yet! Zoe: (laughing) You're adorable, Mom.

2014 Oct 2:
On the drive to school: Zoe: Is it true that someone went on vacation and brought Ebola back to America and now it's spreading? Me: No. A man entered the US from Liberia and he has Ebola and he's been hospitalized. He'll probably recover and it doesn't look like he passed it to anyone else. Zoe: That's good to know. I've got to let everyone at school know because they all think it's spreading fast.

On Words 

2014 Feb 1:
Shopping in HEB: Me: How about we get blueberries? Zoe: I've said a million times that I don't like blueberries. Why can't you accept it? Me: A million, huh? Zoe: It's hyperbole. Mom. Me: Is that a fancy word for exaggeration? Zoe: Yes, yes, it is.

2014 Aug 14:
Me, reading an article in People magazine to Zoe: "For most parents their kids' teenage years signal the end of goodbye kisses and cuddles and the dawn of slammed doors and one-word answers." Is that gonna happen to us soon, Zoe? Zoe: I wanna say "No," but that's a one-word answer....

On Friends

2014 Feb 26:
Zoe just read a story to me that she and her friends wrote that had words like "stupidly" "poo" and "cluck-cluck" sprinkled liberally throughout it. When I didn't find the story as highly amusing as Zoe did (she was seriously cracking up) she abruptly stopped laughing, turned to me with this intense look of grave disappointment and said: "I really hope I don't lose my sense of humor when I'm over 40."

2014 Apr 9:
Zoe: --Picks out birthday card of 'unicorn farting rainbows' for friend. Me: "Are you sure she will appreciate this?" Zoe: "Of course she will!" Me: "Cause I would not." Zoe: "This is why you're not my best friend."

On Sex

2014 Sept 27:
Zoe was very helpful this year boxing things up to make way for Halloween decorations. Zoe: Mom, did you know this sign is a sexual innuendo. (Grapes sign: "Squeeze me and I'll whine a bit.") Me: What do you know about sexual innuendo? Zoe: When you're 12 everything is a sexual innuendo. Me: Gah. Wha? Zoe: Don't worry, it's normal. All my friends are the same. We've been exposed to a lot by 12. Me: But you were dressed up as Raggedy Ann like 5 minutes ago. Zoe: That was more like 5 years ago. But we grow up faster now than in your day anyway. You've told me this, Mom.

2014 Nov 5:
Me: So what happened in school today? Zoe: My theater arts teacher used the word, "Sex," and all the kids gasped and said, "Ew!" So I told them, loudly, "You were all made by it!" And I might have dramatically pointed my finger around the room at them.

On Random Topics

Aug 25, 2012: note Zoe's teacher had her write
2013 Dec 13:
We had awesome floor seats at the Spurs game tonight and when the Coyote was shooting the t-shirt gun Zoe was screaming over and over in the crowd "Coyote! Over here!" I said: "Zoe, honey he can't hear you." Zoe, sighs, sits down and says: "I know. You'd think he could, though, with those big ears."

2013 Dec 16:
Chilis waiter to Zoe after she jokingly ordered a merlot: "You might want to not wear your Middle School shirt when ordering wine."

2014 Feb 11:
Abbreviated text conversation with Zoe earlier today: Zoe, 5:15 pm: Mom I need my black jeans for tonight's concert. Me, 5:45 pm: Yikes! You need to plan ahead! Zoe, 5:46 pm: Mom, I texted you at 5:15.

2014: May 13: 
In the car: Zoe: How do grapes become wine? Me: It's a process I've learned about but haven't retained the information well enough to be able to explain it. Zoe: That's how I feel about school. Why do I need to know the radius of the sun's core? Me: Because women who went before you fought for our right to be educated. Zoe: They didn't really need to do that. Me: -_- Zoe: Ok, I didn't really mean that. Education is awesome. But we still don't know about those grapes.

2014 Jun 11:
 Zoe, this past Sunday night: Why do I have to go to volleyball camp? Zoe, tonight: Can we go buy a volleyball at Academy, right now?!

2014 Sept 16:   
  Zoe: Sign here, here and here. Me: That's what they tell me at work. Zoe: That's exactly what I was going for.

For Those Who Want Even More on Zoe

It didn't all start in 2013, of course!  I was posting about Zoe well before her 6th & 7th grade years.  Here are few more fun posts! 

October 2011:  Oh the Heartbreak when you don't get the part in the play
2009 Nov13: Denise Wechsler Barkhurst is thankful today for her 7 year old, Zoe, and her 7 year old's highly entertaining rabbit, Bramble. they enrich my life beyond measure.

2009 Jul 5:   Zoe, looking at pictures from the late 80's, "Mom, why do you look the same now but Dad looks so different?"

2010 Sept 29 Zoe just told me that her dinner was "happiness in a bowl." This from the girl who for the last 364 days has declared, "but I don't like that" at dinnertime! Victory! Until tomorrow night.

2011 Mar 27: Zoe, excited: "Mom, look at the Pokemon I just got!!!!!" Me, bored: "Gotta catch em all." Zoe, smirks and walks away. I've raised a 3rd Poke-Geek. Sigh. 

2011 Apr 26:   Me: "Zoe, how was the TAKS test?" Zoe: "Huh?" Me: "How was the TAKS test?" Zoe: "Uh, easy?" Me: "Really? Easy?" Zoe: "Yeah, super easy."

2011 May 9:  Me: "Why am I seeing $150 in charges on iTunes?!" Zoe: "Promise you won't get mad?"

2011 May 11:  Zoe: "How do you get identical twins?" Me: "Umm, it has to do with eggs and sperm and splitting cells..." Zoe: "If this is leading to the "S" word, I'm too young to hear it."

2011 Jun 5:   The 9 year old is mouthy today. I told her that if she wants to get graduated like her two older sisters she needs to listen to her mother. She said she always listens but doesn't "necessarily" agree.

2011 Dec 13:  Me, at the Walgreens Pharmacy drive thru window: "$70!" Zoe: "Well, it IS to keep me alive."

2011 Dec 15:  Zoe chooses to do her school biography report on Elizabeth the Great (a personal role model since I was in high school) all on her own, but a coincidence I think not! 

2012 Jan 30:   Me to Zoe: "I can't believe you have the temerity to ask me that." Zoe's reply, "I don't know what temerity means but I'm pretty sure I have a lot of it."

2012 Feb 13:  Zoe to me: "Everyone says that I look Exactly like you." Me: "What do you think about that?" Zoe: "Don't take this the wrong way, but I just don't see it."

2012 Feb 29:  "Zoe, it's bedtime, I'm tired of arguing about it!" Zoe: "But I'm writing that Chapter Summary you've asked me to write a million times." Me: "Oh, that's great!" Zoe: "Why do you argue with me then?"

2012 Mar 30:  Armen: "We can't put bandaids on all of our problems." Zoe: "What about duct tape? Duct tape will work."

2012 Apr 17:  Me: "Oh no, it's a jury summons in the mail! Oh wait, haha, it's for Lacey!" Zoe, "That was kind of an evil laugh, Mom. What's a jury summons?"

2012 Apr 24:   Zoe totally busted me on the fish I euthanized in the freezer. I absolutely meant to take that out before she saw it. In Zoe's words, "At first I freaked out, you know, because you froze a fish! But then I understood why you did it because it was suffering and I don't want it to hurt."

2012 May 6:   Zoe: "You went to a light festival without me?" Me, "Yes, but you were at your dad's house having fun in the pool all weekend." Zoe, "Mom, we both know that you are smart enough to organize things so that I don't miss important stuff like this." Me:, "Uh, it was rescheduled and that threw me off?" Zoe: sighs and rolls her eyes.

2012 May 14:  Zoe perfectly described the differences between transparent, translucent and opaque to me on the way home today, but she said that the word "opaque" sounds to her like a British cookie. In a full-on British accent she said, "As in, go on now, be a dear and fetch me an opaque, would you please?"

2012 May 21:  Zoe says to tell y'all that she only has 6 days left in the 4th grade.

2012 June 5:   Zoe: "So, 15 is a quarter of an hour but 25 is a quarter of a dollar. Percentages are interesting like that."

2012 Jul 3:  Me to the dentist office: "Zoe chipped her tooth on vacation and we need an appointment." Dentist: "Is she in pain?" Me: "No." Dentist: "The soonest we can see her is July 10." Zoe, "I think it's starting to hurt."

2012 Sept 21:  Me, after forgetting Zoe's allergy meds this morning and her new gym class tonight: "I am so sorry, I seem to be worthless today." Zoe: "Not completely worthless; didn't you go to work and do some stuff today?" 

2012 Oct 3:  Me: "Did you just use the word 'inferred'?" Zoe: "Yes, I learned way back in the 3rd grade to infer with my hypothesis and schema."

2012 Dec 11:   "I know I'm only 10, but he's hot," said Zoe about the Mambo instructor. Omgoodness.

2013 Feb 20:   Zoe, on the book she is reading, "I totally have thoughts like her."(Harriet the Spy)

2013 Mar 5:  Me: "What's your favorite book you've read this year?" Zoe, after lengthy pondering, "Every book I read, I love."

2013 Mar 6:  Conversation a couple of weeks ago -- Me: Will you still be such a great kid when you're 16? Zoe: We'll have to see what happens. Me: I didn't become a CEO by just leaving things to chance like that. Zoe: Good point. Conversations since then when I say "We'll see" and Zoe says "You didn't become a CEO by just seeing what happens." -- I've lost count.

2013 Mar 12:  Me: History is fascinating. Do you know what happened in 1066? Zoe: I don't care what happened in 1066 but I bet I can figure out how many years ago that was. #futuremathmajor (947)

2013 Mar 22:   Me: "How was school?" Zoe: "I made sure to tell everyone yesterday that today was gonna be my birthday so that I would get that awesome birthday greeting feeling all day long." (Pause). "And you know what? Absolutely nothing went wrong today. I was expecting at least One thing to go wrong, I mean, that's just a typical day; but it was an amazing day! "

2013 Apr 1:  Zoe: "Math 5th grade STAAR test is tomorrow." Me: "Piece of cake. You scored 50% higher than the minimum satisfactory score on last year's test and like 100 points over the advanced level. 2013 Do you know what that means?" Zoe: "It means I'm awesome, and I'm probably gonna get into the 6th grade next year.

2013 May 28:   Zoe: "How much do you pay for my school education?" Me: "It's pretty convoluted, are you sure you want to get into it?" Zoe: "I'm sure." Me: "(Going on and on...)" Zoe, interrupts: "You're right, I don't need to know all this right now." :)

2013 June 3:  Me: "Zoe, there are a lot of videos on Vine you shouldn't be looking at." Zoe: "I know," as she continues to hypnotically scroll thru videos. Me: "Zoe, get off Vine now." Zoe: "I promise I don't watch the bad ones. If they start to get inappropriate, I skip them."

2013 July 24: Zoe and I tested out a new karaoke machine tonight, and she told me that my rendition of The Police's "Every Breath You Take" (which I have no doubt was woefully out of tune) was "beautiful." I won't be experiencing this kind of unconditional love for much longer, and I am basking in it. :)

Even More Internet Zoe

Zoe's internet debut came 7 years ago on YouTube in this video of her 5 year old self singing Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," to her dad for for which she had begged me to record forever (these were the days before iPhone).  This video inspired me to create her kindersinger YouTube account, to which I uploaded a bunch of her cute toddler-self singing songs like "The Preamble to the Constitution" (age 4) and "The 12 Days of Christmas" (age 8) so that our family members could subscribe and enjoy.   I wish the internet had existed with my two older girls.  They say that once you post something on the internet that it lasts forever.  I hope so. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"The Music Back in My Day...."

The invention of the mp3 player and the availability of music today make me happy in a way that we take for granted in 2014.   Gone are the days of opening a CD case in your car hoping to play something only to find it empty. ("Dang it, why doesn't anyone, including me, ever put the CD's back in their cases?")  My middle daughter, Lacey, grew up thinking that the soundtrack for the musical "Rent" ended with "La Vie Boheme" (Disk One, Track 25) because Disc Two disappeared under the seats early on and I was just too busy and harassed to ever look for it.  She discovered the whole second half of the show in high school, and I can only imagine it was as epic for her to find that in high school as it would be for me now if someone unearthed a previously unreleased Beatles or Nirvana album. 

My story for today, however, begins well before my CD's.  Sometime prior to 1978, I got a cassette recorder for Christmas.  I no longer have it, but this is an excellent representation of what it looked like, courtesy of Google. It could almost be my long lost, beloved childhood artifact. 

In a scenario incomprehensible to kids today, this gadget allowed me to tape songs off the radio for my listening pleasure later on.  It was a tricky business to press the "record" button at the exact second that the radio DJ stopped jabbering on at the beginning of the song, and it was totally annoying when he or she started back with the commentary before the song was done.  This resulted in most of my song library selections sounding something like this:

--Andy Gibb* singing "Shadow Dancing": "Give me more, drag me across the floor, shadow dancing, all this and nothing m--"

--Radio DJ, interrupting: "That's Andy Gibb, the first male solo artist to have three consecutive number one singles on the Billboard Top 100, just barely inside a year, from July 1977 through July 1978..."

I recently heard "Shadow Dancing" on the radio while driving in my parent's car.  Not a song I ever had on any mp3 playlist, so I hadn't heard it in years, and wow, did it bring back the memories!  I effortlessly remembered every word.  As soon as I got home that night, I took to the wondrous Internet, and searched "Shadow Dancing," and there commenced a trip down Memory Lane, 1978.  This song was released when I was 12 years old, living in Orange Park, Florida, armed with a tape deck.   

I eventually found my way to the Top 100 Billboard Hits of 1978.  My pertinent observations of this list are as follows:

1.  36 years later, I know every single artist, every single song, and nearly the words to every single song, on the list, from the year I turned 12.  I perused 1979, 1980 and 1981 and I knew every one of those songs too.  Over 100 songs.  

2.   My currently 12 year old daughter does not know the words to 100 (non toddler-era Barney) songs in her lifetime, much less in a few years, but how can this be?  I tested this theory by showing her the List of Billboard Top 100 Top 10 Singles in 2014.  She is "pretty sure" that she recognizes 13 out of the 40 songs listed.  That's 32%. 

So, why is this?  What happened and when?  It might be helpful to know that (according to Wikipedia), there were 1,564 entries for singles released in 2013 vs 469 singles in 1978.  That is three times as many songs released in one year today as back in the days of "Shadow Dancing," You're The One That I Want," "Stayin' Alive," and, a personal disco favorite, "Le Freak."  But if there is more music released every year, why is my daughter so unfamiliar with most of it? 

I had a (vague) theory that because there is so much access today to new music all the time that my daughter has much less exposure to all the music that is released because it is not around long enough for her to discover it and learn to love it before it is replaced with something newer.   I took to the Internet to test my theory and found this most amazing thing called "The Whitburn Project" on music longevity as analyzed from Billboard's Top 100 lists.

At first, it seemed that my theory was proven to be correct.  This research, involving the plotting of dots representing hundreds of songs in a chart from 1957-2007, showed that, "in the last couple years, it's become very common for a single to appear in the Top 50 and fall out of the Hot 100 within four weeks. Prior to the mid-1990s, this almost never happened."  

The report went on to say that the research also showed that, "songs are staying in the Top 50 for far longer than they used to.... so it's hard to say if these... singles are massive megahits eclipsing the #1 singles of the past, or if it's because the record industry is producing fewer hits than before."

At this point I had to call in Zoe, for further analysis.  Her comments, after reading and reflecting, were:     
  • On the Billboard charts: "I know more of the songs from 1978 than 2014!"
  • On the Whitburn project:  "Most of today's songs are not mega-hits."
Having already heard a similar sentiment from 21 year old daughter Lacey, whose favorite band is the Eagles, I concluded that no further research was necessary.  Lacey maintains that "because there is so much more music today there is so much more opportunity for bad music.  We haven't stopped making good music", she says," like Imagine Dragons**, but there is less opportunity to enjoy good music because it's so hard to find it amongst the bad."  She pauses, "I mean 'What Did the Fox Say,' was a Top Single."  Enough said.

I am now convinced, like generations of old people before me, that the music of my day was better than anything since.  ;p  Very rarely did we say "today's music is bad" back in the day.  We were too busy constantly defending our music.  (However, I do remember saying, "Oh, My God, how many times can they play "Out of Africa" by Toto*** on the radio in one day?!?!"  But I so nostalgically love that song now.)

Since the invention of the iPod (and the installation of the aux cable in my Ford Explorer) I have been prone to exclusively listening in my car, or at home, to playlists I created back in 2006 and 2007 from the many CD's and albums I had accumulated over the years.  Every now and then a new song makes its way into those lists, and I even make a few new playlists**** now and then.  But I think I need a little more "Shadow Dancing" in my life, so I might start tuning in to an "oldies" station every now and then.  I never thought that day would come.

Lacey and I at the Eagles concert Wednesday night.

*I had always thought that Andy Gibb died from a drug overdose and learned for the first time researching this post that he in fact died from a weak heart (albeit caused in all probability from years of drug and alcohol abuse).

**Imagine Dragon's song "Radioactive" is a favorite of mine, Lacey's and Zoe's.  This is a band with amazing appeal, even if the video for this song features a creepy pink, but ultimately bad-ass, bear and a very confused looking older than I remember Lou Diamond Phillips. 

***This Toto song is still so popular that it's impossible to find a commercial free YouTube version

****Last playlist I made:  Broken Bells, P!nk, The Lumineers, The Royal Concept, 30 Seconds to Mars, Johnny Mars, Maroon 5, Mumford and Sons, Capital Lights, Fun....

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Different Kind of Holiday

It's that time again.  Time for the morning traffic to really suck.  Time to get up an hour earlier --on weekdays on purpose, and on the weekends because we can't help it.  Time to forget to pack lunches, sign permission forms, wash gym clothes and clean out backpacks.  And, most of all, dear God, it's time for homework again.  It's Back to School. 

You'd think it was a freakin' holiday, though, from all our carrying-on. 

One of my childless Facebook friends posted gleefully this morning that she was on her way out of town for a glorious week at the beach.  And she knows, oh, she knows, what we are all up against here at home.  Now that's a holiday. 

Remember how happy we were for the school year to be over back in June?  How we heralded the bliss of summer's sweet approach?  How we said we'd savor every day?  Where did that time go?  How did we get here?  Shopping our heads off for school supplies, for the first day's perfect outfit, for the ultimately cool backpack, and for the Kleenex, oh, don't ever forget the Kleenex.  Sigh.  It was so much more fun to pack for the beach.  "Only 280 days till summer vacation," said another Facebook friend today. 

As I stood in line at the grocery store yesterday, I used the time wisely to calculate* that I have participated in approximately 62 "first days of school." This includes K-12 and college first days for me and my 3 girls.  And I began to ponder on why it's such a big deal.  My youngest, Zoe, is starting the 7th grade this year.  I remember myself in the 7th grade, oh my goodness.  This was a HUGE year for me.  I had just moved to San Antonio, Texas and was about to start Ed White Middle School where I would meet life long friends Carla, Kat and Dawn.  I am still thankful that they put up with me talking endlessly about how things had been "in Florida" where I had just left.  It was such a critical year, but I was as clueless as it gets.  There is so much more awareness these days about kids' developmental needs. I dodged a thousand bullets that year, but my mom reads my blog, so that's all I can share about that now.  ;)

Figuring that the experiences of my two oldest daughters would be more relevant today, and since I am a cataloger and an historian, I went home to the archives to continue my pondering.  Here are the memory books of Ariel, left, (now 26) and Lacey, right, (now 21) from the 7th grade: 

It was great fun for Zoe and I to look at what was saved in Ariel and Lacey's School Years books.  Both attended Bradley Middle School, like Zoe is now.  Ariel was a 7th grader in 2000 and Lacey in 2005**.  Ahh, the memories.  Zoe was especially enamored with the Ariel artifacts.  Her first comment was, "Look at all the awards Ariel got." A special find was "The Ariel Journal" in which Ariel wrote an article about the first 4 Harry Potter books she had "read 3 times."  This was written on the back of  a Big Brothers Big Sisters flyer (back when we were still only the "Alamo Area").  I was delighted to see and remember Lacey's theater arts interpretive presentation grade report. It was on "Fear of Germs" by George Carlin.  Oh joy!  Missing was a "poem- Halloween" promised in Lacey's archive.  As much as I would love to read now a 7th grade poem about Halloween penned by Lacey, my disappointment was mitigated by all the memorabilia from the night she was awarded the coveted Bradley "Silver Star Award for Citizenship." Memories!  Accomplishments!  Celebration!  Life! 

So to make a long story short, I remember now why today's legitimately a holiday.  It's because I still have another archive to record, and it all starts today.  First day of School Number 63. 

*I use the term calculate as loosely as my brain is capable of math.
** I pointedly note that both my older girls are wearing shorts on those first Texas days of school, which are now prohibited for Zoe.  This is the subject of a future blog post rant. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

My earliest childhood memories are hazy and unformed, but a particularly vivid one involves a playground.  I remember a merry-go-round that left my hands smelling of aluminum after hanging on for dear life as my friends pushed me round and round and round again. Running, dodging to and fro, breathlessly avoiding being tagged "It."  Shouting out, along with my elementary school girlfriends, "Anything you can do, we can do better!" And knowing, without a doubt, that for some reason, this playground chant was directed at the boys.

Why was I already feeling defensive and less-than before I was even double-digits?  

I felt at a very young age that I was as good as, if not better than, any boy, but over time, especially into adolescence I got a lot of mixed messages.  So, I wondered:  "Why are there different rules for boys and girls?"  For example, why did I have to babysit on Friday nights for 5 hours at a time but my brother mowed someone's lawn, was done in an hour and we got paid the same amount of money!?  

These "silent" gender rules in the first half of my life were barely discernible to me at the time, but I know that I remember them for a reason.   It was like this:

My Parents:  "There is no reason that you could not grow up to be President, someday." 
Me:  "But only men are President." 
Parents:  "That could change." 

Me: "So, why don't my brothers have to wash the dishes?"
Parents: "Because they're boys.*"

My brothers did other (presumably more boy-like) chores such as  taking out the trash, and I was left to conclude that there were appropriate and necessary boy-tasks and responsibilities as well as appropriate and necessary girl-tasks and responsibilities and there must be a reason that would come clear when I was older.  These subtle gender differentiations continued into my young adulthood:  

College Career Counselor: "You can do anything you set your mind to, of course, but as a military spouse you really should look into teaching or nursing. (This was actually very practical advice as there are always hospitals and schools no matter where said unemployable spouse is dragged to, but these options were nonetheless unattractive to me and my career as a forensic analyst was lost forever). 

Bank Supervisor: "You're a very good employee but you have problems complying with the dress code. I'm going to need you in a dress and nylons every day from now on." 
Me: "Are you kidding, did you know this is Texas and it's 100 degrees outside?!"  (The invention of nylons was an insidious plot.  Of some kind.  I'm sure of it.  I know I'm not alone on this.) 

Adolescence:  In my youth I was not subjected to near as many terrible body image messages on TV as girls are these days, but I was immersed into the world of the Harlequin Romance.  The book pictured here is the only one (of hundreds, Dear God) that has survived in my library til today. I was in love with these characters.  I wanted to name my future children after them. (I did not).  Of course after reading thousands of pages of this treacle through some very formative years, getting married as a young woman looked like a pretty happy option.  After dodging what I know now to have been a bullet when it didn't work out with my first love, I met my ex-husband.  Whether or not that went much better is open to interpretation.    

First Love"Women should stay home with the children so were we ever to get married you would not need to continue on with college." (Uh, even in the harlequin glow of exquisite young love I knew this was jacked up.)  

Eventual Spouse:  "My job pays more than yours so it's more important. Your priority is the children."  (I put up with this kind of thing for 20 years).  

Grandmother: When are you gonna find yourself another man? (This was yesterday). 

Career:  One of the most interesting sexist things happens fairly often to me in meetings that I attend in my role as CEO of the nonprofit I lead - when I am accompanied by a man, meeting with another man.  Women in leadership positions everywhere have probably experienced this in one form or another.  I call it the "Invisibility Trick." Here's how it works:  


Office of:  "A man I should meet.**"


1.  Me,
2.  The male staff or board member who accompanies me to the meeting, and 
3.  The man we are meeting with, call him VP.  


Receptionist:  "You may go in to see Mr. VP now."  

I enter first.  Mr. VP is standing to greet us but instead of extending his hand to me as I walk in the door first, he somehow looks right past me to the male who accompanies me.  He vigorously shakes hands with and asks my companion, How are you?  Did you find the place ok?   Can we get you something to drink?  My companion introduces me at the first opportunity. Remember, the meeting was with me, and did I say I went in first?  But I was invisible.  It's a neat trick I can do.  I honestly don't think these guys even know they're doing this.  I say it's annoying but it happens so often that I can't help but be somewhat amused.  Or maybe bemused is the better word. 

Future Generations: I can see that it's going to be at least a little easier for my 12 year old daughter.  But, her older sisters (Ariel, 26 and Lacey, 21) and I have some advice and lessons learned for her, just in case.  As I embark on raising my 3rd teenage daughter, in this ever changing world, what I would like more than anything else is to do it better than it's ever been done before.  I probably won't - if there is anything more truer than death and taxes, as they say, it is that I will make mistakes as I try to parent a developing child.  But everyday I learn more, and I have really smart adult daughters, so from us, to Zoe, here are 5 truths to live by:

Truth #1.  You Have No Limits (None!)

I look at you today, an innocent, inquisitive, simply delightful 12 year old and I don't ever want you to be disappointed.  One of the things I worry about most is that you will lose your self confidence.  Always remember to stand up for your potential and to set high expectations for yourself.  If you even ever sense a mere hint of gender discrimination, crush it.  It is not fair, it is wrong, and you stand for all women everywhere. Don't ever listen to "advice" or "stats" that tell you otherwise.  You can change for the future what has been negatively pervasive in the past.   Believe in yourself as much tomorrow and in the future as you do today standing on the cusp of adolescence and feeling like anything is possible.  If you think you can't do it, think again.

Truth #2.  Boys Are (Maybe) Your Equal

There are a lot of differences between men and women but none of them result in one gender being better or more capable than the other to reach any goal.  

Your sister Ariel also has this advice:  "The phrase "boys will be boys" would be better changed to "kids will be kids" or "teens will be teens," because everyone regardless of gender has a right to be silly and giggly or rowdy and rule-breaking, and to make mistakes along the way."  

Lacey also weighs in:  Any time I try to lift something heavy, it's assumed I can't. Any time a task requires physical labor, I'm most definitely not the first choice to ask. When men are in charge, they tend to enlist other men to help them first. It's a norm that most people don't even realize they encounter daily. But I see it all the time in my jobs and at school. The entire notion of "ladies first" just implies that we are weaker or in need of men to help us do things. I'm sure the intentions were once pure, but now things like that are just used as an excuse to be condescending. No one should be thought of or treated differently for being a lady. After all, that defeats the purpose of saying EVERYONE should be treated equally.

Truth #3.  Love Other Women (without fail)

Women are your best friends. I see you and your middle school friends now and I wonder how and why it changes.  I remember the relationships your sisters had at your age and how those relationships changed in high school, becoming so competitive.  Don't do it.  

Ariel agrees and says, "Love and respect other women. Don't compete with women for the affections of men. That's like mistake # one. We're in this together." 

Truth #4.  We Have Catching Up to Do (so don't waste any time)

I was much younger when I first saw this quote and thought to myself:  "Hell, yeah!"  I saw it again after many years, more recently, and was somewhat deflated, thinking abut how little progress we have made.  Don't be as complacent as I have been.  Take no prisoners.  Get in there and do it.  Help close the Leadership Gap.

Ariel has this to add:  "Your opinions and thoughts and feelings matter as much as anyone's, and the worst thing you can do to yourself is to stay quiet because you don't think you've got the right to speak. That's the first thing you've got to know is that you've got a right to be in any room they get into." 

Truth #5. It's  (more than) OK to Be Assertive, Boss!

I have been confronted many times by people who confuse assertive, confident decision making with bossiness.  This is awful.  For example, when a man fires someone at work he is described as tough.  When a woman does the same she is hard, and worse, cold. The world needs more women in leadership positions, making decisions that affect us all.  It's highly possible that that man's firing decision was made hastily, without much thought while that woman looked all around her options for days and concluded she had no other choice.  

Ariel adds that" you can be bossy and feminine at the same time.  You don't have to be pretty, or sweet, or demur, or feminine, but if you want to be any of those things because those things make you happy, then by ALL means be those things, because those things are perfectly good things to be." 

In Conclusion:  In the 18th century, the future author of "Frankenstein" understood that women and men were inherently equal.  She said:   "I do not wish them to have power over men, but over themselves."  That is, indeed, everything that I can wish for my daughters. 

This post was inspired during a recent trip to Washington DC:  To Zoe, I hope that when you are raising your future children that there are as many female Democrat and Republican candidates for President as there are female spies in the International Spy Museum.  Its time we came completely out of the shadows. 

Mata Hari in the Spy Museum:  she may not be the best role model but, what a life! 

Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. ~Faith Whittlesey

No one should have to dance backward all of their lives. ~Jill Ruckelshaus 


* My parents did not know they were reinforcing gender bias and they are not even sure it actually exists because my mom totally rocks her world professionally and she doesn't think she was ever held back in any way because she was female.  

 ** This is for work, Granny, not some date

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Mentoring Gap

Youth today are growing up without positive one-to-one support and guidance from adults, yet we all know that this is exactly what they need in order to grow up to successfully.  Every successful adult can identify the role models and mentors who helped them navigate the challenges of childhood.  Without this critical support, youth fall prey to destructive cycles of poverty, failure, abuse, neglect, teen pregnancy, gang violence, substance abuse, truancy and juvenile delinquency.  Having a Big Brother or Big Sister has been proven in volumes of research to stop these cycles.  

A report* commissioned in 2013 by MENTOR, an organization dedicated to closing the mentoring gap for our nation’s youth, revealed that there are an estimated 9 million at –risk youth who will reach the age of 19 without ever having had a mentor.  The report also reveals that these youth are far less likely than their mentored counterparts to get the support they need to succeed in school and aspire to higher education.  

In contrast, results from surveys of youth mentored in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas program in 2013 show the following:

  •   93% of students expect to graduate from high school, and
  •   85% of students plan to attend college

These results are what spur our organization to grow the BBBS program to the point at which every child that needs or wants a Big Brother or Big Sister is able to get one immediately.  Core to our mission is an ability to recruit volunteers to serve as mentor “Bigs.”  We firmly believe that this community is filled with potential mentors ripe for recruitment, and that we can attract, screen, train, match and retain as many of these individuals as we need to work with at risk youth.  The problem, as we see it, is not a lack of volunteers, it is a lack in the expertise of volunteer recruitment.  We have this expertise.  Over the past several decades we have honed our recruitment techniques to the point that we bring in more volunteers than we can effectively process. 

The issue is properly screening, training and supervising these volunteers in order for them to serve as effective mentors. This requires a professional staff to ensure that all volunteers are fully vetted and trained before they are matched to a child. Further staff oversight is necessary once the volunteer has been matched to a child to provide guidance and support through the life of the match to both the volunteer and the child’s family. We need adequate funding to pay for a professional staff large enough to supervise all the volunteers on our wait list. We have the volunteers. What we need is the resources to match them to the kids. We firmly believe that with the help of our donors we can transform our community by ensuring that our youth are growing up with positive attention from adults.

 (“The Mentoring Effect: Young People’s Perspectives on the Outcomes and Availability of Mentoring,” a report for MENTOR, January 2014.)  

Thanks to Todd Hedley for helping me wordsmith this article for our annual report.