Sunday, November 19, 2006

Camping with the Middles

Are we getting so old that we are no longer understand the lingo and music of today's youth? I think not! I may be in my 40's, but I can chill or hang with the best of them. In my desire to maintain a strong, open relationship with my kids, I vascilate between living to embarrass them to sitting quietly and observing them in their natural social habitat. Both seem to annoy them if they catch me in the act.

So when my kids told me they just had to go to the middle school CONference with kids from their Religious Education class and that drivers/chaperones were needed, the date with destiny was made. I'd never been to The Mountain Center in Highlands, NC and was warned that it is a pretty rustic retreat center that focuses on honoring the natural habitat. Fair disclsosure: My idea of "camping" is staying at a hotel that doesn't provide thick, terry bathrobes nor room service.

We set out for the two hour drive on Friday evening, right after my husband returned from a week-long trip to Japan. "Make sure you get plenty of sleep on the flight back home, honey," I warned him. "You are going to be the adult advisor to four of our young men from church this weekend in a rustic mountain cabin."

It was absolutely beautiful in the mountains of Highlands, NC with fresh air and the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The stars in the night sky seemed close enough to touch. The weekend flew by and upon our return, there were several things I learned:

1. Kids are under a lot of pressure to conform to social norms, which are heavily influenced by corporate marketing. I heard kids talk about the looks and comments they receive if they aren't wearing "the" clothing brands. Some of these kids reject certain brands for socially responsible reasons -- like child labor issues, sexist marketing, and the way the environment is treated by the producers. Some would rather have less expensive clothes and save money for other things.

2. Kids don't feel safe to be themselves most of the time. Adults are not mindful about creating environments where all children and youth feel accepted being who they are. There is pressure to live up to an image or try to make self invisible to avoid being noticed.

3. Even the quietest kid has remarkable talents. During a session called the Coffee House, the youth were encouraged to sign up for a slot during the open mic Coffee House. Everyone is cheered for having the courage to get up there. Laughter was kind and the applause was genuine. A couple of kids decided during the Coffee House to add their names to the list when they saw the kind of love and encouragement others received.

4. Kids need safe spaces and places to relax, unwind, and just be. Parents aren't the only people in the house who are stressed out during the day. We need to be mindful that our kids need the same kind of serenity moments where they don't feel the need to be "on."

5. Parents dance like "old people." No matter how many dance contests we might have won at our college bars, kids today think we dance "funny." So my Shakira-booty-shake might continue a little longer due to the laws of physics on my middle-aged behind -- why should that embarrass my kids? And my idea of popping my back involves a chiropracter, not a rapper.
We can still have fun! We just realized that the Electric Slide is older than today's middle schoolers -- the DJ might as well have played "Celebration" or the Hokey Pokey!

6. Quirky can be cool. As I watched these kids interact over the weekend, I heard the kid inside me ask, "where were these cool, quirky kids when I was growing up?" They seem so much more comfortable in their own skin than I did at their age -- as well they should! Instead of worrying about how they might not fit in, they focus on what is important to them: A few real friends over mass popularity.

It seems these young people already know what many adults have yet to learn -- that appealing to the masses is meaningless if you don't love and trust yourself. That is what authenticity is all about.

We ended the weekend with the kids offering reflections on what the weekend meant to them. They shared sincere appreciation for the time together, the opportunity to commune with nature, make new friends and renew old friendships with kids from other states.
This article is my way of saying, "Thanks, kids! You taught me so much. I can sleep better knowing the future is in your hands."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Resist the Urge to Shop til You Drop

This is the season of charging credit cards to the max as people begin the stressful winter olympic sport: holiday shopping.

It is a recipe for financial disaster that calls for:
1 part Advertising that assaults your senses (tv, radio, catalogs, newspapers, web)
2 parts Guilt (want to save face in front of others)
1 part Impulse shopping (I'll know the perfect gift when I see it)
2 parts Excessive Spending beyond what's reasonable to your budget
3 parts Remorse in January and February when the bills arrive

Here's how the cycle goes with many of us:
1. make a list of all the people you "must" buy gifts for...
2. list people to buy gifts for because you think they might buy you a gift (and that would be too awkward)
3. try to come up with gift ideas for each person on the list that won't break the bank.
4. when you can't come up with any ideas, head for the mall.

Once you find a parking place and get inside, you fall victim to all the impulse purchases that are more expensive than you planned. Since you don't have that kind of cash, you are lured by "save 10% when you get an in-store credit card" Cool, you think. I save money and get credit at the same time. Maybe I'll spend a little more while I'm getting such a good deal.

While all this consumer purchasing may be good for the economy, it will wreak havoc on your personal economy!

Did you know that your credit score drops EACH time you apply for that in-store credit? Why does that matter? Because the next time you shop for financing for a house or car or get insurance, the pricing will be driven by your credit score.

Then, there's the day of reckoning -- when the bills arrive in the mail. Do you have enough cash in the bank to pay those balances in FULL? If not, look at the high interest rates you'll be paying. Then, there are late fees, over limit fees, and any other junk fees the finance companies can legally tack on.

Quick -- Here is a bit of perspective:
Right now, name each gift you received last year, who gave it to you, where it is right now, and how important that item is in your life.

Let's not forget there is a war going on and millions of people around the world live in fear of violence.

Here are some Unique Gift Alternatives for 2007:

Around Thanksgiving, send a nice card to people you think you need to purchase a gift for and let them know that instead of giving gifts to friends this year, you've:

a. made a donation to a favorite local charity in honor of your family and friends

b. provided items to go to our troops who are serving overseas so they can have some holiday cheer from back home

c. adopted a local family or children in need for the holidays and are providing them with gifts for a merry Christmas and happy new year

d. paid down/off your credit cards/student loans/car note so that the new year can start off on the right financial foot

You'd be surprised how many sighs of relief you will create by this simple action.
They will also no longer feel obligated and can focus on the true spirit of the season -- love, renewal, family, and community.

Give it a try and let me know how it works!

Peace to you and yours.