Monday, February 29, 2016

Breaking Strongholds

     Braden doesn't have many friends. I'm not sure if he has any because he never talks of any, never gets together with any, never receives calls from or makes calls to any, and says he eats lunch alone at school. And he's lived this way since about middle school. It's been a long-running concern for us, so we've provided opportunities for him—grand opportunities—to make friends through church, scouting, and of course public school classes and activities. It's sort of a lead-the-horse-to-water thing: we can provide him opportunities but it's up to him what he does with them.
     Deanne and I aren't social butterflies, as our social lives are already full with work, family, and church activities. So our kids don't have the best examples of adult-to-adult friendship socializing, though we do have friends over on rare occasion.
     Regardless of how much I stress the importance of having friends is, I suspect that Braden somewhere along the line decided that friends aren't worth it and has contented himself to limiting his social life to just us. He even fell away from scouting for awhile. Meanwhile church activities are limited to adult-led and organized activities: no real friend or friends to just hang out with and talk to about whatever.
     This is a huge change from when I grew up and neighborhood friends were almost always around and available to hang out and play with (mostly sports, but also to do kid activities like catch crayfish, shoot bb gun, explore the woods, climb trees, bike ride, etc.) from after school (I'd rush through my homework) until sundown and dinner time, making for some happy childhood memories.
     It's not as if Braden's unfriendable due to “lack of social skills”—I always hated that description because it's applied so inaptly all too often, in that skillfulness (whatever that means) does not lead to friendships, mutual caring, concern, time, and companionship do, skills be damned. And some of the least socially skilled persons around (those overly shy or who struggle with speech impediments, say, or those who miss social cues) sometimes develop the closest bonds imaginable. And Braden has none of those challenges, he speaks in turn, exercises manners within the normal range, and acts pretty much like others his age. He strikes me, then, as one who has been burned once too often, and thus doesn't think it's worthwhile to pursue friendships, because he's happy enough without, perhaps counting family as his closest and only friends (which isn't so awful when you think about it).
      But he's been spending way too much time in his room reading and listening to radio and resenting going out for exercise (doing not much real exercise when he goes out anyway), which builds up resentments against us when he doesn't get his way because he doesn't have a friend to vent and share his frustrations with.
     So I insisted that he check out Christian Club at school. It took a few tries but he finally did, and dropped in during lunch recesses at group gatherings. Unfortunately, it's been lecture-based, so he hasn't formed any friends yet, but at least that beats being alone all the time.
     Then I insisted he do something else like check out the scout troop that meets at our church (versus the one that he was at that met at his former elementary school). He went to a couple of get-togethers and liked them well enough to want to join. Here's where the stronghold comes in. He still hasn't earned a single merit badge, this after over four years as a scout. By comparison, after four years I had earned over a dozen merit badges—they're fun, educational, and challenging—a big part of character and leadership development, health, fitness, and skillfulness. I've been encouraging him for years to pursue them but he's always showed indifference. I've let him go. No longer. I insisted that if he wants to switch to this new troop, that he now take scouting serious and earn his first badge.
     We have over twenty merit badge pamphlets out in the garage from which to choose (a hand-me-down gift from my cousin's son). Braden made lame excuses one after another why he couldn't. I knew something was wrong at that point—a spiritual stronghold or mental block not of God.
     I offered to pray for him to get past this, insisting that he could do it, or if he feared initiating social contact (with the Scout Master to earn the merit badge), that he could overcome it, that I knew he could do anything, that God knew he could do anything, and that it was only he that didn't believe he could.
     I said are we in agreement?
     He said I don't have a choice.
     I said that's right. Just like the $60 model boat you begged us to buy using Grandma's gift money that you didn't built for over a year that I had to force you to build. You built it. And you are going to earn a merit badge. Any one. Your choice.
     It took way more push than I would have preferred, but he finally did it—got going on reading the pamphlet and doing the research, performing a phone interview, and is ready to attend a public meeting and volunteer for community service and meet with his new Scout Master.
     A Christian counselor once said that the teen years are ones of striving between child fighting for independence and parent struggling to maintain control over the child's development and safety and that this push/pull conflict cannot be avoided, which makes those years so challenging. Praise God Braden finally came to—it's for his own good, like it or not. He's better for having built and finished the boat. He'll be better off for having earned his first merit badge, too. God willing.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Canceled Trip—Praise God!

      Last month I was pleased to find low airfares to Japan and planned a possible family vacation in Osaka—if I could find reasonable accommodations. All the hotels and hostels I called or tried to reserve on-line, though, were either fully booked or allowed reservations at most three months (or even one month) prior to check-in.
     In the interim, I planned a tentative itinerary that included the Osaka Aquarium, Kids Plaza Osaka, Aizen (Cultural) Festival Hoe Palanquin Parade, Nara Deer Park, Minoo Park, Floating Garden (sunset view from top of building), Kuromon Ichiban (food bazaar), plus perhaps visits to a castle and a temple. It was going to be a full trip on a reasonable budget with lots of walking around, some catching of rail and limousine bus, food and grocery shopping for in-room cooking, and perhaps meeting up with distant relatives (my dad's cousin's kids and their children). It would certainly have been a memorable trip, if a bit stressful and expensive.
     But with the delays in securing accommodations, airfares rose as I had anticipated and feared they might. But there was no way I would have booked flights earlier at the low fares without a reserved room and risk a nightmare scenario where we'd later have to book any room (or rooms) we could get at any price (which could easily rise to $500+/night—youch!)  Available airfares had risen from a reasonable $640/person round-trip to over a $1000/person—too much for our limited budget and not worth it for a short one-week stay (and we still don't have accommodations).
     Funny thing though, I'm not very disappointed, I'm more so relieved. No more stress of planning train rides, walking tours, meals, itineraries, and figuring out how to keep everyone happy. No more fear of the unknown: getting lost, getting ill, losing things, having bad experiences (it happens on all trips, it seems), having flight or hotel difficulties, jet lag, trouble sleeping, or digestion problems, etc. Are such complicated trips really worth all the expense and stress, I sometimes wonder? (They have been worth it in the past, but that's no guarantee of future success.)
     Over a decade ago, I had a preliminary notion of taking our family of four on a mission trip to Africa. I imagined our kids (ages five and two at the time) wrapping some of their simple toys (large Lego pieces, a stuffed animal, etc.—whatever they wanted) to share with orphans they'd meet. It turned out our kids were too young for the “working trip” so it got canceled. Nonetheless, I shared with my friend Norm that it was as if I really had taken the trip (the visions I had had of the kids giving away their presents wrapped in their home-made wrapping paper were so vivid!) He mocked me for it. My relief for having been spared the half-way-'round-the-world plane rides with multiple stop-overs and connections, twelve hours of jet lag, sparse accommodations, and risks of malaria and who knew what else? made me feel even more content—the sense that I had experienced much of the benefits of the trip without the costs.
     An article I recently read vindicated my feelings. It said that those who planned vacation trips and didn't end up taking them were happier than those that took theirs and those that didn't plan a trip at all.
     I shared with Pene a couple weeks back about this research finding and wondered would it work to plan a trip knowing you weren't going to go? Would you still be happier for it than those in the other two groups? (I doubted it, because the relief wouldn't be real.)
     But I did say that other studies showed that imagined vacations throughout one's workday, say, can help reduce stress as if you really did go. Imagine sipping sodas before a sunset on a beach in the Bahamas. Ahhh. Such daydreams in times of stress can be good and healthy.
     Although I'm relieved in a way that the trip didn't work out, that doesn't mean I've given up hope of a summer trip somewhere. Last I checked, airfares to Narita (just north of Tokyo) were quite reasonable. Perhaps a chance for us to revisit Japan Disneyland with our relatives? It all depends on the accommodations. Back to square one...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Candy Store Keys

     Without our realizing it, Jaren has likely been for years abusing his keys to the candy store of the D.O.E's creation.
     The state Department of Education (D.O.E.) in response to federal mandates, I guess, has for years required all parents to deposit monies into a child's lunch money on-line account, which parents do not have access to to monitor proper deposits or expenditures by their child or to insure no thefts have occurred. Parents must therefore request receipts for deposits and calculate the account's depletion rate over time by multiplying school days between replenishments of funds by cost per lunch.
     According to Deanne's and Braden's calculations, the balances have been proper for Braden and Pene who have to deposit cash—no checks allowed. Since Jared's school accepts checks, we never bothered to recalculate for accuracy.
     Big mistake. Last Friday, Pene approached Deanne and said, “When I picked up Jaren at school, a lady I never saw before approached me and said, 'Hi, I'm the school lunch monitor; I know your mom. Does she know Jaren's been eating second breakfasts and that's why his lunch monies keep running out so fast?'”
     We asked Jaren about it and he admitted he “took a few breakfasts and once or twice took second breakfasts and that was all.”
     Deanne attempted to compute the approximate misuse of funds and came up with several dollars worth missing, but without remembering actual balances reported to her (via a note in Jaren's binder when his account runs low), I knew it was largely guesswork. Nonetheless, I made Jaren pay us sixteen dollars plus gave him time-out all weekend and told Deanne to request the school to print-out all expenditures from Jaren's account by day and amount over the past year.
     On Monday, she got the list I requested that showed over fifty dollars of expenditures on breakfasts dated from when Deanne started working full-time late last year and second breakfasts, juice, and milk (most certainly chocolate—he has a sweet tooth) dated back to the beginning of the year, all of which he knew he was not supposed to purchase, which he kept secret, then lied about after we asked. I told Deanne this has probably been going on for years.
     So I had Jaren empty his wallet, which came out to approximately fifty dollars, plus gave him time-out the remainder of the month, plus took away some toys when he immediately disobeyed my order not to play.
     I then told Deanne to request the school to allow Jaren to purchase only lunches and nothing else.
     The school in response said that the system won't allow blanket blocks (comparable to parental computer controls over PC's) but they'll notify the lunch monitor to restrict Jaren's purchases according to our wishes. She also said we weren't the first to request this.
     What's disturbing about the D.O.E.'s role in this was that it was all avoidable and it took a nice, caring, conscientious lunch monitor to notify our daughter of Jaren's ongoing thievery. We should also have been notified immediately when it occurred years ago and initially been given the option to restrict purchases to lunches only, I believe.
     Not to get alarmist, but white-collar criminals start exactly this way. Steal a little once. See what happens. Nothing? Try again, this time a little more. Still okay? Get greedier and greedier and greedier. I'll never get caught, the perpetrator thinks.
     It's like tempting kids then teaching them the wrong ethical lesson when they succumb to temptation: steal from then lie to your parents.
     This anything-goes lunch-money account use by kids also can't be helping our nation's explosive obesity epidemic. If you're bored, eat! Why play outdoors, eat instead! it seems to suggest. And it's sad to think how many kids never get caught and carry out such thievery beyond elementary, middle, and high schools to clubs, workplace, or anywhere else they have easy, unaccountable access to money.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Auntie Julie's Silent Suffering

     Please read my relevant letter published at the following link:  It's a letter to my Auntie Julie that mentions our missing her at her eldest sister's (my Auntie Bea's) funeral and my well wishes for her speedy recovery from a hip injury and other ailments.
     My main purpose for writing was the same as my final visit to Maui Grandpa (my Dad's dad) just before he succumbed to stomach cancer: to say Thank you and Goodbye. I'm not certain about Auntie Julie's health—just what I've been told—but she's obviously and justifiably been suffering since the recent death of her beloved husband (my Uncle Tani). Not accepting visitors or phone calls (or letters, I assume) from anyone and not attending her sister's funeral (all the Aunties are close) were highly unexpected for such a social, lively lady and because she was utterly charming, warm, and gracious as usual at Uncle Tani's funeral. When I later learned of her “I just want to join him” comment and her weight loss (she was already slight of build), it concerned me even more so that I eventually felt compelled to do something...just in case.
     So after my letter's publication (some stuff got edited out), I sent a copy of the published and original versions to her eldest son and wife (and kids) for them to decide whether or not to share either or both with her. I suspect they will offer them but that she'll decline. Which is okay. At least I tried while still respecting her wishes. I also know in my heart that she knows my thoughts and feelings toward her, so full of love and appreciation.
     It's been tough seeing elders from “The Greatest Generation” go. That's an apt description as they really were and are great, such that I doubt we'll measure up (ours will probably be referred to as The Good Enough or Okay or So-so Generation by comparison). And I really don't want to see her go. And I'd love to see and visit her, preferably with my family, but alone if necessary, to try to comfort her and make her smile and feel glad to be alive and to hear her voice and stories or whatever she desires. I miss such talking and socializing with her and my other elders, we so rarely get together these days except for sad occasions.
     I've found this to be one of the most difficult trials of aging—seeing my elders suffer, deteriorate, and go. It's true what they say about honoring and enjoying them while they are still hale and present. Though most were in their eighties when they went, it still seemed far too soon.