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How Much of the Summer Did You Spend in front of a Screen?

Brandonbrice

Brandon Solomon on his trip at a stop in Bryce Canyon National Park

All over the country this summer, you could hear a plea of GenXer parents to their Millennial children that sounded something like this:

“Get off your screen. Stop playing Angry Birds. Go outside and look at some real birds.”

Screen addiction is as real as that YouTube video of a person walking into a fountain in a shopping mall because they had their head down in their smart phone. Jane Brody, health blogger for the New York Times dedicates many posts to overuse of mobile devices. In July, PBS aired the documentary Web Junkie, which followed Chinese families taking the draconian step of sending their gaming-obsessed teens to a rehabilitation center not unlike a center for drug addiction.

In 2010, a Kaiser Family Foundation study concluded “the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day.” Excessive screen time is bad for a child’s physical health and mental wellbeing. Childhood risks include obesity, a rise in blood sugar, poor posture and the inability to develop proper socialization skills. GenXers, who are the last generation to talk to their friends through a telephone lassoed to the kitchen wall with a corkscrew cord, find a chasm between themselves and their Digital Age native children wider and deeper than any other in history.

Do we let our teens Skype in their bedroom with members of the opposite sex with the door closed? How do we trust our children to independently stay on task and complete their homework on their tablets, now a mainstay school supply, when distractions are only a click away?

WEANING AWAY FROM THE SCREEN

The methods of curbing screen time vary for each family. Some have short-term experiments like kicking the habit for a solid week. Others find that observing Shabbat provides a weekly refuge from every ping and tweet from their mobile devices.

Whether they spent it in day camps or overnight camp, hiking out West or splashing in a neighborhood pool, summertime is the perfect time to rein in a child’s screen habits and think about ways to continue minimizing screen time into the fall.

Brandon Solomon, 15, of West Bloomfield says he uses technology “a lot.” The rising Bloomfield Hills High School sophomore plays video games with his friends up to four hours daily, either hanging out in person or over the Internet. During the school year, he keeps track of homework assignments on his smart phone. Calling Facebook a “bit old school,” he prefers texting and using social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to stay in touch with friends.

The day before a 35-day Tamarack Camps Western travel program that would take him and more than two dozen area Jewish teens to hike, raft and camp out in national parks like Bryce, Zion and Yellowstone, his phone broke.

“It was just as well because we weren’t allowed to take them along anyway.” Between their treks out in the wild, the teens traveled for long stretches at a time by bus. Without their phones, instead of texting to friends far away, they were better able to get to know the kids around them through old-fashioned conversation.

When they weren’t chatting, they read, looked out at the passing landscape or just slept. Now that he is back in civilization, Solomon said he learned a lot about what life can be like away from a screen.

“I realize now that playing video games is not a very productive hobby, and I’m going to try very hard to cut back on that,” Solomon said. “This coming school year, I will try to be more in touch with my friends by getting out, taking a walk and riding bikes. It would also help to be more in touch and on top of my homework.”

TOO MUCH TEXTING?

A few weeks into the trip, the teen tour stopped in St. Louis, Mo. Solomon noticed a group of local teens who texted and stared down at their smart phones screens as they shuffled down the street.

“They looked like a bunch of zombies!” Solomon said. “It made me realize: That is how I look most of the year when I have my phone.”

Indeed, teens prefer texting over talking on the phone or in person. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, half of children aged 12-17 send or receive 60 or more texts a day on average, and researchers at the JFK Medical Center in New York found that teenagers send an average of 34 texts from bed. Does all this texting and the abbreviations that go along with it signal the downfall of the written English language?

Kim Lifton, president of Wow Writing Workshop LLC, says not so. Lifton teaches college-bound students how to be reflective as they approach their college essay and application.

She said with training, teens have no problems creatively expressing their thoughts in their writing. Abbreviations commonly used in texting do not find their way to the essays she edits. However, if you are her student, do not text that essay to Lifton to edit. She embraces texting, but she has her limits.

As far as texting, this GenXer sees it as a communication tool just as her generation used the phone to keep in touch with her United Synagogue Youth pals in various cities across the Midwest when she was in high school.

“I remember my mom scolding me that I would never develop good communication skills because I spent so much time talking on the phone,” Lifton said. “Today, I keep up with these same USY friends on Facebook. It is the evolution of communication, but these tools must be used in moderation.”

What concerns Lifton and other professionals who work with teens is not their grammar but interacting with people in real-time. Some local therapists say that when both teens and adults are overly reliant on texting, they are just venting their feelings and frustrations and are not necessarily having a quality two-way conversation. In seeking immediacy in responses from others, teens are also having difficulty with working things out on their own.

Abby Segal, LCSW, does not always have her cell phone with her. When she sees patients — often teens coming to see her to work through anxieties associated with overuse of technology — her phone is off. According to Segal, the digital age is causing us not only to lose our ability to be present with others without distraction; we are also losing the comfort of solitude. Many of her young clients fear they feel excluded from their friends if they do not immediately answer their texts. Several have been so sleep-deprived from late-night texting or video game sessions that they overslept through their appointments.

“Young people need to use their imagination and play outside more,” Segal said. “Getting out in the neighborhood on a walk with a friend — that is the kind of communicating kids need the most.”

A NOVEL EXPERIMENT

Jen Lovy of West Bloomfield made national news on Good Morning America this summer when the show learned how in March of 2014 she and her family decided to avoid screens for an entire week. Lovy was “fed up” with the amount of time her three sons, then ages 8, 9, and 11, spent with their technology. So, they kicked the habit for a week. Doing homework, however, on a computer was OK. During the experiment, there was a snow day, plus one of her children caught a late-winter bug that left him home sick for a few days. Still, they

“Young people need to use their imagination and play outside more.” — Social worker Abby Segal

managed by building with Legos, reading and working on some crafts projects.

“One important lesson my kids learned is that they did not die of boredom,” Lovy said. “And we actually got outside to enjoy the snow.”

The unplugged week showed the Lovys just how much they normally used their screens. After the week, the kids went back to plugging in, although Lovy said she tries her best to limit nonhomework screen time to an hour.

Miriam Svidler, LLMSW of Southfi eld, who works as a counselor at the Cruz Clinic in Livonia, said it is no wonder that kids have a hard time being pried away from their games. According to Svidler, games are designed to make the brain feel good, and this is why children and teens display great irritability when they are asked to stop playing. Noting the extremely addicting nature of computer games and the constant updates on one’s social media newsfeed, Svidler advises no more than two hours a day of screen time if that screen is used for things other than homework.

“Game programmers know exactly how to design a game to make our brains feel good when we use them and bad when we are abruptly torn away from them,” Svidler said. “You need to tell the child that restricting screen time is not a punishment but a motivation to find other pursuits or to spend time with other people face to face.” Svidler advises that sometimes getting that last text from a friend can be reassuring before bedtime. But teens should not rely on texting as a main form of communication with friends.

“It is always best for a teen to have open communication with their parents,” Svidler said. “But if that one text from a good friend can help them get through the night before bedtime, that is OK, too.”

WEEKLY BREAK

Like many Jews who have become observant, Svidler knows that Shabbat, a 25-hour rest, can be the best weekly break from technology. “For 25 hours, I am able to be present and in the moment, which I have learned is hardest thing for teenagers to do,” said Svidler, who gradually became Shabbat observant through her adulthood. “Before Shabbat, if I want to be with my friends, we make a plan, pick a place, and they just have to trust that I am going to be there.”

When it comes to teaching and learning prayer, Melissa Ser, director of education at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, said there are a multitude of apps and technology to help students young and old. But trying to fi nd that meaningful moment during religious services, she added, becomes increasingly more challenging. Too much screen time is only partly the reason.

“We do not know how to slow down,” said Ser, who takes full advantage of the time Shabbat gives her and husband, Sam, to enjoy a day of unplugged time with their three children. “The world has picked up pace so much in the last few decades, and one no longer has to search and research to fi nd answers. The art of prayer asks a person to dig down into various layers of thinking, and this is something we are not accustomed to doing anymore.”

Uganda School primed for the Digital Age thanks to Detroit Grandfather/Granddaughter duo

High-Tech Project

By Stacy Gittleman|Contributing Writer

 

Posted on October 24, 2014, 10:18 AM . Filed in Uncategorized. Tagged . Be the first to comment!

Grandfather and granddaughter work to keep Ugandan Jews sustainably wired.

Jerry Knoppow stands at the equator in Uganda.

At Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, all students learn to click, drag and research in fully wired media labs equipped to educate in today’s digital age. Far away, in a remote village in eastern Uganda containing a large percentage of the country’s 2,000 Abayudaya Jews, the Hadassah Primary School expects to open a computer lab for its 800 Jewish, Christian and Muslim students as early as February 2015 — thanks to the efforts of grandfather and granddaughter duo Jerry Knoppow and Miriam Saperstein.

The two went to Uganda on their own and aim to create a bridge of cultural understanding through the Internet between the Hadassah school and fifth- and sixth-graders at Hillel Day School.

This summer, Knoppow and Sapirstein left the comforts of their West Bloomfield and Huntington Woods homes and spent a week with the Abayudaya Jews of Nabagoya Hill in the village’s guest house and a second week touring the country.

In their suitcases, they packed not only prayer shawls, tefillin and siddurim to better connect their hosts to Judaism, but also laptops fully loaded with the latest software to connect them to the world.

For Saperstein, 16 and a student at Berkeley High School, the visit offered a hands-on exploration of a Jewish community she knew little about until she discovered them in a fifth-grade social studies class at Hillel. The school continues to teach about the Ugandan community on both religious and cultural levels and last year raised money for a clean drinking water supply for the Hadassah school.

This trip is nearly a decade in the making. In 2005, after learning about the Abayudaya Jews through Kulanu, a Baltimore-based organization involved in research, education and donations to those in developing Jewish communities, Knoppow arranged for the leader of the Abayudaya, J .J. Keki, to visit the Jewish community of Detroit.

Keki, a convert to Judaism, visited here for a week in March 2005 to teach the Jewish community here the customs, prayer melodies and other traditions of his community back in Uganda.

Knoppow said the goal of their high-tech project is not just to “pour in money to get the school wired and fitted with laptops and Internet connectivity and then walk away.” It is to help the villagers be able to become financially independent to sustain and update the technology.

He backed his passion for the project with statistical evidence from the Bill Gates Foundation, which shows that the introduction of technology to rural communities changes lives by motivating people to pursue higher levels of education.

The long-term cost of establishing this project is $40,000-$50,000, Knoppow said. In the latest update, he plans to pack six suitcases with additional laptops and get them to New York by Nov. 11, where leaders of the Ugandan community will be putting on a benefit concert for subsistence farmers.

Miriam Saperstein of Huntington Woods shows Ugandan Jews ways to use a laptop.For details on volunteering or making a tax-deductible donation to this project, or for those wishing to contribute through upcoming b’nai mitzvah projects, go to http://tinyurl.com/ok9rhxp or contact Knoppow at jerry.knoppow@comcast.net.

As for Saperstein’s take-away from the experience, she knows that most of her peers in suburban Detroit grow up in a “privileged bubble” where there is a b’nai mitzvah culture of short-term mitzvah projects. At home, she admits she is happy to be surrounded by creature comforts while also dedicating many hours as a PeerCorps volunteer at Detroit’s James and Grace Lee Boggs School.

After her visit to Uganda, she learned what it means to enter another community very different from her own with humility and the capacity to listen.

“Any time you enter a community as an outsider, you should not have preconceived notions that you know what will be best for them,” Saperstein said. “The Jews in Uganda are not there for us to pity or for us to feel good about ourselves by making a monetary donation. We must work together with them as a team to map out a sustainable plan that will enable both the teachers and students to compete globally.”

The trip was not all about work. During her stay, Saperstein also had fun “hanging out” and making friends with her Ugandan peers. A leader of teen discussions at B’nai Israel Synagogue of West Bloomfield back home, Saperstein felt honored to lead parts of the Shabbat morning services in the village’s traditional egalitarian synagogue.

“Though they prayed in Hebrew and their native Luganda language, I felt so connected to the melodies and the words,” Saperstein said. “I know I can go anywhere in the world and know I can feel connected to the rituals and prayers that unite us as Jews. That is very powerful.”

Knoppow said, “As I listened to my granddaughter lead the prayers, I could not see the words in my siddur from the tears of joy in my eyes.”

 

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.

Why my Lenovo should be renamed “Lemono”

After I write this post, I’m off to the computer store again. To have the computer geeks fix my computer. Again.

Did I mention to you that I’ve only had my brand new Lenovo ThinkPad for two months?

Am I writing to you from my new Lenovo laptop? No. I’ve had to wait my turn to get my hands on my kids’ laptop while they are in schoool. I’m trapped in my own parental-protection Netnanny web that I’ve set up on this computer – a Gateway. I’ve blocked myself from all inappropriate material on the web and I only have about 30 minutes of Internet time before Netnanny boots me off.

Why am I not writing on my own computer? Because my brand new computer crashed – again – two nights ago. After my very capable husband backed up and restored my overpriced paperweight only two nights ago, I fired up my Lenovo yesterday morning to find that it no longer has wireless Internet detection hardware.

Every time, and believe me, I tried all day, to create a new wireless connection, to enter in the ISP and password that Time Warner bestowed upon me, I got an 

Error 737 message.  

 Of course, my computer failed to tell me what Error 737 means. Then, it offered me a chance to troubleshoot, but even that provided no solutions.  And, as you can see, my childrens’ computer has no problems connecting to the web. So it must be my computer’s hard drive.

Did I mention that I just had the hard drive replaced on my brand new Lenovo less than one month ago? And it took Lenovo over a week to send my computer fix-it guy a new hard drive?

If you have a Lenovo, what problems, if any, have you had? I’m looking to get my money back for a different brand. What laptop would you suggest?

I love you as much as you can stand…. More Love Letters

Did they ever think they would be parents and great-grandparents? A photo of Pauline and Milton in 1938

Since I started blogging, the post that has received the most amount of views is my post Hey … vs. The Love Letter.  It has received over 4,000 views and that’s without being freshly pressed — when a blogger’s post is hand-picked by the WordPress editors and prominently displayed on the website’s front portal.

Now, I don’t know if people read all the way through my post, but it goes to show that there are those out there that still believe in love letters and the power of the written word for the sake of romance.  In spite of advances in technology.

In this post, written in January during National Letter Writing Week, I pondered if my generation, the Gen Xers, will indeed be the last that will pen physical, hand-written love notes, or even letters in general. Call me old-fashioned with my fears. I don’t like the notion of how texting is replacing plain talking, or how e-book readers are replacing paper books.  But fearing new technologies is nothing new. Even the invention of the printing press brought on apprehension. In fact, a character in Victor Hugo’s proclaimed medieval novel Notre Dame de Paris states that the invention of the printing press would kill architecture, the way humans communicate. I wish that Victor would have stuck around long enough to see the works of Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry.

But here’s where I back up my point that sometimes old-fashioned ways, like letter writing, can’t be replaced:

Last summer, at a prolonged stay at my parent’s house, I got, well, bored. So, I started snooping through the closet in my brother’s old room (sorry, bro!). In an accordion filing folder, I found some very old letters. Letters with two separate penmanship: one so flowery it should be regarded as an art form, the other, more masculine and primitive.

Love letters. Between my grandparents. Way before they were great-grandparents or even parents.

I don’t think that two people were more madly and crazy in love than my grandparents. Or fought as much as my grandparents. I mean fights that involved throwing a can of corn across the room or driving away from a family dinner all the way back to Brooklyn fights. But they still flirted with each other all the way into their 80’s.

But even into their 80’s, they still flirted with each other. At family gatherings, my grandfather would take me around, point to my grandmother, and whisper to me “Hey, aint she cute? Ain’t she sweet? She’s all mine.”

My grandparents had two anniversaries. One,was when they eloped in September 1939. They actually ran away in the middle of the night, headed upstate New York, and found a justice of the peace to marry them. An asthmatic one at that. I remember my grandmother recounting the ceremony, mimicking how the justice wheezed between reciting the vows. That was the anniversary my grandfather recognized.

Afterwords, none of my great-grandparents approved to this elopement. And I think the way it went was that my grandparents were not allowed to cohabit until they had a proper Jewish wedding, which happened three months later. That’s the anniversary my grandmother recognized.

So, in these letters, I found one from my grandfather, Milton, that I think contained my grandfather’s plot to take my grandmother, Pauline, away to get hitched.

Dated August 29, 1938 my grandfather writes

I received your second letter this morning after I sent my fourth. I got my days changed to Sunday and Monday off. (Grandpa worked night shifts for the New York Daily News). That goes into effect this Tuesday. Find our all the arrangements for Saturday, September 7, so that we don’t get mixed up. Try and come in early enough to get to the shower (?) about 9:30 but don’t forget to allow some sleep as I’ll be working Saturday morning. Will they be surprised?! Boy, oh Boy!

Some talk about my grandmother being away somewhere…. I don’t understand that part, but then….

I found lipstick on my blue tie that I wore Saturday nite but I won’t make any attempt to clean it……I’ll see you Saturday night and then all day Sunday and Monday and don’t go kick me home early….

and …after a bit of more plotting and even some sqabbling about my grandmother “putting on airs” the last time they met…

“You don’t know what a funny, but a lost feeling I get when I see a couple on the street or a couple kissing or a fellow saying I got a date. Nobody loves me except you. ….I love you alone, Milton.”

Then, I find a letter from my grandmother, not dated. But even back then, and they must have been in their late teens, my grandmother was nudging my grandpa about his health:

“I won’t see you on the nights you can’t manage to get your eight or nine (NINE??) hours of sleep each day. Your also going to watch your diet closely. Believe you me!”

And on the letters and their love went, for 67 years. By the way, My grandfather, a second generation photo engraver for the New York Daily News, was in fact a victim of new technology. In 1982, he was given a buy-out package along with the other photo engravers at the New York Daily News.

His job was being replaced by something called…. the laser printer.

I’ve been a newsaper columnist for over a year. Can you please spring for some business cards?

Some exciting news in my tiny little newspaper career. I have new towns to cover! One of them is Webster, NY. Their town motto: “Webster, where life is worth living.” Webster is 20 minutes from my house. And in the Rochester area, that may as well be another planet. So off I went last night to explore my new town, which rests on the shores of Lake Ontario.

 I was invited to a mixer held by the Webster Chamber of Commerce. It was held at the town’s local branch of HSBC Bank It was hopping! Only 20 people registered in advance, but the headcount was over 60, according to the event organizer.

So many great people in one room to meet, introduce myself to and dig up new story ideas.

Until one embarrassing question came up. And it came up time and time again each time I circulated the room.

“Can I have your business card?”

“Errr, well, to tell you the truth, I don’t have a business card, but the paper is working on it!”

So, instead I came home with a stack of business cards which I will now send out my contact information, with a link to my column.

Yes, it was embarrassing, and perhaps a bit penny wise and pound foolish of the newspaper for not providing me with a business card after doing this column for over a year now. When I meet new people, unless I carry around a copy of my latest column with my mugshot on it, where is the proof that I really am who I say I am?

My editors should know how I delight in writing each column, and they know I do it for a paltry sum of money. They should know how my spine tingled just walking into a real, live newsroom when I met with my editors this week. They should know that someone from the Webster chamber said to me “heck, send me your information and I’ll cough up the $20 to make you a set of business cards.”

Even in this age of Blackberries and social networking, there is still a viable reason for carrying a business card when one is doing real networking.

So, kind businesspeople of Webster, thank you for trusting me when I said who I said I was. And I will be getting my box of those old-school business cards any day. I promise.

A Rose is a Rose is a Wose, or is it?

Ahh, the high school dating scene….

Did you go to high school in the 1980’s? I did. There, now I’m dating myself, pun intended.

Back then, I didn’t date anyone because no one was asking! Maybe it was because I went to the same high school where my dad taught physical education and coached two teams, and maybe dating a coaches’ daughter was off-limits in some unwritten high school code of law.

But, those in my high school who were seriously “going out” – and by that I mean they didn’t just “hook up” — were so very much in love and so happy the whole world needed to know. As sickening as it was for the rest of us.

In high school, you knew who was going out with who because of all the of PDA (and that’s not Personal Digital Assistant. Remember, this was the 1980’s. These were Public Displays of Affection) in the hallways, the stairwells, the cafeteria, in the schoolyard and on the bleachers.

Girls with boyfriends would go to the Mall and have these sweatshirts made up. (Another memory of the 1980’s, the  melting, rubbery smell of the T-shirt shop.)

On the front of the sweatshirt, and it was usually a pink sweatshirt, would be the girl’s and boy’s name in a big air-brushed heart.

On the sleeve of the sweatshirt would be the date of  what I guess was their first date, something like this:

12

11

84

 
 

Then on the other sleeve, something like this would be written:

 4

EV

R!!!

Sick, right?

And, if the happy couple were dating a really long time – say, six months – the boy would bestow upon on the girl as  a gift an ankle bracelet. Only the ankle bracelet was not worn on the ankle but on a chain around the neck.

No other time did the have-nots of high school romance feel more left out than around Valentine’s Day.

Every year in my high school, the Key Club would hold its annual rose sale for Valentine’s Day. Roses were sold in different colors:

Red – I love you

Pink – I want to get to know you better

Yellow – Secret Admirer

White – Friendship

Roses were distributed the morning of Valentine’s Day in homeroom.

In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day of one’s senior year, seniors had another big day to think about and that was prom.  That’s because at the Staten Island Mall, the prom dress displays would go up pretty much as soon as all the Christmas decorations would come down.

What made it worse was I believe that was the same year Pretty in Pink was in the movies. So many questions arose months before the prom among my circle of friends:

Who are you going with?

What will you wear?

What other friends are going in the limo with you?

In the timeline of high school, receiving a rose on Valentine’s Day could be a determining factor for answering the above questions about prom night.

So, there I was in homeroom on Valentine’s Day, when to my shock, I received a rose.

A red one.

Now, at the time, I was not interested in anyone, at least anyone who went to my school.

At that moment I thought of my mom’s wise words: it will happen when you aren’t looking. Someone sent me a red rose! Whoever this person was had circumvented the rose selections of friendship, get-to-know-you-better or secrect admirer.  The sender of this rose went straight to

L.O.V.E.!!

This could be big! This could be my first Love!

My 17-year-old mind whirred. Who could it be? Someone in my AP English class? Certainly not anyone in AP biology, I hoped. Or, someone who was in none of my classes who would see me in the hallway and confess his love and we would go to prom and everything would be wonderful!

With each class I went to, I walked in expecting – I don’t know what.

But nothing happened.

Then, it was time to go to gym.

As I headed across the gym floor to the girl’s locker, my dad was heading out of the boy’s locker.

He greeted me with a big smile.

“Hi honey! Did you get my rose?”

I gulped. “Rose?”

“Yes, I sent you a rose!”

At that moment,  I wanted to die. Just someone,  please drown me in the locker room shower.

But I know my dad really meant well. Looking back, my dad just wanted to send his little girl a rose. But then, the 17-year-old me just died on that shiny gym floor.

“Thanks, dad,” I said, and I think I even smiled. Because I knew he meant well. But when you’re in high school, with the sweatshirts and ankle bracelets, a rose given to you by dad is well, not all that – womantic.

Postaday: The Most Important Thing is Love

Valentine’s Day is coming, and maybe the Beatles had it right: All You Need is Love. Lenny Kravetz also sang the truth in his song: You’ve Got to Let Love Rule.  With a two weeks to go, I guess people are looking for love in all sorts of places, including the blogosphere.

Unexpectedly, one post is attracting quite a lot of attention on my blog.  It isn’t a blog post that addresses any serious issue, like bullying, Israel, or  education. It’s about love, and in particular,  the dying art of writing and saving love letters.  But maybe I should expect such attention on a subject that is so universal and enduring.

This post has been read this week, so far – 335 times and counting. Traffic was drawn to my webiste over 320 times  – and counting –  this week through those who searched “love letter” or “old love letter.”

And this made me wonder – maybe romance isn’t dead. Maybe people still want to pause, be in the moment and pen old fashioned love letters. Maybe they realize that matters of the heart cannot be digitized into texts and tweets.  Maybe, in spite of technology, old-fashioned love endures.

For those of you who searched “love letter,” I can’t help but wonder – were you looking for an actual love letter template?   This written display of affection shouldn’t be approached as you would a resume and a CVC. I think the recipient of such a love letter would see right through the prefabrication of it.  Love letters are unique, like snowflakes. 

 Were you expecting me to print one of those love letters here? Sorry, but in a future post, I may discuss a box of love letters I found between my grandparents, written to each other when they were only 19.

So, in your search for love letters, I hope that you craft that perfect heartfelt prose to give to your loved one before February 14. 

Love should be about love. Acts of love should not be reserved to one date on the calendar. I think Valentine’s Day puts equal pressure on those Happy Loving Couples and All the Single People.  Valentines Day is on a Manic Monday and romantic feelings are somewhat hard to switch on between dinner, homework, and after school commitments.

For singles, you must start dreading this day right after the Christmas decorations come down in the store. It seems as soon as the trees and lights come down, the hearts, cards and candy go right up. For couples, it’s hard to throw on that romantic switch on a Monday night between dinner, working, homework with the kids  and after school commitments. So remember, love is every day and can be shown in different ways to the different people in your life. If it’s a stranger, hold the door open or leave behind a store coupon you are not going to use in just the right spot. If you are a parent, sneak in an extra treat into a lunchbox. If you are a teacher, teach with enthusiasm and energy for your students. If you are in a relationship, don’t take it for granted. Do some dishes unasked. And by all means, go buy that heart-shaped box of candy. If you search and put love into the universe, one day, love will find its way back to you.

Hey…… vs. the Love Letter

The first day into December break, my 14-year-old daughter sat at the breakfast table in a blue funk. I asked her what was troubling her.

“No one is around, I’ve tried to get in touch with everyone I know and no one is calling or texting me back to hang out or talk or do anything!” I empathized with her angst. Hanging out just with the members of the family, all friendless and all,  can be such a chore.

So, I asked her who she left messages with, who she called asking to make plans.

Her reply was, “Well, I didn’t exactly ask if anyone wanted to get together. I just texted ‘Hey’ to a bunch of people.  No one has replied.”

Obviously, in the texting generation, “hey” seems to carry more weight and meaning than its three letters imply. It might simply mean “hello!” Or it might mean

“what are you doing?”

“do you want to get together?” 

or, maybe, even

“I really like you.”

That is a lot to figure out for this upcoming generation of few words.

WordPress recently asked, as part of its daily blogging suggestions,

“Would you rather talk or text?”

For me, I’d rather talk. Or better yet, I would choose to write.

I do understand that texting can be convenient, such as when held up in a meeting and you need to get a succinct message out, like, “I’ll be late for dinner or daycare pickup.”

But, I would still prefer to hear the lilt, happiness or sadness in the voice of a friend or a loved one to better understand where they are coming from.  Nothing beats a phone conversation when you want to get to the bottom of things quickly.

Sometimes, though, it’s the anticipation of that special letter that makes communication all the more sweeter.  This week is National Letter Writing Week. That’s right. The kind of communication that requires a stamp. And ink from something called a pen.

When was the last time you received a love letter? When did you last wait days for that all-important message? Without that longing, songs like “Hey Mr. Postman” would never have been written.

If mere phone conversations and emails are dying away to curt, cryptic texts, then our culture may have seen our last generation of love letter writers.

I’m glad that technology did not arrive in time to deprive me of my letters. They are in a shoebox decorated with wrapping paper. Eighteen months worth of letters that document hopes and longings of my husband and I when we were just starting out.  He was in California, I was in New York. He was in grad school, I was in an entry-level job I hated. Each of these handwritten letters — some short, some long — took days to cross the continent and we waited with anticipation for them to arrive in our mailboxes.  And, by slowing down to write things out, we said things that we could never say to each other in a long distance phone conversation. Some of the dreams we put on paper, things we wouldn’t dare say when we were long distance dating, are a testament to our life today, our life with the three kids and the house. The house that holds a shoebox of old love letters.

In the digital age of bits and bytes, where will today’s young lovers store their earliest expressions of affection?

 

The Picture that Always Makes me Laugh

I guess I love this picture because it is so in the moment. It is not the ideal photo of what you would think of as the perfect family outing to the Statue of Liberty. It is perfect, though , because it captures the reality of the chaos of daily life with three kids:

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