Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The G Word

Last week my daughter graduated from 8th grade. Oh wait, I’m sorry…that “overuse” of the word offends some people, so let me try again.

Last week we went to the Moving Up ceremony to celebrate my daughter’s finishing 8th grade at one school and moving on to high school at another. That’s what the sign said…”8th Grade Moving Up Ceremony.”

But let me let you in on a little secret…as far as I’m concerned, she graduated.

So…to paraphrase the late Clara Peller, “What’s the beef?” Why so much controversy over whether or not Sofie graduated or simply moved up?

Well, part of it comes from people who think that an overabundance of graduations cheapens “the real thing.” They maintain that if you have graduations from pre-school, then who’s gonna care when the big ones of high school and college come along?

I beg to differ. And I differ on the grounds of venue.

In 1970 I graduated from Ashland School, in East Orange, NJ.

Or did I?

I didn’t see any reason to save the programs from back then, so I don’t know. Maybe we didn’t call it graduation at all. Maybe we called it that weird word I didn’t understand back then: commencement. Or maybe we called it a “moving up ceremony.” But we all knew, as did our parents, that we were graduating.

I said that I differ with the people who say that we overuse and cheapen the term and the ceremonies by overuse on the grounds of venue. Let me explain.

When I finished my nine years at Ashland, I was finishing the longest amount of time I’d spend in one institution as a student. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Furthermore, because of the odd placement of the school right smack on the line dividing East Orange between its two high schools, when I finished 8th grade, there were many friends that I wouldn’t see or hear from again until the advent of Facebook. Leaving Ashland was leaving a set of buildings, a set of teachers, and half of my friends. That’s quite the milestone.

On the other hand, for 19 years I taught at a school that spanned the grades of Pre-K to 12 on one campus. And when the move from 8th grade, at the end of Middle School to 9th grade at the beginning of Upper School is simply a shift in your homeroom and advisor, but keeping many of the same subject teachers and classrooms; I can see why we had moving up ceremonies between divisions. No one was going anywhere new. No one was leaving anyone behind. You’d be traveling in the same buildings and seeing the same teachers in 9th grade that you did in 8th. You’d only graduate when you finished at that institution entirely at the end of 12th grade.

Do we overdo it when we have “graduations” from pre-school? I don’t think so. I’m a big fan of marking passages, and noting when things are going to change. When my oldest daughter was leaving daycare to start Pre-K, it just didn’t seem right to me that she and her cohort would be there one day and gone the next, without anyone saying anything about it. And so I suggested that they have a ceremony for all the kids who were leaving to start school in September. Now…truth be told…19 years later, I can’t remember whether they called this graduation or moving up, but I don’t really think it matters. Did this “cheapen” her later graduations from high school and college for us? Not by a long shot. Each of those represented a major transition in her life.

So really…graduation, moving up…does it really matter what we call it?

This is one debate I wish we could all just graduate from needing to have.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

60 is the New...60

I turned 60 on Sunday. In the days leading up to it, I said that on my birthday I’d be officially “old.” On my birthday I said that I was now officially “old.” And now that it’s past, I still say that I’m now officially “old.”

Many of my friends, however, are in denial…serious denial. They keep telling me that 60 isn’t old. Some of them have given me the line that “60 is the new 50”…which I guess supposes that 50 was the new 40. Of course, all these friends who tell me that 60 isn’t old have either already crossed the threshold themselves or are coming up right behind me.

But really people, there comes a point where you have to admit that you’re not young anymore, and 60 seems about it.

At 30, 60 definitely seems a long way away…and old. Let’s face it…it’s grandparent age, and by definition, grandparents are old. At 60, 30 seems like it was just yesterday…and young. In fact, I was joking to one of my co-workers that at 59, a 45-year-old woman seemed like “some young thing” to me.

Let’s face it, and face it honestly…people under 20 are kids, 20-29 are emerging adults [a term I got from Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance], 30-39 are adults, 40-59 is middle aged, and from 60 on up is old. You gotta draw the line in the sand somewhere. When you look at colors, there may be some debate as to whether a certain color is blue, green, or aqua; but there’s no confusing any shade of blue with any shade of yellow. That’s a line in the sand that everyone agrees with.

Now let’s be clear about something…old is not necessarily the same as decrepit. There’s an AARP video where “young people” are asked what age they think “old” is, and then to demonstrate how an “old person” would do certain things. It was sort of amusing to hear one of them say that 40 was old (remember that “young thing” I mentioned earlier?), and their perceptions of what “old people” in the 50 to 65 range were told me that they probably hadn’t spent a lot of time around their parents…who were probably in that age range. And yet…while many people are physically and mentally active up into their 90s, I have to admit that I work with a lot of people my age and older who do fit the stereotype of the frail, decrepit, not quite with it, old person. For every person who’s taking weekly East Coast Swing lessons and blogging about it, there’s another one using a walker who has a hard time understanding how to make simple phone calls on their cell phone.

So in case I wasn’t clear about it, my saying that now I’m officially old isn’t about saying that I’m falling apart (although I have to admit that parts of my body remind me daily that I ain’t no spring chicken). Rather, it’s recognizing that I’ve reached a significant milestone, a milestone that says that statistically, with luck, I’ve got about 20 years left.

And there’s nothing wrong with being realistic about it.

Next stop…70!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Good Advice vs "Blaming the Victim"

I get soooo tired whenever what would generally be considered useful advice on how to keep yourself safe gets tagged as “victim blaming.”

After Trayvon Martin was killed, I reflected on how my parents taught me that if you think someone’s following you, you shouldn’t turn around and confront them, and you shouldn’t run; but quickly walk to the nearest safe place and get help (see also call the police). I suggested that had Trayvon done any of those things...or used his cell phone to call 911 instead of his friend...he might still be alive.

The response from people? I was blaming the victim. Eff no. I still blame Zimmerman. But by being a little smarter about how to handle the situation, things might not have escalated to the point where Trayvon’s dead and a lot of us would like to see Zimmerman follow him.

Similarly, I learned early on that if I didn’t want to be jumped and robbed that I didn’t walk through certain neighborhoods at certain times of day, alone...and definitely not with a lot of money on me. If I got jumped and robbed...IT WAS STILL THE FAULT OF THE ROBBERS, but there were things I could do to keep myself relatively safe.

The simple fact of the matter is that THERE BE PREDATORS OUT THERE. I should be able to walk through any part of town at 11.00 at night with $100 bills pinned to my clothes, without anyone coming up to me and trying to take some. A woman should be able to walk through any neighborhood at any time of day, butt naked, without someone going up to her and trying to sexually assault her. These are all shoulds. But the fact of the matter is, as I’ve already said, THERE BE PREDATORS OUT THERE.

And it’s not enough to say that predators shouldn’t prey. One needs to be cognizant of the fact that these people are out there and learn how to keep yourself from falling victim to them. You can't just say “Well, I shouldn’t have to do this; they should just learn how to behave.”

That. Doesn’t. Work. Denial of the reality doesn’t work.

And giving advice on how to avoid the next person one of those predators preys upon isn’t “blaming the victim.”

It's trying to prevent one more person from becoming a victim.

I’ve heard this chorus of “blaming the victim” so many times that I’m beginning to wonder if it’s an unconscious way of trying to avoid any sense of personal responsibility for one’s own well-being, and of saying “I’ll do what I want. You’re not the boss over me.” But let me ask you this question: is it “blaming the victim” when we suggest that wearing seatbelts might prevent people from being thrown from the vehicle to their deaths in auto accidents…even those accidents caused by someone else?

Is it “blaming the victim” when we suggest that not being falling down drunk is a good way to avoid being jumped and robbed…or raped…or dying in a house fire that you’re too incapacitated to escape from?

Is it “blaming the victim” any time we suggest some simple ways that people might keep themselves safe.

To be sure, there are situations where people do seem to blame the victim. But let’s not confuse true victim blaming with good common sense advice.

I now await the hordes coming to uncritically accuse me of “blaming the victim.”


And your opinion on whether or not there should be isn't going to change that.