Calm, Cool and Committed

Three Moms and a Dude

Social Conditioning

10 things I need to know about life that I learned from the interwebz.

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My mother in law sent a text yesterday in all caps. I think I physically flinched while reading it. I immediately shot back a reply that went something like this: “Cool your jets woman!” Well, that’s what I wanted to say. Instead, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that technology is a language and our parents are Second Language Learners. If you wanted to get super linguidorky, we “speak” a creole and our children are the first generation who can truly call themselves native speakers in technology. But, I digress.

Being a part of the evolution of the technological dialect has actually molded my character a bit. One tends to try to think before speaking a bit when the entire planet is your audience. I’ve either learned or reaffirmed the following lessons through Facebook, email, chat rooms, AIM (remember that?!), text messaging and Google.

1. Don’t Be Too Unique
Sometimes, when I Google things that should be simple to find, I get zero results. If, however, I replace my query with more common wording, I have pages and pages of results. We are all hard wired more or less the same and process things similarly (which shouldn’t be a shocker). If this weren’t the case, memes like LOL Cats and Someecards wouldn’t flood your wall. Lesson learned: We are a society. A certain amount of thinking alike is not only expected but required for survival.

2. If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Wait For Someone Else to Be Rude and Agree
More than once, I have seen people flamed to the high heavens for a simple mistake or slightly less than perfectly researched error. The first half dozen responses tend to give the benefit of the doubt and then someone inevitably calls the OP out on his/her idiocy. After the dam is broken, it’s on! Scores and scores of other posters chime in with, “Yeah! What he said!” until the OP dramatically announces that he is going to close his account. This backfires (imagine 200 buh-byes and don’t-let-the-proverbial-door-hit-yas) and he is forced to create a new screen name. Lesson learned: Bullying is everywhere. Humans are not above ascribing to pecking orders and gang mentality.

3. If You Want to See Sunshine, Take Off Those Morbid Dark Sunglasses
If I post a rant or vent, I may get a couple raised fists and thumb up but a simple, “It’s beautiful out today” will have my notifier vibrating itself silly for the rest of the day. Lesson learned: People like happy. Smile and the world smiles with you; frown and frown alone. A

4. There’s No Such Thing As Right
Before the Internet, I often felt like my opinions were correct. This is, of course, a contradiction in terms but I didn’t know that until I got my smug butt handed to me by 300 strangers a couple times. If you want to test out a theory quickly, type it up as fact and post it in a chat room. You will quickly see every possible hole in your hypothesis.
Lesson learned: Seek first to understand.

5. Be Very Clear
When your interlocutor cannot see your face, seemingly innocent expressions can ignite WWIII. There is no room for sarcasm in text messages or online.
Lesson learned: Don’t assume the other guy got the message you meant to send.

6. Silence is Golden
If you are in a text messaging fight, nothing will tick off your opponent faster than a few harsh words – except for a lack thereof. If you simply commence radio silence, the guy in the other corner of the ring will text himself silly wondering where you went. Wait through all the threats and curses and you’ll eventually get the “OK. I’m sorry. Call me?” Works like a charm.
Lesson learned: Let the other guy blow off steam before you step into the ring.

7. Body Language is Critical “No!!! >;;;:(” does by equal “No :-P” nor “No ;)”. There is more to words than the letters that compose them. We need to see each others’ faces and hear each others’ tone of voice in order to effectively communicate. Have you ever pondered the irony of the fact that in half the time it took to invent a purely mechanical means of communication, we created a way to turn black and white text into faces, hearts, roses and more? Humans need body language more than we need words. Lesson learned: People can read you like a book. Make sure they aren’t judging you by a cover- be true to your message by making your body language reinforce your meaning.

8. Friendship Takes Work I still have letters from my 5th grade BFF, my middle school BFF, my high school BFFs and my college BFF. Yet, I couldn’t tell you what 3/4 of those women are doing today…because they aren’t on Facebook. On the other hand, I can tell you whether my ex-boyfriend is seeing someone new, where she works, how many of my other friends know her and where she got her new tattoo…because they are both on Facebook. I honestly believe that if I had Facebook growing up like my younger sister did, I would have learned more quickly how to patch up a wounded relationship and keep it healthy enough to at least wish one another happy birthday every year. It used to be too easy to let the distance erode friendships. Now, I know more about my friends in Spain than my neighbors, I’ve built a relationship with my second-cousin-once-removed (can you name yours?) and kept a good enough friendship with ex-boyfriends to help one get a very good job. And all it took was the occasional thumbs up when someone posted a photo or a witty meme. Lesson learned: One step goes along way when it is aimed in the direction of a friend.

9. Share
Today, a friend “stole” my Facebook status and reposted it on her wall. One of her friends, in turn, asked if she could copy it and my friend said, “Sure, I stole it, too!” Instead of being angry that my intellectual property was thieved, I was honored that a whole community of people I’ve never met would be chuckling at my wittiness.
Lesson learned: What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is theirs, what’s theirs will come around and be mine again.

10. The Only Constant is Change I can’t remember the first time I read LOL, but I remember rolling my eyes at spin-offs like: ROTFL, FOOMCL, and LMAO (which I can’t stand for some inexplicable reason). Now, kids are typing letter combos that take serious time and thought to figure out. Sometimes, I give up and Google them. Most recently: “tl;dr” which I find a bit rude. It’s amazing how quickly we “need” something that never existed before. How on earth did I ever have a conversation without using OMG or WTF? Lesson learned: Embrace the new, it may actually be improved. Or not, but at least you won’t be hopelessly out of touch.

I remember when technology was a novelty. Now, it is inextricably woven into the fabric of our culture. How many of you had a mini panic attack at the thought of Sandy wiping out your social networking? Have you noticed that malls don’t have pay phones any more? When’s the last time you walked out of a room and said the letters BRB? Technology used to imitate life but now I think life may be starting to imitate technology. Like if you agree.

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Simple Man

According to family therapist and parenting guru, John Gottman, a child’s emotional IQs more of a foreshadowing of his future success than his intelligence.  Shocking? How about this: the father plays a greater role in a child’s emotional development than a mother.  

Mama told me when I was young, “Come sit beside me, my only son.  Listen closely to what I say. If you do this, it’ll help you some sunny day. Oh, take your time. Don’t live too fast. Troubles will come and they will pass.  You’ll find a woman and you’ll find love. And, don’t forget, son, there is someone up above. And be a simple kind of man. Oh be something you love and understand. Baby, be a simple kind of man. Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can?”

If you’re a mother of a boy, you can hear the guitar chords in your head and feel the lump in your throat.  When men hear that they are going to be daddies to a little girl, they panic a little bit and buy bumper stickers about killing boyfriends…and they’re only half kidding.  When the ultrasound tech told Bug and me that we were having a boy, he was relieved.  He said that with a son you only have to worry about one boy; with a daughter, you have to worry about all the boys. He’s right. Girls get their hearts broken easily and often find themselves in situations that are tricky at best – sometimes even dangerous.  Fathers are right to worry when they have girls because, as my own father once said, “I was a teenage boy once, too.” They are The Shadow: they know what “evil” lurks in the hearts of men.  So, when we found out that Doodle Bug was going to be a boy – Bug was relieved. I was not.

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I know that girls can get hurt because they often put themselves in situations where their heart could be broken.However,  I panicked because I know that boys can get hurt because they put themselves in situations where their necks can be broken – speeding, bungee jumping, rugby.  It’s like they’re not happy unless their mother is so worried about them that she chews her fingernails right off waiting for them to come home. I told Bug that I want Doodle Bug to have the slowest, heaviest car. Preferably, a tank.  He would be in the band and wear football padding if he chose to play table tennis.  Now that Doodle Bug is a toddler and I’m getting to know him, I see that those are ridiculous requests.  I am not worried about my baby’s physical safety any more than I am about his emotional security. I’m not only worried about him driving into a wall; I’m worried about him hitting a glass ceiling.

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Wait.  Aren’t glass ceilings only a concern in Feminism? Not any more.  The Women’s Rights Movement was a reaction to a feeling of oppression and sexism against women.  It took women out of the kitchens and put them behind desks and on battlefields.  *It masculinized them. In turn, men felt like they had to become bigger and tougher.  Suddenly, anything that made a man appear even slightly weaker than Rambo was girly or wimpy and must not be shown.  Men no longer could cry, be afraid, feel emotion or admit defeat. Those were womanly characteristics and men were tough, goshdarnit.  Men should be able to lift couches, beat up bad guys and fix toilets.  The only time they should ever be caught cooking anything was if there was open flame involved and even then, only red meat.

My father is a victim of this tough guy mandate.  As a family, we went to see The Little Mermaid in theaters.  When Ariel’s father professes his love for her, suddenly my dad’s allergies kicked in.  He had inexplicable watering of the eyes and runny nose.  It was probably some lady’s floral perfume. My husband has let projects sit for months (::cough:: ::cough:: years ::cough::) without finishing them.  During one emotionally charged conversation, I discovered that he would rather I think he was lazy that know that he hadn’t the foggiest idea how to do some things around the house.  As my mother says, “I don’t know how to sew drapes so I hire someone who does but if men don’t know how to fix a leaky faucet, it’s like their penis falls right off.” Well, not my son’s. His package will stay firmly in place. I want him to know that he has permission to cry in front of his friends. He may ask someone else to fix his toilet and have his girlfriend beat up the burglar while he dials 911.  I want my son to be a simple kind of man.

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Society seems to be so focused on not letting girls get hurt that we worry about the boys.  Girls hear things like, “make him treat you right” and “don’t trust those boys!”  What do boys hear? “be gentle with your sister,” “open the door for ladies,” “don’t break her heart,” “be a tough guy!” Maybe in the past forty years we have been so focused on getting women ahead that we haven’t noticed our men slip behind.  We  have been so busy dwelling on our difficult roles as mothers, wives, and career women that we can’t hear the men asking, “how am I supposed to be a father, husband and career man?” We tell our daughters that guys are up to no good but I’ve seen as many teenage boys cry over relationships as girls.  I’ve had conversations with male students that feel like the limelight is on them. They are not allowed to get angry at their girlfriends because they will be accused of being abusive. They have to win fight or they will be called weak. They can’t let the girls win because that is condescending and they will have to admit that they’ve lost to a girl. Nor can they win because, then what? You beat a girl. Way to go, man. No wonder there seems to be a learned helplessness among this generation’s young men.  They are just as confused about their roles in society as women were when they were sent back home after having done their time as Rosie the Riveter.  Even when a man manages to do a good job, all of the voices around him whisper, “behind every great man is a greater woman” or “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

I look at my daughter, Sunny, and I pray that she is spunky and strong so that she doesn’t get trampled on. Then, I look at my son and pray that he knows he is allowed to strong but not tough. He can be smart but not arrogant. He can admit he’s in love or that his heart is broken. He can tear up the opposing team and turn around and blow his mom a kiss.  All humans are allowed to show happiness, sadness, strength and weakness.  If that means that we cry when we skin our knee, then that’s OK. Even if we’re boys. Even if we’re in our 30s.  If something hurts, it hurts and all I want for my son is to be emotionally intelligent and free. Just like my dad sat on the couch and cleaned his guns when boys came to pick me up, I’ll be staring down the girls who want to date my boy.  There are no rules about how to be a man just like there are no rules about how to be a woman. All we are is people. Simple people. And all our mothers want for us is to be satisfied.

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*Information courtesy of a Sociology major friend of my sister.

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