Mental Health

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It’s difficult to tell in this snap, but it’s really quite nice out for March in Massachusetts.  Not exceptionally nice like it was on Wednesday, but nice enough.  A bit of a cool breeze, temperatures in the high fifties at 9:30 in the morning, clouds, and a bit of sun.  It’s the sort of weather that makes me feel like all hope is not lost.  Winter will end, the Earth is not dead, and I don’t have to be a crazy shut-in who only talks to her cats.  A change is blowing in with the wind and I feel good.

But, for as good as I feel when Spring is knocking on the door, there are still things that bother me: Americans, for example, work too much.  I think we’re pretty much insane for working such long hours.  I say this despite being a bit of a workaholic: I’ve been known to only take breaks during the work day because someone placed a sandwich in front of me and said ‘Bex, you need to eat something.’ (Not too often, but it’s happened more than once.)  Regardless, people work too much.

A few years ago I had a temp job that got me up before the sun, and didn’t let me out until after it had set.  It was winter, so this wasn’t all that difficult, but, still, it was the most depressing thing I’ve ever experienced.  Except when I looked around the office at the people who actually worked there: there were employees who where already in the office when I arrived.  As the sun was rising over the Atlantic, they were already on calls with clients and customers.  These same people were still on calls when I left an hour after the sun had set way beyond the Berkshires.  Another temp and I rode the elevator together at the end of one day and we asked each other “How the fuck do they do this?”  This life was for neither she nor I.

Now, I’m not trying to be insulting or make anyone feel badly about their job.  If I have, I apologize.  A person is allowed to love their job, or choose to be at work before the sun’s up and stay until after it’s down. This is not a criticism of individuals, but of the system.  America seems to value working long hours and not taking breaks; and we are conditioned to expect to be punished for taking breaks while trapped indoors during prime tanning hours.  It starts in school when we can see the beautiful weather but are forced to stay inside.  Therefore, as adults we accept being trapped in cubicles, chained to desks, stuck in windowless rooms with bad lighting and poorly regulated air conditioning.  That’s why I was pleasantly surprised yesterday.

I’ve picked up some hours tagging and folding shirts in a warehouse.  It’s a pain, literally, to stand at a table and fold tee shirts all day, but it’s not the least exciting work I’ve ever done (that would be that temp job in the sales office).  Nor is it the most difficult.  It is physically taxing, but so was environmental ed. and summer camp.  It might be a bit more physically taxing because I’m older now and I’ve already put my body through years of environmental ed. and summer camp, but it’s nothing I’m not familiar with.  The other people who work there are pleasant, and there’s a window so we can see if it’s sunny or rainy.  In the afternoons, the older ladies who work there are replaced by a group of teenagers coming off their school day.

Yesterday, two of the boys were talking at the table behind me.  One asked the other why he wasn’t in school or at work the day before, the extremely nice day for March in Massachusetts.  The boy said simply that he had stayed home.  He told school he was “sick”, but in reality it was just that it was nice out and he spent his day outdoors.  The other teens were amazed and surprised.  One girl couldn’t believe his audacity.  I, however, couldn’t help being extremely proud.  This kid, all of sixteen or seventeen, understood that Wednesday was a Beautiful Day, and that Beautiful Days are meant to be enjoyed.  He’d even decided that this Beautiful Day was meant to be enjoyed out of doors.  The other teens went on and on about how crazy he was, but I couldn’t help but be impressed this kid chose his mental health over his attendance record, his grades, and a paycheck.  This kid has his priorities in order.

Take care of your mental health people, it’s more important than we Americans realize.

Some 30 years later, I built a #Lego #SpaceCruiser!

Weeks ago I wrote a rant about Lego inwhich I questioned why the Lego Friends line is so drastically different from the standard Lego toys.  I also shared how I didn’t know Lego came in kits until I was in middle school.  The reason for my ignorance being the Legos in my household were almost entirely hand-me-downs from my brother who had long since mislaid the instructions for the the 1980s era Space Cruiser Warner Bros. recently reminded us of in The Lego Movie.

My brother, clever young man that he is, found the instructions on the Internet and shared them with me challenging me to build the Space Cruiser.

My first challenge was finding our old Lego collection.  As stated in my earlier post, a time came when my mother took the remaining Lego bricks and tossed them all into a plastic bin that previously had been used for transporting cupcakes, mixing and commingling what was left from all the kits that had ever entered her children’s lives.

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Finding it turned out to be easier than I thought it would be.  Since all the grandbaby moved out of their house, my parents have relegated all the toys to one corner of the family room.  The bin was under a table chest in the corner along with the puzzles, blocks, and Lincoln Logs.

Challenge Two: Uncover what’s left of the figures.

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The Spacemen have long since lost their faces.  One of them used to have a mark where a face once was, but now they are entirely missing.  (The Policeman was from a kit I got as a child, therefore has been handled the least and still has his face.)  The Spaceman logos on their chests are all but entirely gone.  Out of five figures there are four hands between them; one head and helmet are long gone; and the figure not pictured, in my memory, has always had only one leg.

Once I determined I had most of the pieces I’d need to build the Space Cruiser,

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it was time to get down to business.

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The Instructions were really sort of difficult to follow some of the time.  It certainly didn’t help they were smallish images on the computer rather than a paper I could handle and get close to without feeling like I’d done something terrible to my eyes.

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Slowly it started to come together.

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Despite the pieces being a minimum thirty years old a surprising number of them in very good condition.  The thrusters, for example, still look great!

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(I used these pieces as lampshades.)

The pieces in poor condition are primarily the pieces you’d expect to be in shambles after cycling through five children and a couple of grandbabies.  The pieces that attach the thrusters to the back of the ship, for example, look like this:

wpid-20150318_215252.jpgHinged pieces, they were meant to attach to the top of the back with these bits hanging down, onto which the thrusters would attach.  Alas, they’ve been broken most of my life.  Therefore, the Space Cruiser must go without it’s thrusters.

Quite frankly, I had to get real creative with multiple parts of the ship.  I borrowed from other parts and substituted many pieces where I could get away with it.  I had to rebuild various parts more than once, and get creative with broken parts.

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In the end, it didn’t turn out so badly.

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Still had plenty of missing pieces; I couldn’t get around not having one entire section of that windscreen.  I’m afraid it wouldn’t be a very effective Space Cruiser, but as it doesn’t have any thrusters, it’s not like it’s going anywhere anyway!

#LegoFriends: For Boys and Girls.

Someone gave my niece a Lego Friends kit for Valentine’s Day.  Lego Friends, for those of you who don’t know, is the “girl” line from Lego.  The Lego people are all girls and the kits are all geared toward “girls’ interests”.  Now, I, personally, have never had any desire to climb up onto a large quadruped or build a hotel, but Lego must know what they’re doing, right?

The kits aren’t really any different from the rest of Lego’s kits.  Buildings, cars, boats, etc.

There’s really nothing offensive about Lego Friends, not in actuality.  The line actually opens up options for people inclined to build Lego kits.  Friends provides builders with swimming pools, horse stables, hair salons, and veterinarian offices.  After all, not everyone wants to build Police stations, Fire stations, speedboats, and construction sites.  Lego Friends works to reach a certain demographic heretofore not included by the toymakers.

A little personal history: I didn’t know Lego made kits until I was about ten years old.  I knew Legos, I played with them often.  We had a Tupperware container (a large one meant for cakes) filled with bricks and five or six Lego people in various states of disarray.  I built all sorts of things throughout my childhood, both with my sisters and alone.  Our Lego people were a little sad; some were missing hands, some of them had their faces rubbed off, one was even missing an entire leg.  All of their hats were broken, the ones we still had.  They were the 1980s Space Adventure Guys, the one The Lego Movie portrayed as an excitable fool.  The space ship building kits were long since incorporated into the general Lego brick collection, their instructions lost to the annuls of familial history.  Sometimes we still built flying machines with the wing pieces, but never once in my memory did I see the pieces assembled as intended in the kit.

Mostly my sisters and I built houses.

Really.  We had  a large, green baseplate that we would line with multicolored one by whatever sized pieces, We’d make doorways and section off rooms to create bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms.  Red slanty pieces and flat four by eight pieces became beds, sometimes bunk beds.  Often there was a room that was built up with two by four and two by two rectangle and square bricks, the bed would pull up revealing a hole underneath it for storing treasure and secrets.  Once we’d built the houses, we’d play with them.  The Lego Space People being boys or girls as needed, doing whatever whimsy popped into our childish minds.  (We did the same things with our blocks.)

By the time I realized Legos sometimes came in kits with instructions to make specific things, I was already phasing out of Legos (which, unfortunately weren’t replaced by robotics kits or other more sophisticated building toys).  I was in middle school, and it was dawning on me: other kids had Lego sets.  What a concept!  Youngest kid, it never occurred to me to ask for more Legos.  As far as I was concerned we had exactly the right amount as I was always able to make whatever I thought up.

Fast forward twenty years, my nieces and nephews are discovering the world of Legos.  My six year old niece is happy to sit in her play area and build tall Lego cars complete with bathrooms, but she will also, Emmet-style, flip through the instructions and build exact replicas of what Lego intended those 250 pieces to make.  Both are admirable and I commend my small friend for her ability to do both open-ended play and structured play (is that the right term?).

That being said, I think Lego Friends is stupid.

Reason 1: It’s specifically marketed toward girls.  I’ve already mentioned I was never a horse girl.  In fact, I only knew of two girls growing up who had a deep interest in riding horses.  Two out of the dozens of girls I knew from school, church, Girl Scouts, and summer camp.  It’s possible some of the others were interested, but their families were too poor to support such an activity (we were a mixed community, socio-economically speaking).  But only two girls in my memory took horseback riding lessons and/or rode regularly.  Neither was I all that interested in Princesses or shopping or malls or hair salons or horse shows (there’s a lot of horse related Lego Friends stuff).  I wasn’t that kind of Girl, and I’m no original: there must be plenty of girls turned off of Lego because of what Lego is telling them their interests should be.

And what about the boys?  The boys who would love a Lego hair salon set, but feel like they aren’t “supposed to” want the hair salon Lego set because it’s a girls toy and therefore “unmanly”?  Because it’s one thing for a girl to want to build the Lego Millennium Falcon (who doesn’t want to build the Lego Millennium Falcon?), but for a boy to want pink riding stables would be a bit…. queer.

Reason 2 (somewhat related to Reason 1): Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink!  I like pink.  I did not like pink when I was nine years old.  I put up with it… because I was a girl… but I preferred purple: the color of royalty (yeah, I was that girl*).  When I was Lego building age, marketing things in pink would have made me wrinkle my little nose and heave the sigh of a thirty year old spinster who’s seen it all.  My cousin’s daughter, a charming young woman, began her pink-hate at the tender age of three.  My lovely, well-meaning mother gave the child a casual pink summer dress for her birthday that year.  The kid took one look at it, wrinkled her little nose, and dropped it on the ground.  This pink marketing crap is equally lost on her.  A boy one of my sisters used to babysit, however, loved him some pink.  In fact, his most treasured toy was a Barbie hair styling head.  Had the Lego Friends line been a thing when he was little, he might have been attracted to their bright colors and “fun” things to build.

Reason 3, and probably the biggest peeve: No crossover.  Or limited crossover, at least.  I’ll start here: I don’t think Lego Friends is an entirely evil concept.  As already stated, I think the Friends line fills a gap previously unfilled.  The kids who don’t want to build Lego emergency vehicles, and space ships need something to build too.  And if a child is interested in Horse Shows and building Legos, then why shouldn’t he or she have a Lego Horse Show kit?  And if a kid needs their doll to come with a name and a vague backstory, why not have them come with names and have families and all that?  (Instead of, say, encouraging the child to make up their own — ok, maybe I’m not as cool with that aspect…)  Some kids need a larger story in order to have effective play (some big kids need that too ;).

But why do the Friends characters stand head and shoulders over the regular Lego people?

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These two are the epitome of a middle school dance!  One of his friends asked her to dance with him, she says sure, then proceeds to awkwardly pretend she’s about to make small talk while she stares over his head, and he pretends he’s about to make small talk while awkwardly stares as her developing breasts.

Why aren’t these characters the same size and shape?  There isn’t a chance the Friends character will fit in the Regular character’s spaceship, or airplane, or Batmobile.  She’ll have to sit awkwardly half out and the kid will probably spend most of the play session putting her back into the vehicle while she tries to swoop in and blast the oppressive Storm Trooper out of the sky and off the Rebel’s tail!  Making the Friends characters entirely different from the standard Lego person further removes the Friends line from the rest of Lego.  And, really, aren’t the two already segregated enough?

Why is the Lego Friends line only marketed to girls?  And why is acceptable for girls to have the other Lego kits, but “wrong” for a boy to have one of the Friends kits?  Why even make a distinction like that?  A Lego ad from the mid 80s has been getting a lot of attention lately, you know the one: adorable redhaired kid with her Legos and the tagline: What it is is beautiful.

Is that girl ever upset with the current marketing trends Lego has fallen into?  She’s so annoyed, grown person and practicing doctor, Rachel Giordano participated in this comparison advertisement:

Giordano’s ad was, in fact, one of many Lego produced in the 80s.  The others were equally neutral and non-gendered.  They even provided encouragement to build whatever the fuck you want to build.  Mazel Tov, children!  Build away!

What happened Lego?

Eventually, in the lives of the individual toys, none of this will matter.  Eventual the parental person will become sick of all the kits winding up loose and underfoot (little bastard pieces hide out in the carpet fibers just waiting for the unsuspecting barefoot adult to come ambling along, plotting little plastic fuckers…) and will toss all the Lego pieces into one bin (“There!  Doesn’t that make everything easier?”)  the Friends line pieces and the Regular Lego pieces become homogenized in the large Tupperware cake bin.  The youngest kid, unaware of “sets” and “kits”, will build houses and cars and spaceships that fit the people characters no matter their size and they’ll put the Friends hair on the Regular Lego person and the Regular Lego Person hat on the Friends character, never thinking there’s anything wrong about it until they’re thirty and they ask themselves: Yeah?  Why is the Friends Character a Lego-Foot taller than the other Lego People?  What the fuck, Lego?

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**My six year old niece put the Friend hair on the Regular Lego Person, showed it to me and snickered. Snickered. She thought it was so funny!  True Story.  I put the hat on the Friend character.

*If you do not know what sort of girl I mean, it’s this: I was the girl who didn’t want to be a Princess, I wanted to be a Queen.  It was my understanding of the hierarchy that princesses would maybe one day be queens, if they married the right prince, but most likely they’d remain just a princess with few duties but to look pretty and sing or weave tapestries or some shit.  But Queens, them bitches could make decisions and effect change.  Queens had power.  Why be a useless princess, I thought, when I could be a Queen.

I can’t believe this is still on my mind…

(And all because someone made an assumption about something deeply personal.)

Global Parenting Habits That Haven’t Caught On In The U.S.

Here’s another reason I’m not so hot on having babies.  I live in the United States of America.  Nothing Un-Patriotic is about to be said, I’m not super pissed at my country or my government; I’m super irritated by parenting trends.

Recently, in Well? Do You?, I wrote what I’d learned about the scare tactics employed by Reagan-era government and media that forced parents to be more cautious about when they let their children out of their sight.  The atmosphere, according to studies, and people who lived it, changed dramatically between 1970 and 1990; as a child, I wasn’t allowed to leave our section of the neighborhood without an adult, whereas older people report being able to ride their bikes all over town as long as they were home for dinner.  In the past year articles have appeared in both The Boston Globe and The Washington Post about the newly-dubbed “Snowplow Parents” (“helicopter parents” hulked up on gamma rays).  Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was met with fascination and revulsion by “American” parents.  Parents phone up their child’s teacher to ask why their kid got such a poor grade, even when that teacher is a PhD college professor.

In Life, and through my job, I have seen increasing evidence of parents who hover, who go out of their way to try and “make things better” for their kids, instead of letting their kids handle it themselves.  Even in children under the age of five playing together, which inevitably leads to disagreement, I’ve seen parents step in and try to reason with their offspring, whereas, years of babysitting and covering nursery has taught me, if you leave them alone they’ll either figure it out or one will hit the other (and that’s when you step in).  But parents are quick to intervene, thus hindering their child’s problem solving ability.  In addition, parents are setting up times for their children to get together to the chagrin of some parents.

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“You are going to play with Bobby from 1 to 2:15, then we’re going to Sally’s from 3 to 3:45, then Abbey is coming over from 4:30 until 5:30.  It’s time you learned how to interact with other kids!”

Parents ask their kids what they want to eat for lunch instead of, like the French , or my mom, putting food in front of the kid and telling them to eat.  If their child has any sort of dietary restriction, they are measuring and attending to their kid’s food for them instead of teaching them how to monitor their own food; so by the age of twelve a child with diabetes still doesn’t know what she needs to do to make sure she isn’t overloading on carbohydrates.  Parents, I sometimes feel, are trying too hard.

The NPR link at the top of this post shows parenting habits from other cultures that make American parenting look like Lock Down: Japanese parents let children as young as four ride the subway alone; Danish parents leave their babies in strollers on the sidewalk while they go shopping; Kisii parents don’t look their babies in the eye to assert their authority over their children.  Other Cultures’ parenting techniques, to me, make a whole lot more sense than some of the things I’ve witnessed in the United States.  In South Carolina a woman was arrested for letting her nine year old play alone at a playground while she was at work because another parent called the cops when she discovered the girl was there on her own.  Had the child been in their own home would her mom have been arrested?  Probably not; no one would have known the girl was on her own.  Plenty of kids I knew growing up returned home to an empty house after school.  They carried keys and regularly let themselves into their houses.  Hence the term “latch-key kid“, which is attributed to an NBC documentary from 1944 that was made after an increase in this very lifestyle.

In the United States there are many different types of parenting from the regimented Tiger Mother to Attachment Parenting, made famous by Mayim Bialik.

There are websites, books, and blogs dedicated to how the author thinks we ought to parent our children.  They are varied, and they are not all as strict or hovering as some of the concepts I’ve already written about.  Some are the opposite.  This confession on Food Riot would make the French very happy.  In it the mother states she doesn’t give her children options: if they don’t eat the dinner she’s prepared, then they don’t eat.  No exceptions.

I say this now, but I believe, if I were to have children, I would be inclined to parent in a way not like what I must assume is the mainstream; the helicopter parents.  I would be more inclined to lean toward how other cultures handle child-rearing.  I wouldn’t think twice about sending a ten year old to the corner store to pick up a loaf of break, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

But, if I’m leaving myself open to incarceration by wanting my children to be able to handle a certain amount of personal responsibility, then I might as well not have kids in the first place!

Lest we think hovering parents are a new concept, let’s remember the parenting differences between Edna Pontellier and Adele Ratignolle in Kate Chopin’s novella The Awakening.  Adele is described as a “mother-woman”.  One of the women “who idolize their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”  Whereas Edna is fairly hands off with her children.

“If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing.”

Later, Adele doesn’t understand Edna when she declares she would give her life for her children, but she won’t give up her life for her children.  And, I’m almost certain, probably doesn’t understand Edna’s actions at the end of the story.  But my point is now, as it was then, Edna’s approach to raising her children (this is a woman with a nursemaid on staff) was considered odd.  Peculiar.  Not Normal.  Women, even women with nannies, were meant to be affectionate and warm toward their children.  Edna isn’t cold toward her children, but her actions do give them independence.  They are allowed to take care of themselves.  She doesn’t do everything for them.

From what I’ve observed, modern women who don’t do everything for their children are Bad Mothers.  It is implied throughout society that a parent, a mother, must make their child’s life easy.  We must socialize them through playdates at age two, we must give our children options to give them a sense of power over their lives, we must be able to see and hear our kids whenever they are in our care.  They aren’t, ever, unattended until they are teenagers, and, even then, there will always be an adult who knows where they are: their teachers, their employers, or their frends’ parents.  Parents of college students phone administrations to find out information ranging from how does my kid sign up for classes, to “my kid is sick; what are you (the college) going to do about it?”

I don’t want to be that kind of parent.  If I have children.  I don’t want to hover and make decisions for my kid well into adulthood, like the parents the current trend in parenting has produced.  But I also don’t want to be demonized by other people for sending my ten year old to the corner store for me and kicking them out of the house with the expectation they won’t return until the streetlights come on.

I am aware I can do exactly these things if I have children of my own one day, but how much easier would it be to do this if the culture reflected how I want to parent.  I love my country and the freedoms I am guaranteed by my government, but our society makes me reluctant to raise children.

Stream Stomp!

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Stream Stomp!

I really like my job. People don’t understand this. People who don’t work at my job, I mean. People who DO work at my job wholeheartedly understand why I keep coming back despite the long hours, isolated locations, close quarters, bad camp food, (sometimes) terrible coworkers, little pay, and seasonal employment. But we love our job.

We love it, for one reason, because kids are weird. Kids are freakin’ weird. Children have asked me the weirdest questions over the years, made the funniest statements, and generally made me laugh. This past week we got the tiniest child to wear the banana costume during dinner (yes, we have a banana costume).

Another reason is because we, the teachers, as well as the kids, are constantly learning new things. Our first season doing outdoor ed, my friend said to me: “This job is great! We get paid to LEARN!” (we’re very nerdy here).

Also: we get to do really REALLY fun things like stomp around in the river and look for animals. When I worked at the ocean site, I could take my groups down to the docks with a few buckets and nets, string, and a bag of leftover meat and spend a few hours catching crabs. Now that I’m back in the woods, along a Connecticut river, I get to take buckets and nets to the water and spend a couple hours catching crayfish and frogs. Do you get to do that at your job?

2013-05-03 10.34.15This week I tried a class that had previously terrified me.  I never really understood it.  But we had second through fifth graders this week, many of whom did not speak much English, and I figured I could take them to the river and have them catch creatures for an hour and a half and it would be fun and (sort of) educational.

2013-05-03 10.47.24And I was right: my students had so great a time, on the last day I took my group down for our final Field Group to the river to catch animals.  They got wet, they picked up animals, they slipped on rocks, they climbed on everything, and had a wonderful time.

2013-05-03 11.24.18I had girls catching frogs with their bare hands, naming them, falling in love with these wild little creatures, wishing they could bring them home to New York with them (which they cannot).  It was wonderful to see Girly Girl types bare-handing these precious amphibians and having zero qualms about getting dirty and tromping around in the mud and holding frogs.

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One kid had brought this net case for capturing animals.  We used it more than once for frogs and aquatic insects that we discovered while exploring the streams and the river.2013-04-30 10.41.02_1

I had another student, a boy, who caught a shit-ton of crayfish with just a net and his bare hands.  He collected them all in a bucket and was determined to show them to his teacher even though we HAD TO RELEASE THEM AND GO BACK because they were loading the busses and they had to go home.  But it was adorable that all he wanted to do was see just how many of these weird, tiny lobster, crustaceans he could collect.

2013-05-03 11.51.01It was almost exactly like catching crabs, which I also had to warm up to doing myself, and I loved every second of it.  My mission, now that it’s warmer and nicer weather here in the northeast, is to take the buckets and nets out at least once, if not twice, a week and see how many of what my students can collect out of our waters.  It was, by far, the most fun I have had in a very long time.

2013-05-03 10.46.55And, quite frankly, there’s really nothing greater than watching children do something they might never get to do at home or with their families, or in their daily lives; either because they simply don’t have the opportunity, or because their parents won’t let them do things like go down to the stream and catch frogs.  I always was intrigued, as a kid, by characters in movies and books who just ran around the neighborhood and rode their bikes to bodies of water and caught frogs and fish and tried to bring them home.  As a kid I never would have known how to do these things.  No one ever showed me and I wasn’t allowed to leave the yard, unless I was riding a bike (not my bike, a bike, I never had my own bike) and even then I could only ride it around the portion of the street where we lived.  I assume many kids get an upbringing like mine, one where I had many restrictions on what and where I could do and go, and I want those kids to be comfortable in the outdoors and open up to things like getting dirty and being knee deep in a river solely for the purpose of scooping up a tadpole or fish or crab or whatever.

While I had restrictions while at home, I also have an outdoorsy mother who did take me places where I could get dirty and encouraged me to spend time in and appreciate nature.  She made me environmentally aware and for that I am forever grateful.  I am glad that I figured out how to be in the outdoors on my own, as a grownup, but I do appreciate her appreciation and passing that on to me.  I don’t plan on having children of my own and therefore the best way I can pass on what my mother gave to me is to work with children in the outdoors and help them be comfortable exploring the outdoors.

I know I can’t do this forever, but while I still have the energy I am very happy to be doing this.  I do wish it were more year round; however, I am still very happy to be doing what I can.  I really do love my job.  My job is not odd; it is not stress-free; it is not “normal” — all that is definitely part of what keeps me coming back.

Kids are Weird.

Especially when they only see adults in one context and they make all sorts of assumptions about them.  This week my students asked me the following questions:

+ Have you ever worn a dress?

+ Do you have a boyfriend? (Standard question; I was actually asked this twice this week by very different children.)

+ Do you like boys?

+ Who do you have a crush on?

+ What do you think is an inappropriate age to have a baby?

+ Wouldn’t she [a 13 year old mother] die because she’s too young to have a baby?

Judd Apatow discusses working with his wife, Leslie Mann, on Inside Comedy

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Last month, my best friend and I, both one foot in 30, went to see Apatow’s latest movie, This Is 40. We had different reactions to the movie, naturally, since we were coming to it from different places; but we agreed on one thing that Appatow seems to do: he likes to keep it real.

Every movie Apatow is involved in seems to be on this side of campy. It’s not too real that it’s boring, but it’s not too campy that it seems false. Pete and Debbie aren’t a perfect, happy couple, but they love each other and their girls and they are doing what they need to do in order to keep their family happy, healthy, well-adjusted, fed, and clothed. Their fights, often ridiculous, are the fights that actual people would have; and when Pete and Debbie seem to forget a fight and have a similar one a few scenes later, it’s only natural — they have more things going on in their lives than to remember every single little thing that is bugging them.

And they must be doing something right based on their kids. Sadie is the typical, average, smart, pretty teenager who bounces between hating everything and everyone and being the happiest person in the world; and Charlotte is adorable and happy and wants everyone else to be happy too. If Pete and Debbie were really a truly screwed up couple those girls would not be as well-adjusted as they are.

Knowing now that Apatow is basing so much on his actual life and marriage, pulling from actual fights he and Mann have had, is pretty amazing. (Also: knowing that Mann will leave him on the side of the road is pretty fantastic.)  This Is 40 can be seen as just a bunch of crude jokes and awkward fights strung together with a skosh of meaning and depth thrown in, but knowing where these awkward fights have come from makes it so much more: it’s someone’s attempt to work out his life. It’s the same as Philip Pullman writing His Dark Materials in order to sort out his own views of organized religion, or Frida Kahlo painting her view of the world, and Alanis Morissette expressing her anger, hurt, betrayal and eventual acceptance and growth through Jagged Little Pill. Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann are using movies to express themselves and talk about life, marriage, parenthood, getting older, and staying together.