Archive for the ‘High School Confidential’ Category

We have a little time

November 9, 2011

“We have a little time,” said my son, sitting at the kitchen island, alert by an extra hour “saved” by changing the clocks around.

So we talked about fear, about movies and about how things that we know are not “real” scare us nonetheless.  I tried to explain the brain, our mythos, our culture of fear, but only because I love my boy.  Yet we all love all the world, don’t we?

It was time to go, so we continued to talk in the car.  He said, “I’m not scared when I’m not alone.”


Princeton Re-View: Fiddler in the Rye

February 16, 2011

This is the story of my fail of a Princeton interview, and a small, but redemptive, synchronistic twist of fate that occurred thirty-three years later.  I tell it in the spirit of calming fears, in this case the fear of rejection; for when it comes to the lizard brain, rejection, loss, abandonment, annihilation, dread and death all cluster together.

Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), when we are in lizard mode, things do not go well for one-to-one love, nor do they pulse well for the social network.  And when it comes to parenting, whether it is about getting our child into the “right school,” or just getting them into the car when they are in one of those moods, calming ourselves by being mindful that we are already accepted to the school of life—the school we’re all in together—may help us calm our children and support them to shine, not just for the benefit of themselves, but for the collective good of all of us.

This particular story came back into my mind recently when I was dining with friends and got to chatting with a visiting step-mom, now a fellow psychologist, who turned out to have been in charge of admissions at Princeton for a good number of years—years including 1978 (a time when I had, more or less, fashioned myself after Sartre, Camus and Starsky—not Nick from The Great Gatsby).

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The Deep

June 17, 2010

This day always holds dread and portent for me as it marks the day in my childhood when my best friend, Jonathan, was killed; yet there is another story of attachment and loss that also clusters around this day in the watery tumult of my psyche.

It all goes back to high school—junior year honors English.  Ellen was in my class and of course I thought she was cute.  I sat one row over and one seat back, and thus my year was spent stealing glances at her as my mind drifted in and out, but mostly away, from Jude the Obscure.

The very last week of class the teacher invited us all to her house and on the way out, with summer stretched endlessly before me, I somehow found the courage to ask Ellen out on a date and was elated and shocked when she said yes.  I had asked out girls before, and had a good long history of “no” (particularly humiliating was my freshman year honors English fail with the girl who sat in front of me as my mind wandered away from the likes of Pride and Prejudice—I could simply not persuade that girl, a full head taller than me, to go on a date where we would ride our bikes).  But in 1977 I had a license to drive, and so Ellen would be picked up in a car.

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Abby Normal

June 11, 2010

I went to sleep last night with prayers for Abby Sunderland in my heart.

I awoke to learn that she is okay, and I am delighted and relieved for that.

What I wish to say today is that Abby’s situation is a perfect confluence of the opposites (the very place where the transcendent, sublime, even divine is most likely to show up).

Abby’s brother sailed around the world alone—the youngest to do it.  Abby wanted to do it too, to get the crown of youngest to sail around the world alone.  Note how many opposites this collective focal point conjures: life and death, over-protection and under-protection, bravery and fear, equipment and nature, togetherness and isolation, young and old, water and land, safety and adventure, “good” parenting and “bad” parenting, giving up and keeping on, ego and oceanic oneness.

Given that my aim is to enhance consciousness toward the benefit of the collective, my personal opinions about whether or not, as a parent, I would let my own sixteen-year-old sail around the world alone (I’m nervous for him to start driving lessons) is at least partially beside the point.

I went to sleep with images of “pitch-poling” and “submarining” in my mind’s eye—the experts conjectures of what 25 foot waves in 80 knot winds might do to cause a sailor to hit the rescue-me button (a forty foot boat flipping end over end; nose-diving straight down the face of giant waves and capsizing into 50 degree water).

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Arrival of the Fittest—childhood evolving

June 4, 2010

A reader sent me a link to a Salon interview by Thomas Rogers of Melvin Konner about his new book The Evolution of Childhood.  A few things stood out to me; Rogers asks, “What’s the evolutionary purpose of adolescent rebellion?”

Konner replies, “In our culture, we give kids the message that at a certain point they’re going to be on their own and that involves breaking emotional ties with their parents. So it’s kind of like, ‘OK, you’re going to kick me out soon, so I’m going to reject you before you get a chance.’ But one of the big discoveries in the last decade in child development research is that there’s a lot of brain development after puberty, approximately between age 12 to 20. The brain, especially the frontal lobes of the brain, which are involved in suppressing impulses and organizing behavior in a rational and mature way, continues to develop during that time.

But now the age of puberty is two to three years younger than it used to be — it used to be 15, but now it’s about 12 and a half, or 13. We’re walking away from the evolutionary background that we had. Now the surge of testosterone that occurs in both girls and boys at that time, which facilitates aggression, is happening against the background of the less developed brain. Many psychologists are sensibly, I think, arguing that we should take this into account in criminal cases that involve teenagers and the judgments they make. They just don’t have the brain to make decisions in the same the way that an adult does.”

Rogers follows up with:  “So teenagers really are becoming more obnoxious,” to which Konner concedes, “I think it’s fair to say.”

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Sweet still at sixteen

June 3, 2010

Andy and I were talking and she suggested that it might be nice to post something on how kids, even at they continue to grow (and despite being intermittently mouthy, rude, entitled and impossible) actually remain cute and sweet to us parents.

When our little crawlers were still in car-seats, the big boys and girls kicking up sand at the park and racing up and down the slide represented a stark contrast between our kids (cute and adorable) and those other kids (brutal and rather advanced, maybe even talking in sentences, not always kind sentences).

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They say it’s your birthday

May 22, 2010

We all love our kids and I am no exception.  While I can hardly believe that my son, Nate, turns sixteen today, I struggle about just the right sort of blog post to honor this event.

I’m quite sure that Nate would not much care for a public trip down memory lane.  I can hardly count the number of times this year when we’ve been having some sort of dust-up over video games, or sibling conflict and he’s angrily said, “You’re not going to write about this in your blog are you?”

My own mom called to wish Nate a happy birthday yesterday, but he was still hurt over some highly impaired grand-parenting behavior during their last trip out.  He wasn’t the nicest to her and she knew he was still angry, but then Andy, Nate and I talked it over and he decided to call back and have a real conversation with his Buby.  I felt so proud that he could express his hurt, stick to his guns, clear things up and then honestly tell her that he does not carry any more resentment now and really loves her.  And he’s sixteen.

During that conversation I overheard him say to his somewhat difficult Buby, explaining his side of things, “I’m sixteen now.  I know a little bit about what goes on in the world.”  He also said in defense of something she was asserting, “I talk to my dad about stuff and he talks to me.”  Even if Nate and I skirmish now and then, it moved me to hear him valuing and defending our relationship.  To sit beside my son as the sun set on his fifteenth year and overhear half a conversation in which we worked stuff out with my mother was one of those small things that looms fantastical all the same.

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Grapes of a Mom’s Wrath

May 16, 2010

As Momalom throws down the gauntlet on the theme of lust, my mind drifts back to a time of innocence on the cusp of carnal knowledge, a time before men were from Mars and women from Venus, a time when more than one or two languid high school afternoons were spent with my girlfriend, listening to Paul McCartney’s Venus and Mars, literally barricaded in her sister’s bedroom and trying to figure out just how far we should go.

Being a fairly clueless kid, but with strong feelings of loneliness and water-wings of desire, I’m not quite sure how I ended up having a kind and sensitive girlfriend, but this was the first time that I started to feel hope and joy again in the years after my best friend’s death at my fourteenth birthday.

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Running away, again

April 12, 2010

I had been wanting to see the movie The Runaways and it so happened that I caught it with my younger kid, Will, who is an intrepid movie-goer, the very next day after watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the two films made an interesting pairing.

Besides feeling the Mexicali earthquake during the film (which caused us to seek temporary refuge in the parking lot), the story of Joan Jett’s first band is set in the same Valley of Fast Times, the same Valley where I now live.  The film takes place in 1975 and the characters are fifteen; the fact that I was fifteen in 1975 gave the film a sort of resonant dream-like quality, especially watching next to my thirteen-year old and also thinking about my fifteen-year-old son.

Bearing relationship to all rock & roll movies (be it Sid and Nancy or The Buddy Holly Story), The Runaways is both exhilarating and sad—like rebellion, growing up and making art all must inevitably be.  The heroines of the film, lost and vulnerable angels turned would-be bad girls reminded me all too well of my punk rock friends from back in the day, but also of myself in my own lost way.

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Slow Times at Ridgemont High

April 11, 2010

Andy recently picked up a marked-down copy of Fast Times at Ridgemont High as a bit of a joke and so we all cozied in together for family film night last Saturday—a rare window with no sleepovers or plans and both kids willing to do the same thing as both parents (for example, they all like House but I can’t watch without thinking that I have the ailment of the episode).

Fast Times hit the theaters in 1982.  I had just moved to New York City and started in graduate film school—and it was a film I fell in love with as an aspirational possibility because it was funny, edgy, intelligent, subversive and at the same time a commercial success on a relatively modest budget.  It was the sort of film an up and coming filmmaker could hope to emulate (as opposed to say, Blade Runner, E.T. and Gandhi as other “big” movies that year).

I always appreciated Fast Times as a seminal work in the teen genre, feeling that it drew from films ranging from Grease to Rebel Without a Cause while making everything from Valley Girl, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the entire John Hughes oeuvre to American Pie and Superbad possible in its wake.  One thing I always particularly appreciated about Fast Times was that Amy Heckerling’s direction brought a woman’s touch to teen sex and social relationships, adding layers of pathos, melancholy and verisimilitude while keeping things funny.  Back in ’82 it was still a big deal for a woman to be directing… very much paving the way for Katherine Bigelow’s Oscar this year with heavier fare.

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