Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Do We Expect of Our Kids? In Support of Jessica Barba

If you do not know this young lady's name, you should.  Jessica Barba is a 15-year old freshman at Longwood High School in Middle Island, NY.  Jessica tried, albeit somewhat in vain, to make a difference.  Jessica followed the rules, thought outside the box, and participated in a class project in which the students were told to create a project about an important issue.  Jessica chose to do her project on, and raise awareness of, an issue that has been in the news a lot recently - bullying.  Before I delve into what, exactly, Jessica did for her project, I will be the first to admit that, upon hearing the initial reports and increased coverage of this issue, I was one that said, "Really?  This has been going on forever.  We've all been, at one point in time, exposed to bullying.  We've all either been a part of a group that has seen it, contributed to it, or (worse) been the victim of it.  Get over it - it happens all the time."  I will also be the first to admit (write it down!) I was horribly wrong.  The bullying we experienced as kids was far different than what kids experience now.  Kids, for some reason, seem to be more cruel and hateful in their bullying now.  What were seen as 'harmless pranks and comments' then are far more extreme now.  More importantly, the way these things are dealt with now are nore extreme.  Victims of bullying in years past might have gone home and cried.  They might have had to get a parent to calm them down and reassure them that it would be okay.  Today, kids are far more likely to do something drastic.  It seems, at least, that they are far more likely to exact revenge or, sadly, take their own lives.  The stories in the news are filled with these after-effects.  It is sad but horribly true.  This is an issue facing our teens and we, as parents, are struggling with how to address and cope with it for the safety of our children.  It is also a time when we often bemoan the fact that, "this younger generation never puts forth any effort and only makes the problems worse.  None of them are leaders enough to take a stand."  Enter 15-year old Jessica.

Again, thinking 'outside the box', Jessica created a fake Facebook page and made a six minute video about the fictional Hailey Bennet (played by Jessica) who lost her mother when she was three years old, was abused by her father, and was then left alone when her best friend moved away.  She gets bullied at school, is made fun of on the fake Facebook page, and eventually ends her life.  Keep in mind that both the video AND facebook page had disclaimers stating that Hailey was a fictional character.  What happened next is what caused the problem.  A concerned parent saw the page and, apparently, did not view it thoroughly enough.  The parent called the police, who then contacted the school.  On the FB page, Jessica (as Hailey) had posted updates stating that she wanted to be dead.  When called to the principal's office, Jessica was confronted with printouts from the FB page that did NOT include her disclaimer.  Though she tried to plead her case to administrators, the person that printed these pages did not scroll down far enough to include the disclaimer.  Her mother later brought the same printouts that clearly showed it, however school officials did not seem to care.  Here comes the really incredible part....

Jessica faced a suspension hearing at school today.  As I write this, I do not know the outcome, however I know what it should be.  The administrators stated that her video was, "unfortunate in that it created a substantial disruption in the school."  Good!  It should have!  We preach and harp and put the issue on television and tell the kids it is wrong.  Now, when one student does something that raises the awareness to an incredible level, we punish her for doing something to bring it to everyone's attention??  How hypocritical can we, as adults, be??  If this had been my child, I would be as incredibly proud of her as her parents are now.  I have watched and listened to my own daughter as she tells me how people would pick on a girl that is overweight or a young boy in a wheelchair.  When asked what she did (and later witnessed her behavior), she told me that she and some of her friends admonished the other kids for their behavior, then spent time with the victims of the bullying.  I have seen her sit with them at lunch when others would not, or spend time with them at school events when others turned away laughing.  Through all of it, she and her friends did what was right...and I told them all how proud I was for doing it, later admitting that I, being in the same position at their age, wasn't sure how I would have acted.  I may not have been the one saying things or laughing, yet I don't know if I would have so publicly displayed disdain for the actions of others.  Had my daughter made this same video that Jessica made, I would not only be fighting with the school but I would also be showing the video everywhere I could.  This girl deserves to be applauded not disciplined.  They should use her as a shining example of how to lead others and how to treat others. 

This is a time when our youth should, indeed, be shown that one person can make a huge difference, and Jessica can teach both children and adults alike.  We ask them to do the right thing, try to show them what the 'right things' are, then hope they follow through.  We, as a society, are aching for personalities like Jessica to shine and become examples for the world...and we're going to punish that?  We're going to stifle not only their creativity, but their desire to do the right thing?  If parents are going to feel compelled to monitor things like Facebook and report to the authorities, then we best be open-minded and see the "Big Picture."  Not only was Jessica's creativity silenced and punished, but they aslo (as noted by the NY Civil Liberties Union) took away her free speech.  America, it is time to praise this young woman and all others who not only think as she did, but ACTED.  We cannot continue to think for them - we have to let them soar on their own...and any young woman (or man) that thinks and acts as this girl did should be the example by which all others are measured.  Keep her in school...and have her teach everyone else...including some parents.  This is just my opinion, but this is the person that has the, "better hands," to which we will leave the world when we're gone.  I will feel perfectly content knowing people like Jessica will be in charge in the years to come.

Until next time..................

Friday, May 18, 2012

The 'System' Is More Than Broken

Too often, we complain about the system being broken, understand there are changes that need to be made, yet struggle with how best to do that.  Anyone with common sense should be able to look at certain situations and know they need to be rectified, yet there continues to be inaction for lack of knowing what to do.  This story is one of those illustrations.  Earlier today I was treated to some incredible reading material from a friend.  The title of the story was, "Man Who fathered 30 Kids Needs a Break - On Child Support."  Oh, yeah, I dare you to read that headline and not dive head-first into the story.  I began reading...and was shocked, appalled, angered, frustrated....all these no time.  Here is the story:

Desmond Hatchett, 33, of Knoxville, TN has fathered 30 children.  He's had 4 kids in one year - twice!  In 2009, after reaching a total of 21 children, he said he would not have any more.  I suppose we know how THAT turned out.  Since then, he's had nine more kids - 3 per year.  Some of the mothers took him to court as they said they were not receiving child support.  Of the mothers that DO receive support, some get as little as $1.49/month.  Yes...per MONTH.  This guy works a minimum-wage job and the state takes more than half his paycheck.  He began having kids when he was 18.  There's the story.  Period.  Oh, and the final statement in the article read that, "The state cannot do anything because he hasn't done anything illegal."  Nice.

Okay....time for MY rant.  I remember years ago, living and working in Philadelphia, when a pregnant woman came into the office with her three children.  She was out of work, collecting welfare and food stamps and I, being a bit forward, asked if she thought it was going to be difficult adding another child to the mix?  Wouldn't it be harder with 4 than three?  Her response has stayed with me for these past 25 years - "I get more money if I have more kids."  There it is.  The answer to, "Is the system really broken?"  Yes, it is.  I cannot believe it is ignorance, yet to have someone think they are getting more money if they have more children and not factor in the cost of raising that child, is beyond comprehension.  Yes, ma'am, I understand they give you another $240/month for that child (#4), but you realize it will cost you a total of $500.00/month to raise them as an infant, right?  (Yeah, I used a round number to illustrate my point - work with me!)  I'm sorry - math wasn't your strong suit?  Let me help, lady - they give you $240 and it costs $500.  You're in the hole $260 for every kid, every month.  So, in essence, you are actually LOSING money.  Capiche?  Of course, given the fact that you will let the child wear diapers for three days, only feed them every other day, and have no running water will allow you to cut costs.  Then, you'll have enough for when Desmond comes around again.  You'll be able to afford the crack or the smoke so you can get high and....**POOF**....another kid on its way.  Cynical?  Damn right, I am.  Oh, and are you ready for the 'Big Reveal"?  Wondering what he looks like?  Want to know if this is a TN southern redneck?  Here he is:

Here's the problem, my friends - WE are paying for this!  You're hearing this from a man that has not EVER missed a child support payment, nor do I have time for deadbeat dads.  Sorry, it's just the way I feel.  It's your child.  If you could be there for the fun part (whatever length of time that might have been), you'd better be there for the next 18 years.  It's the 'Yin' to the 'Yang' of those few fun moments.  For this irresponsibility to be allowed in our society today is utterly ridiculous.  If the government wants to know why we are ready to rebel, simply read this story.  I have no doubt these people are abusing the system - do any of you?  This HAS TO bother you!  I want my tax dollars going to the couple that, without warning and through no fault of their own, lost their job.  I want it to go to their kids so they can eat and be fed.  I want them to be able to sustain themselves until they can return to the workforce.  Do you want to know the best part of this group of folks, though?  They try to shy away from any help from the government.  I have a lifelong friend that was in such a position.  He did everything he could to continue to raise his children and NOT use the system.  He succeeded...and is now back in the workforce without ever having placed ANY burden on his fellow citizens.  Listen, I know it happens.  Like I said, it's always been a, "There but for the grace of God," kind of thing in my eyes.  I want to help those that are willing to help themselves when they are in need.  THIS, however, is NOT one of those times.

So the question is, how do we go about fixing it?  Court-ordered sterilization?  Mandatory birth-control?  I think we all know that will not happen for either solution.  Change the laws and put them in jail?  That system is already overcrowded because we, as a country, are too busy trying to fight a war on drugs we cannot win so we put stoners in jail.  By 'stoners' I am speaking of marijuana users.  Seriously, they are too tired to hurt anyone - why not leave them under house arrest?  Wow...I digress, eh?  I firmly believe we must consider, in cases like this, the sterilization option.  Yes, we could limit the funds we provide, but what of the earlier couple?  You KNOW it will then come down to a race issue....right?  I don't know what the solution is, but I cannot believe this is the only case like this in the US...and sadly, most of it IS a racial situation.  That brings me to one last 'off topic' portion of the rant - Star Jones.  Yesterday, on the Today Show, a few of the professionals they interview were asked about Mark Zuckerberg wearing a 'hoodie' to meet with investors on Wall Street.  While Donnie Deutsch and Nancy Snyderman both remarked that, like Steve Jobs and his turtleneck, this was Zuckerberg's "brand" and image, Star could not resist.  She thought it was interesting that only a few weeks ago Trayvon Martin, while wearing a 'hoodie', was gunned down and that it's because it was racially-motivated.  The hoodie, not the shooting.  Seriously, folks...if you want equality, stop playing the race card.  We have given everything we can, some more willingly than others, but to use 'race' for every issue is beyond belief.  Stop it...and go make sure Desmond Hatchett stops procreating, please.  Your fellow citizens, both black and white, will thank you.

Until next time...........

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Any Woman Can Be A Mother....But It's Special To Be 'Mom'

It seems to me I wrote about the same thing last year at this time...I think.  Ironically, while I still have the opportunity, I hope to continue writing it every year.  It's always this day, Mother's Day, that I think about that age-old question we asked when we were younger (and have all heard through the years) - "If there's a Mother's Day and a Father's Day....why isn't there a 'Kid's Day'?"  I heard it again just the other day and can now, being a parent, grasp the full enormity of the response - "Every day is Kid's Day."  When I last heard this response, I realized that, while growing up, every day was kid's day and it was made possible by our parents.  In most cases, it was made possible by Mom.  Let's face it, in most familial settings, it is mom that does the laundry, cooks for us and (if I have to admit it) was the parent of choice when asking permission to do things we thought were, shall we say, questionable.  The decision could have gone either way and we, as short, manipulative little salespeople called 'kids', knew who would be the easiest to whom we could sell our plans.  Yep - we always went to mom first....unless, of course, the old man was lying half asleep on the couch and paying little attention.  Then we'd ask his permission knowing that, at some point, we'd eventually have to reply with, "I DID ask you and you said 'yes' when you were reading in the living room!"  We'd get away with it, but this was a tactic that could only be employed on rare occasions.

Yes, Mom was our 'Go-to' person and now that I am a parent, I totally and completely understand the relationship.  That is why I am writing this for her.  It's a letter of gratitude, appreciation, and love.  I understand that I am one of those quite fortunate to still have my mother in my life.  Many friends are not so fortunate and some, I am quite honored to say, have been able to 'share' my mom.  It's who she is and what she does.  Growing up, she was one of those that my friends called 'Mom' when they came to the house or spent time with us.  While still a teenager, I will be the first to admit there were times when I didn't want to admit I even HAD parents.  It's normal, I think, but I realized my friends were good with it. My mother was the one person that, without question, has been the constant in my life.  She was the one that made sure we were taken care of when we were sick, were fed when we were hungry, were clothed and had a home.  She worked hard to make certain we wanted for nothing.  That's not to say we got everything or were spoiled - we weren't.  We did, however, always have the basics...and then some.

There have been times in my life (more than a few) when I have needed counsel and there is no one's opinion I value more.  She is a brilliant thinker and has that innate ability to play 'devil's advocate, always countering with a good argument and allowing us to see an issue or problem from as many sides as possible.  She taught us to think for ourselves and challenged us to always do better than we thought we could.  I must admit, at this point, it was I, rather than my sister, that was the biggest challenge.  My sister is an extraordinarily good doctor who always knew what she wanted.  I was the one that was sent to help my mother grow in her wisdom and patience.  Hey, it's an 'iffy' job, but someone had to do it.  I was, without question, her biggest problem because I was...adventurous?  Daring?  A pain in get the idea.

There are so many things I am grateful for that I cannot mention them all - they'd fill a book.  I know there are many of us, ladies, that feel the same way about you as mothers.  You might be friends, sisters, aunts, cousins.....but all of you, as mothers, are more appreciated than you know.  We appreciate the way you keep the household going when we are too tired or, quite honestly, lazy (Sorry, gents - I had to throw us under the bus a little.  The women were hoping for it and I'm playing to the audience).  We appreciate the meals you put on the table, the careers you have, and your thoughtfulness.  We are grateful for the love you show us even when (dare I say it) we don't deserve it.  We did not mean to make your lives, as mothers, challenging.  It's who we are, though, and you helped us grow through it all.  To my friends that are mothers, I'd like to say, "Happy Mother's Day," and hope it has been wonderful.  So with that, this simple note, I'd also like to say to my mother alone:

Dear Mom, 

I'll never be able to say 'thank you' enough.  I appreciate the person you've helped me become and the way you taught me to see the world.  I appreciate the determination you taught me so I would always stand for what I believe in, while at the same time teaching me compassion for others.  I love the fact that I am one of millions today that can say, honestly, that I have the best mom in the entire world...and I wouldn't trade her for anything.  You deserve everything good that life can offer and I appreciate everything you've done.  I love you more than you know.

Until next time...........

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Prom Weekend - My Memories for Britt

I've had several calls this week asking how things went this past weekend.  I had to stop and think about what I was being asked and, not having an answer, I was questioned further, "You know...the Prom??"  Oh, yes.  The Prom.  I have to admit, I should not have had to struggle for the answer.  As much as this was an evening and weekend for our children, it was something I won't soon forget either.  It started about a 1 1/2 months ago when I was away at our National Sales Meeting.  I had just gone back to my room to freshen up before dinner when the phone rang.  It was my daughter who was shopping with her best friend.  "Hi Dad," she started, "I just found the best dress for Prom."  There might be a father somewhere that was unclear about where this was headed, but I was all over it.  I was just about to ask the most important question, when she continued, "Yeah, and it's long and white but has all these cool colors, they're pastels by the way, and it's kind of strapless but not really because it has," she was saying until I interrupted.

"Britt, send me a picture."  She assumed, rightly so, at this point that she had me in 'daddy' mode.  She sent the picture and the dress was very pretty.  I'm her father.  It was pretty.  Period.  I know females could give a far better description, however I saw it as a pretty dress that she wanted for her prom.  I then asked the price, proceeded to drop the phone, regained my composure, and told her what other fathers did - "How do I pay for it?  I'm in Florida."  She assured me the lady would take a credit card over the phone (shocking, huh?) and handed the phone to the owner who promptly took my information.  Problem #1 solved.  I then listened, over the following weeks, how plans were being made for their weekend.  I knew the girls that would be going - Britt's closest friends - and did background checks on the boys.  Okay, not really...but you'd all understand if I had. 

I arrived in town the evening before prom and spent sometime with Britt and Mack, her recent 'bestie'.  We decided we'd see each toher the following day before they began THE preparations.  Again, being a father, I could only imagine.  I wasn't disappointed.  it was actually very sweet of them to allow me to tag along as they did.  First, Britt called early on Saturday morning and asked if I wanted to go to breakfast with them.  I met them 30 minutes later at the Silver Diner and they proceeded to lay out their entire game plan for the evening.  I think that was when the flashbacks began.  Watching them, listening to them took me back 35 years in an instant.  I had to laugh as I remembered this very evening so many years ago.  I pushed the memories aside, though, to be firmly aware of their grasp of the event.  After breakfast, it was time for makeup.  Okay, that wasn't part of our pre-prom ritual, but I'm sure the ladies remember.  The girls let me follow along to the mall where the Clinique Crew applied their wares.  That's just baout the time dad headed for Starbucks and promised to see them for pictures.  I left as the girls, dressed in sweats with their hair pulled up, began the process.

Fast forward about 5 hours.  I arrived at the home where everyone would meet for pictures just as the other parents arrived.  There were far more of us with cameras in hand than there were those deressed in gowns and tuxedos.  We parents are a funny bunch like that, though, aren't we?  I walked in the house to find my daughter so I could get a photo or two of her alone.  I was......I cannot think of the proper words.  Proud?  Amazed?  Taken aback?  All of these things, I think.  My little girl, suddenly, was not.  This was not the cute little thing that used to sleep on my chest, nor was it the girl that ran outside with her hair frazzled and matted to her forehead in the summer.  No, this was someone else.  Someone all grown up and beautiful.  Her makeup, so eloquently screwed up by the lady at the Clinique counter, had been reapplied by Brittany...and she did a stellar job.  her hair was curled and twisted and up on her head and simply...perfect.  We took pictures of the four couples inside, outside, near a fence, under an umbrella, pinning their flowers....all of it.  122 pictures in all.  I wanted more.  I remembered so many years ago when we had our pictures taken, went to dinner with our dates, then partied the night away after at someone's home.  35 years later, the tradition continues...though father's are more apt to bring firearms along to these sessions now.  I will say this about the ladies with whom I went to school - they were beautiful girls that have gotten more beautiful with time.  That's because we've gotten to know them more personally.  The girls today, however, are NOT the girls we went to school with....which, again, explains our brandishing firearms to keep these young men in line.  Yes, that is a joke, but only slightly.  The good news is, everyone had a great time and they allowed us, as our parents did a generation ago, to take the walk down memory lane.  The most special part of the day for me was when the kids were leaving for dinner.  Brittany, without being asked or prodded, turned to her best friend Mack and said (as she took my camera bag from my hands), "Here hold this and hold my jacket.  Now, take a picture of me and my dad as we walk toward the cars."  With that, she stuck her arm through mine and leanded into me a bit as we walked away.  Not sure she'll ever know how much that meant to me...or how much I was wishing, at that very moment, that her sweaty hair had been plastered to her forehead and she was six again.  I love you, Britt...and I'm glad you had a great time.

Until next time..................