Thursday, May 26, 2016

GRADUATIONS, AND HAVING YOUR SEXISM CALLED OUT BY A TEN YEAR-OLD (remembering to NEVER use the word "hormonal" in idle conversation...)

Our little camper, in a shot from two summers ago...        

           It's the end of the school year all across America, and graduates are going off into the cold, cruel world to show everyone what they've learned. Some of us who vaguely remember our own graduation ceremonies are hard pressed to keep from blurting out harsh truths about these rites of passage... truths no one really needs to hear from cranky old curmudgeons, even though they seem to be begging for a reality check with every cap and gown commencement gathering.

           If I had to address a group of graduates today, I'd probably tell them to get ready for the world's worst roller coaster ride. That sign at the gate that reads, "You must be THIS tall to enter this ride" should read, "You're about to find out how little that diploma means to corporate America!". Or maybe, "Good luck paying off that student loan on the wages your degree will earn!"  I'd probably add, "Your graduation year will only serve to mark you as an old person in the eyes of your own kids some day soon, so get over yourselves."

           Which explains why no one asks me to give commencement addresses to happy, fresh faced graduates.

            Here at Chateau Squatlo, we've got our own little graduate to deal with on a daily basis. Sarah's class is entering the sixth grade next year, and many of her current classmates and friends are opting to enter middle schools across town, while she will stay at this school for sixth grade next fall. Yesterday was the last full day of school, and apparently I was unaware that this would entail a certain amount of emotional upheaval in our niece's circle of friends.

            When I pulled in to pick up Sarah from school yesterday afternoon, she came to the car with tear stained face paint. They had had a little celebratory party for the fifth graders, and everyone had gotten painted for the occasion. What I'm told was a great cat face, complete with a black nose and painted on whiskers, was a smeary mess by the time our little diva climbed into the car. When I asked what was wrong, Sarah informed me that all of the girls were crying because it was their last day together at that school, and some of them were even moving out of state.  That's when I tossed off a casual remark I was instantly made to regret.

            "Oh. Girl drama. Hop in and buckle up."

             As she fastened her seat belt, the lecture began.

             "That is so stereotypical! Just because the girls were crying doesn't make it 'girl drama'! That's like saying girls have to like pink, and boys have to like blue! Girls play with dolls, and boys play with trucks! It's stereotypical!"

              I tried to choke back a smile, then had to admit that my comment had indeed been a tad sexist. I was being glared at by a kid who had (until very recently) been a cat with a black nose and whiskers, which made it harder to ignore the levity of the situation.

              "You're right, Sarah. It's wrong of me to assume only the girls were crying because they were emotional. But, lemme ask you something... Were any of the boys crying, too?"

                She folded her little arms across her chest, looked straight ahead, and said, "No. But it's still stereotypical!" and frowned.

                I had a twenty-five year old flashback to similar discussions I once had with my own daughter, a kid who had led her first classroom revolt at the ripe old age of seven, when in the second grade she refused to participate in classroom discussions because the teacher "was ignoring the girls whenever she asked questions in class"... We had to go to the principle's office to clear up THAT little sit down strike.  For the record, my daughter did get a concession from the teacher out of the deal. She agreed to make an effort to involve the girls in more of the discussions in the future, and that seemed to calm my little rebel down for the moment. It was but a sign of things to come... but I digress.

                So I weaseled out of my latest verbal gaffe, and took the kid to her piano lesson across town. We're letting her take the summer off from piano lessons, so it was with mutual relief that we pulled out of that parking lot and made our way home for supper.

               Ever since Sarah moved in with us a year and a half ago she's been chirping about a sleepover, and for a variety of reasons it's never happened. She wants several of her friends to spend the night, and has been nothing if not relentless about making that desire known. My lovely (and dangerous) wife agrees with me that her little bedroom (with a full size bed) isn't really big enough for four kids doing an overnight thing, but I think we've come up with a solution to our space issue.

               I've told Sarah I will put up our tent on our screened back porch, and let the kids have a "camp over", complete with air mattresses, sleeping bags, battery powered lanterns, flashlights, the whole camping out deal. We'll make s'mores, order pizzas, then leave the back door open for bathroom runs, or as an escape route in the event of a bear attack here in suburban Murfreesboro...

              She's had two friends confirm for this monumental event, so I guess we're on for a camp over tomorrow night.

              And with any luck at all, no one will get overly emotional before their parents pick 'em up on Saturday morning.  If that happens, you can bet your butt I won't be the one to make a comment about it.

               Last thing I want is to be "stereotypical"...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

WHAT QUALIFIES AS OFFICIAL STATE BUSINESS DEPENDS ON WHOM YOU ASK (and it helps if you haven't pissed off Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey...)

State Senator Lee Harris (D-Memphis)          

           Anyone who follows the actions of our esteemed General Assembly in Tennessee knows there are certain issues they can be counted on to support. Got something on your mind pertaining to Sharia Law? Want school vouchers to help boost revenues at Christ-R-Us Academy? Have a new gun bill you'd like to introduce? Shoot!  Just say the word, and you're on your way to any out of state junket you can name that might be related to your issue of choice. Unless the issue is choice, of course. You'll have to foot your own bill for that seminar. And don't even think about asking the state to reimburse you if you're traveling to the White House for a meeting to discuss ways to curb gun violence in Tennessee's cities.

            State Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris (D-Memphis) has found out the hard way that those junkets can end up hitting a representative's own pocketbook if he's traveling to a seminar or conference that rubs the majority Party's leaders the wrong way.  His request for reimbursement for a trip to D.C. to study issues affecting communities of color was denied during the last session of the legislature, and just this week his request for travel expenses to attend a meeting at the White House was turned down. The topic of the White House invitation? Ways to curb gun violence.  

              According to this article, all travel and expense reimbursements have to go through the office of Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, and his clerk Russell Humphrey says Sen. Harris didn't provide enough details about the substance of his trip to D.C. to qualify for funding. Humphrey says the office might reconsider Harris' request if he grovels appropriately, but then again, they might have to extend a middle finger to the District 29 Democrat if he keeps meddling in business the GOP finds annoying.

              Like that little matter of Harris trying to stop the state budget from including a $100,000 item to fund a Nashville meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during the last session of the General Assembly. ALEC basically writes legislation for Republican representatives to submit as bills, and that organization helps fund a lot of campaigns for folks willing to carry water for their conservative agenda. Anyone who has the balls to stand up to them is usually made to regret that stance... and apparently, Senator Lee Harris' efforts to deny funding for an ALEC meeting in Nashville has riled up some of the Republican leadership in Tennessee's General Assembly.

              Want to complain about a wasteful allotment of state money for a meeting of partisan hackery in Music City? Well, sir, be prepared to pay for your own transportation and expenses when you travel on state business.

               Of course, that same office will happily reimburse Senators or Representatives if they want to travel to Hawaii or Alaska or Las Vegas... as long as they're going to learn how to push for school vouchers, or easier gun access, or to study radical Islamic terrorism. If it's in the GOP social issue playbook, just let 'em know how much you need to get to and from your gathering. It's on the house.  But rock the boat, and you're on your own.

               Senator Harris made news a couple of years ago when he announced that he would try to save the state some money by using a megabus to travel between Memphis and Nashville, instead of using the $200 mileage allotment allowed to Memphis legislators. Other elected officials saw it as purely symbolic, but the guy genuinely seemed concerned about saving the state a few dollars.

               And now he's having to meet with Vice President Biden on his own dime, and you can decide for yourself if that's because he spoke out against the ALEC slush fund, or because he failed to provide enough documentation to justify reimbursement for this week's trip to D.C.

               But you can bet your lungs on this: if Sen. Lee Harris was going to Washington to meet with NRA officials in an effort to make gun accessibility more readily available in Tennessee, instead of going to find ways to curb gun violence, those travel expenses would be covered. And then some.

               We have the worst state legislature in America, but a couple of people in that body are worthy of our support.

               And our taxpayer dollars. 


For folks in a hurry to cast that first stone...