Monday, November 21, 2011

Old Enough to Vote

Living with a teenager can be like living with someone who's had too much to drink. Both think they act and speak rationally, the only difference is that one of them wakes up in the morning, hungover with regret, taking quick account of the previous night's folly and vowing to be more careful the next time. The other one forges ahead, convinced their thought process is sound and coherent. The results of these "coherent decisions" are observed in dismay by the responsible adults who scurry around, trying their best to keep their teenagers out of harm's way. According to National Geographic, in its article, The New Science of the Teenage Brain, a teenager's faulty judgement isn't their fault--something my teenagers have been telling me for years. They can't help acting irrational and inconsistent, it's their 'neural gawkiness,' according to Abigali Baird. Their brains have several more years to go until they are fully developed, mastering their impulse control, desires and ethics .

A few weeks ago my sons went on a rare shopping trip to the mall. They came home empty-handed, but since neither of them appeared bloody, I still took that to be a good sign.  My twenty-three year old flung the National Geographic with its cover of a teenager's brain onto the kitchen counter and pointed at it accusingly, "We all need to read that." 

The article says that while teenagers might be fully aware of the risk involved in drinking, they choose to do it anyway because they feel the pleasure outweighs the risk. They know speeding, or texting while driving is a stupid thing to do--they just choose to do it anyway.
The love of thrills peaks around fifteen, so if your teenager is north of that, breathe a sigh of relief. And it isn't all bad news. This same sensation seeking core often leads to the embracing of new experiences, meeting new people, and fearlessness of new situations. All of this can add up to a well-rounded, productive teenager--if you're lucky, beacuse these new, thrill-seeking ideas can also be very dangerous. These fearless interests are what lead to new experiences, and new experiences are what enhance teen brain development.  Socializing is more important than ever as teenagers build critical relationships that will most likely impact their lives for many years to come. In both good and possibly bad ways. 

So, if this late-developing frontal lobe is not up to the task of the complex challenges facing teenagers, why is it okay to allow an eighteen year old to vote or go to war? I'm glad the drinking age is twenty-one, but an eighteen year old can still go into combat and shoot a weapon.  I find that terrifying.

My son is about to turn eighteen in two weeks. He's insightful, articulate, egotistical and at times so completely capable of irrational thoughts that all I can do is stare at him and will his frontal lobe to hurry it up. We've taught him to be decent, responsible and respectful. We've told him not to talk on the phone or text while driving. We're grateful he dislikes the taste of alcohol and are proud he'll be able to cast a vote for his country in the next presidential election. And if I had to choose one of my kids to get stuck on a desert island it would probably be him, because he's still at the age where he thinks anything is possible and the world was created just for him. Yes, I trust him--at least until he comes up with the next crazy idea.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Art of Exhibitionism

"Did you hear about the woman who gave birth in an art gallery?" my daughter asked. "Can you imagine that? She acts as if this has never been done before, I mean, Queens have been giving birth in front of an audience for hundreds of years to ensure that no one switched the heir with another baby."
 "Well, at least that's a valid reason for having an audience," I said. Having given birth four times, I didn't even want to be there, much less expect anyone besides my husband and the paid medical staff of the hospital to show up.

But this kind of exhibitionism shouldn't take anyone by surprise, it's simply another way that we as a society  have deteriorated. I'm sure there are many who disagree with me. After all, the gallery gave this woman a generous amount of space that she converted into a lovely birthing room. She was present in the weeks before the birth chatting it up with attendees and discussing the beauty of birth as a natural process. About twenty onlookers attended the live event, and I'm willing to bet that none of them had ever given birth.

In the era of reality TV, Youtube and tweets it seems as if the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol had predicted has turned into something much longer and more ominous. Remember Rebecca Black? 167 million hits on Youtube and a Wikipedia page--we despise her,deride her, but we all  know her. For every celebrity that has earned their status through their hard work, talent and accomplishments, shying away from unwanted paparazzi and press, there are pseudo-celebrities whose only fame is achieved through their self-propelled publicity machine. They live their lives in front of the camera, choosing to live in a manufactured world that exists only if someone else is watching. If a tree falls in the forest...

A home should be a sanctuary, a place where a family member can go at the end of the day and feel comfort. It should be a place of love and support, a place where the boss or the teacher or the co-worker can't reach inside of you. Imagine if it isn't that. How could every move be measured and affected in order to get optimal reactions from total strangers--viewers who have earned the right to comment on someone else's family situation We are all aware that there is nothing real about reality TV, not the emotions, or the relationships, but when one sibling is giving some honest, heartfelt advice to another family member and it is viewed as suspect and self-serving, well, that's just sad. I find it equally troubling when an entire family unanimously chooses to live their life out in front of millions of viewers. That's just pathetic.

Years ago when we attended family gatherings, my husband was always ready with his video camera to record all the adorableness of our children and our nieces and nephews. Invariably there were a few kids who loved the attention and a couple who simply didn't feel comfortable with it, choosing to hide under the table or behind a wall. No amount of coaxing could cajole the reticent children into cooperation and in hindsight I have to applaud their ability at three years old to have more sense than people ten times their age.

We are not voyeurs. We have been invited. We are beseeched to watch the train wreck of other people's lives and even if we choose not to, the information is so ubiquitous as to be unavoidable. It screams at us from newspaper headlines and Op-Ed pieces in The New York Times and our nightly news. We as a society are responsible for allowing and applauding this odd behavior. It is revolting and unnerving to think we are on a first name basis with every character who shines a spotlight on themselves, yet very few of us could summon up more than a couple of names of the thirteen awardees of the Nobel Prize that were recently announced.

As a country we used to admire hard work and achievement. Let's try to remember that.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Released from Exile!

We were just exiled from our home for three days due to a freak snowstorm that hit before the month of November--before the contract for our snowplow guy kicks in. I have a theory; if it snows before Thanksgiving, then we're really in for a rough winter. I've now amended that to include Halloween.

As a Jew, I should be somewhat familiar with the concept of Exile, but it is nevertheless unsettling and creepy even if it is only the weather forcing me out my home and not the Cossacks. Some very hardy souls hunkered down amidst their quilts, flannel pjs and gloves, optimistically hoping Orange and Rockland would perform a miracle. The rest of us, the non-believers, fled like rats from a sinking ship. I ended up in Queens at my daughter's apartment and spent a calm night lulled by the sweet sounds of my slumbering toddler granddaughter.

My husband called from China, concerned about my whereabouts and my Plan B. I assured him it was all working out fine. "And she doesn't even snore!" I told him.
My seventeen year old son had been at a friend's house in New Jersey when they were hit late Saturday night. He hastily drove back to Rockland County early the next morning expecting the electricity to be on over here in time for the Giants game Sunday afternoon.

He was less sanguine about the situation, "We've had electricity for over a hunded years--you'd think they'd have figured out a way to keep it on by now!" Upon hearing his grandparents, one town over had power he dashed out the door, leaving me in the dark. I called my mother and gave her the heads up.
"You are about to be invaded by an electronic laden teenager. Make sure your outlets are clear and I hope you like football because that is all you're going to be watching for the next ten hours." She now knows what an interception is.

The lucky few who were able to think clearly and act decisively booked hotel rooms as powerless people from portions of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey frantically filled hotel lobbies. A friend of mine was lucky enough to have a generator. Her extra bedrooms filled up very quickly and she found herself serving breakfast to a crowd. Ironically, her electricity via the town is still off even after most of our neighborhood was restored. I asked her how she was managing now that our roles had reversed thelmseves. "My bedrooms emptied out, but I still don't have internet or cable service. I'll be too busy doing linens for the next two days anyway. Hopefully things will right themselves soon."

So now that some of us have our lights back on, we are now trading war stories--Where were you? How did you manage? It doesn't rank up there with Where were you when Kennedy was shot, but it's still our story to tell.

Yes, we managed, we coped, but we didn't like it one little bit. We used our wits, our sense of humor, and we're glad our loved ones are safe. Progress is two steps forward and one step back. Of course people stayed warm and their homes were lit centuries ago, but they had fireplaces in every room and a steady supply of candles.They'd never have dreamed of our need to know what was happening in every part of the world. They could never have imagined the craving to do something as simple as turning on a switch and getting light, turning on the computer to check emails, or even catching up on the eleven o'clock news or the latest late-night monologue. I think I might have been the last person to know Kim Kardashian was getting a divorce. On second thought, make that two steps back for Progress.