Sunday, August 31, 2008

Philosophically speaking...

Published August 31, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Way back in my Junior English class in high school, there was an inside joke among students that if you didn’t quite understand the essay topic you had been given (or hadn’t actually done the reading to fully answer the question) you could get through the assignment by writing a “Bob Smith” essay. A Bob Smith essay was just a jumble of words that sounded highly intelligent, had some sort of flow, and focused more on concepts surrounding the essay topic than on the actual topic itself (for clarity, note Bob Smith’s initials).

The rest of the story is that the teacher knew exactly what those students were up to, and Bob Smith was quickly abandoned and replaced by actual work. I never wrote a Bob Smith essay. I enjoyed wowing the teacher with my own highly intelligent writing, thankyouverymuch. That is to say, I never wrote a Bob Smith essay until today.

I wrote my Bob Smith essay in response to my first reading in the Philosophy class I’m taking at my new university. I’m having a really hard time with this class. I am a practical, logical human being, and I’m taking a college course that tells me it’s going to teach me to think about thinking without actually telling me anything about anything. There are no answers, only questions that lead to more questions. I’m lovingly referring to the class as Bob Smithology, though I will never tell my instructor that (but I’m thinking about thinking about it).

The instructor’s intro to the class told us that the readings will be the most difficult we’d ever encounter and we’d probably all have to read each assignment twice. Me? Not understand something I read? Ha! He was wrong. I had to read it 3 times, and I still don’t think I know what it said.

And then it was time to write my response and share it with the other students on the online discussion board where we’re supposed to hang out and think about thinking. I read a few of the responses already posted and felt my head swimming in the hazy, Bob Smithian word-soup of 20 philosopher wannabes. I would only get credit for my response if my response was as convoluted as theirs.

I wondered briefly if I could get away with just quoting “They Might Be Giants” lyrics and call it a day, but the plagiarism policy at the school is pretty strict. I finally settled on something about quantum physics questioning scientific certainties that ended with, “For all we know, in 500 years, people will have questioned and hypothesized and tested until they realize the earth is a conglomeration of balanced energy and matter doesn't actually exist...”

Now, either my instructor or classmates will call me to task on my lack of sincerity or they’ll completely miss the fact that I’m not really serious about what I’m saying and we’ll all have a rousing discussion about the questions inherent in questioning the thoughts we think about thinking and the logic of logically questioning the thinking of asking…and I’ll get full credit, and my inner sense of what’s right and wrong will overheat until it implodes.

I really don’t know which scenario I prefer. I don’t want to fail the class over my stubborn desire to write what I really think, but can I accept credit just for “playing the game” and pretending I care about arguments I find ridiculous and meaningless? It’s an incredible conundrum, and I’m really annoyed to be facing it.

Of course, this has the makings for one heck of an essay for my Intro to Ethical Dilemmas class, so all in all, it’s not a total loss.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

On faith and fatigue

Published August 24, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

There are things in life a mother does for the long term good of her children, even when her children aren’t sure they agree. Vegetables. Shots. In my oldest son’s case: open heart surgery. Sometimes, it’s just a judgment call. You ignore the protests and do what’s right.

This week’s “right” action has been our return to family scripture time. To their credit, the kids are the ones who asked for us to do this, bringing it up as an issue at one of our family meetings, so you wouldn’t think they’d complain too much. The protests occurred when I announced that the only time we have available to read scriptures is early in the morning. In this case, early in the morning amounts to a full two hours earlier than they’ve been rising all summer long. After some discussion, my spiritually starved brood agreed to the new wake-up time and we set our plan into motion. This wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

The answer to that question lies somewhere in the surreal meeting place of faith and fatigue. What I’ve learned about my kids this week is that no matter how much they beg for scripture time, the act of waking them up early for scripture time will invariably lead to a passel of youth who would much rather live a rested, godless existence.

Day 1: I was chipper and excited to begin anew on our journey through a long-ago land where people said things like “behold” and “betwixt” and “yea, verily.” Being chipper was my first mistake. A word to the wiser-than-I, don’t ever try to wake your children two hours early with a chipper demeanor.

Three of the kids cried. One of them hid under a blanket. One of them volunteered to read but found her eyes too tired to focus on the words. All of them grumbled. Undaunted, I pressed on, reading the chapter myself and then bribing them…I mean, celebrating their willingness to wake up early with some grocery store donuts. Later that night, at work, my supervisor offered to let me go home an hour early, saying, “You look like you’re going to pass out.”

Day 2: Only one child cried, but all of them hid under blankets and no one volunteered to read. Less chipper, but still hopeful, I plowed through the chapter, a mere 13 verses this time. Three of the kids were sleeping by verse five. Waking them up again for family prayer time, we then moved on to the business of our day. At about 8:45, I flopped down in my favorite, fluffy front room chair and saw my oldest child sleeping strangely, though peacefully, on the couch.

I looked at my sleeping son, the picture of discomfort, his body twisted into a fastastical shape only a snake or a broken tree branch could possibly copy, and I thought, Hmmmmm…good idea. Twisting myself into an equally fantastical shape on my chair, I zonked for the next 30 minutes, dreaming of ancient prophets wagging their heads at my weakness.

Day 3: I *cough* accidentally left my cell phone, which doubles as my alarm clock, upstairs and overslept until 7:25. At this writing, it is now 11:10, and I’ve been content to let them play outside with their cousins for most of the morning, rationalizing that their cousins have surely been having family scripture time more consistently than we have and will surely share some of their vast scriptural knowledge between games of hide and seek and dodgeball. I swear I heard my niece sharing her views on repentance with my youngest daughter. (“That’s not nice! You should say sorry!”)

Day 4? Well, that’s tomorrow. I think after my slip-up today, I’ll wake up tomorrow refocused and ready to keep trying. I’ve read it only takes three weeks to make a habit, so I’m hopeful the next two and a half weeks will bring good results.

If they don’t, behold, there will be no more donuts betwixt the kids and me. Yea, verily.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I call this meeting to order.

Published August 17, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

About three years ago, I took a parenting class that came highly recommended by several friends. It was free to the public, very informative, and quite a lot of fun. I worked hard to put into practice much of what I learned there. One suggestion made by the teacher—the implementation of a weekly family meeting—sat on the shelf in my brain until earlier this year. I don’t really know why I waited so long (those of you clearing your throats as if to say, “Ahem…it’s because you were a control freak who didn’t want to switch to a democratic parenting style” can just be quiet right now).

Whatever the reason for the delay, I got over it. In March of this year, the kids and I held our first formal meeting and haven’t missed a week since. Now, I find I’ve become one of those overzealous crazy people on a quest, and that quest is to get the word out on how cool family meetings are. It tends to annoy my friends a bit, but I’m okay with that. Once they start holding family meetings of their own, I won’t seem nearly as annoying, because they’ll be out annoying all of their friends too. An outline of a typical family meeting follows:

Spotlights This is the feel good portion of the meeting. Everyone gets a chance to spotlight someone else for doing something right. At our first ever family meeting last spring, Miriam spotlighted Ray for helping her get things down from high shelves. Three year old Michael often spotlights the first person he looks at for “being nice.” At a family meeting held in the weeks following our wedding, my husband spotlighted himself for “being so lucky.” (Yes, I know that was a completely gratuitous bit of cuteness. At this week’s meeting, I’ll be spotlighting myself for using the word gratuitous.)

Calendar This section of the meeting is pretty self explanatory. We pull the calendar off the fridge and fill in appointments, activities, and other events we need to remember. I want the world to know I was quite fastidious about adding Underwear Day during our family meeting two weeks ago. We observed it with a *cough* brief moment of silence. (No, I will not apologize for the corniness of that pun.)

Planning We’re currently working on our plan to make a family flag. The first planning session brought with it the task of choosing our family colors. If you’re ever planning on making a family flag, I suggest you come to the meeting with three or four colors, and let them choose two. I made the mistake of asking everyone to submit a color for vote. Our flag will now be red, gold, green, blue, yellow, clear, and hot red. I don’t know what hot red is, but Michael is very passionate about it.

Issues The Issues portion of family meeting is a chance to work out the nuts and bolts of family life. We make rules, decide on consequences, and settle arguments. Everyone has the right to raise an issue, whether it’s Ray’s recent motion that we make Sunday nights “Taco Night” (it was unanimously approved) or Miriam’s passionate plea to reinstate family prayer time. The thing I’ve learned about Issues time is that I’d better be ready for complete honesty from my kids. How well I remember the meeting in which Cate pronounced, “Mommy, you yell too much.” Fortunately for me, I was rewarded two weeks later with her spotlight of, “Mommy, thanks for not yelling so much anymore.”

This week, I’ll be unveiling the new “Extra Chores for Cash” incentive system, and I’m pretty sure one of the kids wants us to vote on a fair Playstation 2 schedule. We’ll be looking over the sample family crests I printed from the internet, and we may start breaking down the costs of going to Disneyland next summer. All in all, I think it will be a fun and productive meeting. I’m especially excited for spotlight time.

I’ve been sneaking Michael extra desserts all week to get his.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Team Edward or Team Jacob? Meh.

Published August 10, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Last weekend, I ventured out late at night with my husband and oldest child to our nearest Wal Mart for a few last-minute hiking supplies. As we walked through the parking lot toward the entrance of the store, we saw a peculiar sight. A long line extended from an emergency fire door on the front of the building, and more people (read: women) were hurrying across the parking lot to take their places in it. My husband and son looked at me inquiringly.

Breaking Dawn,” I said with a sigh.

Ladies and gentlemen, but mostly ladies, I have just described a “craze event.” The Wal Mart campers and line holders were waiting in line for the midnight release of the next book in the Twilight series. Does anyone else find it funny that a book with that title was released late at night? I’m sure most of the women there began reading on the drive home and had their books finished by the time dawn actually broke.

I’ve learned through countless experiences that I have a knee-jerk reaction to anything I consider a craze. Ever since my sisters went wild for the New Kids on the Block (along with every other teenage girl in the nation) I have avoided crazes, trends, and fads like rapidly spreading super plagues.

The content of the craze is immaterial. It’s the craze that bothers me. I actually enjoyed the music of NKOTB for all of one day…really, one afternoon. Then I saw how much my sisters liked them. My sisters…my fad testers. Like taste testers ingesting poison for a king, my sisters sniffed out the trends I ultimately avoided. When the high-pitched screaming and the giddy jumping up and down occurred, I knew it was time to steer clear. (This would be the point at which my sisters tell you I never missed a showing of their behind the scenes concert video or that I thought Jonathan was the most good looking or that I consented to perform a dance with my sisters to the NKOTB song “Hangin’ Tough” in order to earn entrance into a party of their older friends.)

The above behavior notwithstanding, I have done everything I can to avoid a craze as long as possible before I even think about giving in. I don’t do Bunco. I don’t do playgroups. I don’t shop “day after holiday” sales. I don’t race down to the local bead store so I can make all my jewelry. The fact that there are stores just for beads makes my head hurt.

Obviously, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with avoiding the craze mentality. I firmly believe that someday my standoffishness will keep me from being killed in a freak Wal Mart campout accident. The problem happens when my refusal to join the crowd keeps me from something enjoyable and completely worthwhile. It took me years to come around to the Harry Potter phenomenon, and I’m still kicking myself for my delay.

Add to that the fact that the women I know who are going crazy over Breaking Dawn (to the point of rereading the previous three books in one day in order to be ready for the latest installment) are not actually crazy at all. They’re friends I respect and admire and whose opinions mean the world to me. They’re friends who have it together, know what they want in life and get it. They’re friends who are offering to mail me their copies of Twilight tomorrow if I just say the word.

(Someday, people will figure out I only avoid crazes to get stuff for free, but until then, I’ll keep enjoying the benefits.)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Happy panties day to you too!

Published August 3, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I’ve always been fascinated by our culture’s need to set aside a specific day in which to celebrate something completely mundane or raise awareness about issues that are equally mundane. I once wrote a column expressing my desire to be the person who gets to look at a calendar and decide which precious day out of 365 precious days gets to be Eggplant Awareness Day or Hug Your Podiatrist Day.

Browsing through a current copy of a book containing fun facts for kids, I learned the lucky holiday namer who holds the job I covet has been at it again. Everyone, your attention, please. August 8, 2008 is officially Underwear Day.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really, really excited about this. I’ve always been a fan of underwear. I wear it every day. (Shocking, I know!) I’ve long thought there should be a day set aside to celebrate the fact that under our clothes, we wear other clothes that no one else gets to see. (Except, of course, for close relatives, very close friends, and the occasional emergency room nurse whose job it is to check accident victims and make sure the underwear they’re wearing is clean.)

At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Is it me, or is there a lot of underwear on display these days? It seems I can’t turn around without seeing a thong hitched up around someone’s waist while the jeans slide down below the hips. It’s either that, or I’m looking at a bra strap with no chance of ever hiding underneath the halter top that has no prayer of covering it. And of course, we still have a near epidemic of boys and their boxers, shirts tucked in for maximum visibility.

Hmmmm…maybe Underwear Day isn’t so much about celebration as it is about raising awareness. Maybe it’s a great big, “HEY, YOU! I SEE YOUR UNDIES! COULD YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT?” to the thong-sporting/bra-revealing/boxer-tucking masses.
Somewhere, some political action group is gearing up for the Underwear Day rallies and protest marches. They’ll probably start with the official Underwear Day hymn: “I see Paris. I see France…” You know the one. The signs are being painted as I write this. “We Shall Undercome!” The chants are being composed: “Two! Four! Six! Eight! Covering up is really great!”

Unfortunately, whether it’s a day of celebration or awareness, Underwear Day will probably go the way of all holidays and become over-commercialized and impersonal. Before you know it, Calvin Klein and Hanes and Fruit of the Loom will be vying for attention and money. I’m all for people supporting the economy by spending their hard earned dollars buying panties and briefs. I just don’t want to see a perfectly good holiday ruined with commercial chaos. If or when that happen, I’ll just have to express my negative feelings through the appropriate channels.

Anyone who wants to join me in staking out a Victoria’s Secret and shouting, “IT’S ABOUT THE CHILDREN!” is more than welcome.