Calling Bulls#!t on the Tiger Mom

You might remember Tiger Mom. Her real name is Amy Chua, and she made quite a splash in 2011 with her parenting memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in which she excoriated Western parenting for its lax standards and emphasis on building children’s self-esteem. After learning about Amy Chua, I examined my child-rearing through her manifesto and quickly accepted I was a weak and worthless parent, destined to raise a skinny, sunken, unshaven, hobo who'd wander the streets jobless, homeless and digging through the main-plaza garbage cans of my hometown, embarrassing me for the rest of my life.

Now, I read that Amy Chua, Tiger Mom, is letting her two daughters age 20 and 23 live for free all summer long in her New York City apartment. In return, her children have to meet the most minuscule of expectations, such as plumping the sofa pillows. An attorney, Tiger Chua wrote up a contract to formalize this paltry agreement.1 She's such a professional.

I’m staggered. Amy Chua is spoiling her kids! Her whole premise was parents create successful children by never giving into children's desires; stepping on their self-esteem; and making sure children realize they must repay their parents in perpetuum for all their parents have done for them. Now, I find she is ensconcing her children in three months of luxury in one of the most expensive cities in the world—easily a $30,000 to $40,000 gift—and all they have to do is consistently stock "fresh OJ from Fairway [Market]" in the refrigerator.

I've decided to write an open letter to Amy Chua telling her just what I think of her parenting swindle.


Dear Ms. Chua:

Whoa. Hold up, Tiger Mom. Did I read this right? You’re letting your kids live for free all summer long in your New York apartment, and all they have to do is make up their bed, Windex a table and walk the dogs daily? Sounds pretty American to me.

Chua, I thought you were a “superior Chinese mother,” a parent who is all about creating successful, independent children. If you did such a great Chinese job, your children should not be living off you as young adults. They should be paying rent in New York City. In fact, they should have gone out and found their own place in the cutthroat world of securing living space--especially summer living space--in Manhattan, negotiated the short-term lease and broker’s fee and paid for it all themselves. Instead, you shielded them from all that work. You saved them from the hustle, hassles, disappointment and panic by first providing a space so they didn’t have to find it themselves and second by paying for it. Come to think of it, if you were such a superior Chinese mother, your kids should own their own buildings by now--complete with sweatshops in the basement. You sound pretty American to me.

What's good for the gosling
I can only deduce what pushed you to compromise your standards. You likely imagined your daughters rooming with Eurotrash in a two-bedroom walk-up without a doorman in the East Village. You panicked at the thought of them wending their way through the crime and grime of Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. Perhaps your heart softened picturing their apprehensive faces when they encountered rats or cockroaches or the sticky, oppressive air of a New York City summer against their smooth skin living in an apartment without combed-cotton sheets and air conditioning.

If you were such a superior Chinese mother, you would have cheerfully hurt your grown children’s psyches by telling them, “I’m not going to prop you cream puffs up. You need to pay your own way now.” If you were such a superior Chinese mother, you would pull the Dmitriy daybed out from under your children and announce to them, “Get paying work, you lampreys. What good is an underpaid internship in an art gallery? You’re Chinese. You’re supposed to hustle and scheme. You’re supposed to make money, not work for free! Such a disappointment!”

You yourself said as a Chinese mother you can use insults freely with your children in a way American parents can't. So use them! I would if I could, but I’m a mere American parent.

In the wrong lane
Amy, it’s cool. Your premise was faulty from the beginning. What you failed to understand—despite your Harvard-Harvard education and your husband’s Princeton-Harvard education—is that there is not Chinese parenting and Western parenting. In America there is parenting by the “Haves” and parenting by the “Have-Nots” or “Barely Gots.” You, Chinese or not, are part of the Haves. And the Haves parent very differently from the Have-Nots. You may have been parented by a Chinese mother, but you yourself have clearly parented as a Have.

Americans live by the myth and will die defending the myth that hard work, intelligence and creativity are the keys to economic success. Those attributes surely are the only viable path—and are no guarantee of success—for those born outside of money and privilege. But real success in America--notable success--comes by way of nepotism, inherited wealth and nefarious, sometimes illegal, business practices.

Cornelius Vanderbilt was an immoral louse. The Walton Family, Andrew Carnegie and Donald Trump are union busters. The Sackler family, owner of Purdue Pharma and creator of Oxycontin, is a band of devious opioid pill pushers. The Koch brothers are major environmental polluters. To name a mere few. Those people, of course, are high-profile magnates, but similar shenanigans happen on lower rungs of the wealth ladder, too. People in America do not get ahead alone. They always, always, always have help. "No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone," writes Malcolm Gladwell.2 And those who are wealthy, privileged and highly connected will always find more help than those who are not.

Privilege begets privilege
Chua, while you and your husband are not wealthy and privileged to the degree that the families I mention are, nepotism and cronyism have gotten your children where they are today (in Harvard, on the stage of Carnegie Hall, in Yale Law school). Your kids are living a life of privilege. And that happened because both of you are elite attorneys. You're Yale law professors! Your social standing helped, Amy. Whether you directly pleaded for or asked for favors or not, your class and privilege and wealth helped. Eyeballs seeing your children’s names on applications and knowing who you are helped get your kids where they are. Your children’s success has much more to do with who you are than what they themselves accomplished on their own—and that, superior Chinese Mother, is the real way America works.

You want to know who the real Tiger Parents are? It’s working-class, lower-class, blue-collar people, whatever label you want to use. It's people like me and my family; people like my husband and his family; and so many others in even lower socioeconomic brackets. We’re just trying to make our way in a jungle where people like you are endangering our worthiness and merit every day by hogging, clear-cutting, cornering all the opportunities and marginalizing our kids. The wealthy and privileged are like the imperial powers of old, trolling around in their proverbial warships for opportunities; seizing resources for their own personal empires; and stepping on whomever gets in their way.

I know you have forgotten there even is a low-level of society, Amy, but we're here. We're here, and collectively we have a lot of power over you. We hail your cabs and answer your 9-1-1 calls. We fix your computers, repair your cars and unstick your plumbing. We make your lattes, clean your office and wait on your tables. We watched your kids when they were small. We're the ones who pick the fruit for your Fairway Market orange juice; drive the trucks to deliver it to your boutique market; and clean out the refrigerator that cools it. And every now and then, people like me will get fed up with people like you. So if your juice tastes funny, it may not be because your kids didn't keep their promise and stock it fresh. It just may be full of working-class urine. Spit that in your Waterworks kitchen sink.




© 2016 Tia Creighton

Notes
1--"The 'Tiger Mother' Has a Contract for Her Cubs," The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, June 11 – 12, 2016, p. C3
2--Outliers—The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell, (New York: Little Brown & Co., 2008) p. 115

Images
©Huffington Post -- Amy Chua
©Eric Thayer/Reuters -- oxycontin
Reprinted from puddingfancy.blogspot.com -- spitting woman

We Need a "Leave Your Dog at Home" Day

I'm sick of the scam of the "service animal," so sick I almost yelled at a blind person the other day.

I was at the grocery store and saw out of the corner of my eye a colossally large and hairy Golden Retriever. I gasped down at the dog in disgust and looked up to yell at the person holding onto the animal when I noticed immediately the owner was blind. She held her obviously damaged eyes at half-slit, and her head was not tracking her direction well. A friend was guiding her through the sections calling out items she might like to buy. I looked back down at the dog and saw the telltale "Guide Dogs for the Blind" leather halter.

A peace came over me: Now, that is a legitimate service animal; that is a person legitimately needing a service animal.

The gold standard
seeing eye dog stampGuide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) had its training facility in my hometown, San Rafael, California. GDB were the original service dogs; they were the world’s first service dogs. I know how intensely these dogs are trained. I grew up watching duos and trios of trainers, guide dogs and blind people walking the streets of San Rafael drilling and instructing. I went to the training center on field trips. I went to a guide-dog graduation. My brother even adopted several dogs who flunked out of the training program. I took pride in the fact that our little town was home to such a renowned and philanthropic group. In my mind, compared to the Guide Dogs, other service animals are like people who've gotten their college degrees online in their pajamas.

Now, it seems like any dog can be a service animal because of a new regulation added to the Americans with Disabilities Act in March 2011. The law now states that if the person says the dog is a service animal, there is no recourse for removing the animal from the premises--even if the premises is a grocery store or restaurant. The dog doesn't need a license, a vest or a special tag. A facilities owner or manager can only ask, "Is yours a service animal?" and "What work or task has your dog been trained to perform?" That's it. This limited line of questioning is to protect the disabled from being asked point blank, "What's wrong with you?"--which I can imagine could be an embarrassing and awkward question to field as a disabled person. But in my opinion, if an observer can't outwardly see what's wrong with another person, there probably isn't a disability deep enough to warrant a Mexican Hairless sitting in a rattan chair next to me at dinner.

This new reg makes it easy for people to scam and bring their dogs with them wherever they go, and so there has been a surge in dog accompaniment lately.

What gets in your head?
The only explanations for people bringing their dogs wherever they go are 1) they're Paris-Hilton wannabes 2) they're illegally keeping a dog in an apartment and can't leave it during the day because it'll bedazzle the Pergo with poop piles and/or 3) they think putting their eight-pound papillon in a baby stroller is cute rather than dumb looking.

You'll be glad to know there was another change in the law, too. The Justice Department revised the ADA regulations to define service animals as not just "dogs individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities" but also as "miniature horses trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, where reasonable."

Leaving "reasonable" up to the interpretation of the common man or woman is obviously a mistake. You're talking about a crowd apt to put a Rottweiler in a shopping cart, or worse...a service turkey on a Delta flight.1





© 2012 Tia Creighton; © 2016 Tia Creighton (original post 1/26/12; updated 1/27/16 with the breaking "turkey news")

1 - Jelisa Castrodale, “Passenger Takes Turkey on Delta Flight as Emotional Support Animal, and Now We’re So Confused,” USAToday, January 12, 2016, roadwarriorvoices.com

Images
©iStockphoto.com/sinopics (guide dog stamp)
©biggestlittlepickle/Reddit (turkey on a plane)

Lacrosse Is for East-Coast Wusses

When did lacrosse sweep across the nation, because the rule book I've been reading says this sport was never to cross the Mississippi River. In fact, belief in the Manifest Destiny included we shall sweep across the nation and build our country from coast to coast because God wills it, however, lacrosse shall be left behind.

Lacrosse leagues and foundations like to tout their long history as a sport descending from Native Americans. These organizations think this legacy gives their sport legitimacy and cachet. But the demographic that plays this sport now could not be further from the demographic that started it and is, in fact, the same demographic that wiped out Native American tribes and their culture: white anglo saxons, aka the "gentleman's class" and their entitled offspring. It's just like white people to co-opt a sport or other practice from a minority culture they've oppressed, clearly do not understand or have a right to represent and turn that activity into fashion or entertainment.

A hairball betwixt the trees1
This game of "the stick" that is being played now is a watered down version of the original game. The original game could involve hundreds of players and stretch across a mile of uneven terrain. The point of play was to use running and passing to drive a ball made of hide and stuffed with animal hair between two trees or posts selected as goals. To dislodge the ball from opponents, players would strike each other so violently it was common to see players crippled. Arms and legs were often broken during play. The original sticks used were very likely warriors' "cudgels," or war clubs. Betting was also a big part of the game, and the wagering was so fierce often men would lose their clothes, furniture, wives and children as a result of bad bets. Now, that's a sport!

This game being played today is not. Participants look like they're running around with pool skimmers. There is no distinct core in this game. It is part soccer with the goals; part basketball with the passing around the key; part rugby except with protective gear; part jai alai with the long throws; part hockey with the face off and digging on the ground for loose balls and, of course, the sticks. I don't know if I'm watching a game or a badly edited sports film.

Why players are wearing protective gear I cannot comprehend. They wear face-masked helmets, I guess, because they could get poked in the eye with an opponent's stick. But the shoulder pads seem a waste. They're not very substantial or convincing. They look more like fashion shoulder pads placed in blazers in the 1980s.

This is not a terribly rough sport. It's kind of like watching people run around balancing eggs on spoons. Leagues have tried to come up with suasive-sounding names for the game's forcible moves, but I'll interpret these moves for you:

-A "cross check" means pushing an opponent.
-A "stick check" means slapping at an opponent's basket.
-I don't know what they call "waving your basket in an opponent's face," but there's a lot of that, too.

This sport makes curling look enticing.

I hear a lot of the word buddy bandied about on the sidelines. A lot of Spencers, Zekes and Coopers play this game. Both observations lead me to believe there are a lot of overprotective parents in the stands yearning for their children to be unique rather than fit into the world. I like a game full of Juniors, Johns, Joes, Tyrones, Davids, Andres, Eddies, Matts, Mikes, Tonys and a sprinkling of Schalks, Ma'ases, Thierrys and Vitalys.

West Coast vs. East Coast
My dad's family came to California in 1849 during the Gold Rush, just before the state was founded, and my mom's side came in 1906 right after the Great Earthquake. The latter were enterprising Italians who came to start a garbage company to clean up the debris and wreckage in San Francisco. Neither side came to California with lacrosse sticks. Our sports fields in California are being overrun by this most ridiculous of east coast sports. I'm just waiting for polo ponies to take over our football fields here.

I like watching animated characters run around with butterfly nets, too, when I'm watching SpongeBob Squarepants frolicking in Bikini Bottom on Nickelodeon. (He uses his butterfly net to catch and release jellyfish.) If lacrosse leagues really want to come out west in earnest and be accepted as a legitimate sport in California, they're going to need to play the game like real Californians--the kind of people like those in the Donner Party who engaged in cannibalism to survive the trek west through the snowy Sierra Nevadas. Currently, there's too much edamame; sunbutter and jelly on spelt bread; and quinoa and cranberry salad being served up on the sidelines of lacrosse to qualify as an acceptable California sport. While doing research for this article, I heard three lacrosse dads at a local field using their iPhones to figure out where the closest Whole Foods Market was.

Please, stick people, please. We've really had enough of you in our state. Go back east. Go before you're crippled; before your arms and legs get broken; before your furniture, clothes, spouses and kids are taken from you by Native Californians. There's about to be a west coast-east coast throwdown the likes of which we haven't seen since Tupac and Biggie Smalls, and waving your little baskets in our faces ain't gonna protect you from the Manifest Lacrossectomy that God so wills.

© 2015 Tia Creighton



Notes
1--"The Indian Origins of Lacrosse," - Anthony Aveni, Winter 10, CW Journal

Images
© Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame -- bronze statue by Jud Hartmann
© Ampack/Dreamstime.com -- children pushing
© San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library -- brick removal, 1906 earthquake

Eff the Cloud

Why the f*@k did anyone think it was a good idea to store one's entire personal life on remote servers? We know why people rob banks. Same thing with the Cloud: That's where the most powerful information is. Eff the Cloud.

treasure mapThe Cloud. The Cloud ain't a cloud. It's not an ethereal wafting mist that gently envelopes and mysteriously veils the intimate details of our lives, following us overhead, our data swaddled for our use wherever we go. It's a server farm in Bismarck, North Dakota, with a big, red-ringed target on it crying out to criminals, the Russian mob and the Chinese government to COME AND GET IT!!! Unsavory hackers have a treasure map to all our personal information: pictures, passwords, spreadsheets. You name it. It's all stored right out there in Bismarck and El Centro and Yuma, and all criminals have to do is infiltrate the server farms. Which clearly isn't that difficult given all the high-profile corporate break-ins lately at Sony, J.P. Morgan Chase, Target, Home Depot, WellPoint, Anthem Blue Cross and the U.S. Postal Service to name a few.

Apparently, the Cloud is as safe and effective as our data being nestled into mist. All that's needed is a moderate wind to blow the protection away and poof...

The (mushroom) Cloud
So, what was wrong with local storage of personal information? I don't need my music wherever I go; my pictures wherever I go; my investment portfolio wherever I go or my passwords. I'm not in the CIA, and nor are you. I'm not a baby who needs constant input to keep from crying and fussing when I'm bored. I have eyes, a mind and an imagination to observe, absorb and contemplate the world around me in my down time. And so, by the way, do you. I'm organized enough to gather what I need before I leave the house for the day--and you can be, too, if you put a little effort into it.

Cloud computing has been around since the 1960s as a means for science and the government to share resources and research. It evolved for the masses once people had multiple devices and became frustrated needing to transfer files from one to another and constantly cross update. I can see the dilemma. But certain companies, most notably Apple, have made it difficult under the guise of "easy" to select what should and shouldn't be uploaded to the Cloud. They have made it so "easy" that most people don't realize all their pictures, apps, music and SMS messages get automatically saved to the Cloud, where they sit vulnerable to hacks and are downloaded to all family devices using the same ID. Our family tablets and phones now exhibit a Technicolor, surround-sound and emoji-filled picture of each and every one of us to children, spouses and even ex-spouses if our device-toting children are visiting "the other" for the weekend.

If it's connected, it's hackable.
The Cloud itself is growing out of hand. It has grown into "The Internet of Things" -- or IoT as the digiterati call it. This means not only can we access all our files whenever we want, but our watches, thermostats, door bells, pacemakers, cars, gas meters, baby monitors and pacifiers, televisions, toothbrushes, bathtubs, burglar alarms, solar panels, parking lot security gates, pool filtration and, in some cases, our clothes can be connected to the Internet, too. In fact 25 billion objects are already online worldwide1. The details broadcast by these devices when compiled and packaged by data brokers create a very intimate and revelatory dossier of who we are, where we are and what we like and have to do.

Personally, I don't want, for example, my thermostat on the Internet, because here's what's gonna happen. Thermostats signal when people are in and not in a home. Thermostat at 55 degrees: no one's home. Thermostat at 72 degrees: people home. Thermostat hasn't moved in threeplaydough worm days: family on vacation and signal to robbers to break in. An Internet-connected thermostat can be hacked, and those patterns can be picked up. Also, because it's connected to my router through which everything else in my house routes to the Internet, once the thermostat is hacked, criminals have access to everything else in my home connected to the Internet, most frighteningly to my computers, online banking and alarm system.

We've seen this pattern in the recent Home Depot and Target security breaches. In those attacks, criminals found their way into these businesses' payments systems by crossing paths on the Internet and entering the corporate network through the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system--the corporate thermostat, if you will. So what will prevent anyone from getting into my WiFi via an app infected with malware that digs through my cell phone and routes through my thermostat app? Nothing. No one. No manufacturer or government agency. Of the 25 billion things connected to the Internet, 70 percent of them "have serious security vulnerabilities."2

The empty bag of convenience
So, open and shut your shades from work. Receive texts from your refrigerator telling you you're out of Applewood bacon. Go to the mall with a roast in the oven and watch your kitchen for smoke via Dropcam on your cell phone. I prefer to accept the minor inconvenience that my sofa may fade sooner than optimal due to sun exposure; that I may need to go home and create a grocery list before shopping; that I can place a roast in my (non WiFi-enabled) Crockpot to slow cook all day unattended--wait, that's no inconvenience at all! Slow cookers were made to be left cooking all day safely unattended.

Since all aspects of our personal and work lives now can leave a digital trail, I'm dropping as few zeros and ones (binary computer code) as I can.

In re dropping number twos, which no one was talking about but here's the length to which consumer electronics' manufacturers are going to have to go to transform me into a devotee of the Internet of Things: arrow to toiletIf someone can invent a way to WiFi human bowel movements from our bodies, through the Cloud to routers connected to our home toilets so we don't have to suffer the social awkwardness of using workplace and public bathrooms, you got me as a Cloud customer for life. I'm in. Of course, we'd have to have separate routers dedicated solely to home toilets, because imagine the damage a data packet like that would do to a home WiFi. (Talk about malware.) Until that kind of miracle technology materializes, I shall remain--to the best of my ability--offa your Cloud. Though this blog itself is being stored in the Cloud, so I mean, you know...Greetings, Yuma!



© 2015 Tia Creighton



Notes
1, 2 - "FTC Warns of the Huge Risks in the Internet of Things" - Davey Alba, 1/27/15, Wired

Images
© 2008 Shevs/Dreamstime.com -- Old Treasure Map
© 2013 Lodimup/Dreamstime.com -- Play Dough Animal Photo
© 2013 Niceregionpics/Dreamstime.com -- Arrows Indicate Toilet

Dad, the New Creature in the House

It used to be "Toad," our bearded dragon, and his various light bulbs we had to worry about. But now, my husband is the critter in the home we fear will set the place ablaze. He retired recently and is playing with technology that is species away from his experience.

For 35 years, my husband repaired 40-ton, million-dollar, heavy-construction equipmentpavers, loaders, compactor and bulldozersin landfills and on the sides of freeways. He would get up in the morning at 2:30 a.m. and come home in the afternoon at 3:00 p.m. He worked every Saturday, too, though his schedule was lighter. He'd come home at noon on Saturdays. Sundays were his day off.

When he was home, he largely stayed outside in the yard or in the garage. He excelled in those areas, in those tools, in those drawers and sheds. But now? Now? Now, he's in the house.

I worry when I leave the house. "Does he know how to use the stove?" I ponder as I back out of the driveway. The stove? Let's start with a frying pan. I try to educate him that the omelet pan is different from the skillet; that a fine-mesh strainer is not a colander; that the ceramic insert of the slow cooker cannot be placed on an open flame.

It's just dad.
I worry. I worry that when he does work his way to the stove, he'll light it and forget to turn it off. I worry that he'll try to wash our clothes one day and will flood the laundry room with bubbles because, perhaps not seeing the laundry soap right in front of him, he'll grab the Palmolive next to the sink as a substitute. I worry he'll try to put our son's double sheets on our queen bed and stretch them so far, he'll tear them like The Hulk shreds his clothes transforming himself. The Hulk Greg is going from he-man to domesticthe opposite way from The Hulkbut things can still get destroyed. I worry he'll forget to pick up our son from school, or camp; or go to the wrong camp or the wrong field; or he'll forget the parking pass or the medical release forms or his cell phone so I won't be able to call or text him when the day's schedule or plan suddenly changes. When I do text him, I rigidly have to stick to 140 characters. He's had his phone over a year now and cannot scroll through multiple-field texts. He's been trying to woo me into becoming his IT department. "Just Google it" has been my de facto response.

Politely...subtly...I've tried to figure out if he knows the difference between the various recycling bins and that household batteries should be kept out of the waste-stream. I've managed, I think tenderly, to inform him that "fluff" is a dryer setting that will take approximately 48 hours to provide results, so he should stick to high- or medium-heat settings. I've pointed out to him several timessoaked towels and pillowcases in handnot to store the iron face down in the linen closet because its water will run out and onto the shelves. I've shown him probably 12 times how to cook pasta, but he keeps putting the noodles in the cold water at the beginning, rather than when the water boils. I've tried to tell him our son will not eat onions, sunny-side-up eggs or tomato sauce, but those pellets of fertilizer have yet to soak into the soil of his mind. My husband continues to be irritated when a plate full of discarded scallions, runny egg yolks or red spaghetti turns upreturned by our son to the kitchen sinkuntouched by fork or mouth.

About some things, I don't even try delicate communication anymore. I don't let him near our tax software, and he's been warned to stay well clear of the coffee pot. He might as well try to run a nuclear reactor the coffee pot is so foreign to him.

Togetherness is overrated.
When the mail comes in, I worry he'll lose our house-payment note, our property-tax bill, our insurance-premium invoice and our cable bill. He never loses the advertisements or the free circulars. They accumulate on the dining room table week upon week. I'm planning for the worst: I ruminate over the vision of us terrified on the front lawn of the county courthouse shouting over sleazy real estate investors trying to repurchase our home in a foreclosure auction, because our mortgage didn't get paid. I chew on the image of us living under a freeway overpass, warming ourselves near a 55-gallon-drum fire in our tattered, thrift-store, mucous-stained sleeping bags.

When he first retired, I wondered, "Does he know what the thin metal rectangle is that opens like a clamshell and allows him on the Internet?" Quickly, I realized he knows what it is, but he knows just enough to create a powerful blackhole that could slurp our entire financial galaxy into oblivion. Now, I'm wondering if I should put parental controls on his browsers. I'm worried the computer will be cluster bombed with malware from movie "torrent" sites; that he'll put his credit card into a phishing website and have it sold online in an underground chat room; that he'll send money to me because he reads I'm in Malaysia and have been jumped for my credit cards and passport, even though he's pretty sure I just went to Target for some paper towels and a new microwave.burning cardboard house

I had to purchase a new microwave last week because Greg turned ours on for 40 minutes instead of 40 seconds and walked away. The appliance filled with smoke and blackened our upper cabinets. I have a call into the painters.

I think I ought to have a plan for my husband's retirement. His freedom is starting to look like my captivity. Maybe I can keep him enclosed in a glass container like we do with our lizard. All Toad needs is a hot rock and a clay bowl full of water for cooling down.

Perhaps, it's time for me to get a job that forces me to leave the house part of the day. Working from home alerts me to every little move he makes: The drawers opening. The dishes clanging. The phone buttons beeping as he dials.

Signs of improvement
I've been told it's more important that he helps than how he helps; that he'll get the job done but may not do it my way. That's true. At least he's trying. So many husbands don't even make the effort. They consider most of the house their wives' obligation. Their area of the home is the refrigerator in the garage where the beer is kept and the sofa in front of the TV where the beer is drunk. I have noticed that as I’ve left him alone, he’s gotten a lot better at household tasks. He’s feeling more assured. He calls PG&E, the cable company and the mail-order pharmacy. He arranges for the exterminator, the carpet cleaner and various deliveries. He takes good care of the dog and sprays her ears with sunscreen. He does half the grocery shopping. He has started making pancakes from scratchnot the size, shape or consistency I would make, but our son eats them all the same; he doesn't notice. The plate comes back clean, and in the end that's all that matters: customer satisfaction. The job got done and can be checked off the list. Progress.

I am feeling relieved, however, that we're about to tear out our driveway and pour a new one. This project will tie Greg up outside with a tractor for a very long time. That'll give me the opportunity to get back inside and fix things up my way.

© 2014 Tia Creighton



images
The Hulk: ©iStockphoto.com/BrendanHunter
Burning house: ©iStockphoto.com/ugurhan

Summer Memories Improved with Age

My family didn't go away much in the summer. Everyone seemed to have something going on. The three boys had all-star games, sports camps and football scrimmages. I went to various Girl Scout camps. My sister--who knows what the heck she was doing--probably DIY, feather, hair extensions with her dolls. There were too many of us too close in age to keep track of. My dad was a teacher, so he was sort of around but held other jobs that didn't leave him entirely free for the summer. My mom worked.

Usually, though, one week out of the summer, we'd rent a cabin and go to South Lake Tahoe. The other families we knew all went to their own cabins in north Lake Tahoe (the "North Shore") or rented cabins on the North Shore. The South Shore was the low-rent district, and even then we needed an arrangement to go. The director of a local swim club had a cabin she used to rent to our family at quite a square deal.

Friends would be going up to Tahoe at the same time, and I remember saying to them, "Oh, we're going to be there, too."

"We should try to meet up," their mother would say, excitedly standing behind the kitchen island, halving garden-fresh, cherry tomatoes. "Where are you staying?"

"On the South Shore," I'd answer full of hope for how we'd frolic as families together on the banks of the lake.

"Oh," the mom would say, her voice full of pity for me, "we're not going to be able to do that." Then she'd turn on her ballet flats and walk off into the lanai. We were pariahs of the summertime.

But no matter! We made do, just the family. We had fun and made the best of our circumstances. My dad rarely went on these Tahoe trips. For 16 straight years--as part of his other work--he took students to the University of Guadalajara to study Spanish for six weeks. (A story for another time.) So it was the five of us kids and my poor mom. Tahoe 1969

Fear and loathing in a Country Squire
Tahoe wasn't as developed as it is now. Dangerous, two-lane roads through the Sierra Nevadas led to the region. Gas and groceries were expensive because truck deliveries were much more sparse than today. We used to take almost everything we needed to minimize grocery shopping and keep costs down. Because my dad was gone, my mom did all the planning, shopping and packing. It didn't even occur to us kids to help. Of course, we made very certain she purchased our favorite snacks and strapped our fully blown inner tubes to the roof of the car. We used to go to a tire shop in town and buy patched-up truck inner tubes to use in the lake. We had to inflate them before we went, because we could never find a place in Tahoe that would do it for us.

I can still see my mom driving fifteen miles under the speed limit, white-knuckling it on Highway 50 over Echo Summit. Behind her, the one truck driver with a route that week was zeroing in on her bumper trying to keep his speed up to make the grade. He'd be blowing his horn for her to get a move on. She'd be gritting her teeth and swearing under her breath while we kids were arguing with and slapping each other; sneaking grapes and graham crackers; and questioning our mom aloud with intense concern about whether she thought our inner tubes were still on the roof. I can assure you she didn’t give a flying fish stick.

One year, my mother aborted the trip the morning of because the car wouldn't start. She tried the engine a few times; called our grandfather to advise; then called the trip off. We were ordered to unpack, and we stayed home that summer. We never really understood why our mom didn't have the car towed and fixed, but now that I'm a parent I know why. She didn't want the terror of breaking down on Echo Summit with us maniacs in the car. She didn't even want to be with us maniacs. Like all mothers, she found being at work far easier than spending time with her children, especially when she had to spend that time as a single parent.

A parent now, I understand that my mom was exhausted when we arrived in Tahoe and pretty much wanted the kids out of the house the entire vacation, and we obliged! When we were in the house, I electrocuted myself once by sticking a knife in a light socket, and my two oldest brothers got in a fight and started swinging fireplace utensils at each other. We kids were basically set free to roam the Tahoe basin alone as we wished.

Fun for the kids!
South Lake Tahoe boasts awe-inspiring hiking, biking and natural scenery, but we did very little nature-oriented on these trips. We did take a daily walk to the mini-mart four blocks away from the house to buy candy cigarettes and Laffy Taffy. We body surfed in gas-saturated lake water right next to the boat ramp at the end of Ski Run Boulevard. We chose this particular surf spot not because it had impressive wave action but because it was close to a snack bar and video arcade. When my mom would join us for afternoons by the lake, she'd often spring for us to rent one paddleboat, and we'd argue the rest of the day about who was hogging. The afternoons in the summer at Tahoe often got windy and cold. My mom would stay as long as she could bear but eventually would pack up her book and Tab, towels and chair and leave. We'd sling our bulbous black inner tubes over our shoulders, trying to keep the long metal stems from gouging into our sides, and walk home like porters in the Belgian Congo.

Probably the biggest thrill exploring Tahoe on our own as kids was crossing stateline from California to Nevada. It was literally crossing the street to Harrah's, but it sparked a massive mind-body buzz like the rapture I'd feel later in life crossing without parental permission into Tijuana with my friends in high school. (A story, again, for another time.)

Stateline was a sensory stew of car exhaust, blaring horns, construction noise and the ding-a-ling of slot machines paying out. As one approached, you could see Harrah's looming large in the distance. The vista was framed by telephone and electrical wires criss-crossing over the thoroughfare and lines of stands selling cheap souvenirs. We'd find a wall, sit and smoke our candy cigarettes and stare up at the Harvey's neon wagon-wheel sign perched precariously over the highway atop the 11-story hotel. Gamblers in plaid pants and shorts zigzagged up, down and across the street. Older women with purses slung at their elbows smoked nearby waiting for the lights to change, and we'd nod to them as we sucked on our lung darts, too.

For a dare, we'd send one or two of us into a casino to see how long we could last without getting thrown out. Usually, it was about 30 seconds. Casino security was very strict back then. You had to be 18 or older to even walk through the front door of a casino, and management did not play around. After testing security, we'd cruise the souvenir stands; buy a couple of Ponderosa Ranch tin cups, pinecone charm spoons and '74, '75 or '76 Tahoe tank tops (depending on the year); then head back to the cabin.

In the evening, we kids would walk to and from Magic Carpet mini golf, and in the morning we'd start all over.

When my dad came home from Mexico, he'd bring us more trinkets: stuffed frogs playing various horns, colorful candelabras and maracas, Day of the Dead skeletons and big sombreros. We'd put them by the Emerald Bay salt and pepper shakers and Heavenly Valley trivets we snapped up at stateline and call it summer. School would start, we'd await the next vacation and save our quarters for the summer mini-mart and arcade.

Everyone's a Jones
Nowadays, smaller families and greater wealth allow for more elaborate summer vacations. A quick glance at Facebook reveals that vacation tastes are much more aspirational. Tahoe is still popular, but it's never the only summer trip a family takes. Families visit Tahoe two and three times a summer interspersed with trips to Maui, Mexico, Fiji, Paris, Mykonos and fishing trips to Alaska and Idaho. Vacations have even become competitive. Campsites to national parks need to be booked a year in advance. You can't even go to Disneyland without studying websites and drafting logistical plans that make Operation Overlord look like a game of Chutes and Ladders. No one's hanging around tire shops anymore begging for discarded inner tubes. Everyone's pulling $125 ski tubes behind $80,000 boats.
Rox & Rocky w cigs
I've taken many trips in the intervening years to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, but ultimately find it unfulfilling. There are too many people I know there and not enough to do outside of drinking at the lake. Instead, my little family and I are going to good old South Lake Tahoe this summer--to a rented cabin offered to us at a steep discount. Now, though, I won't mind the conversation with friends when they ask where in Tahoe we're staying. I'll gleefully answer "the South Shore" knowing no one's still coming to visit. And no matter! We'll make do, just the family.

We have a secret weapon on the South Shore. My husband's cousin has lived there for 35 years, and she knows every hidden place to hike to, bike to, paddle to and when necessary drive to. The South Shore is so built up now you have to go into nature to have any fun at all. The tiny marina is now a 100-bouy, six-floor resort with an indoor pool. Everyone has a personal arcade on their cell phones, and the little mini-mart has been replaced by a wine-bar offering gourmet tapas and artisanal chards. But no matter! There's a tiny store in a town off Highway 50 that sells candy cigarettes and Laffy Taffy. We'll be stopping there on our way to Tahoe to load up. It's summer, and the pariahs are on the move!

© 2014 Tia Creighton



Images
the author, Tahoe circa 1969: ©1969 D. Creighton
just an everyday, after-dinner smoke between cousins: ©2014 Tia Creighton

Argument Anxiety Evolution

“Relax, it’s all going to shit anyway,” my dad said to me once. He meant it to soothe. All the stuff we spend our time worrying about, he was saying, never happens. It’s the stuff we don’t worry about that causes the problems. "And since we can’t see those things coming," he continued, "why worry?”

I've always sensed, however, that worrying provides rewards, because worrying is so natural and so many people do it obsessively. My suspicion was confirmed recently when I learned about the "negativity bias" of the human brain from author Rick Hanson. Putting the analogy in a simple stick-and-carrot framework, Hanson explains that for our earliest ancestors, "it was a matter of life and death to pay extra attention to sticks, react to them intensely, remember them well, and over time become even more sensitive to them." (1) This bias toward negativity developed to protect early humans from predators. Anxiety, therefore, has propelled the human species forward for hundreds of millions of years. Our evolution has selected for anxiety, and therefore it is now part of human nature.

Nothing to fear
Today, of course, we have less dangerous threats than our ancestors did. We're not worried about gorillas squeezing our skulls like casaba melons and ransacking our foodstuffs; King Cheetahs carrying off our young in their fangs; or neighboring tribes scorching our huts and running us off the dika-nut grove. Most people who worry worry about being made a fool of. I’d say we’ve come a long way if that’s our biggest fear. embarassed baboonWe are animals after all. Most animals are worried about building shelter out of dryer lint; having their eggs slurped up whole by lurking crocodile tegu; and evading hunters wearing day-glow vests. We humans are paralyzed by the fear of tripping up the stairs on our way into work; our accessories clashing; our low bank-accounts being exposed; our flys being open; toilet paper trailing from our shoes; or salsa dribbling down our Tommy Bahama breezer shirts.

And maybe even those trite fears are falling away. I see people worrying less and less every day, suggesting the primitive sectors of our minds our catching up to the reality of modern lifestyles. Last week, I walked in on a young woman in a toilet stall. She failed to lock the lock. When I opened the stall door, she made no abrupt move. Her pants were at her knees; her cell phone was on her lap; she was texting. She finished her communique, looked up shrugging and said, “I didn’t lock the door.” I was more embarrassed than she was.

Gods among us
Traditionally, Buddhist monks have been the ones striving to overcome the driving force of anxiety. They work toward this lofty goal by getting away from the stressors of life. They cloister. They're not out in the world trying to get through traffic; find and keep jobs; fight as soldiers; find fresh water supplies; pay insurance premiums; or pick through landfills to find trinkets to sell to feed their families. They’re not in the same competition the rest of us are in. They have shelter and food provided by their villages. They can afford to relax, meditate and be mindful because they're not out there trying to pass on and protect their genes.

This woman on the toilet, I think, was a Buddhist monk. A new kind of monk we're finding now among us. Know someone age 30 living at his parents? Buddhist monk. Know a woman with a beer belly and an onion armpit tattoo? Buddhist monk. See someone dancing to LMFAO? Buddhist monk. Receive a picture of a scrotum on your phone? Sent by a Buddhist monk. You don’t recognize these monks by their finger cymbals, bald heads and saffron robes anymore. Instead, they're cool vaping cats in hoodies, their bodies festooned with clever piercings and smart modifications.

© 2007 Shannon Larratt--BME.com, LLC And guess what? These disguised Buddhist monks are having children now, too. They've stepped back on the evolutionary track and are in fact passing on their genes. I suppose because they're enlightened they don't worry that their only means of transportation is a skateboard; that they make a dollar an hour over minimum wage; or that their baby daddies are in lockup. They’re unfettered Buddhist monks with iPhones, wombs and EBT cards, and they can just Google it. Whatever it is.

A legacy project
I'm fearful, tormented and constantly on guard. I jump out of my seat when people peek in my office to say hi. I startle at loud noises on the street. I don't bank online. I have 911 on speed dial. I always sit facing the door in public. Every eight minutes, I check to make sure I have my wallet and cell phone on me. When people walk too closely behind me, I step aside and let them pass. I wear a bite plate at night because I'm grinding my teeth to nubs. I could never sit quietly on a public toilet texting. Did you know that 17 percent of phones have fecal matter on them?

I suppose I could worry less, like my dad advises. He isn't one bit concerned about his rotting staircase; the 40-year-leak in his ceiling; or the bare hot wires--humming with 110 volts--hanging like clotheslines through his house. He'll eat off random street vendor carts, fish in people's backyards and eat seven-day-old leftovers. Once I saw him take a used coffee filter out of my garbage, run boiling water through it to get the juices out again and make himself a cup of coffee. The man's a menace or a mahatma. I'm not sure which.

Why worry indeed. Why worry indeed. I'll chant that catchphrase to myself over and over until I've installed it in my mind and believe it. I'll use a public toilet stall as my proverbial "tree of meditation" and really take in the essence of humanity. If I'm able to absorb the message of this practice, I'll let you know on Twitter. Look for a tweet: "The final veil of ignorance has been lifted. I'm also out of toilet paper." Bluetooth® me a roll right away, won't you? Namaste.

©2014 Tia Creighton



Notes
1 - Rick Hanson, Hardwiring Happiness, (New York: The Crown Publishing Group (Harmony Books)), e-book.

Images
Embarrassed baboon: ©iStockphoto.com/halbrindley
Body manipulation: ©2007 Shannon Larratt, BME.com, LLC

Humanity--The Greatest Show on Earth

I have found a fascinating, new scene. It takes me back to the early days with my husband.

When we were first dating and for the first few years of our marriage, Greg had a ski boat. He grew up in a family that has always had, worked on and even built boats. They were waterskiing when waterskiing was just starting out in the 1950s. He, his friends and family were exceptionally good skiers. Many in his circle, including his brother, skiied in the water show at Marine World.

etsy toy waterskiing

I didn't grow up around boats. I grew up around broken down cars. So this new world of big-block motors, V-drives and barefoot and slalom skiing was fascinating to me. Greg's family knows how to care for, handle and drive boats. They are experts on the boat ramp. They were like a professional pit crew getting boats into and out of the water: undoing straps; turning on the blower; putting the drain plug in; packing the bearings of the trailer so water didn't get in and cause rust. They drove straight in quickly and straight out quickly using well-understood hand signals. So for fun, after we were done skiing for the day, Greg and I would amble over to the boat ramp, hang over the railing and watch the show--people trying to launch their boats. It was hours of comedic fun.

We've seen people jackknife their boat trailers because they couldn't drive backwards straight down the ramp. We've seen people forget to strap their boats onto their trailers when pulling their boats out, and the boats sliding off onto the concrete ramps. We've seen people hit their boat throttles too hard and drive up into the beds of their trucks. We've seen people lose their trucks and trailers into the water, because they forget to put the trucks in gear before they get out of their cabs. We've seen people sink their boats because they forget to put the drain plugs in before they put their boats in the water.

Greg has since sold his boat, so we're not in that world anymore. I miss the zany and clownish, free follies that so magnetized us. But to my delight, I now have an easy and very local way of seeing enchantingly similar behavior.

We don't need no stinking bags!
The California county I live in has passed an ordinance forbidding grocery, convenience and other stores from issuing plastic bags. (About one-third of California currently has such a ban.) If customers forget to bring a reusable bag, the store is required to offer paper bags at 10 cents each. I cannot believe the behavior I'm seeing out of people to avoid paying an extra 20 or 30 cents at checkout. They're carrying armfuls of groceries out of the store, dropping broccoli and kale on the pavement, dropping sauce and breaking jars, refilling their carts with the groceries they've purchased and tossing their food and sundry items right into their hatch backs or cars' back seats. I don't know about your car, but my back seat is full of dust from baseball fields, Slurpee straws and dog hair. I don't want my groceries rolling around in that stew.

I've seen people screaming at clerks after they're told plastic bags are no longer available. I've seen people abandon their full carts at checkout once they learn bags aren't free. I've seen people carrying unprotected glassware and vases in their hands out of Crate & Barrel. I've seen people carry new clothes out of Macy's and Nordstrom on hangers. Once I saw a mother with a new season's worth of clothes for her two children hand a couple piles each to her kids to carry out. The boy promptly dropped his pile in a sticky slick of cola on the outdoor-mall sidewalk.

It's a dime a bag, people!

I saw a young couple this summer who were clearly shopping for a camping trip with friends. They purchased paper plates, plastic silverware, Corn Pops, bagels, paper towels, toilet paper, summer berries, pancake mix, syrup, lunch meat, sliced white bread, chips and salsa, cans of chili, several packs of hot dogs and buns, two-20 pound bags of ice and lots and lots of beer, tequila and margarita mix. They had no reusable bags with them. When the clerk asked if they'd like to purchase paper bags for 10 cents each, the young man shrugged at his girlfriend, shook his head at his girlfriend, then turned to the clerk and said, "No, we don't need bags."

The girlfriend quickly responded, "Really? How are we going to carry all this?"

"Well, they charge for bags," the young man said.

This couple had just purchased $280 worth of groceries--largely crap--and suddenly the prospect of paying 50 cents more pushed them (albeit him) over the edge. What were they going to do? Push the cart out into the parking lot, load their things 3 by 4 into their truck bed, drive to wherever they were going--the paper plates, napkins and buns having blown out already--unload their supplies 3 by 4 onto their campsite picnic table and sort through them as needed on vacation? I imagine they were probably trailering a $50,000 boat, but buy 5 bags! Never. They weren't going to spend their money foolishly!

Treaty vs. ordinance
The reason for this change is that environmentalists have been winning the propaganda war that plastic bags kill sea birds and animals. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Bay Area has been overrun by California Gulls. The population of this species has increased from 24 birds in 1980 to more than 53,000 in 2013 (1). They've become a huge problem. They collide with airplanes causing aborted landings. They swarm landfills and spread disease into surrounding communities. They shiite all over neighborhoods, parks and school yards. They dive bomb players and spectators alike in sports stadiums.

TIPPER

Trying to control their numbers has proven a problem. First off, they're protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which is cuckoo. Killing a gull or destroying its eggs requires a permit from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Even if the authorities could get the permits to control the numbers, there are too damn many of them to overcome. They live 20 years. Each female produces about 30 chicks in its lifetime. 20,000 or so nesting pairs produce 60,000 eggs a season. With budget cuts, California has like 3 wildlife officers covering 164,000 square miles. They can't possibly destroy all those eggs on their own. Poisoning has turned out badly in other parts of the country. The practice has ended with dead birds falling from the sky into people's swimming pools, convertibles and garden-party canapés.

So what's the solution? Plastic bags! That's right. Let 'em roll off the dispensers! It's said that approximately 1 million sea birds die each year from plastic bags. So let's set the plastic bag to our wicked work. Experts say these birds have formed 10 huge colonies on bay levees. Let's feather those colonies with plastic bags. Let plastic bags choke, strangle and starve these damn shore birds. Let them entangle these scavengers so they drown and/or cannot fly and feed. Sure, we're going to lose a few loons, grebes and shearwaters along the way, but we don't have to do this forever. Just long enough to get the seagull population down to a reasonable number that we can then shoot. We shoot deer. We shoot ducks. What is the big deal?

Restoring the availability of plastic bags will take away my new scene, but I have faith that humanity will come up with another wave of idiocy that I can pull my chair up to and take in. People have never failed me in this department.

© 2013 Tia Creighton



Notes
1 - "Bay Area Sea Gull Population Explodes, Bringing Flocks of Problems," Paul Rogers, MercuryNews.com, 7/20/13.

old-time skiers - © yearroundyardsale (Etsy vendor) vintage 1960s, vinyl water ski and speed boat cake topper