Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Salon's Big Blunder

I've been following the hullabaloo over at Salon.com where writer and "satirist" Neal Pollack wrote a woeful tale of his biting 2-year-old Elija. Elija was booted from his preschool because he'd bloodied one Sophie with his chompers, not once, but over the course of a month. The very bad school allowed it to happen again and again. Poor little Sophie's not-so-hot parents allowed Sophie back, again and again. And Elija continued to bite, despite being told by his parents not to. (Can you imagine a 2-year-old not listening to logic?) Finally, he was expelled. Neal wasn't complaining so much because his son had been expelled from his very first attempt at school. No. Neal was in crisis mode because he and his wife were going to have to now spend a lot more unfettered time with their spawn.

The piece was allegedly satire, a point missed by about 3 million bloggers, letter writers and Salon readers. Most people responding to the column were aghast. Some offered to adopt Elija. Others suggested that the Pollacks get themselves sterilized. Pollack himself wrote a defense on his own blog, claiming to be misunderstood.

Actually, after reading everything I believe the Pollacks were indeed misunderstood, and that it's Neal's own damn fault. I think Neal wrote a big, steaming pile o' dung, sent it to Salon along with his invoice, and called it a day. Salon dropped the literary ball and just posted the damn thing. Ye gods, people! Aren't you trying for world-class stature here? What a collasal fumble!

Anyhoo, now come the letters. Dozens of them. Six links with on Salon--a record if I am not mistaken. Pretty much everyone thinks the Pollacks suck. No one has really taken Salon to task, but they should. So I will: Salon: tsk, tsk. Bad Salon. If I'd been the editor on that piece, I would have stopped it in its tracks. It would have bounced back to Neal for rewrites. Salon was lazy, perhaps because they were busy with the three day Memorial Day weekend. Maybe those San Franciscans are all rushing home to prepare their houses for sale ahead of the Housing Bubble burst. Who knows? They have become so hit and miss over there.

At any rate, that's not what inspires me to write. It's the letters. Many are no better, really, than the original post. Here is why: Everyone seems to think that it's a good idea, when things go wrong with the way this generation parents, to go back to the way grandma did it. Well, suggests one letter (or blog post, can't remember), why not bite Elija back? That's how they did it in Grandma's day (you know, back when children were to be seen and not heard). Or, why not smack the kid in the butt? I didn't bite, says one writer, because I know that if I did, I'd get smacked in the butt. Be the parent! Who's running the show here! In a word, Dominate! Beat! Bite!

For the record, my oldest boy, now five, was a biter at Elija's age. He never drew blood, but he bit a half-dozen times. It was a crisis, I'll admit. His preschool, a parent-teacher co-op in San Francisco, didn't boot him. But we all hunkered down and began to think about how we could prevent the bites from happening. Yes, that's what you do with 2-year-olds folks. You prevent. That means, you get down and play in their little groups with them. You know when a crisis is building and you get yourself on the alert. You stop the hit. You stop the bite before it happens. In other words, you don't warehouse your kid with a preschool where the teachers are sitting around drinking coffee across the room and allowing your kid to get bitten or to bite. It takes a lot more involvement with your child to do this instead of, say, whacking him upside the head when you see him misbehave. But it's better for your bond. It's better for the kid. It's ultimately better if you want to create a non-violent society.

Toddlers are really bad at impulse control. Their brains just aren't developed enough to control their emotional outbursts, whether they be physical or verbal. This isn't me just talking out my ass here. It's true. The brain is not a complete specimin when kids are born. They develop. Kids behave according to their brain development.

My son quit biting eventually. Now he is a really delightful kindergartener. He has no behavior problems in school, and I am continuously amazed to hear him described by his teacher and other parents as being, well, good. I'm amazed because back when he was a biting 2-year-old, I'll admit, I was worried that he was going to be a big troublemaker.

Anyway, my point is this: let's not go back to the bad old days of parenting just because kids are still behaving the way kids have always behaved. Let's keep charging forth to the good days: those in which we treat our kids with love, compassion, understanding and respect.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Dr. Laura, Please Go Now

Do you like your home town? Well count your blessings that you don't share it with Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I do, and it takes away from the place just knowing she is here. Everywhere I go I see her . . . barrelling down side streets in her massive white Escalade, eating in my favorite sushi restaurant with her little blond sailor boy, sailing on my personal ocean . . . and living in what was probably meant to be my own personal mansion on the hill.

Once, ensconsed behind the wheel of her Escalade, she sat behind me at a red light. Frowning and puckered, she was annoyed about something. I hoped it was because she was reading my bumper sticker: Abstinence in '04: No Dick, No Bush. At the time, she had just been rebuffed by our city council, who, caving to gay/lesbian protestors, withdrew their prior cave to let her broadcast from the Santa Barbara Wharf. I hoped then that she would throw up her hands and leave in disgust.

But no, she is still here, stinking up the place like she owns it. Here is what she wrote in our local paper, in response to a local psychologist's column about the post-election depression many of us plunged into after the lastest Bush win. The letter was headed: "A shocking display of unprofessional arrogance and disdain for folks who voted for President Bush," and ran-on as follows, "I am surprised that the self-described 'Blue' folks cannot handle disappointment and diversity and are so intolerant of a differing point of view that they cannot imagine co-existence with it. I did not hear about any such rush to psychotherapy during the eight years of Bill Clinton."

You know, many of us grew up in this town. We are raising our children here. My point: Do you want her? We don't.

Like many of her right-wing moralizing ilk, Dr. Laura is bulbous with contradictions. I'm not just talking about the porn photos of her that leaked all over the web a few years back, or even the time she behaved very, very badly at a Jewish Women's luncheon. There's also the fact that her current husband was married when she took up with him (tsk, tsk Dr. Laura. Not the right thing at all!) And then there is this little tidbit, available only here, because I know certain people who know certain people.

It seems Dr. Laura was displeased when her local Clear Channel station (AM 580 “right-wing screeds on the left-hand side of your dial”) switched her time slot from the morning drive to the evening drive. This means she was no longer live in Santa Barbara, which is for inexplicable reasons, deeply important to her. How important? So important that she called a reporter at the station to complain about the switch. But she didn’t register the complain as Dr. Laura herself. No. Speaking in a German accent, she pretending to be a listener. Aside from the hubris this displays, the sheer arrogance of believing you are invincible and you can get away with anything you damn-well please, it’s just a little, oh, I don’t know, odd. Unstable even. Is this the person we want handing out advice to the masses?