Thursday, February 24, 2011

the cheating factor

I know this is going to rub you literary folks, especially any of you that teach.  But I have to go here. I need some advice, perspective if you will.

I learned recently that my son teenager has been using Spark Notes.  For those of you not in the know, this is the online version of Cliff Notes from way back when, you know, in the old days back when I was in school I will neither confirm nor deny this author's use of said Cliff Notes, even if on rare occasion.  Hey don't hate!  I was a history major.  Do you know how many books they make you read?

We were discussing classes and school, me giving the usual barrage of "you need to study more" comments.  It always seems like I'm lecturing these days.  Honestly he's been struggling.  It's a difficult year with difficult classes.  The grades have not been good, or at least some subjects have not been good.  Interestingly enough, English has not been one of the problematic subjects causing me him grief.  Curiosity got the best of me and I had to probe and see what was going on in that class.  English is a subject I can converse about.  Chemistry, not so much.

The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Blah, blah, blah.  "And what are you doing in English?  Are you doing any writing?  I know your teacher had lots of books for you to read (this I know based on one of the three Back To School Nights I attended last fall - that's what happens when you have three kids).  How come I never see you reading your books?"

Teenager: "Oh I don't read them.  They're all so boring.  Have you read Brave New World mom?  It's so boring!"

Me:  "Uh, well, how do you pass the class then?"

Teenager:  "Spark Notes, duh, Mom."  Yes, he said that.  Maybe I should lecture him on more respect too?

I played it off.  Of course I am a hip, in-the-know mom.  Spark Notes, duh.  I kept my ignorance to myself, quickly picked my chin up off the floor and babbled on.  We chatted more and I learned all the books they've "read" in class.  It seems that he'll start a book and if he likes it, for example Antigone, he'll read it.  If it's too boring, he jumps over to Spark Notes for the digest version.

My immediate reaction is that it's cheating.  On the other hand, it seems like he is making an effort to try the book and whether he reads it or not, he's getting the plot and analysis.

What do you think?  If it's cheating, how can I stop it?  Even if I block the site at home, he could find another computer somewhere else if he really doesn't want to read the book.  I can be a hypocrite take the moral high ground and express that it is, in fact, cheating and lecture him on one more thing.  Or, I can simply accept the fact and be thankful that he is at least trying first and still getting the exposure?  What is education anyway?  By the way, this teenage crap sucks.  It was so much easier when they were young and believed everything you said without question, like "of course it's your bedtime, the sky is dark."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Update: "the experiment", part deux

Recently I gave up TV and I am calling it an experiment.  There's nothing that says I have to remove TV from my life permanently and I'm eager to see what changes, if any, happen around the house.

It feels like ages ago but the reality is that it's been less than two weeks.  The fact that I cite this should say something.  I'm still craving my nightly fix and it's pretty strong.  It's not all doom and gloom though.  In the past week I've:

Bonus 1:  Learned how to play Stratego with my 12 year old and spent an evening beating him.  Sadly, in the world with TV, this almost never would have happened on a school night. 

Bonus 2:  Did Star Wars Mad Libs with the 7 year old and was reminded how all things bathroom and body part humor are the forefront of kids this age.  That and Star Wars.  He read it to his older brothers, his father, and himself repeatedly.  Nothing like a little humor in your life.

Bonus 3:  Started reading You're Not the Boss of Me:  Brat-proofing Your Four- to Twelve- Year Old Child.  It's a pretty good read so far but I haven't made nearly the progress I'd like because...

Bonus 4:  Gotten lots more sleep.  Sorry but it's just plain boring most nights - might as well get some sleep!

Bonus 5:  Engaged in a long, relaxed conversation with my teen (a rarity these days).  I learned lots of stuff. 
  • Poke wars via Facebook and the cell are all the rage, and in progress practically 24x7.  
  • Sex education this year had an interesting effect - apparently even condoms are no guarantee to protect you from disease and it's totally grossed him out.  
  • He had a math test this past week - important to know because he's not doing so well in math.  His poor math performance, I learned, is because he's struggling with the abstract concepts this year has introduced.  Every math class to this point has been very tangible and easy for him.  Interesting because that was my same experience.
  • We also talked about drinking and driving - an important subject given he's making progress towards his learner's permit.  I was able to reinforce how necessary it is to call me for a ride if he's been drinking.  We went back and forth on this topic with him insisting that I'd be so mad and he'd be in so much trouble.  I hope I successfully reassured him that it's still the best (and only) option when he's been drinking.  And the consequences, minor compared with a DUI, loss of license or, of course, much worse.
Bonus 6:  Been reminded by the teen about our talk.  This seems to indicate that I made a good impression.   I think he really enjoyed the time with me.  And that is precious, especially at a time when he's growing apart more and  more every day.

Bonus 7:  Watched the very first episode of Mad Men with hubby.  Someone in his office gave him the first season on DVD and I'm hoping to catch up on this show because I've heard nothing but rave reviews.  I'm anxious to see more, but I'll have to keep my desire for the crack under control. 

It seems that no TV has had some perks.  I'll be curious to see my list after a month. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

a hard lesson

I woke this morning to the sound of footsteps coming into my room.  I could tell it was my 12 year old by the quick steps and taps of the soles of his shoes on the hardwood floor.  And then I heard him crying as he sat on my bed, his breath held in, then releasing out in quiet whimpers.

"What's wrong sweetie?" I asked.

"One of the chickens is dead," he said as he continued to cry.

"On no!"  "Did the chicken get left out last night?" to which he replied that it had.  But really, he wasn't sure.

"Was it attacked?" I asked, hoping for that rather than it freezing to death.

"It was half eaten," he said.

Let me explain.  Our neighbor up the hill has a bunch of chickens and for years Danny has been watching over them when our neighbors go on vacation.  Our neighbor loves her chickens.  They are her children.   Unfortunately we live in a semi-rural area with coyotes and raccoons anxious to get their chops on her children.  To mitigate those risks, the chickens are in a caged area and have a little shed for the nights.

Danny's job is to let the chickens out in the morning and feed them, and then put them back in at night to keep them safe.  Last night time passed us by quickly while we were making dinner and discussing the day.   When I noticed it was already dark, a surprise to all of us, I asked Danny if he had done the chickens.  He hadn't and hopped up, went up the hill and returned shortly with his chore complete.

Whether the ill-fated chicken was alive at the time Danny went up the hill, we'll never know.  It was dark when he penned them in.  It might have escaped his view, or it might already have been dead in the corner.  All we know now is that the chicken is dead.  And Danny was supposed to be his caretaker.

My poor boy.  It is such a difficult lesson to learn.  The responsibility of taking care of someone's pet and have to have it die on your watch, possibly due to your error.  To have to make that phone call, to confess your error.  I wish with all my might that I could make it go away.  To make my boy's pain go away.  I want him to know the weight of responsibility, but I don't want him to feel the weight of it.  I wish I could carry his burden, but it is his alone.  All I can do is hug him and love him as I help him through this.

Friday, February 11, 2011

the experiment

I could title this post many different ways:
  • the challenge
  • the addict
  • going to rehab
I'm sure I can think of more given the time.  But I will leave it at "the experiment" because that is how I'm choosing to look at what I've just embarked on. 

For me it's pretty significant.  I'm giving up my crack.  You read that right, I'm going on the wagon.  The wagon of no TV. 

Some may think it's silly.  Some may think I'm insane.  Some of you may even think "what's the big deal?"  But believe me when I tell you, it IS a big deal.

What, might you ask, caused me to do such a thing?  It wasn't one single thing.  It started with me wishing for more time to read and write.  I wanted to participate in Jana's Maladjusted Book Club but wasn't finding the time to read.  I also wanted to find more time to write.  I am enjoying this blogging thing and I've got a list of topics that seems to be getting longer and longer. 

I also was inspired with Christine's post on Twitter Detox.  She was challenged by Jen Lemen's question: "What would happen if we actually stepped away from things that help us zone out?"   That question gave me pause.  I'm no Twitter junkie, but I certainly love my TV shows and I love them simply because they allow me to zone out.  For me nothing is better to end the day than a clean kitchen and an episode or two allowing me to become absorbed and forget the hassles of the day.

On top of all this, my husband started complaining about how "all I ever do is watch TV."   Well, I'm sure he meant that's all I do when I'm not at work, not making dinner, not shuffling the kids here or there, not doing the laundry or meal planning or grocery shopping either.  But okay, fair enough.  The TV is my primary choice of activity in the evening.  There is no question that I am the ruler of the roost when it comes to channel watching.  There is no question that is what I do, it's what I need.

But the real tipping point was Comcast.  We used to have Comcast several years ago.  Their business practices drove me to DirecTV.  I never would have gone back to Comcast if it hadn't been for the internet thing.   Back in December we lost our DSL service and we have no choice but to go with Comcast.  Financially it made sense to get a package deal with them for both internet and cable.  But Comcast is terrible.  It took them a dozen phone calls and four or five house calls to get everything setup correctly.  I heard a radio spot for Comcast that announced a 30-day money back guarantee and I seized the moment. 

The very next day I made the call.  Comcast is gone.  Well, except for the broadband.  It's been four days and three nights.  I know.  I am painfully aware.  So far I haven't read more and I certainly haven't written more.  But I've slept more, no longer having the lure of escape and being enveloped in dramas and mysteries and other people's lives.  And I've noticed the house is quiet, peacefully quiet.  And I've noticed that the kids don't seem to miss it at all.  Weird, huh?

I call it an experiment because there's nothing that says I can't call DirecTV and get them back.  I might.  But for now I'm going to try and live in the quiet.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Digital Footprints

Recently a long-lost friend passed away.  Every other day or so, I'd login to Facebook and, among other things, I'd check her page.  Part of it was a desire to connect.  It's hard when you're so far away.  Part of it was to read the beautiful things people came to write about her impact on them, and part of it was to make sure everything was going as well as could be for her daughter.  Today I went to her page and she simply no longer existed.  Poof.  Gone.  Just like that.

It started me thinking about our digital footprints.  No longer is it sufficient for my important things to be stuffed into a file cabinet or safety deposit box.  My finances are online with my electronic banking and credit card accounts.  Even cable and my car payments are online.  Professionally I'm on LinkedIn and personally I have the obligatory Facebook and Twitter accounts.  My pictures are up on Shutterfly, Flickr and Picasa.  Every aspect of my life has a digital footprint.

And while I'm alive, these bits and pieces are a part of me.  These are the pieces that help define me and make me who I am.  Make me whole.  But when I'm gone, what will it be?  I'll not be here, but bits of my fractured self will liter the digital stream.  I will be nowhere and I will be everywhere.   Who will disable and remove my accounts?  Do I want them removed?  Or do I want remnants left behind?  It was comforting to go to my friend's page, but the thought of me lingering posthumously sounds not right either.

Do you think about this?  Do you remain or do you go?  How do you manage your information so that if something happened, your digital footprints would be cared for?