Friday, July 27, 2012

"It's A Major Award"

And the award for Best Post Sports Team Season Award Banquet goes to...

The end of another sports season means attending another team awards banquet.  Have you, like me, ever sat through one of these seemingly endless boring events?  The coaches are well-meaning and oh, so heartfelt in their attempts to recognize everyone's achievements but the results can take H-O-U-R-S.  First we sit through the Age Bracket Awards, then the Most Improved, Best Rookie, Most Records Broken, Most Valuable, Special Events, Parent Volunteers, Coaches Choice, Spirit Awards, and don't forget the special recognitions for those Graduating from the lineup.   Meanwhile I sit through the tedious program wishing I had stocked up at the bar before I sat down at one of the banquet tables. 

In his brief amateur sports career, Jack has been quite the prolific trophy earner, racking up 18 trophies so far, not to mention a box full of medals and ribbons.  That's more than most London Olympic athletes will ever see.  I don't know where to put them's an episode of "Storage Wars" waiting to happen.

the latest addition to the collection
That's why I'm presenting my own award to WGCC for Jack's Tennis Awards Banquet:

WGCC, you win a gold star.  Thank you for bucking the trend and providing us with an Award Ceremony that was fun and social.  Instead of sitting in a stuffy banquet room, we loved mingling and playing games like Beat the Pro and Bump.  Even the unskilled tennis playing family members felt welcome and had lots of laughs.  The burgers were scrupt-diddly-uptious too.  Best of all, Jerry has a future career as an auctioneer if he ever retires from his position as Head Pro.  He announced the winners of all those trophies with the skill and speed that would make Sotheby's proud.

I didn't take home any trophies myself.  There weren't any awards for "Best Chauffeur Ever" or "Most Likely To Find A Clean Tennis Shirt In The Laundry Room On Short Notice" but that's OK by me.  I don't need a Major Award.  A couple of hugs from these two will do just fine.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Hunger Games

"Don't worry mom.  We're not actually going to kill anyone," Katherine calls to me as she skips from the house.   She and her friend like to play a game based on The Hunger Games.  In case you haven't read this bestseller, here's a synopsis: Set in the future, the former United States is now divided into 12 districts.  Each year, two children from each district (24 total) are chosen by lottery to fight each other to the death in a large arena, a televised production called The Hunger Games.  Sounds like a fun competition, doesn't it?

Kids killing other kids?  What kind of book is this?  And why would I let my children read it?  At first I didn't.   As I read it myself, I was disturbed not just by the premise but mostly the graphic details describing the deaths of the children.  I was also concerned about the relationship developing between Katniss and Peeta, the two main characters.  Their romantic bond is initially built on coercion, acting and manipulation.  In one scene, Katniss begins kissing Peeta, not because she loves him, but because she knows what the TV audience wants.  Sure enough, she is subsequently rewarded with a gift from her sponsor.   Ugh.  Not the type of message I want to be sending my own teenage son and daughter.  There are so many well written books in the library.  Surely my children could find something-- anything-- else to read.  Then the book became a popular movie.  "If we read the book, can we see the movie together?" Jack begged.

Eventually, after much consideration, I relented.   The first counter argument came from Jack's friend Josh rationalizing this type of book or movie.   "They are just fantasies and we know that," he explains patiently to me.  "When you were a kid and you saw Star Wars, did it make you want to start killing people with a light saber?"  Well, no, it made me want to put my hair in two side buns like Princess Leia but I get his point.   As a child, I had certainly watched my fair share of violence.  Every Saturday morning that sneaky Road Runner would trick poor Wile E. Coyote over and over.  What would it be this week?  A stick of dynamite tied to his tail?  A two ton anvil dropping on his head?  Still, just because I watched violence as a kid doesn't make it right.  I also tried cigarettes and making illegal left hand turns.  All that got me was bad breath and a dent in my car.

According to the American Psychological Association, there are three potential negative effects of watching violence in the media: children could become less sensitive to others' pain and suffering; children may be more fearful of their surroundings; and children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or hurtful ways toward others.  I wasn't yet convinced.

Then Jack came home from school and announced that during their daily reading time, his teacher had begun a read-aloud: The Hunger Games.  I couldn't believe it!  Here I am trying to make the decisions I feel are best for my family and then he reads the book in school.  I'm not opposed to read-alouds-- It would be different if she had chosen some classic literature like, say, Lord of The Flies....hmmm, wait a minute.   This is when I thought about the impossible goal of my trying to censor the media I expose to my children.   The reality is that they are going to be exposed to it anyway.  It's absurd and unreasonable to shield them 24 hours a day.   If they are going to read about difficult topics, wouldn't it be better if they felt welcome reading the book at home?  Don't I want my kids to feel comfortable enough to ask me questions?  Could I use the book as a catalyst for talking about values during dinner table discussions? 

I let them both read the book and then the series.  We watched the movie together and they both agreed the book is better.  (Yay, reading wins over screen time; one point for mom!)  And in the car on the way home from the theater, they began a spontaneous discussion about the characters: the decisions they made and the consequences of their actions. 

So now Katherine runs around the neighborhood with friends strategizing and hiding from the imaginary Careers.  Is it any more violent than my generation reenacting Star Wars or my mom's generation playing Cowboys and Indians?    Probably not.  And Katniss has a pretty cool hairstyle too.  Just not as cool as Leia's.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Suddenly Summer

Summer, you are finally here!  Huddled under quilts in the frigid winter I dreamed about you.  I imagined I was lounging in a stadium chair, cold beer in my hand, watching a baseball game.  Maybe I'm trading appetizers and laughs with friends at a breezy outdoor concert or planning adventures with friends and family. Mmm, I certainly dreamed of picking those first warm, ripe tomatoes from the garden, staying up late to roast marshmallows, and definitely eating ice cream...lots of ice cream.

When you arrived, however, you were not the gentle summer of my dreams.  You were a harsh, sweltering, violent summer lashing out with unbearable heat and furious storms.  Now your anger has subsided (Isn't this better?) and you've unclenched your fists a little.  See how we welcome you with open arms, gentle summer?
at the baseball game

eating ice cream
bike rides with friends

around Burke Lake Park

at the BNL concert at Wolf Trap
playing golf with family

roasting marshmallows

Summer, this is the only wild beast we need around here.  Stay gentle and stick around for a while.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Week

The Heat:  It’s Friday and it’s hot.  We’re talking dangerous-104-degree-energy-sucking-record-breaking-heat.  I feel listless and unmotivated.
The Storm:  Friday night the Derecho arrives.  The eerie sound of strong winds awakens me and soon the power goes out. I lie awake watching as the constant lightning creates dancing light patterns on my wall.
The Aftermath:  Saturday morning I begin to realize the enormity of the storm’s damage.  As I walk around the neighborhood, I see tree after tree that succumbed to the wind.  Power lines lay on the street like spaghetti noodles.  
The Reality:  By Saturday afternoon I’m feeling helpless and isolated.  Nothing is open—not the pool, the movie theater, the gas station.  No phone lines.  No cell phone service.  Over one million people are without power-- without AC-- and the heat wave continues.   The food in the refrigerator begins to thaw but there is no ice anywhere.  We grill some of the thawed food and invite neighbors over to sip luke-warm beer and eat in the stifling heat.
The Adventure:   On Sunday the kids set up the tent in our basement where it is cooler.   Nonplussed by the lack of power, they discover their forgotten, rarely-used toys.    Soon they are chatting happily while immersed in Legos, Play Doh, board games, card games and crafts.   I have to admit, it is nice to have a vacation from the normal chores—no way to do laundry or vacuum and no sense grocery shopping!   I’m reading on the couch wearing a T-shirt and flip flops, with air-dried hair and no makeup since it would just sweat off anyway. 
The Lifeline:  Sunday afternoon the generator arrives.  We have a friend named Steve.  Steve has a generator.  When his power came back on, Steve thought we might like to use his generator.  Oh, would we!  Thank you, Steve!  We run a long, orange extension cord up to the kitchen window and now the generator is powering my refrigerator with a happy hum.  The generator is charging the cell phones and, this is very important, I can plug in the coffee pot.  I have the fleeting urge to plug in the vacuum cleaner too, but I resist. 
The Community:  All around me are signs of hope. Crews from around the country have arrived to help with clean up and repairs.   It is Monday now and we hear reports of neighbors nearby (just across Great Falls!) who have lights.  The shopping center near our house reopens and the mall has power too.   I stop by our local coffee shop and the normally quiet line is buzzing with chatter—strangers talking and comparing notes about people sharing, helping and being kind. 
The Long Haul: It is Tuesday, our 5th day without power, and still we wait.  Tonight 85% of Northern Virginia’s power outages have been repaired and I know the trucks will soon arrive in our neighborhood.  I’m craving a “normal” routine…whatever that is.
The End:  In the end, it is the Canadians who save us.  The crew from Ontario replaced our broken pole this afternoon, Wednesday, July 4.  Today I run the dishwasher and relish my independence from dishpan hands.  Today I tackle laundry and celebrate my independence from the mountain of dirty clothes that accumulated.   Our power is back.  Time to celebrate!

Happy Fourth of July!

The Postscript:  It’s never really the end, is it?  Today is Saturday, July 7 and although our electricity is restored, we are still without our phone, cable and Internet service.    It’s the Internet I miss the most.   Luckily my friend Debbie has graciously opened “Debbie’s Internet CafĂ©” in my honor.  Sitting at her dining room table, I check a week’s worth of backlogged email and update my blog.   We survived the heat wave, the storm and the power outages.    What a week.