Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I'd rather keep walking this road

How many of you, if given the chance, would go back and relive your late teens or even your 20s? How many of you would like to remain that age forever? My eighth graders think they would.

The journal prompt I gave them today was this: Imagine you’ve found the fountain of youth. Once you drink from it, you will remain the age you are at that point in time forever. You’ll be immortal (but not a vampire, for all the Twilight fans out there). At what age would you drink from it and why? (I also told them that they could choose not to drink from it.)

Of the 70 kids I have, I think the number who chose not to drink from it hovered somewhere between ten and fifteen. Some of them explained their choice by saying it went against their faith. Others said they thought they would simply get bored if they stayed the same age forever.

Many, many, many of them said they would want to be about 21 or 22. Can you guess why? Their explanations went something like this: “If I’m 21, then I’m old enough to move away from my parents and to buy certain things.” (It was funny – alcohol was on all of their minds, but most came up with a euphemism for it.) These kids basically saw it as an eternal party and were very excited about that prospect.

The ones who didn’t choose 21 or 22 invariably chose their mid- to late-20s. They included the same reasons as the younger age group, but added that they would be past the party-all-the-time stage (although they still could if they wanted to, they said!) and that they would be ready to have a family. At that point, I asked if they would have their family drink from the fountain. They all said yes, although there were some frowns when I asked at what age they would have their children drink from it.

I told them that I’d like to see them all again when they’re actually in their mid-20s to see if their perspectives had changed. Would they still want to drink from the fountain at that age or would they want to wait until they were in their 30s? 40s? Would any of them want to go back to their teens?

It wasn’t until my last class of the day that one of my students – JD – asked me when I would want to drink from the fountain. I said that I wouldn’t. His quick response? “Why? Ya too old now?” I laughed (as did the rest of the kids).

I told him, no, it wasn’t that I thought I was too old. I said it was because of my faith and because as much as I enjoyed my teens, my 20s, and my 30s, I have no desire to live them again. I said that everything that’s happened to me in my life has helped shape who I am today. I’m happy with who I am, and I wouldn’t want to risk the person I am today by missing out on some of my life experiences. I’m still looking forward to many things in my life and have no desire to freeze myself at this or any age.

It’s natural, I think, for the kids to have the kinds of thoughts they did today. (How many of us didn't ache for our 20s when we were still in high school?)

It is my hope, though, that they live the kind of lives that will change their minds by the time they’re my age. And I hope that’s the kind of life you’re living too. After all, it's not the destination, is it? I think it's the journey.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why don't you go Under the Dome

Several months ago, my husband decided to buy Stephen King’s Under the Dome. He’s a huge fan of Uncle Stevie and was eager to read this almost 1,100-page tome. However, he was only willing to buy this doorstop if I agreed to read it too. I also enjoy a good Stephen King novel – although I’ve read fewer of his books than Terry has – so I said, sure, I’ll read it too.

Terry read it almost immediately after buying it and has been after me ever since to read it. I have so many books on my bookshelves calling to me that I put it off and put it off, knowing how long it would take me to get through it. Finally, though, his puppy-dog eyes worked their magic and I picked up the book (using a crane and a hydraulic lift).

I finished Under the Dome today. I had planned to take today as a personal day, so after sleeping in, I moved to the living room, picked up the book, cuddled under a blanket, and read and read and read. It was a great day because there’s little I love to do more with my free time than read, and the book was a pleasure.

You might be intimidated when you pick up the book at first because I’m not kidding, the size of it is frightening. I’m an ebook hater – I want to turn pages, feel the book, smell the book, etc. – but if I were ever to consider buying one, it would be to make reading such a big book easier. However, I caution you: Don’t let the heft of it prevent you from reading it.

Uncle Stevie creates an entire town of incredibly individual characters in this book, and they are my main reason for recommending it. Some of them are inspiring, some of them are gaping-mouth stupid, some of them are evil, and some are just plain sick in the head. Some are even a whole lot like you and me.

The premise of the book is that the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, is all of the sudden stuck under an invisible, indestructible dome. Of course, there’s the mystery surrounding the dome itself – where did it come from and will it ever go away? But the story is more about how the town’s inhabitants live under the dome, completely cut off from the rest of the world – who rises, who falls, who survives and who becomes a victim of the dome.

My favorite books are the ones whose characters stay with me long after finishing the book. Uncle Stevie did that with the dome. I dare you to read it and not be haunted by Big Jim. Or the Chef. Or maybe even Junior.

Let me know how that goes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

8th graders discuss genetic engineering: 3-parent embryos, anyone?

Yesterday, I gave my students a journal prompt from a news article I came across explaining that scientists in the UK have figured out how to “fix” embryos with genetic defects. After fertilizing the mother’s egg with her partner’s sperm in the lab, creating an embryo, the nucleus of this (suspected genetically defective) embryo is removed and transferred to the “donor” embryo that has had its nucleus removed. It is believed that this transfer will leave the faulty, defective DNA behind and allow the embryo to grow (if actually implanted in the mother) into a healthy child – a child with three parents (one man, two women). Because of the ethical complications of this process, scientists have not actually implanted human embryos, but they believe they will be able to within the next three years. They’ve already done it with monkeys and are pleased with the results.

I had my students write whatever their thoughts, feelings, or questions were about this topic, and I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of their thoughts. We had substantial discussions (each lasting at least twenty minutes – the longest lasting forty) and the kids were able to share their opinions (some of them WIDELY different from others) without telling each other they were wrong. Would you like to hear some of what they said?

Several of them believed this process was akin to abortion. They felt that removing the nucleus from the first embryo destroyed that particular child. Many said that God creates us and intends for us to be who He wants us to be and that man should not interfere with that at all. Regardless of whatever genetic defect the child might be born with, they didn’t feel science should be part of the process.

I had students who straddled the fence. The process seemed to make them uncomfortable – they didn’t seem to like the idea of science messing around with the construction of a human being – but they did admit to being in favor of it if it would fix a lethal defect. If the child would be born dead or would die soon after birth, they said they would be in favor of the process.

On the other side of the fence were the students who believed that eliminating genetic defects would be good for everyone. They said the child would have a more meaningful life, and they said some parents just couldn’t handle raising and caring for children who are born with genetic defects. They mentioned too the lessened financial burden parents (and society) would carry if these children were born healthy and without the need for advanced medical care and treatments.

There were a couple students who stunned me with their comments. One young man said that he was entirely in favor of the process and took it a step further. He said he thinks women should have to register with the government when they want to become pregnant and should be tested for the possibility of giving birth to genetically defective children. If results indicate they could have genetically defective children, then they should have to go through this process to avoid it.

I kept my own thoughts and comments to myself all day, with one exception. (I didn’t want to influence what they were saying, and I didn’t want anyone to feel inhibited by anything I might say.) The one exception was to this particular student’s comments about government intervention. I asked him where this government intervention would stop. Maybe they would begin by preventing the birth of children with lethal defects, but it wouldn’t be long before they would decide that another “defect” is undesirable, and so is this one and that one. I asked him how long he thought it would be before the government began deciding brown hair and dark eyes were undesirable, as Hitler did. He’s a smart kid – really smart – and it truly scared me that these were reasonable thoughts in his mind. Where are our kids getting these ideas?

The other comment that surprised me was a very logical question coming from a boy that on most days I would gleefully strangle because he can’t stay in his seat and he can’t be quiet. He asked, “Couldn’t the woman who donated the egg sue for custody or visitation?” Pretty insightful, huh?

This post has already gotten very long, and I haven’t mentioned everything we talked about. I think you can see, though, from the samples I’ve shared, that it was a thought-provoking discussion.

Our children do think. They have opinions and lots of questions. I hope they also have people in their lives who will listen to them and talk with them so that we can raise a generation that doesn’t want to dictate – even fears to dictate – what constitutes a perfect child. I don’t want a roomful of students that look and sound alike. I want variety. God save us from Sameness. (The Giver, anyone?)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Demon has a heart

When you think of Gene Simmons, what comes to mind? KISS? His seven-inch-long tongue? Thousands of women?

If these details construct your whole frame of reference for the infamous rocker in the sky-high platform boots, then it won't surprise you to know that he hooked up with a Playboy model, will it?

Yeah, it didn't surprise me either. Then I started watching Gene Simmons Family Jewels, and my perspective on Gene Simmons has changed immensely.

Did you know he likes to sleep in footie pajamas? Or that he has never had a drink of alcohol, never smoked, never partaken of illegal drugs, or that he has no tattoos?

Would it surprise you to know that he and Shannon Tweed (the Playboy model I mentioned) have been "life partners" for the last 26 years? They have two children together - Sophie, 18, and Nick, 21 - and they live an unbelievably (in Gene's words) "unconventional conventional life." It is that unconventional conventionality that draws me to the show.

It's fun to watch Family Jewels because, after all, it is Gene Simmons! He's very funny. But he's also a truly dedicated father and "boyfriend." (Gene refuses to marry Shannon, no matter how often she asks.)

I decided to write this post after watching the opening episode for Season 5. Shannon found a lump in her breast and went to have it checked. The lump she'd found was nothing but a cyst, but the doctor, while examining her, found a different, suspicious one and decided Shannon needed a biopsy. KISS had just started a new tour, and Gene was on the road. Shannon thought it best to keep the biopsy from Gene (and the kids). Nick and Sophie found out, though, and Nick called "Daddo." Gene came home.

When Shannon went for her biopsy, she let the cameras in. Even though she's beautiful and a former Playboy model, there was nothing sexual when she bared herself for the biopsy. She was simply a woman living a moment thousands of other women live every day. But Shannon forewent the privacy most of us cling to and underwent the procedure honestly and openly for her viewers to watch. I, for one, am grateful.

Watching the doctor perform the biopsy demystified that process for me. If I should ever have to go through that myself, at least now I have a frame of reference for the process. I'll have enough to worry about if that ever happens. Thanks to Shannon's generosity in sharing her experience, I won't have to worry about what the needle looks like, how much it will hurt, or how they'll find the lump with the needle. I'll just have to wait for the results, as Shannon did.

When her appointment to meet with the doctor and go over the test results rolled around, Gene was back on the road. Shannon made her way to the doctor's office alone, but found Gene sitting in the waiting room when she got there. As she hugged him, Shannon said something like, "Somewhere there are 60,000 very disappointed KISS fans." He told her there was no place else he needed to be. Unconventionally conventional.

Shannon's tests were negative. The lump was a benign cyst. Having lived through the ordeal, Shannon decided to volunteer at a breast cancer center in LA, and Sophie joined her. There's also a link on the Family Jewels page about breast cancer awareness.

There's just nothing to dislike about this show. Unless, of course, you have something against laughing from your gut and wiping away the occasional tear. Oh, and watching Gene Simmons walk around in footie PJs is pretty cool too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Criminal parents excused?

I completely believe parents should be trusted to raise their children. They should be able (dare I say allowed) to teach them to pray or not to pray; to teach them to value education or not; to teach them to have respect for themselves, for others, for life itself or not to respect anything or anyone. Of course I have my own personal hopes as to what parents will teach their children, but we live in a country where we should have the liberty to approach this all-important role in whatever way we see best.

Here's the big HOWEVER -

Parents should have their children's well-being in mind at all times - their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Always in all ways. I hold fast to that without exception. Children are the greatest gifts we can be blessed with. We are entrusted with their development as human beings. We owe them the best we have to give.

So, when a father forces his 8-year-old and his 9-year-old daughters to watch hard-core porn online while visiting him at his home, I believe this goes against so many facets of what is good and healthy for children that it's criminal. He is truly harming them in more ways than one.

We should be able to choose whether or not to teach our children to pray, to read, to love, but we should not be allowed to hurt them. (And yes, I believe not teaching them to pray, read, and love hurts them, but stick with me...I hope my point makes sense.)

This man lives in Amarillo, Texas, and there is a public indecency law that is written there in a way that prohibits him from being prosecuted because it was written so that parents could be allowed to teach their children about sex without fear of prosecution for that. It also explicitly says that parents are allowed to show "harmful" material to their children (so that they can teach them about sex, I guess).

My guess is this law was written at a time when sex education was taboo and some parents were catching flak for speaking openly to their children about the whole process. Some legislator took up the cause, wrote a bill, and got a bunch of his friends on board. Voila! It's now legal to talk to your children about sex.

Why in the world couldn't parents have had the implicit right to teach their children about sex (as I believe it should be) without any law being written to protect them while they do that, so that when a criminal exposes his chlidren to hard-core pornography for his own deviate reasons he can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law? There's an AP story that covers this briefly as well as one from if you'd like to read more.

The prosecutor has filed charges against the man under a statute that prohibits endangering children. He isn't sure his suit will stand up in court because he has to battle the public indecency one.

To me, this is a case where too much government has tied the hands of law enforcement. Parents should be able to be parents. Criminals should be at the mercy of the law. Period.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Undercover Boss - Good karma at work

I've always been a firm believer in you get what you give. If you treat people with kindness, respect, and affection, then I believe that's what you'll get back from the world. I know it's not like that all the time, believe me. And goodness knows, I'm not successful all the time being the person I want to be. But I do try.

Sometimes it's hard to be upbeat and positive. When bad luck rains down, sometimes the inclination is to drown in that flood, to lose hold of your good intentions, your optimistic attitude.

That's why I like the new show (that's already coming to an end for the season - sad!) - Undercover Boss. Mom got Terry and me hooked on this show, and we look forward to it every week. (If you're interested, follow the link, and you can watch full episodes online!)

What I love about this show is that it highlights human beings. You see people just being who they are. Most of them do their jobs with amazing, inspiring attitudes; many of them go above and beyond their job descriptions to reach out and help others when maybe they themselves could use a helping hand as well. They're living their lives in a positive manner, they're being good people, and guess what - it comes back to them by the end of the episode.

The reason this show often gives me the warm fuzzies is that these people are being good because that's just who they are. They don't know they're working beside the president of their company or that there could be a reward waiting for them a few days down the road.

It's the karma thing coming to life - to real life. Good people, doing good things and getting good things in return. Rewards they never expected. Rewards they weren't working to earn.

How is that not cool? How could that not inspire all of us to keep the faith, to be the people we know we can be? Not for the rewards we may receive but because it's simply the right thing to do.

Tiger Woods is a person, right?

To continue the idea I began in the title of this blog...He's not a head of state. He's definitely not a deity. Yet, the media is treating him as if he is something more than a man who plays a sport very well, who is worth millions and millions of dollars, and who slept with many women who were not married to him.

Does it drive anyone else crazy when you hear the fervor in a reporter's voice as he talks about Tiger's return to golf? I listened to Rafer Weigel this morning on HLN (a guy I usually enjoy listening to) talking about Tiger at the Masters. Rafer is already there at Augusta was all a-tremble because Tiger showed up earlier than expected (on Sunday) and Rafer and his compatriots got to see Tiger play nine holes. Woo Hoo.... Are you trembling yet?

Then, of course, Rafer was even more excited at the prospect of being able to actually ask Tiger a question. He was practically drooling. I didn't watch the press conference, but I did just spend about 15 minutes of my life that I'll never get back reading a large portion of the transcript on CNN's website. There was very little of interest to me in the transcript. He's still sorry. He's still undergoing therapy for his "problem." He's still trying to hold his family together (and, no, Elin won't be at the Masters). He's taken Ambien and Vicodin in the past but neither contributed to the car wreck last year. He loves being back on the golf course. He appreciates the support he's received from his fans and his friends. Blah, blah, blah.

I don't care.

It's that simple. I don't care about this man and his infedelity. If anything, I'm fascinated by the media's fascination with him and his indiscretions. Are there really hundreds of thousands - millions even - of people who care about this? Who can't seem to eat their morning toast or bagel without their daily dose of Tiger? Is he really that GGGRRRREEEAAAATTTT?? Is the media's unending coverage of Tiger Woods a result of demands of an insatiable public, or does the public become insatiable because the media insists on cramming their Tiger bytes down our throats?

I am tired of being force-fed this particular brand of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snack.

He's a man. He's made mistakes that hurt his family badly, but he didn't hurt me. My day moves along quite well - splendidly, actually - without any Tiger updates. Why, oh why, oh why won't they stop? And please, tell me who cares. Isn't there anything more important, more worthwhile, going on in the world than this?