Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Computer's in the Shop :-(

Our laptop's power supply input is loose and we can't recharge the battery until it's fixed. The good news is that the machine is still covered by warranty. The bad news is that we have to send it to Lenovo for repair. So I'll only have very limited 'net access & will be on a blogging hiatus until we get it back :-(

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Inescapability of Toxic Pop Culture

Dr. Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, professor of history at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Social Science, wrote an essay entitled "Socializing Children in a Culture of Obscenity" for the book Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex & Violence to America's Children. In it, Dr. Lasch-Quinn discusses the difficulties modern parents have in raising their children amid what she terms "the culture of obscenity":

"By obscenity here, I mean not only what is considered adult-rated sexual material, but also a kind of fundamental offensiveness, vulgarity, indecency, perversity, and vacuity on our part as a nation, generation, or civilization. Often having little to do with sexuality itself, this kind of obscenity bears on nearly all realms of society. It is rooted in a radically antisocial ethos premised on the right to individual fulfillment at all costs and is fed by the belief that appeals to morality have no standing because they are all relative and subjective."

Unfortunately, this type of toxicity has so thoroughly permeated today's society that it is virtually inescapable. As Dr. Lasch-Quinn writes:

"Critics of this culture have used tactics resting on the ways parents can take responsibility over what their children hear and see: the V-chip, ratings systems, magazines that guide parents through the thicket of the popular culture, and even home-schooling. Those parents most cognizant of their own responsibilities, however, are often the ones who also recognize the limits of their ability to monitor a whole culture...Even when vigilantly controlling what their children witness, parents often face the reality that their fellow parents are not nearly as concerned as they are- if they are even concerned at all."

I experienced this type of frustration with the inescapability of toxic pop culture earlier this week at park day. This month, our local homeschool support group is meeting at a park in one of the towns considered to be among the "nicest" in our area. It has a median household income of $125k, 80% of the residents hold bachelor's degrees or higher, and homes are priced well over $1 million. The public schools have standardized test scores in the top 10% in all of California, and among the highest in the county. I'm saying this to show that this is not some ghetto neighborhood but on the contrary, one that is generally thought to be highly desirable.

Anyways, I got to park day on the later side because of DS' afternoon nap. The local public schools had obviously already let out for the day and the playground was very crowded. There was a group of girls who looked to be about 8 or 9 but dressed as if they were college coeds. Spaghetti-strap tees low cut across their nonexistent chests paired with a miniskirt (no leggings underneath), rhinestone-encrusted jeans, or yoga pants with words emblazoned across the derrière. They were practicing a provocative dance to some pop song I'd never personally heard before but which included the word "booty" and the phrase "lose your inhibitions" in its chorus.

I found this disturbing to say the least. It's bad enough to see that type of routine from the Raiders Girls or other pro sports cheerleaders but at least those are adult women! These were prepubescent girls :-(

Meanwhile, their homeschooled counterparts were all dressed age-appropriately (most in cute flowery sundresses) and playing some elaborate "let's pretend" game. That's the type of behavior I remember from when I was growing up BTW.

I wondered what kind of parents would allow their young daughters to engage in this type of behavior and I soon found out. DS wanted to go in the toddler swings and standing right next to them was a gaggle of moms. Like their daughters, these 40something women were dressed like teen party queens. In the quarter of an hour I stood there pushing DS in the swing, these moms engaged in one of the most insipid conversations I've ever heard. Every single remark coming out of their overly made up mouths was totally materialistic, narcissistic, and utterly vapid. They did not *ONCE* talk about their children- it was all about *THEMSELVES*: their luxury travel, their wine club memberships, their horseback riding lessons, their TIVO's and high-def televisions, and so on. During the whole time I was there, they did not pay even the slightest bit of attention to their children except when one of the girls came over to let the moms know the girls were going to the restroom.

I feel so sorry for the children of such obviously self-absorbed women. Clearly many members of the "Me Generation" are having difficulty providing the kind of moral guidance their children so desperately need. Because of them, those of us involved parents who *DO* care about the negative influences of the toxic pop culture are having a harder and harder time shielding our children. It's not enough to unplug the television, turn off the radio, and homeschool our kids. As Dr. Lasch-Quinn notes:

"In everyday life, images of commodities jarringly appear in places hitherto understood to be noncommercial. The particular content of these images disturbs older aesthetic expectations, such as an oversized picture of a reclining, bikini-clad woman with head thrown back in ecstasy taking up the whole side of a city bus."

Or prepubescent girls shaking their miniskirted "booty" provocatively on the local playground.

I'm not sure what the solution is to these huge problems of toxic pop culture and overly permissive parenting. We can, and should, limit media exposure. Many Christian homeschoolers decide to associate primarily with those espousing similar values. While I can certainly understand their reasoning for this, that's not something I personally feel comfortable doing. It just doesn't seem to be in the spirit of Christ's calling us to be the "salt and light" to have a religious litmus test for one's friends.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Fascinating Article on Bl. Mother Teresa

I saw the cover story in this week's edition of Time about Blessed Mother Teresa's spiritual conflict at the grocery store the other day. I found it to be interesting though the inclusion of the atheist demagogue Christopher Hitchens and the psychobabble of a non-Christian Freudian analyst very much annoyed me.

Today I read a much better article on the subject from the May 2003 issue of First Things, which is available at the CatholicCulture.org website. Being written from a Catholic standpoint, it delved more deeply into the theology of "the divine darkness" than the secular Time article. This is something I'd never really heard much about before and it's a very thought-provoking idea. How does one maintain faith when God seems inaccessible and veiled?

The First Things article also includes a fascinating discussion of how Bl. Mother Teresa's life parallels in many ways that of St. Therese of Lisieux, who died almost exactly 100 years before. I've always felt drawn to the "Little Flower" and the idea that one can serve the Lord in countless small, often unremarkable, ways. I did not realize that Bl. Mother Teresa had so much in common with St. Therese since on the face of it, their lives appear to be so different. One was the founder of her own order and an international celebrity, while the other was a permanent novitiate and did not become well-known until after her death. Yet they both suffered from "the dark night of the soul" after making a vow to Christ to refuse nothing to Him.

"Could it be that this missionary contemplative and this contemplative missionary are companions in a joint work of grace?...If these days are in any sense a dark night for the Church, then Mother Teresa shows the way forward: faith that we are undergoing a purification rather than a free-fall, and fidelity, in small things as well as big, to the vows that bind in order to set free."

Powerful words to reflect upon...

Thoughts on "Back on the Career Track"

About a month ago, I finished Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work by Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin. I contacted Ms. Cohen for a response to my criticisms of the book because I wanted to be fair in my review. However, she did not respond, so I'm going ahead and publishing the post.

Overall, it's a good book and definitely one that's needed. There is a lot of very useful information contained within it, particularly in chapters 3-7. These go through the relaunching process step-by-step from assessing one's career options through the job search/building up one's business period through transitioning to employment both at home and at work. I especially like the focus on part-time, flexible, freelance, and other non-traditional options. The authors really "get it" when it comes to what many moms are looking for in relaunching their careers.

I also liked Part II of the book, which takes a more broad look at what the authors call "the relaunch movement". There is a very interesting policy discussion in chapters 9 about why there ought to be structural change in our economy to allow for more flexibility and "family-friendliness" in careers. Did you know that companies that offer workers flexibility have a 9% higher market value than similar firms that do not? Or that employee stress costs U.S. companies $300 billion a year in lost productivity and health care costs? As an example of this- I have a friend working for a high profile Wall Street firm whose colleague got so stressed out by job demands that the colleague wound hospitalized for a full month with pneumonia :-(

The biggest criticism I have of the book is that it suffers from a tendency to focus on the most elite women. Undoubtedly because the authors (both MBA's from Harvard) and presumably also the editor belong to this group. There is a long discussion of the benefits of attending a "ramping up" seminar, which are offered to the alumnae of exactly 3 schools: Harvard Business School, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University, and the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. HBS awards roughly 1,000 MBA's per year, Darden roughly 300, and Tuck roughly 250. About 25-35% of recent classes have been female. Therefore, only a minuscule percent of women (even of highly educated ones) looking to relaunch their careers will be eligible to attend such a seminar. Why, therefore, even bring it up?

Much of the book seems to be geared towards women with professional backgrounds in investment banking, law, or medicine. I'm sure that the "Goldman Sachs New Directions", "Lehman Brothers Encore", "Flex-Time Lawyers", and "Mom M.D." programs are great for those who qualify but again that's only a tiny fraction of relaunchers. What about the rest of us who held more pedestrian jobs prior to opting out? Most of the women I know who've "opted out" are not former i-bankers, lawyers, or physicians but former accountants, marketers, saleswomen, engineers, or assorted junior-to-mid-level business executives.

There was one specific anecdote that I feel just epitomizes how out-of-touch the authors can appear to many relaunchers. It's in the section of the book called "Starting with a job you perceive as beneath you." That in itself is pretty darn arrogant, and would have been better off softened to "Starting with a job for which you perceive you are overqualified." In it, Ms. Rabin sneers at the initial $30/hr she received for part-time work and blathers on about how it was so "hard to swallow" but within 2 years she was able to pull in "significant fees". I'm sorry, but most college-educated women earn moderate salaries; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median earnings for female college graduates for the second quarter of 2007 is $23.58/hr and 80% earn less than $33.10. These women would almost certainly consider part-time work offering $30/hr to be pretty darn good! I certainly am willing to believe that for Ms. Rabin personally, it was much lower than what she was accustomed to. However, she could've easily gotten the point she was trying to make across without giving specific numbers. All she needed to say was that it was a quarter of her previous salary or whatever the case may have been. The way it's written in the book just plays into the negative stereotypes of Harvard graduates' arrogance.

The other issue I had with Back on the Career Track was a general denigration of being a stay-at-home-mom and glorification of selfishness. Of the 7 "pros" given for a relaunch, only 2 are non-selfish (financial necessity and avoiding the "empty nest syndrome"), one is debatable ("serving as a role model" as if SAHM's are somehow bad role models for children), and the other 3 are selfish (personal validation, leveling the marriage playing field, and ambition). What about wanting to use one's talents to make a difference in the community? Yes, there's always volunteer work but that typically has limited impact. Those with the power to really change society are generally earning a paycheck for their efforts. If I return to the workforce when my family does not absolutely need the money and/or healthcare benefits, it's going to be because I feel called by God to use the gifts He gave me to make this world a better place. It's not going to be for selfish pride, ambition, or because holding paid employment somehow "validates" me more than being a full-time mom.

I just can't relate to the stories of these Type A careerists who whine about how awful being a SAHM is:

"I feel as if life has no meaning. I have no sense of accomplishment in my life. I feel completely worthless because I don't have anything to contribute." Umm, aren't you contributing to your children's well-being by actually raising them instead of outsourcing it?

"I feel like all I do is move kids and things from one place to another. That is, when I'm not filling out forms." That's your choice to do so. Nobody is forcing you to be a glorified chauffeur by hyperscheduling your kids. You could take a more meaningful role in their upbringing by homeschooling them!

"It would kill me not to have an occupation to fill in on forms." Give me a break! One's self-worth should not be tied to some arbitrary title. As the bumper sticker on my car reads: "Motherhood is a valuable profession."

"Having had an exciting job before I decided to stay home with my children whetted my appetite for more. It gave me a kind of high I couldn't get any other way, and once I'd experienced that work-driven adrenaline rush, the desire for it never completely faded." What did you have, a job or an addiction?

"I never felt cut out for full-time motherhood....I realized I was no match for some of these perfect at-home mothers, who set up educational craft projects and other special activities for their kids. When I was working, I had an excuse for not doing these things. Now I had no excuse." Well, okay, if you're not up to the task of being a good mom, you can certainly work full-time outside the home and use that as an excuse for being a bad one. But that's pretty insulting to those of us who worked our fannies off to be both a good, involved mom *and* hold down a full-time job!

These women came off as totally self-absorbed, glory-seeking, workaholic, strivers who put their own selfish desires ahead of their family's needs. I'm sure this is not the impression Ms. Cohen and Ms. Rabin were aiming for in their depiction of relaunchers!

Despite these problems, however, I do think that Back on the Career Track is a "must-read" for women looking to relaunch their careers. I hope that the authors' elitism does not turn off readers from more humble backgrounds since the book offers a lot of very helpful advice. This is where a better editor would've come in really handy. It's easy when one has an Ivy League graduate degree living in a tony suburb like Newton, MA; Clifton, NJ; or my town near Silicon Valley to get caught in a bubble of yuppiedom and think everybody is like you, your tennis partner, the moms you know from Itsy-Bitsy Yoga, and the colleagues from your former employer & your husband's current one.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The "Sancti-Mommy" of Silicon Valley Strikes Again!

As many of you are aware, presidential hopeful John Edwards' wife Elizabeth has decided to homeschool their two youngest children on the campaign trail. Elizabeth's own mother, who is a certified teacher, is helping out with the homeschooling but Elizabeth is still playing a direct role in her children's education.

Although I'm not a fan of John Edwards as a politician, I applaud the Edwards family for this courageous decision! I hope that they continue to homeschool their children after the 2008 election.

Anyways, Rebecca over at the "Silicon Valley Moms" blog, wrote a very nasty "holier-than-thou" piece about Elizabeth Edwards. Here's a choice excerpt (emphasis mine):

"Take your kids home. Get off the campaign trail. Your husband is not going to be the candidate, and he is not going to be president. He is not ahead in the polls. He is not going to make it. We need a Democratic in office desperately, and you are harming that chance by going around saying negative things about the TOP candidates and splitting the vote. Worst of all, you are forcing your young children, who should be in school to ride in buses and talk to the press when they obviously don't want to. This election is NOT ABOUT THEM. They deserve some peace, not time with nannies and campaign-trail daycare providers, since, as the Times article describes, you don't have time to see them when you are busy campaigning too.

Do I sound callous? Perhaps. I am truly, seriously, sorry that you are sick and that you are dying. But let this be your parting gift to the world: give your children some actual QUALITY time with you, which they are not having on the bus or in senatorial-aide-nannycare. Help give your children a next new Democratic president, who is NOT going to be your husband."

Apparently, Mrs. Edwards saw the post and discussed it on Good Morning America. As a result of the firestorm the post ignited, Rebecca has very weaselly taken it down and replaced it with a tamer version you can read here.

When I first came across this debate today, my first thought was that this is not the first time that a battle in the so-called "mommy wars" has resulted from a post at the "SV Moms" blog. I remembered that about a year ago there was another nasty "holier-than-thou" post criticizing moms who choose to forgo some or all immunizations for their children. The author was a yuppie executive who was whining about how her SIX WEEK vacation to Hawaii might be ruined by the fact that her son was exposed to chicken pox:

"I am a better person than you, Non-Vaccinating Hippy Mommy. I vaccinated both my children from every disease where vaccinations exist because I don't want my children to get diseases, and, importantly, I don't want them to give them to other people's children. Because maybe, just maybe, other people's children will get sick during the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take almost two months off work"

Boo-fricking-hoo, poor you! You can just hear the entitlement oozing out of every one of her pores. I'm supposed to place *MY* child's health and well-being at risk so that *SHE* can take a SIX WEEK long luxury vacation that 99% of us moms could never afford. Sorry, ain't gonna happen you rich witch!

It was no surprise then, when I discovered that the rich yuppie executive bashing different vaccination choices is the same sanctimonious Rebecca bashing Mrs. Edwards for homeschooling. I know it's not Christian to hate someone, but I'm finding it *REALLY* difficult to feel charitably towards the "Sancti-Mommy of Silicon Valley". She bashes the size of the Edwards house (which I agree is absurdly large) when she goes on ridiculously long luxury vacations to exotic tropical islands herself. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Just shut your piehole and go back to your yuppie executive job...

R.I.P. Alfred Peet of Peet's Coffee

Alfred Peet, the founder of Peet's Coffee, died on August 29th at age 87. When he opened his shop at Walnut & Vine in Berkeley near the University of California in 1966, it was one of the first gourmet coffeehouses in America. My dad got hooked on Peet's coffee when he went to grad school at Cal. When he moved back to New England, he used to have the stuff shipped in bulk via mail-order before Peet's expanded to the metro Boston area.

When I started drinking coffee my senior year of high school, I preferred the sweeter & less robust flavor of Dunkin' Donuts at first. However, there were no "Dunkie's" out here in the Bay Area where I went to college so I gave Peet's a try. I became a fan and have been drinking it ever since!

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Monday, September 3, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling #88 is Up!

I hope everyone enjoyed their Labor Day weekend! We took an impromptu trip to Yosemite. The scenery was beautiful but DS is unfortunately going through an early case of the "terrible 2's" :-( That put DH into a bad mood, so I had to deal with a grumpy 31-year-old as well as a cranky toddler, ugh!

Anyways, Judy Aron over at the "Consent of the Governed" is hosting this week's 88th Carnival of Homeschooling: "We Are What We Eat Edition". Happy munching!