Saturday, January 23, 2010

Grammar Rules Rule

I have two boys who were born and are raised in the Midwest. How on earth they ended up sounding like two little California valley girls is beyond me. I can't say they are channeling Julie from the movie Valley Girl when I hear them say, "like" and "um" 20 times in one sentence because they obviously have no knowledge of the valspeak explosion of 1983.  But, I'm a little concerned that the insidious "like" and "um"  keeps hanging around.  Can we erase it from our vocabulary... please? It's so, like, gag me with a spoon!

Christopher says, "Um, mom, can I, um, go into the garage and, like, um, play?" Really?  Did he need two ums and one like to ask me a simple question?  Did he really need to say in 13 words what he could have accomplished in seven?  How about, "mom, can I play in the garage?" That is all I need to understand his request. I zone out with each and every "um" and I stop listening. Which is what everyone else will eventually do, too. I stop Christopher at every "um" and say, "start over."

Nicholas says, "Mom, you know my friend Fred, he, like, said the "s" word (stupid) and his mom, like, heard him but didn't, like, say anything to him." Seriously? Three "likes" in one sentence? I stop Nicholas at every "like" and say, "start over."   The boys get very frustrated every time I interrupt their speech, but it's nothing compared to my frustration at the very thought of raising boys who are unable to speak articulately and coherently.

Grammar rules are around for a reason.  The English language isn't easy to learn and we have lots of weird rules to live by, but grammar rules do improve our speech.  Grammar rules prevent us from sounding unintelligible or lazy.  My kids are in for a lifetime of hearing the same frustrating lessons I was taught as a kid. My family members were constantly on my case with rules like not using a preposition at the end of a sentence (Where's it at?  UGH.  It sounds terrible...really terrible).  Or how to correctly use "me" vs. "I" in a sentence (as in, "you can sing better than I," not "you can sing better than me" because if you were to continue the sentence you would say, you can sing better than I can sing, not you can sing better than me can sing).  I know, I know...it gets complicated. I understand that the boys find it maddening now, but they will thank me later.  I am forever grateful to my relatives for providing me with a solid foundation of language rules that I remember to this day. 

The problem is, my kids seem to relapse as soon as they get the hang of a certain rule because their friends are using equally appalling language.  I hear them on the playgrounds and in our backyard. Every single one of them overuses "like" and "um" in every single sentence and every single conversation. They say other infuriating things like, "I seen it, too" or "I ain't got a skateboard."  Why aren't their parents trying to correct them, too? Am I fighting an uphill battle?

I know my kids will learn proper grammar and usage in school.  I know they are young and are just learning to navigate this weird, sometimes awkward language called English.  But, I intend to make sure they never, ever say "ain't"  and understand quirks like using "somebody" as the singular pronoun that it is ( "somebody forgot his lunch today" instead of  "somebody forgot their lunch today").   Does it matter in the overall scheme of things?  Will Nicholas or Christopher be that much farther behind if they don't know that "somebody" is a singular pronoun?  Yes.  They will.  Is it worth it to nitpick?  You bet it is.  People who speak well are taken more seriously than those who don't.  The way my kids communicate will be a solid measure of their future success just as much, if not more, than any math, science or technology skill.

I know my kids' grammar journey is just starting and I will have to stand firm and stay committed. I am prepared for lots of frustrating moments but I believe they will heave a big sigh of relief when the grammar rules start kicking in and making sense.  They will be that much farther ahead of the game.

For starters though, I just have one simple request.  Please, for the sake of my sanity, stop saying "where's it at?" Nails on a chalkboard, people!  Nails on a freakin' chalkboard!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The War of Art

I want to thank my friend, Jenna, for featuring Steven Pressfield, author of the book, The War of Art, on her blog recently. She read his book, found it compelling enough to write a blog post about it, and he contacted her to see if she would like to do an interview with him on her blog. How cool is that? He was gracious enough to offer a few books as a giveaway to her readers and I was one of the lucky winners.

So, I sat down to read the book. Wow. What can I say? Here is the gist of the book:

"Pressfield's book aims to help readers overcome Resistance so that they may achieve "the unlived life within." Whether one wishes to embark on a diet, a program of spiritual advancement or an entrepreneurial venture, it's most often resistance that blocks the way. To kick resistance, Pressfield stresses loving what one does, having patience and acting in the face of fear. The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognize and overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectively shows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline. Think of it as tough love . . . for yourself. "

So, I'm getting misty-eyed about one-quarter of the way into the book because I realize that I have been sabotaging myself for most of my adult life. I have loads of ways to rationalize that I shouldn't, couldn't, wouldn't do something because of the fear of the unknown. I can convince myself so easily that I shouldn't, couldn't, wouldn't do something because I'm really not that good at it anyway. If I can't do something well enough the first time around I really don't want to do it at all. So I stall and I rationalize and I sabotage. What a cop out. It's easier sometimes to provide excuses than to actually do the thing we really want to do in the first place but have convinced ourselves is out of our reach because of self-sabotaging behavior! Whew. Why on earth are we so hard on ourselves?

Plain and simple fear. At least for me it's fear. Steven says in the book that, "We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. We fear this because, if it's true, then we become estranged from all we know. We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us."

Bingo. I must prove worthy of my ideals. And that does scare me. What if I lose? What if I am not as good as I thought I was? Confidence is a hard thing to come by but it's the only thing that will help us achieve any results because if we don't believe in ourselves, who will? It sounds simple enough. Have confidence, will conquer. Steven's book is a great reminder to keep plowing forward in the face of fear.

During my reading and revelations, I kept thinking about my mom. She was a talented person who never fully realized her talents. She could write, she could draw, she could sing and act and do just about anything creative. But, she avoided her calling and spent most of her time manifesting sicknesses instead. She was always ill and always trying to find a cure for her ailments. The time she spent visiting doctor's offices would have been better spent providing an outlet for her creative talent. But, she didn't believe in herself. At all. She died never realizing any of her potential. "Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work." All of her energy went into her victimhood. What a waste.

After my mom died I took out of her house one of her paintings that I had always admired. I brought it home and put it in the Armoire near my desk because I didn't really have a place for it at the time. I knew I would hang it up somewhere, someday, but just never gave it much thought as to where.

After reading the chapter in Steven's book about "Resistance and Victimhood" it became very clear to me that I needed to hang that picture up...right now. I stoop up, grabbed a hammer and nail, moved picture frames and other paraphernalia off the bookcase near my desk and hung my mother's painting. Her painting is now in clear view as a constant reminder that I still have the opportunity to realize my dreams. My mom lost her chance.
I don't want to let that happen to me. I want to overcome self-sabotage and overcome my obstacles of ambition. I want to provide a great example to my kids of what it means to find your calling and be true to yourself.

I have some work to do, but I am ready to do it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

No Gender Biases Here

I have spent the last few days trying to figure out the myriad electronic appliances we received over the holidays. Between Christmas and Mark's birthday (December 26) I have been knee-deep in USB cables, Wii remotes, Powermats, Bamboo tablets and new-fangled iPods. Trying to figure out how all of this technology works can be frustrating, to say the least, but I have managed to get everything set up, connected and working properly. Whew.

When it comes to installing, configuring, monitoring or updating anything electronic, wired or related in any way to a computer I'm your (wo) man. Whatever is not intuitive enough to figure out on my own I will find in the instruction manuals. I am not the most technical person you know by far, but I really enjoy learning about new technologies and the latest gizmos on the market. On the other hand, Mark calls me to his computer to help send email attachments, so chances of him doing something like backing up his own computer are pretty slim. It's just easier if I do it myself. I finally signed us both up for the Mozy online backup system because we have had too many hardware malfunctions and too many lost files. Now our computers back up everyday and I don't have to be anywhere near the darn thing.

Mark doesn't know, or care, about wireless routers or registry errors so I am summoned whenever a cable comes unplugged or an ominous message appears. It's better that way since we have had many virus infestations from seemingly harmless clicks. I took a chance and bought Mark an iPod for his birthday but he has no idea what to do with it. Because he is an iPod newbie I load his iTunes songs, subscribe to his Podcasts and sync the iPod (but syncing is a piece of cake with the new Powermat). I am blown away by the Nano 5th generation capabilities. I was excitedly telling Mark about all of the cool things he can do like listen to FM radio, shoot video and record voice memos. He wasn't as impressed as me, but give it time. I wasn't too sure about my iPod when I got it 2 years ago and I can't imagine now ever living without it. I sadly realized, however, that my 3rd generation Nano is completely outdated. I know what I will be asking for next year.

For all of the tasks Mark doesn't like to do there just as many he can do better than me. He can sew buttons, fix holes in sweaters and apply knee patches to the boys' jeans. If Nicholas or Christopher needs anything sewn they ask dad. Christopher had a stuffed animal whose seam was coming apart on its tummy. Mark sewed it up perfectly, gave it back to Christopher, and told him his kitty got some "stitches." Christopher was thrilled. Mark can also iron a shirt better than I can with his eyes closed and one hand tied behind his back. And, when it comes to making Christmas cookies to distribute to teachers and neighbors you will find Mark and the boys merrily mixing gingerbread men and formulating frosting from scratch. Every year they try to perfect a new cookie concoction. They take over the kitchen and I am no where to be found.

It's ironic how society tends to assign gender biases to particular tasks. Usually, we assume the man takes care of electronics and the woman bakes the cookies. But we don't live by any gender biases in this house and I believe the boys will benefit greatly because of it. They are learning at a very early age that dads can sew and moms can read technical manuals. They are also learning about give and take. It's not that Mark isn't capable of installing software or that I'm not capable of baking. Mark just doesn't like technology and I can do without assembling and wrapping dozens of cookies . We appreciate our strengths and weaknesses are and we accommodate them.

Nicholas and Christopher are also learning that everyone chips in to help around the house. Mark does laundry when I need some help and I shovel snow when he's too busy at work. He makes breakfast on the weekends and I take the trash out when he isn't able. I have been told on numerous occasions how lucky I am to have a husband who does as much as he does around the house. I know I'm lucky. I realize my good fortune every single day.

But there are some tasks we just don't mess around with. I have never, ever mowed a blade of grass for fear that I run the diagonal lines the wrong way. That is Mark's domain. The men in our neighborhood are pretty serious about their lawns. And, I have the family schedule under control. If an activity is not listed on the calendar, it doesn't exist. Please don't mess around with my calendar.

After all, if you want some things done right you are better off doing it yourself.

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