Friday, March 25, 2011

Let Me Just Say This About That

So, most of you who know me know I went on a cruise to the Bahamas last week. Sounds glamorous, right? Not really. I have to, in all fairness, state right up front here that I was biased against cruising before I even went. I've never, ever felt interested in going on a cruise. (So why, then, did I go on this one, you ask? Well, it was all paid for and it was with a group of people with whom I volunteer, and we got a ton of great information during our meetings.)

My idea of a great vacation/trip is one in which I can be far, far away from other people. Ideally, I should not see another person besides my family. Barring that, I should see minimal amounts of people. Or at least have somewhere I can go to get away from the madding crowds. In short, I'm not fond of vacationing with hundreds, or thousands, of others. Cruising is like the antithesis of that. You cram 3,000-4,000 people on a floating high rise hotel, complete with disco, casinos, bars, shops, coffee, and liquor. You see them everywhere, in all their horribly touristy glory. You see them in their spring break drunkenness--so attractive. You see them in their leathery-from-spending-too-much-time-in-the-sun skin, sagging out of the bikini they wear to show off their multiple tattoos. You see them stuffing their faces with endless piles of always-available food. If you aren't a little sick right now, then I guess you might like cruising.

Another element I like in a good vacation is plenty of peace and quiet. Preferably with the sounds of the natural world all around me. Again, cruising does not equal that ideal. I mean, you might imagine that you'll have the sounds of the waves, the breeze blowing through the palm trees, or the call of some native bird. No. What you get is constantly piped in bad 80s music. Unless, of course, there's live music, which is usually louder and worse. I wanted to sit out on the deck drinking my pina colada (okay, there are some nice things on the cruise, namely tropical drinks) and reading my book. But the live band was so loud, there was nowhere on deck you could escape from the booming bass. Even when we spent the day at the beach, piped in music and/or live music (which was a little more tolerable, since it had steel drums and a reggae beat, which at least felt somewhat in the spirit of the surroundings). The only place I could get away from this constant drone of bad music was in my cabin (more on why that was not pleasant soon) or on the fabulous sea kayaking excursion I went on. Now THAT was my kind of thing. Out on the water, no music, lots of sea life. I wish the whole trip was like that. (And yes, I am strongly considering a return trip for just that purpose, minus the cruise.)

I was hoping that getting off the ship at Nassau would be a delightful moment to see what a real Bahamas town was like. Oh, so naive. Can you say tourist trap? We walked through a port area with so many people hollering at us to sell us water, photos, tours, hair braiding, and total junk, it almost made me cry. A local friend showed us to the straw market, which is supposedly one of the really cool things in Nassau. Why? I don't know. It's a giant tent spanning about a city block. Inside are hundreds of vendors with products piled up to the roof, and they are all hawking their wares at you, all at once. The aisles are only wide enough for one person to pass through, so it is slow going--all the better to sell you something. Most of the items are pure junk. This is supposed to be special?

I took off on my own after that. I did see a really wonderful museum exhibit on slavery. I saw the many historical buildings, some beautiful churches, and the Nassau public library, which had once been a jail. The parliament, supreme court, and other government buildings were all a pastel pink color, which I thought quite amusing. But then I stumbled back into the fray of tourist-town, where shopping was the name of game, and duty free was the theme. I tried to get away again, finding myself walking through vast stretches of very depressing, empty or burned out buildings. Aside from the touristy crap, what I saw of Nassau was really sad. Now, of course, there's a whole lot more to the city than that, but I would venture to say it is not pretty, which is why tourists don't get there.

My lifestyle has never been about luxury accommodations, and I'm just as happy in a bunk in a yurt as in a resort suite. So our broom-closet-sized cabin did not bother me. It was actually kind of fun to see how small they can make a bathroom and have it be still functional. (Answer, about three square feet. I suppose I exaggerate a bit. Maybe four square feet.) The nice thing about our room was QUIET. Room service was fast and tasty. (And free, with our group package.) Everything about it was fine, except for the lack of window and the smell of mildew. (which might explain why I am now sick after returning home.)If I am going to sleep on a hard surface with no space to spread out, I might as well be in a tent in the mountains, preferably next to a river.

Finally, my life is so not about stuff. It's more about experiences. (And let me tell you, this was some experience.) So it really turned me off that every three seconds, someone is trying to sell you something. Whether it's an upgrade, a drink, a tour, a bingo card, or whatever. Even my massage (which I did indulge in--see experience) therapist wanted to sell me hundreds of dollars of products.

Another turn off was the sense of being in a herd of cattle, from the line to check in on board to the safety drill to the disembarkment routine to the buffet line. I felt like just one of the many other cows being guided into the corral.

Despite all this, I had a wonderful time. Why? Because of the exceptionally fabulous people I was with--the SCBWI regional advisors and others. What an amazing, creative, funny, and hard working group. It was all worth it. And we did enjoy making fun of the oddities of life on board.

The one day I dreaded most of all--the private island belonging to the cruise line--turned out to be the most fun. We sat around no the beach chatting, then kayaking, all the while finding it odd that bulldozers were planting palm trees, which are not native to that island. It was surreal.

I probably won't be cruising again anytime soon, but some sun and sand was a welcome respite from days like today, with gloomy skies and sleet. And meeting all these wonderful new friends will be something I will always treasure.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Benign Neglect as a Parenting Strategy

I realize there are as many parenting styles as there are parents. And of course, we usually think ours is the best approach. I can definitely say as the parent of three kids that one method does not necessarily work for every child. My three children are all cut from their own cloth and respond to things quite differently.

Overall, I think I've been a pretty good parent. Some probably think I'm way too lenient. I think they're way to strict. Some think I let my kids run all over me. I think I listen to them. In the end, the measure I use is this: as my children move into adulthood, do I like them? Do I want to hang out with them? Are they the kind of people I respect? Are they good, compassionate, helpful, kind? And here's the other piece: they all seem to want to hang out with me. Now, I'm not stupid. I realize that this is in part because they need money. But it's more than that. We have forged a relationship that holds meaning beyond the parent-child spectrum. We genuinely like one another. (Most of the time.)

I have often described my parenting style as one of benign neglect. Or laziness. Benign neglect sounds better. But here's the thing. It basically boils down to letting the kids deal with whatever consequences arise, unless I think they are putting themselves or someone else in serious danger. (Which has never happened yet.)

So when my child wants to stay up all night, I merely ask that they keep it quiet so I can sleep. They will discover tomorrow that they are tired, don't feel well, can't stay awake in class--whatever. And they almost always learn they don't enjoy that. Same with drinking a gallon of soda. I don't lecture them on nutrition. They've heard all that before. But when they don't feel good the next day--they know why. I've never censored television, books, movies, music, or anything else. They have proven that they have enough sense to self-regulate. I mean, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that most of tv is just trash and not mentally satisfying in any way. So they give up watching it.

I know friends who think I'm a wuss. Who think I'm not willing to stand up and be a real parent. Who think that I should learn that I can't be their friend. But here's what I notice. They are the ones struggling with their children. They are the ones whose kids continually go down the path their parents don't want. They are the ones who can't get their kids to talk to them.

My main goal as a parent of teenagers is to be the kind of parent who is approachable, who they can talk to about anything without being afraid they are going to get into big trouble. I would rather know where they are and who they are with and what they're doing so that I can help if things get to the point where someone is in danger: drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever. If they won't talk to me, they could get into big trouble that is difficult to find your way out of. Those things are way bigger than if they stay up too late at night or get a bad grade in a class.

My children know the expectations, though. They know that if they commit to something, we expect them to honor that commitment. They know we expect them to take school seriously--but not too seriously. Peter, our 14 year old, has some pretty awful grades right now. Instead of grounding him or lecturing him, we talk to him about it. He already felt bad, already made a plan to bring up the grades. We knew they were mostly a result of missed assignments, and that it will all come out in the wash by the end of the quarter. Peter knew he wouldn't get in trouble, so he knew there was no reason to hide his grades from us. He knew we expected better, and what's more important--HE expected better of himself.

That's really why I find my benign neglect strategy to be the best one for us. Our kids learn to think, plan, make mistakes, redo, and try again. They don't respond well to lectures or punitive actions. And I thinks that shows that they already know if they messed up, they already figured out what to do about it, and they know that for the really big mess ups in life, we are here to help them out.

I'm not putting this out there to say my way is better than yours. I'm just saying that I'd rather make sure my kid, say, uses birth control than have her be afraid to ever talk to me because she's worried I'll just ground her or something. I'd rather have my kid talk to me about drugs than to find him shooting up in the alley because he's worried I'll kick him out (for example).

And it seems to be working. None of my kids hesitates to talk to me about all manner of things. And none of them engages in dangerous behaviors. Why? I think because they only have to look around at their friends' lives to see how messed up drugs make you, or what crappy jobs their non-college-degreed friends are stuck in. They've mostly learned to think for themselves, rather than doing only what they know won't get them in trouble. I value that very highly.