Thursday, January 29, 2009

Just Say "NO!" (Maybe)

As women, we all know we take care of things. I take care of my family. I take care of the dog. I take care of the cats. I take care of our neighbor's cat who has taken up residence on our front porch.

I take care of the birds in our neighborhood by feeding them all year round. I think every bird within a two-mile radius now congregates daily in my back yard. I've even started buying dried corn cobs for the rabbit that lives in our yard after I saw him eating twigs the other day just to survive.

Recently, an elderly neighbor has started calling me asking for things. At first it was to bring her mail to her door. Then it was to put out her trash and recycling. Then it was for rides to the grocery store or the drug store. Yesterday she called to tell me that her phone was not working properly and that I needed to bring her some batteries immediately.

This recent request got me wondering. How exactly have I become the caretaker of the entire world?

I understand that our neighbor is 86 years old, lives alone and needs some help. What bothers me is that she has family living no more than 20 minutes away. She claims she cannot call on them because "everybody else works."

It is official. I don't work. I sit around all day eating bon bons, watching soap operas and reading trashy novels just waiting for someone to call me with something to do.

The problem is I have a hard time with one word - "No."

My son's teacher sent a form home a few weeks ago asking for volunteers for several class fundraisers. I signed up to not only work at our school's Darlin' Dance, but also to bake cookies and donate a door prize. On Sunday night, my son's teacher calls and says she doesn't have enough volunteers to work the Book Fair and could I possibly volunteer for a shift?

Of course I said yes. But it left me wondering where the other 19 parents in the class were that they couldn't give three hours of their time.

It is simply the curse of being a nice person. I have a hard time letting people down. My heart went out to the poor bunny eating twigs just to fill his stomach. I feel bad for a little old lady stuck in her house in this harsh weather.

But maybe the next time my son's teacher calls for me to volunteer, I will just say I have a previous engagement. Perhaps when my neighbor calls for a ride on a day I have to work, I will suggest she call our local transit authority that provides a shuttle service for senior citizens at a small price.

Then again, who I am kidding. I will still be the one sitting in a busload of over-stimulated children on their way back from a field trip and driving to the store for batteries in a foot of snow.

Pass the bon bons.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day: Pomp, Circumstance and Bobble-head Dolls

We have just inaugurated the 44th President of the United States. And what good old American celebration would be complete without cheap, gaudy souvenirs to commemorate the occasion.

I was watching news coverage of the pre-inauguration festivities yesterday, and a reporter was talking about the variety of Barack Obama souvenirs that are on sale. She interviewed a guy that had already sold 1,500 Obama bobble-head dolls and had to order more.

Why is it that we feel compelled to honor any major event with t-shirts, hats and mugs? I can still remember some of the stuff people were selling as part of the United States Bicentennial Celebration back in 1976. What true blue, red-blooded American could properly observe our nation's 200th birthday without a pair of commemorative underpants.

Apparently this phenomenon is not limited to Americans. I recall watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson back when Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married. He was showing some of the souveniers on sale for that event. The one I will never forget was a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "The Morning After" on the front and showed the Prince and Princess sitting in bed with black eyes and missing teeth. And I thought we Americans had cornered the market on tackiness.

When Pope John Paul II passed away, I bought a commemorative issue of People that focused on his life and his papacy. On one page, there was a display of products that apparently were on sale when he was made pope. There was actually a bar of soap shaped like his head on a string called--you guessed it--Pope on a Rope. Somewhere, there is a soapmaker headed straight to hell.

As for me, I will celebrate this historic moment without buying shirts or spending $10 on a commemorative $1 bill with President Obama's face on it. I will, however, be doing an internet search later today to see if I can find an Obama Bobble-Head Doll.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Winning Isn't Everything, But You Darn Well Better Come In First!

Last weekend, my son participated in his final Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. He will be moving into Boy Scouts in a few months.

His car actually made the finals in the Webelos Division. He ended up finishing in sixth place. The top four cars in each division move on to the district race. And was he ever disappointed.

Upset and angry might be a better description. He barely spoke a word to us on the way home. He only opened up when we bribed him with a McDonald's double cheeseburger. He said he was disappointed because he really wanted a trophy.

Now, my son's dresser contains plenty of trophies, three of which are from past Pinewood Derbies. Actually, last year was the first time ever that his car did not place. But he was fine with that, saying that other kids needed a chance to win a trophy.

So what changed since last year? Maybe it was because it was his final race. Perhaps it was because he based his car design on one that had come in first place several years earlier. Or maybe kids today are just used to rewards coming too easily.

When I was young, only the championship teams--whether it was football, little league or cheerleading--received trophies. When my son played flag football last fall, every child that participated got a trophy. My daugter has a bunch of cheerleading trophies in her room because every girl that performs in a competition gets one.

I have no problem with encouraging and rewarding children to boost their self-esteem and confidence. It seems that we are doing a great job teaching them to be good winners, but we are failing at teaching them to be good losers.

The world loves a winner. They applaud and idolize them. And the losers are often seen being mocked and trash-talked by the winning team. Watch any professional sports game and observe the interaction between the two teams. No wonder kids think there is so much shame in failing.

To my chagrin, my son did not congratulate one of the boys who placed in the race last Saturday. He just sulked away. Could I have forced him to offer those boys praise? Certainly, but it would not have been sincere.

Instead, we had a long talk when we got home. We discussed the importance of both winning and losing with grace. We discussed the fact that out of 24 cars in the Webelos division, his had come in sixth place. And he had done most of the work on it himself. He should be proud of that accomplishment. In the end, I think he felt much better about his performance that day.

As for me, I will be more careful to praise the effort rather than the result. Maybe if we concentrate less on trophies and awards, we can raise a generation that not only can congratulate the winners sincerely, but can also congratulate themselves on a job well done regardless of the outcome.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Starting the New Year With a Whimper and a Prayer

It is the first full week of 2009. The holidays are over, the decorations are coming down, and I feel downright depressed.

I always feel down this time of year when the glitter and lights of the holiday season are gone. When my children would get upset as the tree came down, I used to remind them that this a brand new year full of possiblilities. I would cheer myself up wondering what good things the new year would bring.

With financial experts making dire predictions for 2009, however, looking forward in this year is like looking forward to a colonoscopy. In an effort to cheer myself up, I have decided to make some predictions of my own. So here goes:

-The pathetic Detroit Lions football team recovers from their dismal 0-16 season by actually winning a game. Unfortunately, officials are forced to call the game with 30 seconds left when the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse ride onto the field, signalling that the world is ending.

-Disgusted by the lack of explanations and accounting from financial institutions which received bailout money in 2008, Congress calls a special session and demands that company CEOs come clean. These individuals respond to the inquiries by sticking out their tongues, waving their fingers by their ears and shouting explanations such as "Neener, neener, neener!" and "Jack, jack, no trade back!" Outraged, the American public responds with outcries of "Liar, liar, pants on fire!"

-Executives of the Big Three automakers are forced to give up their big salaries, free company vehicles and private jets as conditions of the bailout given by Congress. Furthermore, they are also required to shop at Walmart, get their hair cut at Fantastic Sam's and buy their cappuccinos from the vending machines at Speedway. The horror of it all.

-Barack Obama is sworn in as president and promptly announces he is going on a four-year vacation, declaring "There is absolutely no way I am ever going to clean up this mess anyway."

-Former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin is given a cabinet position in the Obama administration. Her job is stand on the shores of the Alaska and keep an eye on those pesky Russians.

-George Bush and Dick Cheney leave office, and there is much rejoicing throughout the nation. Cheney occupies his time by taking Barack Obama, members of his administration and congressional leaders on hunting trips. Mysteriously, Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are all killed in a series of "hunting accidents."

-As a result, Hillary Clinton is named President of the United States. This leads to what doctors call a medical anamoly as conservatives everywhere drop dead from heart attacks and massive strokes, or simply have nervous breakdowns and babble uncontrollably.

-President Bush retires to his home in Texas and opens his presidential library. Strangely, the library contains only two books: Jeff Foxworthy's "You Know You're a Redneck If..." and "Presidency for Dummies." Sadly, the wrapper has never been taken off of the latter book.

Happy 2009 everyone! And may God help us.