Saturday, March 19, 2016

What To Do When The Thirteen-Year-Old Calls You a "Fucking Idiot Retarded Bitch" and Almost Takes a Swing at You.

It's evening. It's Saturday. You just want to sit down for dinner with your husband. The younger kids have been watching TV for over an hour. You ask them to turn it off, please. Your children appear to be deaf.
"It's after 8:30--time to turn off the TV now!" you say brightly. Occasionally you let them watch later, because you dread the sullen looks, the begging, or the insults. But tonight you say the box must really go off, and then the kid, who looks extremely sleepy, says, "I'll go upstairs at 9:00," which would normally be okay but tonight you just think he looks tired plus you know he's not particularly interested in the show plus you'd like to clean the table and make it look nice for dinner. So you say, "I'll be back in a few minutes--you watch another couple of minutes--and then I'll turn off the TV." But when you do, the kid yells.
So you throw out a threat: I am going to unplug your computer and remove a few items from your desk unless you move.
This is, incidentally, exactly what all the best books on childcare tell you not to do. My favorite, How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk, which you can see here:
wasn't lying around on the coffee table near which the teen was cussing me out, and I was too rattled and sad to come up with anything better than "You can't talk to me like that," which he'd already succeeded in doing, and "you have to apologize," which he wasn't about to do. So what do you do? Well, you don't beat the kid to a pulp, though I must say the idea is tempting. Nor do you actually unplug his computer. But you do keep talking to the kid, and then you do something that takes a very long time indeed when things aren't going well: you wait for him to grow. P.S. When he was really little, say, age three, the other book in the same series, about younger children, told you that when the little one flops down screaming and won't stop, you can hand him a crayon and a piece of paper and ask him to draw what is making him mad. Worked like a charm. Aren't there charms for managing boys who turn fourteen very soon? Perhaps not, except in the world of Harry Potter. Meanwhile, I'll keep investing in hair dye, since about ten more of my no-longer- blonde tresses went gray during the above-described encounter. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Negative Capability and Donald Trump

They're opposites, obviously. It's just that if you don't know the meaning of the first, it appears to describe the latter. 
"Negative Capability" sounds like a diagnosis for whatever ails Donald Trump. But the poet John Keats was describing the state of mind that allowed him to write: "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."
 In other words, you don't judge whatever pours into your mind, you don't mind the contradictions and you don't wince at things that normally make you cringe or feel guilty. You don't try not to think those things. Uncertainty becomes a pleasure instead of a torment. You're in a state a layman might call Zen or even the Zone:  you just are. Then you write. Later, much later, your thoughts float back to earth and you start to edit. That's where Coleridge's notion of poetry as "emotion recollected in tranquility enters," the part where you say to yourself, "Oh, that line really sounds bad," or "I should maybe put this line at the beginning of the poem." But if you'd been doing the Coleridgeian thing while you were trying to do the Keatsian thing, you'd have impeded your intention to write that poem. 
Let's pretend we've never heard of Negative Capability. It does sound so The Donald. He's great at nixing any positive statement; he's wonderful at being negative. He so enjoys stirring up hatred. What would it take to make Donald Trump look and feel uncertain? Anyone capable of doing so might have a chance to deflate him. Have a wind machine blow out Trump's comb-over? He'd probably laugh that off. But there must be a way. Pundits, pundits, think: think as you have never thought before! Find a way to make The Donald doubt himself. Slip him a mickey? I suppose that's the only way, but such a move would come back to haunt the decent person who did it, and in the long run would probably not be enough to topple Trump
I suppose you've heard about the boy who fell through the ice and got rescued by a slightly older boy? The four year old who almost drowned grew up to be Adolf Hitler. The kid who rescued him grew up to be a Catholic priest. If I'd been standing on the icy banks of the river Passau armed with my knowledge of the flailing four-year-old's future, would I have let the kid drown? What if that kid had grown up to be Donald Trump?
Only the decent feel uncertainty. Poor Obama with his "uh . . .uh . . . ." laced through every CNN moment, poor CNN interviewers--I've never seen Amanpour tackle Trump in person, but maybe he's wise enough not to let her stare him down, because she's the only journalist who seems to me capable of doing so. The others turn to goo, or if they don't, their faces betray their disgust and shock. Their questions stumble, the "uh, ah," or the inability to speak distinctly damns them: the juggernaut force of his personality crushes them before they can ignite a spark of their own confidence.
The secret of Trump, that he never doubts himself, is an open one. He doesn't give a damn about anything--he is capable of ultimate negation, and if suicide became part of his game, he'd play that with panache, the way Hitler did, destroying himself as part of his grand finale. At the moment, the desire for pleasurable sensations keeps Trump alive as it kills what's left of American democracy. A philosopher might feel sorry for a guy like Trump, never experiencing the moment of uncertainty that makes you human. But as Dumbledore says to Harry, when Harry is thinking about Voldemort's childhood: "Harry, are  you actually feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort?"

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Schengen, Schmengen: Racheting up the Controls in Europe

Germany and the Netherlands are parties to the Schengen agreement, right? Last time I looked, this agreement still held, meaning that German citizens and most other folks traveling between these countries by train can sleep through their journey without being awakened by the ticket-taker for a passport check. Here's what Wikipedia still says:
The Schengen Area operates very much like a single state for international travel purposes with external border controls for travellers entering and exiting the area, and common visas, but with no internal border controls. It currently consists of 26 European countries covering a population of over 400 million people and an area of 4,312,099 square kilometres (1,664,911 sq mi)
But yesterday when my German husband took trains from our small city in the Northwest to Utrecht, plain-clothed inspectors, a man and a women, showed identification as people were getting ready to disembark in the Netherlands, and demanded to see passports. 
As Merkel continues her mantra--"Wir Schaffen das!" (We can manage this! We can do it!) she's increasingly shouted down by those favoring closed borders decorated with barbed wire, plus guards who shoot at anyone scaling the barbs. People do scale those barbs, with their bare hands, too, babies on backs. I just switched off a CNN display of Trump asking admirers to raise their hands and vote for him--yes, it calls to mind the Sieg Heil! of Hitler's minions. Folks don't need much to get them very scared, and any thug can manipulate that fear. Why am I writing all this when nobody reads this blog anyway? Because I hope one or two people who just want a safe haven can manage to fake a passport that'll get them into Amsterdam or one of the larger German cities, where I imagine them seeking shelter with a friend, working at street cleaning, then opening up shop as greengrocers and living happily ever after.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why I Voted For Madame Clinton

Yes, I took "where you stand on the issues" quizzes on websites, trying to line up Bernie and Hillary with my beliefs. My seventeen-year-old, whose knowledge of politicians, political machines, American politics, German politics, and political systems is probably second only to that of Wolf Blitzer, Christiane Amanpour, and Anderson Cooper combined, thinks I should judge exclusively by the issues and the records of both candidates. He thinks I should have voted for Bernie.
I disagree. Personality and experience mean a great deal to me--and Madame Clinton has had the experience of being president. Technically, she was the woman behind the man, but we all know how that works. She got Bill up on that pedestal and she kept the morality dogs off his, so to speak, tail, when he was in trouble with Whatzerface--why use her name? W. doesn't want to remember any more than the rest of us do. It is Hillary who has the judiciousness, the self-restraint, and the huge gyrating brain. Bernie's pretty smart. I'm sure he'd do a great job too, and I'm with him in most areas, including not going after Mom-and-Pop shops selling guns that get used the wrong way. But Hillary's got 'sperience. She's been there in a way that Bernie never has. If he'd had a term already, I'd probably vote for him. I can hear my children yelling: It's because she's a woman! It's because you're over fifty! It's because you don't keep up with things! And what about those emails? Plus, what about her voting to go to war in Iraq? 
What about it? Here's what:
And I say, children, there comes a time when you brush aside all the issues and look not so much at faces as at personalities. The shrewdness and the smarts belong to Hillary. Only time will tell whether my hunch was a good one. I would not be disappointed if Bernie won. But I'd be relieved if Hillary did. I'd think: NOW we can get something done!
Thank you, Democrats Abroad, for making my vote possible.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Critical Mom's Well-Mom Tea

You've got a cold, the flu, the Winter Doldrums generalized sick-'o-the laundry exhaustion, and you need a little pick-me-up, only it's ten in the morning, not ten at night so don't reach for the bottle of sweet red Moldavian wine. Instead:

(1) Get out a large thermos and fill it with boiling water. Refill water boiler and boil more water.

(2) Slice several large chunks of fresh ginger root and set aside.

(3) Slice in half a large lemon (or lime. Why not both!) Plastic-wrap the half you're not using and pop it into the fridge.

(4) Get out the jar of honey

(5) Get out your favorite tea. I like Moroccan Mint or fruit tea, but better yet fresh mint leaves.

(6) Pour out the water you used to heat the thermos and add the chunks of ginger, the lemon or lime, which you'll possibly have to slice in half, and the honey. I put in two heaping tablespoons of honey, sometimes more. 

(7) Pour in some boiling water to melt the honey; swish thermos around so the honey doesn't end up at the bottom and so you don't end up like Pooh Bear.

(8) Put in the tea bags, holding on to the little tags while you pour in the rest of the boiling water.

(9) Screw on top. Gently (gently!) hold and swing the thermos, to distribute flavors inside. Set aside.

(10) Wait at least half an hour. Drink. Then chew and eat at least one of those pieces of ginger. Zing! Doing so is very good for you.

Alternative: for a really bad cold, forget the tea bags and instead add Tabasco sauce--as one blogger said, a scary amount.

P.S. Chase your tea with one large clove of garlic. Chew and swallow. Keeps away bacteria, virii, and vampires. One of the Delaney sisters attributed their longevity to daily consumption of one raw garlic clove. Here are some of their tips:

And if all this doesn't work, go get the horrible antibiotics from your doctor.