Tag Archives: gen x

Why Participation Trophies Are Awesome

So, lately I’ve been thinking about how Participation Trophies are a great idea…

Psh, calm DOWN everyone. I figure that most of you reading this are currently either 1) assuming I’m being sarcastic, or 2) quietly ranting to yourself about the spoiled Millennials and their unbelievable sense of entitlement after getting participation trophies their entire lives, except:

  1. I’m actually dead serious, and
  2. I’m not a Millennial, remember? I’m a Gen Xer who probably likes to complain about Millennials as much as my friends, even though they aren’t really that bad but life looks much different in retrospect and one of the great consolations of aging is pretending we had the world all sorted out before these lunatic punks got their hands on it.

(Kids, you’ll understand what I mean in about ten years when you’re rolling your eyes at all the Gen-Z shenanigans as cocky youths look at you sideways when you mention Justin Timberlake because seriously grandpa, who the hell is that!?)

But I digress.

My point is that kids, in fact, should be praised for participation. Not as a replacement for winning or losing, because winning and/or losing is a fact of life that kids will either learn to accept or spend much of their adult life throwing irrational fits whenever things don’t work out the way they wanted, which is frankly a parenting fail. We can’t be spending their childhoods validating the idea that the universe has dealt them an unfair cosmic blow whenever they find themselves slightly inconvenienced.

But… in addition to declaring winners and losers, we should definitely be praising participation and effort.

Why? Because sheer effort and persistence is a HUGE part of success.

You see, sometime around the 1980’s, while I was growing up, experts had roughly decided that low self-esteem was the root of a huge number of social problems, such as kids not reaching their full potential. Violence, addiction, and chronic unemployment probably all traced back to dysfunctional families that made kids not feel good enough about themselves to achieve anything productive in life, or so went the thought.

So, with extremely good intentions, parents and teachers were coached to basically tell every child how incredibly unique, brilliant, attractive, and insightful they were. They got to hear this all the time, whether or not they had actually accomplished anything, in hopes that their achievements would eventually meet the inflated self-images everyone had been feeding them.

Problem is, when kids believe everyone thinks so highly of them, they’re reluctant to try anything they’re not naturally good at in case they fail miserably and thereby screw up everyone’s high opinion. It actually makes kids afraid to try.

After years of seeing how You’re-Already-Awesome parenting methods worked out, researchers finally put on the brakes. DON’T tell your kids how brilliant and unique they are, the experts now tell us.

So what’s a parent to do? We still want them to feel good about themselves, right?

Yes, it turns out. But in a way that praises the process, not the result.

In other words, praise your kids for making an effort, for sticking to something, even after having lots of problems doing it right. Praise their work, their persistence, their bold moves of not giving up the first moment they encounter difficulty.

Because honestly, that’s a huge part of achieving anything. The people who graduate college aren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ’s, but the ones who keep working at it, keep studying, keep doing lots of research and writing papers that they turn in when they’re supposed to, even if they have to bang their heads on the wall repeatedly before a concept they’re struggling with eventually sinks in. Same goes for getting promotions at work or any other winning measures you can think of.

We have this myth of God-given talent (at least in America) that culturally plays out in movie after movie and really messes with our heads. The idea involves some of us being natural quasi-demigods who are blessed with abilities that will raise us above our peers with little effort on our parts.

It’s a fun fantasy, all the glory with very little work… much like playing the lottery, where our lives are radically changed after only spending a buck at the convenience store before allowing the universe to whisper the lucky numbers into our chosen ears.

Along those lines, I remember a movie I was once forced to watch in a college film class that left me incredibly bitter about the entire idea: Running on Empty.

MV5BZGE4MzcwODktODdkOS00YjQ2LTkxYTAtYzc4NmM0MmM5NjIzL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEzNzczMA@@._V1_In the film, River Phoenix plays a kid with natural piano abilities who could never practice on an actual piano because his parents were fugitives from the law. Because of this fact, he could only practice on a soundless keyboard, without lessons, until he manages to one day snag an audition at Juilliard, where he plays a slow, easy, emotional song that immediately gets him enrolled on full scholarship.

The movie was praised by critics, but left me spitting mad.

Why? Because I’ve actually auditioned at Juilliard and know how stupid the entire movie’s premise really is.

See, before I was a whimsical freelance writer and offbeat parent reporting on her strange toddlers, I was a music performance major who played the flute competitively since the age of eight. I’ve played on TV, I’ve trained internationally for world premiere recordings of original compositions, attended the most prestigious music camps, went to a renowned conservatory, and have won more awards than I’ve bothered to count.

(Obviously, it didn’t end up becoming my line of work. My advice to aspiring classical flutists: consider taking up the bassoon.)

But I’m not sharing this information to brag. I want to relate how I was one of the last kids in my fourth grade class to make an initial sound on the flute, but I persisted. I kept at it when all of my friends were watching cartoons after elementary school and when they were later attending parties and sneaking Zima in the 7-11 parking lot. While other kids were learning skateboard tricks and practicing the Roger Rabbit behind closed doors, I was memorizing hours of music marked by painstaking metronome clicks, etching it so beneath my fingers’ skin that I could later reproduce it under the stress of a thousand dimly-lit spectators… tens of thousands of hours of playing songs excruciatingly slowly, moving up click by click on the metronome until, weeks later, I could execute a five-second rift quickly enough that no one could sense that I wasn’t born playing it.

Yes, I had talent, but talent gets you absolutely nowhere without years of focused, hard work.

And many, many other people have talent too. It’s an equation that gets you nothing without rivers of sweat. It’s an equation that every little duck in a little pond faces upon entering the larger waterways.

Kids watch movies about River Phoenix, who never practices on a real piano until he one day sits at Juilliard and feels the gods move his fingers until landing a full scholarship at the most coveted Conservatory in the world. Psh, there are kids from Detroit to Beijing, with enormous talent, who have been practicing the piano for hours a day since the age of five… and still don’t make it.

Yet movies like Running on Empty make it seem like whatever you’re meant to do will just naturally happen. It’s enough to make you think that any supernatural talents would instantly manifest, so if you’re not automatically good at something, why even bother?

Which is kind of what just happened with the last generation of kids.

Our city libraries have a summer reading program that rewards kids for logging books they’ve read. After so many books, they get to pick out a free book. After even more books, they receive a reading medal with their name on it.

The idea of winning this medal has been unbelievably motivating for my kids. They cared far more about that achievement medal than winning a free book, which by any objective standard would seem to be the bigger payoff. They even cared more about medals than being entered into a raffle for winning an iPad.

Since we go to the library every week and I read new books with them every night, winning the medal was inevitable, but they still asked me how many more books it would be until they received their medal… every night.

IMG_5302When we’d finally read enough books, they squeaked and danced a happy dance around the house. They were incredibly proud when walking up to the front desk at the library to receive their medals and uncontrollably danced around the library, squealing, showing off their medals to anyone happening by. They wore their medals to bed that night and made sure to let the neighbors and their grandparents know they had earned medals for superior reading.

And I think it was a great program. Kids should be recognized for trying, for showing up, for doing the work. Because that’s one of the main secrets to making things happen in life: you have to keep trying.

Even when it’s hard.

But that makes it better. Kids WANT to earn it.

Make them earn it. And praise them when they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections of Generation X

Hey, I hope everyone had a wonderful Father’s Day!

I should probably get my ducks in a row by preparing timely holiday posts, but I’m too busy celebrating with my family and am apparently not great at planning ahead. We had a nice time swimming and eating a good meal with my folks, at any rate.

Watching my kids with their grandparents got me thinking about the different childhoods we various generations have had. My folks are Baby Boomers, the young adults currently dominating the scene are Millennials, of course, and my kids will be part of some generation that doesn’t even have a name yet. You know, the one soon to be characterized by all their robot friends or teleportation skills or whatever.

crawford_lang1And me? I’m late Generation X (the “whatever” should’ve clued you in). We used to be all the rage, back when we were waiting to see if Winona Ryder would pick Ethan Hawke or Ben Stiller before rocking out to Nirvana while wearing our long-sleeved plaid shirts and brown lipstick.

We gave you cynicism, MTV, Rap and Grunge Rock (it was a backlash against those flashy 80’s. Plus, we had AIDS & crack epidemics on our hands and all watched the much-hyped Challenger explode when we were little kids).

We questioned the American Dream and debated all existing philosophies without worrying much about PC language, beyond a few obvious terms (we just turned everything into sarcasm and irony if someone got annoyed). We figured we had the racism deal mostly licked by the time The Cosby Show came out (oh, how different that seems in retrospect) and sexism practically beat with Title IX and Puritanism was clearly on the wane since Bart Simpson started swearing in family cartoons (that’s right, folks. You so wouldn’t have Family Guy and Robot Chicken if it weren’t for us. Honestly, I can’t believe The Simpsons is still on TV).

See, Gen Xer’s are young enough to have been introduced to email, smart phones, and the internet relatively early, (early enough to master them without frequent bouts of cranky belligerence, at least) while still old enough to remember what growing up without them was like.

And lately, I’ve been thinking about how they made life different, for better or worse:

Video Games

I’m… ahem… old enough to barely remember when playing a video game meant loading a tape for 45 minutes then smacking pixelated squares around with a joystick. Or dumping quarters into an arcade while avoiding the much older, friendlier men.

I can actually remember trying to sort out Zork commands. Those games always had long, tedious maze sections.

And I also remember when hitting a snag in a game meant possibly never finishing the game. I got stuck in one that doesn’t exist anymore while trying to get my rich family to travel back in time to their medieval selves, hoping for the chance to type in the “sneer” command. I hit this puzzle that I couldn’t solve and still don’t know how that story ended.

You couldn’t look up walkthroughs. You would just sit there, stuck, unable to finish your game and running to the nearest comic book store to find whatever local nerd you figured had the best chance of having figured it out.

I played Sim City back when it was a bunch of red and yellow rectangles and Age of Empires, back when it was just minuscule cave men saying, “Rooooooh-gan!” before cutting down a tree. I remember when Castle Wolfenstein was a bunch of stick figures shouting angry German amidst the hiss of walkie-talkies (surprisingly terrifying at the time) and when Doom began setting the standards for awesome graphics and superficial, blow-everything-up game play.

And now… well… I still love video games and modern graphics make the ones I grew up playing look like something a drunk toddler worked out on an Etch-o-Sketch, but we did have elaborate stories and had to mentally fill out those stick figures with our wild imaginations. We also didn’t have those massive multiplayer online role-playing games that now suck up years of people’s lives with their thin storylines and continuously-regenerating VI opponents that make you button-mash like a laboratory chimp jonesing for its next cocaine hit until it starts peeing itself and finally forgets to mate or eat.

So… there’s that.

Plus, we’re now seeing a strange return to those earlier simplistic games with FarmVille and similar phone apps, now combined with the addictive qualities of MMORPG’s. Hey, it doesn’t really matter if your pumpkin crop fails, people. Get on with your life (and get off my lawn).

Smart phones

chandler
Yeah, they were pretty goofy.

For a while, when I was growing up, personal phones were around but not something most people had access to. They were really popular in Italy and we all found that really funny (Psh, those crazy Italians and their crazy cell phones and wild hand gestures and protection rackets).

They were also roughly shaped like a shoebox and cost a ton of money to use, so only businessmen were using them to make sure everyone knew that their time was really that important and those guys were probably also shelling out for those exorbitant plane phones while flying Business Class or getting their suits tailored or otherwise worshipping at the altar of Ayn Rand.

But normal people had landlines. If you wanted to showcase your whimsical, Bohemian self, you’d get something like a hamburger-shaped phone (Hell, I remember when cordless phones were a big deal because they’d you let you walk outside a two-foot radius).

People couldn’t contact you outside your house. Sure, we had answering machines so you’d find out if someone called, but you wouldn’t know about it before you came home (and you could be on vacation). You could feasibly put off calling someone back for several days, because you hadn’t had a chance to check your messages.

On the one hand, texting is really convenient. You can reach anyone, anywhere, at any time.

On the other, now anyone can reach you, anywhere, at any time. They now expect you to get back to them right away, or else they’ll be mad. There’s no excuse, because you’re wearing your phone at all times, or should be. You can never totally escape into the activities of the present moment, because in a way, you’re always leashed to a device that keeps you perpetually “on call.”

And you can’t heighten romantic tension anymore by making your significant other think you’re running around having an awesome time, innocently oblivious to all of their attempts to contact you. Now, you’re just ignoring them, which is rude. It used to be much easier to remain mysterious.

But I sure wish I had Google maps back in college because it would saved me from so many crying jags on L.A. freeways. Thomas Guides were absolute crap.

Downloadable media

It was once much harder to get your hands on entertainment. You had to buy compact discs for $16, so they’d better be worth it. You either had to catch shows when they were on or make sure you programmed your VCR correctly, and also that no one accidentally taped over your show, because once you missed it, you could be waiting years for it to come back on. If ever.

blockbuster
However, there used to be more comedy scenarios about people you wanted to impress catching you picking up embarrassing films.

If you wanted to see a movie, you’d drive to Blockbuster Video. You could rent movies for just a dollar, but they’d triple in price if you returned them thirty seconds after 8 PM the next day. For some reason, your rental bill always ended up being $8, which was roughy the same price as a couple of fast-food dinners, so renting several movies meant having to order fewer pizzas that month.

It’s a bizarre equation, but trust me… that’s how it was.

It’s nice to be able to instantly access whatever you’re interested in without having to rearrange your schedule. But on the other hand, we probably watched less TV and spent more time outside, doing stuff during which no one could contact us without getting into a car and finding us.

We also had fewer channels, which means we couldn’t as easily live in the polarized political echo-chambers people live in today, with internet sites, news channels, and Facebook groups completely devoted to upholding whatever one-sided world views we’re aligning with. We tended to argue more face-to-face.

The Internet

It’s pretty great to access whatever information we want, across international borders, within a minute or two. You can fall into rabbit-holes of infotainment that you once had to tackle walls of library microfiche to navigate.

We can also fact-check more easily now. If someone warns you about the guys at the Walmart parking lot knocking unsuspecting women out with chloroform disguised as perfume samples, it now takes 30 seconds to debunk the idea on Snopes.com, whereas it used to remain an unconfirmed rumor, forever.

So you’d think people would get less paranoid, right? Except now we have entire websites devoted to whatever whackadoodle conspiracies people take as Gospel Truth, so I’m not sure.

Today, anyone can also write anything on the internet and get lots of attention for it. I don’t think we had as much of a troll culture back in the 90’s. We spoke much more earnestly back then.

trollNow, it’s hard to tell if someone’s a jerk or just trying to get a rise out of people, which inherently casts doubt upon any unconventional opinion. If you start taking on someone’s nasty argument, you get worried about becoming the sap that’s playing into some obnoxious troll’s hands, so we now hear increasingly crazy, unchallenged opinions on a regular basis that go half-ignored by most because we’re unsure of how to best distinguish idiocy from narcissism.

Maybe that’s why people seem more outraged these days… they have to convince everyone that they really, really mean it.


So, any other Gen-Xer’s out there who want to weigh in on what I’ve been saying? How about some Boomers or Millennials?

Or even the Greatest Generation, if you guys are actually perusing blogs right now instead of discussing the mechanics of WWII planes. I’d love to hear your insights as well, since you guys definitely have the long view in this equation.

 

 

 

 

Seniors in Hotpants and Toddler Book Reviews

Tuesday is library day, which the girls love because of its set routine.

First, we load water and snacks into the girls’ backpacks and the past week’s books into mine. Then, we walk out of our neighborhood, pausing on our way to stare at the bizarre cacophony of objects in the Vietnam Vet’s front yard.

Doll heads, Snoopy statues, American flags, ancient tools in a gravel maze of cacti and rosebuds… to me, it represents lingering existential puzzles. But for Brontë and Bridget, it’s a Where’s Waldo of disordered beauty. They always point out something random before moving on.

We hit the boulevard where I always pick up Bridget and squeeze Brontë’s hand to cross the street. Knowing this, Bridget reaches both arms up as we approach, then pushes her face into my neck as we wait for an opening before trotting across. I set her down as we continue past the lost animal posters, the guttered fast-food cups, the place where the skateboarding kids’ skunk-toned air turns to jasmine bushes.

The kids greet the Jehovah’s Witnesses sitting in front of the library in flowered dresses and well-ironed suits, then they charge toward their respective book return slots. Bridget always goes to the left, and Brontë to the right. I hand them books to return until my backpack is empty.

Then we walk to the park to play before Storytime begins at the library. Sometimes we meet our neighbor there, but she was busy last week. So instead, the girls ran to the playground after immediately ditching their backpacks and shoes, as they always do.

I sat down on a nearby bench, trying hard not to judge the lady who was at least well into her seventies wearing short-shorts that just walked by because I hate those preachy 30 Things Not to Wear After Thirty lists and shouldn’t be so damn hypocritical. It was warm outside, so I should cut her a break, even if I’d never wear something like that myself. Even Jessica Simpson would have trouble pulling those off.

Showcased flesh aside, I was wondering if we’d have to drive next week because it would be too hot to walk when I noticed Bridget walking up the big, spiral slide again. Dang it… I’m always telling her not to do that because it creates a traffic jam with the kids at the top, but there were no kids at the top right then and sometimes parents have to pick their battles so maybe I’ll just let it slide.

Let it slide, let it slide… shut UP, annoying brain with your terrible puns. Climbing up the slide must be incredibly fun, considering how badly kids want to do it. Like a spiral mountain-climbing event. Aerial geometry. 

And that’s when Bridget started screaming.

I walked over confused, because she’s climbed up that slide a thousand times before.

“They boarded up the slide because the slide is hot,” the grand dame in short-shorts told me.

OH. Bridget’s freaking out because she’s trapped. That makes sense. I reached my arms up toward her.

“Come here, baby,” I said. “I’ll get you down.”

And then loudly, the lady said, “Well, she CAN’T walk down the slide because she ISN’T WEARING ANY SHOES!” (subtext: Only a monster of a mother would let her child run around without any shoes on).

Then, without missing a beat or pausing for breath, she worked up her most martyred-sounding tone and yelled, “I guess I’LL have to GO GET HER THEN,” before shoving me out of the way to reach the slide bottom.

Panicked by the sight of a crazed old lady in hot pants advancing upon her, Bridget shrieked before jumping sideways off the top of the slide into my arms. Irritated by the forced parkour, I twirled her away as the lady let out a frustrated HMPH! and one more “she WASN’T wearing any SHOES!”

“She walked UP the slide, didn’t she!?” I yelled back, wondering why the woman thought trying to cart a hysterical toddler backwards down a spiral slide wouldn’t be dangerous and whether she would later recount her heroically-attempted rescue of the poor kid whose mom wanted to boil her feet to all her friends, who would then pontificate on how social media and participation trophies ruined the Millennials.

Well, we made it to library Storytime, where the kids had a blast and learned all about the Storybook Summer Reading Challenge. If they read five books and log reviews into the website, they get to pick out a free gift book. If they read twenty, they get a SUPER READER medal with their name on it.

This is beyond exciting for my kids and all they can talk about. They want that medal. They’re hungry for it. It has their NAME ON IT.

It will be easy, since I read Brontë a different story every night. We always check out three books for Bidgie to choose from, but she always picks the same one… whatever one she happened to read first. Bonus points if it’s Dr. Seuss though, whom she loves, even though Brontë inexplicably HATES him.

For Brontë, I try to select a bunch of different styles and genres to open up her brain. I usually get a couple of weird ones to make her think. She usually loves them.

But not the one we read last night.

Sendak-nightkitchenIt’s called “In the Night Kitchen,” by Maurice Sendak. It was published in 1970, but looks like something out of the 1920’s: a little boy falls asleep, floats out of his clothes and into  the dough of three chubby bakers who want to cook him because they think he’s milk…

The boy fashions the dough into an airplane, then flies over a huge glass bottle of milk. Jumping inside it, he gets a pitcher to bring back to the bakers, who then sing a happy song about having milk for their cake. The boy makes rooster noises before floating back into his clothes and his bed.

It was mildly disturbing, to tell you the truth. I was curious about Brontë’s take…

Night Kitchen milk
Frankly, this creeped me out too

Me: So, what did you think?

Brontë: That was… weird.

Me: Yeah. I’m sensing you didn’t like it.

Brontë: No, because that little boy was NAKED.

Me: He was.

Brontë: And then he GOT into the MILK. Naked! I do NOT want naked boys in my milk, momma. He could PEE in there!

Me: True.

Brontë: Or even POOP!

Bridget: GROSS!

(The girls laugh hysterically).

Me: Okay, so in your review, you want to say, “I thought the naked boy in the milk was weird because he could pee in there.”

Brontë (very seriously): YES. Or poop. Don’t forget that part. I don’t want to see any more books about naked boys in milk. You write that.

Me: Okay.

And I did. Anyone researching children’s books in Sacramento libraries can now read all about how this one contains disturbing imagery of naked little boys in milk jars who could spontaneously pee and run everybody’s breakfasts. I can’t help wondering if that lady in hot pants will someday come upon it and spontaneously combust.

I also can’t help wondering if there was some deeper, more intricate symbolism in the book that both of us missed. That couldn’t have just been about being baked naked in Oliver Hardy’s cake, right?

Hopefully, Brontë will like tomorrow’s batch much better, but on the other hand, her negative reviews are much more entertaining.