Tag Archive | Christmas

Teenage Play Dates

Last week, my son’s music teacher approached parents like me – parents with kids who love playing music and performing for others-  with what he thought would be a big imposition.

Would I mind picking up my child plus a few of their bandmates – and their instruments – at school and driving them around town on a December afternoon to play two different gigs?

Would I mind?

I was delighted!

Ever since the beginning of the school year, my son leaves the house at 6:15 on Monday and Tuesday mornings to make a 6:30  jazz band rehearsal. That’s A.M. That’s ungodly early for most and even harder for teen musicians.

But this is a dedicated bunch. And now they would have the opportunity to bring some Christmas joy through music to the Baldwin House in Birmingham and then play the lobby of the Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

Of course, to me, wearing my Jewish goggles, this was the perfect opportunity for me to help my son and his bandmates perform a Christmas mitzvah.  So, with my car loaded with six kids, a guitar, sax, bass, and I think a few brass instruments, we were off.

The Bloomfield HS Hills Jazz Band as well as the Bloomfield Hills HS String Ensemble alternatively played traditional and contemporary Christmas music to the delight of the residents of the Baldwin House. They came in walking, or with their walkers to take in the sweet strings and the bright jazz tunes. The only musician they could not hear, was my son.

Unfortunately, his guitar amp adapter fried out somewhere between the school and the gig. And in the middle of the gig, while the strings played we had the following text conversation.

Mom, can you see if there is a music store nearby to buy me a new adapter?

Now?

Yes, my adapter died and no one can hear me.

Sorry, but there is no way I can do that right now. You should have checked this before we left the house. 

It was working, don’t make this out to be my fault*~X( at wits' end

Again, I’m sorry there is nothing I can do for you now. Stop fiddling with your amp and stand up. You are performing. 

But, they can’t hear me. 

Fake it. The show must go on. 

So, in  this video, you may or may not see a young man  on the floor fiddling with his amp and then at the last moment stand up and pretend to play his guitar.

In between gigs, after we loaded up the car with kids and instruments, I did have time to stop and buy some batteries to power his next guitar.  I turned instantly from a villan into a hero. They were now playing the big room: the lobby at Beumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

Unless you are having a baby, or this is your place of employment, the hospital is a somber place to be. Especially this time of year. So what a nice gift it was for the musicians at BHHS to bring their talents to play in the hospital. The acoustics sounded fantastic.  The strings sounded sweeter

and the jazz music sounded happier

Weary doctors and nurses and technicians stopped from their rounds to take a listen. Some caregivers of patients even started dancing in the lobby.

The afternoon gave me the opportunity to socialize with other roadie parents who had devoted the afternoon to driving and listening. One mom of a senior cello player told me that she was getting some ridicule for letting her son consider pursuing music in college. But she said music, and playing the cello is the one thing in school that holds his passion and attention.

As I listened and sipped a cup of coffee from the hospital cafeteria, I thought how lucky my son is to be in a school with such a great music program that thinks “outside the school,” to allow them to play in public places. I also thought about the kids just down the road in Detroit, who may not have a music program in their school. Because when it comes to tight budgets, music is seen as frivolous. A luxury that poorly performing schools with low testing students cannot afford.

The last sentence is the farthest thing from the truth.

 I ask those who wish to cut music in schools: can common core make people want to dance? Want to make kids come to school at 6:30 in the morning? Can common core bring joy to a hospital or an assisted living facility the way music can?

This is my final post for 2013. I invite you to listen to these talented young musicians playing some holiday joy. Thank you for following my blog, for reading me and for writing to me.

Have a joyous Christmas and a happy 2014

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The Netnanny Diaries, or How to Keep your Teens Safe Online

if you don't want to disable your computer, DO NOT buy this product

This time of year, Americans everywhere are shopping and carefully wrapping gifts picked out for those special someones in our lives.  Odds are, if that special someone is a teenager, that Christmas or Chanukkah gift, I’m talking the big-ticket item, will come with a screen.

Last year, my husband and I bit the bullet and begrudgingly gave our adolescent children a laptop. We rationalized that the laptop was a necessity for homework. Our children get assignments that have to be completed at online websites like Pearson’s Successnet.  We further rationalized that the children would want to send the occasional email to a friend.  Furthermore, we told our children the laptop was to be used in a common room like the kitchen.

But, laptops being what they are, and teens being who they are, my kids inevitably used their gift to chat with friends in the privacy of their rooms behind closed doors.

There are many pros and cons to this virtual social life. Through Facebook and Skype, my kids share their daily minutia with faraway friends without running up my phone bill. They will never know what it was like to have to wait until late at night for the phone rates to go down to place that long distance call.

Just one generation ago, having a phone line in one’s own room caused concerns for parents.  Remember hiding under the covers with the phone?

Now, the Internet is the place where parents of teens feel like they are losing control. Will they become vulnerable to online bullying if they are not savvy to the nuances of social networking? Will one wrong click result in viewing inappropriate web content?

In a last-gasp effort to maintain some control of my kids’ online activities, I hired Netnanny.  This is a content monitoring software program that allows parents to use customizable filters to monitor where kids can go online.

  •  parents can customize the program as they wish to limit or completely block sites containing violence, sexual or hateful language or images
  • Parents can limit or completely block websites to games or sites that support online gambling
  • parents can monitor posts or conversations on social networking sites like Faceboook
  • Parents can also use Netnanny to put limits on Internet time. You can set how many hours a child can use the Internet, and what times of day these hours are to take place. If you don’t want your kids on the Internet after 10 on a school night, Netnanny shuts off Internet capabilities after 10 p.m.

Sounds great, right? Perhaps there are parents who use this program with success. However, our situation wrote itself out like a bad reality TV show that could have been called “Netnannies Gone Wild.”

My daughter’s Netnanny woes:

  • One day, she wanted to go online to search for ski equipment on Dicks  Sporting Goods’ website.  Netnanny blocked her because the retailer also sold guns for hunting. Reason for blocking: possible violent content.
  • When she wanted to do some online window shopping for some bathing suits on Landsend.com, Netnanny again pulled her back by the apron strings. This time: risqué sexual content.  On Land’s End. Sure.
  • When she needed to research a paper for social studies about racism, she could not enter certain sites because they contained “hateful language.” or images of swastikas.
  • Finally, Netnanny blocked my daughter from Skyping with a friend in Israel. Perhaps the program detected a Middle Eastern ISP address and determined it was thwarting some kind of terror plot.

I did find Netnanny’s monitoring reports useful in terms of tracking what she and her Facebook friends were chatting about. However, Netnanny was a bit too overprotective when she deemed that “Hiya Hon, Luv ya” written by one of her BFFs was considered sexually explicit language.

My son had his own woes with Miss Netnanny

  • He could play no games on miniclips.com. Wait, that was my intention. Miniclips always spread viruses on my computer and I find these games to be a complete waste of time.
  • But, in an attempt to play an innocent game of solitaire, my son was blocked. Why? The game involved the use of cards: potential for online gambling. In my defense, I did block video games, but barring a game of solitaire was going a bit too far.
  • My son is an avid guitar player. Often, he looks guitar tabs up to play the latest song he hears on the radio. But Netnanny blocked guitar tab websites. The reason: Music and entertainment, may have explicit language.

After a few months, Netnanny disabled and corrupted all of the laptop’s Internet capabilities. I needed outside help and turned to Microworx, a Brighton information technology company that specializes in computer troubleshooting.

It took several days and about $200 to free my computer from Netnanny’s clutches. When I called the company to ask for a refund, Content Watch, the maker of Netnanny, refused because the software’s warranty had expired. In the end, there is no substitute for giving your teens a good lesson in common sense, social networking etiquette and harsh warnings about not trying to search for anything illicit before you let them go online.

Excuse me, Content Watch, if I was not a fortune teller and could not predict your crappy software would cause my computer such problems.

In the end, we fired Netnanny.  In the New Year, and the years to come, raising teens will come with many challenges. Now, it is navigating the information superhighway. Soon, it will be learning to drive on a real highway.

The best I can do is to offer my guidance and always let them know that if they need me, I will always be on the other side of that closed door.

How a Sukkah is like a Christmas tree

Okay, so the headline of this post might shock and offend some, but please let me explain my bold statement.

Growing up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in Staten Island, as the Chanukkah song from Adam Sandler song goes, I was the only  kid on the block without a Christmas tree. Our neighbors invited my family over for cake and tree decorating and we in turn invited them on Chanukkah to light our menorah, spin a dreidel and eat fried potato latkes.

 Even back then I understood that Christmas was a big holiday, and Chanukkah was a minor Jewish one. But Christmas trees still left me with a feeling of being on the outside, my nose pressed to the frosted window.

A menorah, no matter how big, even the ones that the Chabad Lubavich movement lights, just can’t compete with the smell of fresh pine, the twinkling lights and the tinsel to a Jewish kid on Staten Island. I even had my secret Christmas tree fantasies.  If I ever had a Christmas tree, it would be simple: just candy canes and white lights would hang off the branches of the Christmas tree of my dreams. And it would only be in my dreams, because I knew very well that there is no such thing as a Chanukkah bush.  

I did have childhood associations with Sukkot, the eight-day autumn festival of Booths, because of Hebrew school. I made the standard paper sukkah chains and ate within the large sukkah of my synagogue. In fact, the first time I was ever asked on a date was in a sukkah. It was in the seventh grade and a classmate asked me to go roller skating at Skate Odyesy as our teacher, on Orthodox rabbi, continually shushed us as he attempted to recite kiddush, the blessing over the grape juice. 

But because my family didn’t build a sukkah of our own, the holiday still felt remote to me. I didn’t have a sukkah to eat my bowl of breakfast cereal in, or sleep in.

Now, in adulthood, my family enjoys putting up a sukkah every autmn, and we have done so for eleven years. And because we have a family sukkah, I can now say why this celebration, one of the major holidays on the Jewish calendar, blows that overblown attention we give to that other holiday in December right out of the water.  Why? Because a sukkah fulfills the Jewish Americans’ need to decorate a large, religious object with branches and lights and have social gatherings within or around it.

Sukkot is known in Hebrew as one of the “three legs” of Jewish holidays, one of the three times of the year when the ancient Israelites were commanded to make a pilgrimage by foot to Jerusalem. Imagine Israelites building one of these temporary huts and sleeping in their fields under a harvest moon.

This same harvest moon shines through the roof of our family sukkah on the first few nights as we feast and sing. After a month of self scrutiny, asking for forgiveness, and finally, fasting on Yom Kippur, sitting within the walls of a sukkah is like getting a hug from God and feeling His forgiveness, as one Chabad rabbi in my college years so eloquently explained it.

In my neighborhood,  Sukkot is all around us. As we are finishing up our meal of brisket and sweet potatoes, our neighbor, an Orthodox rabbi, is starting his meal with his family within their sukkah. We can hear his voice as he joyfully sings the kiddush as we clear off our table. This is followed by the clanking of plates and the laughter of his grandchildren as they dine.  This coming outside to eat, either in these formal meals or sukkah hopping later in the week may be the last chance we get before the long Rochester winter, makes our neighborhood just feel more neighborly.

How is a sukkah not like a Christmas tree? For one thing, Jews are commanded by God in Torah to build one to remind us of the booths that the Israelites lived in during their wandering in the desert after we were freed from Egypt.  Plain and simple, it’s a mitzvah just to sit in a sukkah. I still don’t understand if there is a religious connection between a tree and the birth of Jesus, but I’d be happy to learn how this tradition got started.

So, now that it is December, I still admire Christmas trees, but with a knowledge and experience that the Jewish people have our time of year for our big celebrations with something to decorate and gather in. Come this Christmas, don’t feel bad for the Jewish people who have no Christmas tree. Instead, feel bad for the Jewish people who have not yet built, or ate, or slept, or dwelt in a Sukkah, back in September.

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