"Last day to donate used outdoor cleats."
Dated last Thursday.
A postscript for Tuesday's popular post, on my imposition of a "no-texting-with-boys" rule on my sixth-grade daughter.
I circulated the post to parents of the half-dozen girls who Scout runs with. Later that night, I ran into a couple of those parents at a school-related pizza party. They practically slapped me on the back. Someone had to say it!
Some of the boys' parents were at the party, too. At one point, the girls' parents attempted to draw the boys' parents into the conversation about boy-girl texting. (Because if would be nice to have them on board, too, right?) But the boys' parents were uninterested, seemed unconcerned. I let it drop, because I am not the master of the universe, and because Scout had warned me on the way there not to bring it up with the boys' parents, who she thought wouldn't understand.
"H—'s dad thinks it's cool that H— has a bunch of girls' names in his phone," Scout added.
I owe it to myself to find a way to restart this conversation with the boys' parents, but meanwhile, it's starting to dawn on me: This situation with boys texting girls ... isn't this a new twist on a depressingly ancient situation, where girls—and their parents—have more to worry about?
The Murrows ...
... never clapped their hands and went on about how excited they were to cover the Iowa caucuses. Because they had covered the London bombings and the assassination of President Kennedy and they knew that Some Shit Actually Mattered.
Act like you've been there, Rachel Maddow. And like the country is what matters, rather than your intellectual fetishes and overflowing self love.
Over my dead body, sixth-grade Scout got a cell phone earlier this year—to communicate with her parents, was the idea. But she began calling her friends, of course, as I waved my cold, dead hands. And then over my rigor-mortistic corpse, she began texting—to a bigger group of friends than the circle I had approved.
Initially, I wanted her only to text people—like far-flung family members, or friends across town, with whom she couldn't kibitz regularly. I did not want her yakking with her friends all day at school and all night on text. I know her friends. They're lovely, but they're 12—and not yet that interesting! And if all you do is text, when in the fuck do you read, or daydream or, as I think every person ought to do every day, contemplate your mortality?
That rule went by the wayside, because she did a lot of texting with friends to help each other with homework ... and then to efficiently arrange complicated five-girl neighborhood outings. The amount of texting didn't seem out of control, and the content seemed mostly focused on logistics.
But then one day last week, Scout told me that—names changed to protect the juvenile—Vance texted her to tell her Brandon was very sorry for embarrassing her and Nate by suggesting they were trying to kiss when all they were doing was studying together.
And I said, "Hold on one cotton-pickin' minute."
I said, "No texting boys."
I said, "The whole thing about boys is you've got to learn to talk to them face to face, and figure out what you really have the courage to say to them and watching their eyes to figure out who they really are inside and how they really think." ("And so forth," I added.)
I said, "Learning about boys by texting with them is not learning about boys. It's a video game, with real boys."
She asked if she could talk to boys on the phone.
I said, "Yes." (Knowing full well I'll be incensed if she starts spending a lot of time talking to boys on the phone.) We discussed how she was going to tell boys she doesn't text. We agreed on, "I'm not allowed to text with boys. If you need to talk to me, call me up or I'll see you at school."
I said, "I'm happy to explain the reasons behind this policy to all your friends, and to boys who call, too." At this, Scout demurred, and volunteered to articulate my philosophy to her friends herself.
And then we went on to create a funny scenario where she could only communicate with boys through me, and we had a jolly laugh.
That all went down last Thursday. So far, so good.
It will no doubt not last forever, but for now, no-texting-with-boys seems like a no-brainer to me and my wife (and to Louis C.K., above).
But I also think I'll be overwhelmed with laughing people telling me I'm being completely unrealistic. I also have friends whose parenting I respect as much as my own who do not consider placing such an arbitrary restriction on modern childhood socialization. Our parents didn't manage our playground conversations, so why do we think we should—or even that we can—tell boys and girls how they can and cannot go about exploring one anothers' strange minds.
So what is my no-texting-with-boys-until-at-least-high-school policy:
Is it a parenting no-brainer? Or am I a parenting dead-ender?
A college pal—a big time Christian, who wouldn't say "shit" if he had a mouth full of it—he and I have taken very different roads in life. We kept in touch—barely, some years, though determinedly—but we didn't see much of each other. The occasional phone calls between Chicago and rural Colorado were always frenetic and sometimes strained. Was he judging me? Was I judging him? And I'm sure there were times when we suspected the other had gone off the deep end.
Really, what did we still have in common, beside some old punch lines and the happy memory of the silly summers of our youth?
There was a meeting in the middle last spring, for a windy two-day golf orgy in Nebraska. The golf was competitive, the beers after were good and the old humor was there.
Mid-afternoon on the second day—we were teeing off the 10th hole for the second time—my pal turned to me and said at once casually but also clearly with aforethought—with a chuckle but with meaning:
"Hey, thanks for not turning out to be an asshole."
I just can't tell you what comfort I've taken in that plain line, spoken by my old friend.
This week at Writing Boots has been about how hard life is. Here's the perfect way to close it out, so we may move on in joy.
We've played this one here before. And we'll probably play it again. (Permanent hat-tip to soulful communicator Ron Shewchuk, who introduced this to me almost 20 years ago.)
We've been talking this week about how hard life is. We're found wanting even in our dreams.
The other night I had a dream about my friend and longtime golf partner Bill.
Bill and I were up next on the first tee at Pine Hills—our favorite golf course, down in Ottawa, Ill. We were waiting for a foursome of old people who needed to perform a musical ritual involving tambourines before they could tee off. (For non-golfers out there, this is highly irregular.) Bill and I were being polite about it—but muttering to each other our fervent hope that the musical ritual was only a first-tee thing, and not an every-shot thing.
Then one of the old women slowly and gracefully collapsed onto the grass. An ambulance was called, but it was taking a long time because it had to come all the way from Streator, 16 miles down the road.
There were several empty holes ahead of us, and I saw this as a chance to play through and get on with our round. But though the woman seemed to be coming to and there was nothing we could really do and maybe it was her time to die anyway, Bill wanted to stay and see the situation through.
My dream! Some theme! Bill's a good guy, and I'm a dick.
I wonder if Bill has dreams where I'm the good guy, and he's the dick.
Yesterday we warmed up slowly, and agreed that communication is hard enough without everybody always changing all the time. But we all do change all the time—and so does our relationship to everything.
The union leader whose political opinions you once found formative retires, and before long you regard him as an out-of-touch crank. You go to work for a narcissist, and a foundation of fifty years of self esteem crumbles before the second pay period. For years, you were referred to as "the world's youngest curmudgeon," and then one day you realize nobody calls you that anymore, because you unknowingly transitioned from an angry young man to a grumpy old man.
We're all much more vulnerable to changes in circumstances than we (naturally) want to acknowledge.
Even subtle ones—and even inevitable ones.
I once had a conversation on the deck of a sailboat with a 50-something seventh-grade English teacher who told me he was in his third entirely separate social role at the school.
When he was in his twenties and early thirties, the students regarded him as a big brother, with whom they cooperated out of admiration. Then one day in his mid-30s, he yelled at a class and saw to his surprise that they were terrified.
"I realized I was their father now," he said. And he had to adjust his approach accordingly. And through his forties and early fifties he was their father.
Then one day—and this had happened not long before he and I had this conversation—he yelled at a class in his thunderous dad voice, and detected pity on their faces. "Uh oh," was how he read their look. "Gramps is losing it." And so he found himself in the midst of adjusting to a wholly new basis of influence.
In one way or another—and in many areas of our lives—we all have to make the adjustment from child actor to supporting actor to leading man to lovable character actor.
A friend of mine with a big personality used to warn me: "Murr, guys like us have gotta be careful, because we can get old and become caricatures of ourselves." No. We become caricatures of ourselves when our natural and useful relationship with the world changes and we go on being H.S. Thompson when it's long past time to start moving toward E.B. White.
For those who pull off all the required athletic maneuvers, there ougtta be a hall of fame. For those who don't—they should be forgiven. Life is hard enough by the day. Keeping up with it by the decade—this is a hell of a lot to ask.
Last year at the employee town hall, they stood and cheered when the CEO shared the company vision. This year, same CEO, same company, same vision, same employees—and only polite applause. What gives?
"Socialism" was a dirty word six months ago, but now we sort of associate it with an impish, disheveled guy whose hair everyone wants to comb. And "establishment" is the scourge of Republicans, who are a bunch of hippies all of a sudden?
If I said "adventure," Scout used to say, "Now!"
This morning, she agreed to go on a four-mile run with me after school.
"Great!" I said, tipping off my delight. "How about six?"
"Don't push it."