Asheville and Travel

Steve and I are similar travelers. We like to get lost. We like to spend long hours reading all the little signs belong paintings in art museums. We like to eat. We like to find cool places to read books. I like talking with new people, and he likes to listen to us. He tolerates my photography.

I’m purging pictures to free up memory on my computer right now. I need a new computer, but I’m not heading back into the hellhole of Black Friday. We idiotically went to the mall at 9:30 this morning. I flipped off so many drivers in the parking lot that Ian started calling me, “Super Curse-y.” Rude hand gestures are my superpower. The lines in Hollister went out of the store, so we left. Jonah can buy his size 29 pants on line. And I can wait for a new computer.

Reviewing these pictures, I’m reminded of all the little trips that we took this year. Philadelphia, Lake George, Asheville. We’re hoping to do a two-week trip to Europe next year, if we have any money left after putting in a new kitchen.

Here are some pictures of our trip to Asheville. I highly recommend the Biltmore, open mic nights for bluegrass music, and hipster barbeque joints.

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Price Tags and Service

So, Jonah’s been away at college for two months. Enough time to give some preliminary evaluations.

The good side is that he has totally drunk the kool-aid. Every item of clothing that he wears has the college logo. He proudly tells me that his school is damn tough. The kids are smart enough to go to Ivy League schools. Many of his friends were admitted to Ivy League schools. They just didn’t want to waste their money.

He has nice friends. He never calls home unless I’m sending him all-caps texts that say, “CALL. YOUR. MOM. NOW.”

But I’m pretty appalled at everything else. The advisement office put him in the wrong Intro to Physics class. There are two Intro to Physics classes at his school – one has a calculus pre-requisite. He took him a week to figure out that he was in the wrong class. It was too late to get into the non-calc Physics class, so they put him in the Intermediate German class and didn’t warn him that the class was pretty much only for advanced students majoring in German.

All of his teachers are adjuncts. And they tell the students that are over worked and under paid all the time. One got fired in the middle of the semester and was replaced by a very, very old adjunct who complains all the time about his physical pains. He said that he can’t do office hours, because his wife has to drive to him school.

His bio and calc classes have 400 students.

It can take a 40 minute bus ride to get to class, because the campus is spread out over several towns.

It’s very hard to get extra help for calculus.

A small private college would easily cost another $35,000. So, I still think we did the right thing provided we make some changes. I’m taking over academic advisement for him. I spent two hours going over all the course guides, syllabi, and major requirements for the spring terms. I called Deans. I yelled at some. We’ll pay for a math tutor. After we pick his classes, we going to lean into Rate My Professor and make sure that he gets better teachers next semester.

Perhaps this is why only 58% of students graduate in four years.

The Trifecta — Teenagers, Social Media, and Bullying

Last week, while the town watched the champion football team stomp on the opposing team, a group of kids on an adjacent field engaged in a less civilized battle. I only know the story in very broad sketches that have been whispered by parents on text messages and on parents’ Facebook group. A girl was involved. Naked pictures of her distributed. Racial slangs. Boys defending honor. Long years of grievances. One kid in the hospital with a fractured skull.

While this fight with the skull stomping was going on, a group of kids watched. And filmed the whole thing with their cellphones. And put it on Snapchat.

Jonah, away at college, saw the footage. I heard about it five days later on Facebook, when parents began yelling, demanding blood.

Last night, I went to the school board meeting as usual. Typically, I’m the only person in the audience. I find these meetings useful for work purposes. Last night, there was a crowd, news vehicles, and parents holding up signs. They came out to the microphone and brought up images of Sandy Hook and Las Vegas shootings. Hysteria. It was a lynch mob.

It’s a well heeled suburb outside of New York City. People work in law and in finance. They come here for the schools and the trees and the walkable downtown and the quick commute to downtown Manhattan. A fight where a skull gets cracked just doesn’t happen here. People are very freaked out.

The school doesn’t want to get involved, because the incident happened after school hours. It’s not their business. But the parents want them to get involved. At least, they want to hear a strong statement or platitutdes about the evils of bullying.

I think that the school district should bring in someone to talk to parents about finstagrams and snapchat. Images and words that go out on the Internet through these social media forums will never been seen by future employers, and the kids know that. They absolutely do. Can law enforcement find it? Not sure. It might be good to have someone from law enforcement talk to both parents and kids about these forms of social media and what the kids are putting on there. Most parents have no idea. Some school administrators would be surprised at what their own kids are putting out there.

Also, I’m not entirely sure that the kids who were video taping the incident were doing it in a voyeuristic sort of way. It wasn’t a Kitty Geneovese thing. It’s a generational thing. They feel they are doing a public service by video taping events. That’s what everyone does when they attend a protest. They also probably rationally figured it was a bad idea to get in the middle of two kids beating each other senseless.
Anyhow, tensions are pretty high around here. Very glad to just being parenting one very quirky kid who will never ever understand or participate in this sort behavior.

The Crippling Impact of Parental Stress

After Ian’s driver got him at 7:15, I answered e-mail, arranged the time schedule for the day, and wrote for 30 minutes on my pet article. (I’m not pitching it to a magazine until it’s entirely done, which is always risky. Still, I love this article so much that I’ll just put it on the blog, if I can’t find a professional home for it.) Then I went for an hour run. For the rest of morning, I checked off items — a combination of work and mom chores — from the daily schedule. I’m so damn productive that I want to barf.

Why am I getting so much done? Well, I have been much better about running and healthy living shit. Seriously, it makes a difference.

I also have a lot less parental stress in my life. Keeping a teenage boy on target for an elite college that is affordable is VERY HARD. There are landmines everywhere. There are so many ways to royally screw up, so the only recourse is moving the entire family to rural Manitoba. And there are so many dumb chores — chauffeur duties, SAT dates, prom tux measurements, physics projects, cross country banquets, college tours, German verb conjugations. All that is done. Thank God. I know he’s sweating his way through college level calc right now, but it’s not in front of me, so I can’t worry about it. Much.

Ian has been on auto-pilot for two years ever since we moved him to his new school. But before that, he was in a bad situation, which required tons of meetings and advocates and coordination. I have more driving duties now that he goes to a school that’s farther away but that is the extent of my stress. He’s getting a good and appropriate education right now. He’s super happy. Thank you, baby Jesus.

We won’t have to work about college applications, GPAs, or tux measurements for Ian. In a way, that is sad. But in a way, it’s GREAT. He’ll be in school until he’s 21, so we’ll have worries then. But that’s far away.

All that stress was fritzing out my brain. Constant adrenaline rushes. And you never knew when a crisis would pop up. So, I was always on guard, always ready for the next battle. Now, I’m getting my shit done. I’m booked with work until Thanksgiving.

I also have the brain space to take care of the little OCD tasks that make me happy. I replaced all the bath towels in the house. The boys with their damn acne cream trashed all the towels. Now, each bathroom has its own color.  The boys have white, so I can bleach the towels every month.

I also take the time to get a manicure every week. I’m finally establishing a skin regimin to include a quality neck cream and visiting the dermatologist for a regular redhead spot check up.  I’m drinking more water. I rearranged our bedroom furniture. All these little girlie changes make me very happy.

Taking a step back. Schools shouldn’t make us sad, but they do. That’s crazy.

Is Life Better Today?

As I was super busy juggling two articles last week, you guys were carrying on an interesting discussion without me. Let me bring it to the front page.

Is life better today than it was for our parents? Do we enjoy more material benefits? Are our jobs more secure? Is the world more inclusive and kinder?

Well, it is better for people like Ian. They didn’t have the words to describe people with high functioning autism ten years ago. Now, there is the assumption that people like my son should have proper education, work, and housing. Does it always happen? No. Actually, people like Ian have a 20 percent shot of getting those things. But there’s at least recognition that these rights should exist. Maybe there will actually be real progress in another ten years.

Tangent — It does bug the crap out of me that my friends who happily plant a rainbow flag on their front lawns see nothing wrong with the fact that our school district educates its special ed kids in a windowless basement.

We have a bigger house than my parents; I grew up in a two bedroom Cape Cod. But my dad spent more time at home than Steve does. Kids weren’t so stressed out about grades and colleges and after school activities, but they are also less bored. I think middle class parenting is a wash – some improvements, some negatives.

I think the biggest difference in the negative camp has to be for working class Americans. The Trump voters really do have a worse life than they did a generation ago. And that isn’t a subjective assessment; It’s showing up in the death rates. The life expectancy for working class, white women has plummeted. The opioid crisis has hit that group hard.

The Gen-X Midlife Crisis

Because it’s relevent to our recent discussion about unhappy UMC-ers and stress, I’m linking to an article that it is being widely disseminated on my Facebook page. I know a lot of stressed out UMC-ers, I guess. From Oprah magazine:

The complaints of well-educated, middle- and upper-middle class women are easy to dismiss as temporary, or not really a crisis, or #FirstWorldProblems. America, in the grand scheme of things, is still a rich, relatively safe country. (Syrian refugees do not have the luxury of waking up in the middle of the night worried about credit card bills.) Although many women are trying to make it on minimum-wage, split-shift jobs (and arguably don’t have so much a midlife crisis as an ongoing crisis), women overall are closing the wage gap. Men do more at home. We deal with less sexism than our mothers and grandmothers, and have far more opportunities. Insert your Reason Why We Don’t Deserve to Feel Lousy here.

Fine. Let’s agree that this particular slice of Generation X women shouldn’t feel bad. And yet, many do: Nearly 60 percent of Gen Xers describe themselves as stressed out. A 2009 analysis of General Social Survey data showed that women’s happiness “declined both absolutely and relative to men” from the early ’70s to the mid-2000s. More than one in five women are on antidepressants. An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed. What we don’t talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against them feeling any other way.