This story from Politico (via Tablet) seems to put all B’nai Mirzvot to shame.
It’s Bar Mitzvah season for The Boy. On at least one day every weekend, I have to tie his tie (at what age should he know how to tie his own damned tie?) and drive him to a reception at one catering hall, hotel, or party spot after another. There’s a break in the action for the summer but it’ll pick up again soon, with a party scheduled for Labor Day weekend. The Boy had his own reception not too long ago and planning that required a swan dive back into my pool of childhood insecurities.
My bar mitzvah reception was held a million years ago at the famous Huntington Town House. Don’t bother looking for it—it’s probably an Audi dealership now. I don’t know what happened to it. It may have been a victim of one bad economy or another. Perhaps the soaring taxes did it in. Or maybe the place just sucked. It was a huge place that could host 3 giant parties at the same time without any guests from one party knowing there was another party going on. My reception was pretty fancy—one of the fancier ones of all the receptions I attended—but not opulent or over the top. This is before the “theme” receptions that turned bar mitzvah receptions into ostentatious baccanals that had the barest nod to the religious significance of the day.
I’d heard stories of receptions costing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and I stressed out about the possibility of having to throw one of those one day (yeah, I worried about things like that in my teens). This kind of meshugas was going on as recently as 2 years ago, Out loud, I swore I’d never cave to that kind of nonsense but I knew I’d have to face the social pressure of having to host one at least as big and memorable as the smallest one my imaginary kids would be attending. It didn’t help that I ended up in New Jersey, where The Kids’ Mother and her friends regaled me with tales of wild parties with great themes, huge bands…no, orchestras…and piles of money thrown at every extravagance available.
When it came time to plan a party for The Boy, I sank back into my shell and as his Mother worried about locations and menus, I worried about “important” things like appearances. Would it be like all the others he’d be attending? Would it be nicer? Will his friends have a great time and will it make The Boy more popular? And what would my friends say about it (behind my back, no doubt)?
But something happened in the decades between my reception and today. Maybe it was the economy or maybe society had changed and what was socially acceptable for these pseudo-religious ceremonies was more down to earth. I stopped hearing stories of the wallet-draining bashes. People I talked to were planning smaller parties or if the parties were big, they were much more tasteful. But maybe it was a trap. Maybe I was being lulled into a state of false confidence. Yeah…that’s what they want me to think!
In the end, everything turned out fine. The Boy had a great time. His friends had a great time. Good food, plenty of it. I botched the toast but no one was paying attention anyway. I survived relatively unscathed and can look back on the night and realize that I’d been stressing out for nothing. Yay for me.
The Boy’s mother told me that come January, we’ll be filling out the paperwork for The Girl’s bat mitzvah. In 2016. Is it getting hot in here?
A recent article in the New York Times described some of the latest software developments which enable parents to monitor their kids’ online activity. Software like this is nothing new and while cynics might claim this to be preying on the fear of parents, others celebrate it as a way to protect children from the evils of online predators.
But the article wasn’t about the software nor was it a review of its individual features. The article talked more about the parents who use the software, and had a very biased headline: “‘Big Brother’? No, It’s Parents.”
Big Brother? Really?
I was surprised by the number of people commenting on the article who bashed the software and the parents who use it. Many claimed moral superiority, stating that establishing good, open communication with their children keeps the kids from hiding things. Another made the usual comment about kids and technology, stating that if kids aren’t mature enough to handle the rules of the Internet, they shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. Then there was the guy writing from his bunker of paranoia:
“That these intrusions are happily being helped along by corporatists, ever intent on making money on every single turn in our society, is not surprising. Corporations like Facebook, Google through YouTube, and associated ‘third parties’ as well as our own government are scanning and processing endless amounts of data about each one of us, very often without our express knowledge.”
Most of the comments in the con category centered around invasion of privacy. Huh? Since when do kids get any expectation of privacy? One of the jobs of a parent is to protect their kids from any trouble and to keep them from getting into any. This was a lot easier to do before the Internet. Neighborhoods would watch out for each other’s kids. Finding out what was going on was as easy as making a phone call to a teacher or another parent. When a kid goes online, there’s no one to call to check up on things. There’s no adult monitoring the conversation or warning users when something is out of line. Kids (and I know I’m generalizing and not necessarily talking about your kids) don’t have the ability to stay away from trouble. While they probably know right from wrong, curiosity usually wins out in the end. So does peer pressure. And there are apps which seem designed for the purpose of outsmarting parents (come on app developers, give a dad a break). So how is a 21st century parent supposed to keep up? That’s where this software comes in.
I’ve never used any of this software and while I completely disagree with anyone claiming that the use of said software violates all kinds of parenting rules, I also mock the parents
who need to rely on it. Software? I don’t need no stinkin’ software. My Facebook-tracking software is The Boy’s mother who watches his Facebook page like an overprotective hawk. My Internet-monitoring software is the honesty of The Girl and the predictability of The Boy. I’m not sure when this software expires but it’s pretty effective so far. The Boy doesn’t have the knowledge or the patience to solve any problems that come up with his phone so he gives it to me. And that’s when I see the screen shots from Naked News (no link–find it yourself!) and the obviously-Photoshopped pictures of naked celebrities he has on his phone. My problem isn’t with the content. My fear is that he’ll be showing the pictures to a friend in school and then get busted for trafficking in pornography (and for having his phone in school).
The Girl has been surprisingly honest with me, which means she hasn’t picked up The Boy’s natural desire for deception (but when she does, I’m screwed). Poptropica always seemed harmless and while I still have concerns about Minecraft, she tells me about the different servers she’s been on and shows me various texting apps she uses. And she lets me delete the one’s I don’t trust. So I don’t need any software for her.
I don’t see the software as enabling parents to spy and I don’t see it as a bad thing. In the never-ending battle for paternal supremacy over increasingly devious children, the software is a trusted ally. But not for me, thanks. I’m too smart for them. You can have your tracking programs. Me? I have years of experience hiding things from people. And I…hang on, there’s a policeman at my door…
As a parent, there’s no greater sense of pride than when your kid brings home a report card full of A’s and you can tell everyone else about it.
Or so I’ve heard.
There are scores of smart, talented kids out there. It goes without saying that some of them are bound to be smarter and more talented than my kids. I’m friends with many people who have kids gifted in one way or another. That’s great for them. I’m happy and/or amazed and some of the things they’ve accomplished. It’s just hard for me to hear about these kids without wondering about mine. I don’t have concerns about The Girl yet. She aces just about everything put in front of her with little effort and she gets glowing reports from every teacher she comes across. Then again, The Boy started out that way. He didn’t get stupid or anything. He’s actually a really bright kid. He just doesn’t know it.
The standard parenting lament since the dawn of time is that a kid “can do so much better” or “isn’t performing to the best of his abilities,” etc etc. I used to hear it all the time when I was a kid and I barely even understood what it meant (or I stopped listening–I forget which one). Now that I’m the parent, I totally get it.
The Boy hates school. But that’s not so strange. What kid actually likes school? The kids who liked school were the dorks, the losers, the “neo maxie zoom dweebies” (an argument can be made that John Bender hated school). So maybe The Boy is just trying to be cool by underperforming. I’ve seen his friends. A lot of them are idiots. But he has one friend who’s parents make him take academic classes over the summer. Unfortunately, it’s not wearing off on The Boy.
Am I alone in this feeling? Do other parents obsess over things like middle school grades and extracurricular activities? It’s about keeping up with the Jones’s kids, isn’t it?. Every quarter, the local paper prints a list of students who have made honor roll or high honor roll. And I skim through it not to find The Boy’s name, but to see the names of the other kids who made the list. There are lots of smart kids on that list. There are kids who work hard to get good grades. And there are dozens of morons. How are these knuckle-draggers making the list when The Boy isn’t?
The answer is “who cares!” He’ll be fine, right? We’ll try harder this fall. And when I hear about someone who’s 4-year old daughter speaks fluent Mandarin, I’ll pretend to be thrilled.
Epilogue: I was working on this post while riding the bus out of Manhattan when The Boy sent me a text. He had just pitched a perfect game in MLB 2K12 on the Wii. Ha! Take that, cousin who’s 4th grade daughter just spent a semester overseas in Switzerland!
When it comes to regulating The Boy’s behavior, his mother and I rarely agree. It’s a combination of me trying to be the cool dad and her being overly concerned about everything. Granted, The Boy seems to be a target for getting in trouble. If a hundred kids are doing something wrong, he’ll be the only one who gets nailed. So this has made his mother a little more hyper-aware of anything he does–rightfully so, I guess.
The other day, I got the following text from The Boy’s mother:
“I found a list of dirty words in his pocket. I’ll let you deal with it.”
First of all, it serves him right that his mother found this list. We’ve been telling him to empty his pockets before throwing his clothes in the laundry for years. But that wasn’t my immediate thought. My immediate thought, and response, was:
“A list of dirty words? Really?”
My sarcasm must have come through because it was explained to me that he would be the one who got in trouble if the list fell out of his pocket and I needed to explain this to him. I agreed but would he really get in trouble for having a list of dirty words? I can think of a million things worse that would fall out of his pocket:
- Stolen answers to a test
- Floor plans to the local bank
- A note claiming a fellow classmate is gay (he actually got busted for this one)
- Threats to blow up the school
- (come on, I’m not going to list a million of them)
As long as this list wasn’t going to be read aloud in class or on the school bus, I doubt he’d get in trouble. But if he did, his mother would be the one who got the call.
It’s not even his handwriting. I don’t even know what some of the words mean. Ray? Chode?
I blame the media.
After The Boy was born, I spent a lot of time stressing over filling all the awake, non-eating hours with the “right” activities. There were all these magazines filled with ideas for the right activities and crafts for developing babies and toddlers. Man, I felt like crap. But by the time The Girl was born, I was over it and spent my time laughing at the new parents who swore they’d find the time to do everything with their kids.
All these years later, I’m constantly reminded of my shortcomings as a father (usually by myself–I’m working on it…). This Father’s Day, I noticed an unusual number of postings of lists of great dads and dad videos and dads doing things with their kids. But this list just isn’t fair! Don’t get me wrong—I admire and envy each one of these guys and wish I had the ideas they had. Especially the first guy. And now I feel like it’s too late.
But I must be doing something right. The kids got me Apple TV for Father’s Day. And no, you can’t use it to watch every episode of Family Guy. It’s inappropriate! And I’m a good dad (wink).
The Boy wasn’t born with athletic ability, nor the patience and/or drive to develop any, so when he expressed a desire to play baseball, I should have been thrilled. But he was around 10 at the time, well past the time when all the other kids had already been playing. Sure he had played Tee Ball and I enjoyed every hilarious scrum when some kid would tap the ball off its plastic perch. When Tee Ball ended, all the other boys moved on to Little League. The Boy didn’t. He never really got the concept of team sports. He once got upset while playing a soccer “game” because the other boys were trying to kick the ball away from him.
He could have played baseball if he really wanted. The thing is his mother and I both work and we live in an area where most families have either stay-at-home moms or the parents work locally. With me commuting to Manhattan, getting The Boy to any kind of after-school activity is difficult to impossible. So it wasn’t a big deal when he didn’t express an interest in baseball. Besides that, I was relieved because of what playing Little League would do to the psyche—mine, not his.
When I was growing up, Little League was just as it was portrayed in the movies. The bigger kids always pick on the smaller kids. The good teams always beat the bad teams. The parents are way too competitive and the coaches hate any kid who isn’t super-talented. That’s just the way it was except in real life, the bad team never got to go to Japan or be coached by Walter Matthau. I was always in the latter group of kids. Being kind of a skinny, quirky kid, I was sort of the mascot for the older kids in my neighborhood. They let me hang out with them as long as I was willing to climb the barbed wire fence and stumble down the huge ditch to retrieve any wayward balls. One time, a bunch of the boys came to get me and I happened to be at a baseball practice. They asked my mom what position I played and she told them “left out.” Who knew she had a sense of humor?
But I digress.
The Boy suddenly wanted to play organized baseball and I flashed back to every scene in the movies and every bad experience I had. I imagined The Boy being picked on, teased, taunted, excluded. But I managed to to keep my insecurities to myself and I only reminded him that most of the older boys have been playing for a long time. And not just Little League. There are multi-level rec leagues and travel teams as well. But The Boy was cool with all that. So I relented.
The Boy lacks talent but he also lacks self awareness. Either he doesn’t know or he doesn’t care. I watched him play whenever I managed to make it home on time. He wasn’t the worst kid out there. Plus, he was having fun which, I was assured, was the most important thing (of course, the people who tell me that have super-talented kids). The other kids were nice to him, at least outwardly, and the coaches never left him out.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I show up for one of his games just in time for it to be called on account of lightning. So I collect The Boy and his stuff and we walk off to my car. At that moment, I hear the three words I’d longed to hear for so many years:
“Nice catch, Liebowitz.”
It was yelled from a passing car by a teammate of his. And it was yelled without a hint of sarcasm. The Boy apparently made a great catch which was still being recognized after the game was over. He waved nonchalantly and told me about the catch. I acted impressed and told him how awesome it was without making it sound like I was shocked.
“Nice catch, Liebowitz.”
I’d heard those words before but they were directed at me and in a far more obnoxious tone. Now those words have a totally different meaning. And I can breathe again, at least until next season starts.
Now I have time to stress about his grades…