On Parenting: From Baby Boomer Quality Time to Z-Drones

Some time ago I wrote an article for my daughter’s school magazine on today’s kids outlook on what would make their lives Happy and Successful. This after interviewing the subjects on what they mean by Happy and Successful, as parents and teachers are always clueless about what that will mean for them, since we didn’t grow up as them. We grew up with our parents dancing to a different beliefs tune based on the imperatives and struggles in the world they grew up in, and passing those beliefs on to us. We, in turn, growing up and shaped by a world that moved on from our parents’ childhood themes, form core values and beliefs that we pass to our children. And our children now grow in a different world still, and this world shapes core values and beliefs that are uniquely theirs.

Children of the 1960s, the Generation X,  grew up in the superpower tensions of the Cold Wars – the East-West escalation and détente, rise of the conflicts in the Middle East – leading to an idea of individualistic success in life meaning personal status, achieved through power, money, Ivy League education, work and good connections.

Our children’s grandparents, growing up before, during and just after the WWII, plus the reconstruction after the devastation, believed and taught their children that the more you work, the worthier you are, the better for the family; and that education is a springboard must.

Somewhere in between, we got the Millennials, a bunch also referred to as “Generation Y”, “slackers”, “the boomerang generation,  and “Peter Pans”.  Growing up with the breaking down of the Berlin Wall, Solidarity, East and West embracing each other, Millennials are more liberal, less individualistic, more social and civic-minded than Generation X.

Generational Drives and Styles. Click to display a larger image on a separate window.

For kids my daughter’s age, the post-Millennial generation called Generation Z and born between 1995 and 2010, education is a way, not the way, to get there. Teaching means enabling, and learning is for life. Billionaire has replaced millionaire, and war correspondents have given way to unpaid iReporters. TV home has become social media, and TV Natives have given birth to Digital Natives. Being social is being me, a torrent of messages is normal, not an assault, and instant, real-time message merit discrimination is a basic communications skill. Z-ers are growing up with edited televised war narratives, unedited you-tubed war clips, ubiquitous social media, the pros and cons of globalization, a diluted sense of discrimination (as gender, age, skin and style don’t thrive online, where self-portraits are avatars of the moment), political superpower shifts (East has moved eastward, the Middle East has expanded south), and crazy weather with nightmarish geological shifts on top.

When measured up against the East-West escalation, the oil crisis of the 70s, the flower power movement, the dirty wars of South America and  terrorism and kidnappings in Europe, the fear of superpowers going nuclear and the anti-war movements – climate changes aside, is what happens in the world today any tougher than it ever was? Isn’t it just – different?

Parents today have no more clue about the soul of Generation Z than our Veteran and Baby Booming moms and dads had about our generation’s. We say our parents were sooooo [eye rolling moment 1.0] hopelessly old fashioned. Our kids say that we are sooooo [eye rolling moment 3.0] on top of them all the time. And soooo hopelessly juvenile [eye rolling moment 3.0 version 3.1], tech-wise, fashion-wise and any other wise too sad to consider, as parents who fail to grow old never offer that chunky, meat-loafy safety of old fashioned parenthood.

Wait till they become parents. If we are helicopters, they’ll be drones – savvy and comfortable to constantly stream their love-rules mesh and hover all over their kids via uber-hi-tech proxies in the evolved version of today´s primitive Cloud, without needing to be near them in person except in cases where Cloud proxies don’t work well, like hugging and kissing and changing the bandage of a bad wound.

And why would they do that? Because they can. Call it the dream of Quality Time Parenting come true in Digital Native Z-ers, unable to feel guilty about not spending enough physical time with their kids, as in-person contact with someone is just one part of the whole relationship experience with anyone, including the near and dear. Our little Z-ers will be drone parents driven by the same motives of all parents in all times: keep the kids safe, and hopefully do a good enough job raising them to be happy, competent adults navigating a future that, as American singer and animal rights activist Doris Day famously put it, “is not ours to see“.

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The Human Kamikaze Bomb from the Point of View of a Long Lived Crocodile

When I read or watch the news headlines, there are moments when I imagine a sleepy croc eyeballing a nearby human and bothering about as much as you would noticing a small cabbage white butterfly doing its antics in a spot of predictable garden. The croc would consider making a big effort to move and go gulp that guy, but he is not that hungry, so it doesn’t make sense to go lust after this morsel of lesser evolutionary bite. Better conserve energy and snooze.

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I watch the news, and get this visceral sense that mankind can come up with all sorts of advances to optimize longevity and good health, or make up for the unfortunate lack of an exoskeleton that appears to be an extremely important factor in the longer haul of evolutionary history. But none of it will matter, because the bomb within tic-tacking its countdown to the 00:00:00 hour of human extinction is as intimate as our physicality, but completely different:

It’s our quest for a valuable identity in a meaningful life.

This noble human quest is our ticking self-destruction mechanism – as in, I don’t know your book of scripture, but mine tells me that I can kill you if you threaten what is meaningful to me and my own, so I will. Your book of scripture or bill of rights or whatchamacallit in your part of the world doesn’t o.k. that? Not my problem. You don’t offend me, I won’t shoot you. You offend me, I can shoot you. I offend you and you can’t shoot me?… That’s your book, not mine.  

So, come a shooting impasse, of which a digitized and globalized world has ample opportunity for, heads will roll, and news headlines daily tell us they do, all the time, anywhere. Some feel they’re rallying for purposeful justice, and thou may kill. Others  feel their hands tied by thou shall not kill.  I grew up in a small Western country where freedom of expression was out of the question during my childhood and preteen years. My parents, however, held freedom of expression sacred, first secretly, and then openly after the regime exhaled its last breadth.  By now, they’ve come full circle and reverted back to the good old safe times when you got arrested in PJs in the middle of the night for ventilating non-sanctioned opinions  – but the people who lorded over your country came from your country and spoke your language. They could be evil, but it was our evil, not a foreigner holding us in handcuffs. And righteously so, I may add! Consequently, I believe in tolerance, freedom of expression, and integrity, and hear my aging parents gloss over Salazar and Angela Merkel in the same sentence,  at the expense of the higher ethos of their prime adulthood.

So when I encounter a demonstration fueled by that movie The Innocence of Muslims downtown the European city where I currently live,  I recoil in something hard to digest whole: a mix of fear of the mob, loathing of xenophobia, and that mother of all greater evil, deep-rooted anger. Anger at seeing the streets occupied by savvy terrorists: opportunists presenting violence as just retaliation for such poor cinematic quality that only those eager to pick low hanging forbidden fruits would bother watching. Anger watching the disproportionate quantity of police in place for a crowd too small to make the local news.  Clearly, terrorizing the common passer-by population with the magnitude of police muscle is worth a tactical “cease and desist” intent.

The Execution of Christ, a piece of world quality art  (not amateur motion picture garbage), comes to mind: a life size sculpture installation of Jesus in front of a firing squad of Chairman Maos. Unsurprisingly, in China this piece is art-non-gratta. But more to the point, Catholics aren’t raging against the Chinese because two Chinese artists produced this. No Catholic is murdering any Chinese ambassador because of it. The Pope and Her Majesty are not encouraging holy wars. What’s this fundamentalist pseudo-Muslim rage all about? Who’s feeding the fire?

"The Execution of Christ" by The Gao Brothers, 2009. The pose mimics the painting "The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico" by Edouard Manet, 1867.

“The Execution of Christ” by The Gao Brothers, 2009. The pose mimics the painting “The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico” by Edouard Manet, 1867. Maximilian, a member of the Austrian Hapsburgs, had been installed in power in Mexico by Napoleon III of France to recover unpaid debts. The mission failed.

Reading about the Taliban who shot in the head up close a 14 year old girl who’d been writing a blog since 11 – really, Malala Yousafzai is right up there with Anne Frank – makes me wish being a sniper who happened in the neighborhood and shot the hooligans dead on the spot. And doing it again, and again – oh, the satisfaction of the rumor beginning to make the rounds of the encrypted terrorist underground! The glee imagining the insidious fear infiltrating the ranks, I dunno how it happens man, but it does, you shoot or rape a female, you die. The sweet balm of revenge envisaging partisans mobilizing and educating women to take it upon themselves to rid society of people who shoot girls in the face. Once upon a time it was up to women to claim the right to vote. In our time, it’s up to women to rid themselves – and their daughters, and their good husbands and fathers forced to choose between dead literate daughters or a living illiterate ones – of men who maim and kill women.

And then I get that croc-eyeing-butterfly-human moment.

It’s a world of many kinds of people. Some believe that tolerance is good. Others don’t. Some think freedom of expression is good. Others don’t. Some believe integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy.  Others don’t. Some believe that to kill someone because of a badly produced demeaning video is a just purpose. Others don’t. Some believe they must kill a young girl who writes what she observes and feels. Others don’t. Some feel they must shoot the shooters, but don’t. Others do.

We are not here for the long haul, and we can’t help it.

It’s who we are.

Who is REALLY behind every great man?

The iPad BBC News piece that caught my eye a few days ago amid the usual medley of ongoing war and financial fear news was about a phone call translator app about to be offered by NTT Docomo, Japan’s biggest mobile network, enabling people to talk to each other on the phone without knowing each other’s languages. The NTT Docomo promotional illustration shows a woman asking a man in Japanese to make a reservation; the man, who supposedly speaks no Japanese, hears the request in English with a slight delay.

Oh, the joys lying ahead for phone hacks, corporate lawyers and other serious pranksters worldwide! Reservations for a flight to Istanbul ending up as airfare bound to Kabul. Blame game lawsuit fist fests between airlines reservations and translator phone apps. Life as a  ‘toon experience, as in comics showing bland speech bubbles  with true thought bubbles above the talking head [hostess at a cocktail party greeting guest arriving on time, “you are so wonderfully punctual!”, and matching thought bubble, “these country bumpkins never know the right lateness etiquette…”]

And then there are the unintended babelized translations on account of software still too crude to know or co-opt the nuances, as shown years ago by the Babelizer software toy.  So I went to Bing Translator, which comes nearly at the top of the results list when you google “Babel Fish”, which is top of the list and used to be the online translation tool up to about 10 years ago, but now you click, click, click and nothing happens (the Wikipedia blurb on Babel Fish says it´ll redirect to Bing, but all I see is all Google action freezing.) I decided to bing-translate Jim Carrey‘s take on the famous quote “behind every great man there is a great woman”:

Behind every great man there is a woman rolling her eyes.

I got Bing to translate it from English to French, French to Hindi, Hindi to Japanese, Japanese to Russian and back to English – to check if the English at the end would be the same as I’d started with, and the languages in between English corresponding to nations where I could easily envision public men used to great amounts of private eye rolling by their wives (it was a toss between France and Italy, but 58 year old Hollande and his 11 year younger girlfriend felt more married than Berlusconi and whatever 18-year old the septuagenarian has his, huh, eyes on at the moment.) In the end, I got this:

The woman behind every great man is rolling his eyes.

– which is a whole novel take on the issue; it’s no longer the woman behind the man rolling her eyes, but she is making him roll his eyes. Examples of the former: Nancy Reagan (wife of Ronald), Laura Bush (wife of  “Dubya“). Examples of the latter: Marilyn Monroe (connected to JFK)  and Monica Lewinski (connected to Bill.)

You could say that the Bing translation job took the wives of perhaps not so great, but certainly spectacular, men in the eye of a vast global public; and replaced them by the mistresses of men in the eye of an even vaster global public reveling in the schadenfreude of their spectacular affairs.

Not the same thing at all.

Former USA President Donald Reagan and wife Nancy Reagan.

Former USA President Donald Reagan and wife Nancy Reagan.

Which kind of women  stand behind ALL great men? 

Apparently, all kinds, but this is really besides the point. The important question here is rather: Which kind of men stand in front of great women? Clearly, the lucky ones. Now imagine phone app translators routinely churning these more to-the-point translations for us!

Unusual Books for the Upcoming Holiday Season

Halloween isn’t here yet, and large pumpkins are yet to make it to the stores, but Christmas is already out at IKEA outposts. Normally, I can’t stand this conversion of exciting anticipation into acquisitive anxiety, compelling people to buy Fall in the Summer, Ski in the Fall, Valentine in January, Easter in February, and so on.

Much as I loathe this seasonal shopping disconnect,  I’ll follow IKEA´s lead and offer some Happy Holiday gift hints in mid October.  This considering serious types of gifting anxiety –  e.g. what to get for people who believe they’ve seen it all, got it all; or people who’ve liberated themselves from materialistic pleasures, but vividly recall who fails to give them a wrapped package – compounded by the additional postal delivery problems of our times:  online shopping [more postal packages than ever to deliver], Nowism [the need for everything right now, including packages ordered from across the ocean], terror wars [more careful scrutiny of package contents than ever], and the Euro-zone crisis [more  careful scrutiny of package contents than ever.]

To alleviate gift purchase anxieties and minimize postal gift packages going AWOL, I propose books with very unusual structures – a sure thrill for  those able to appreciate their quirky uniqueness, a.k.a. cultural snobs and connoisseurs, and apt to produce a confused and disappointed ¿qué? in the hands of everyone else, meaning,  a very remote possibility of a Waiting-for-Godot type of express delivery.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston is a novel in scrapbook format telling the adventures of a young woman aspiring to be a writer in the 1920s.

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore  Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton is the story of a relationship, i.e., a love story where the couple didn’t necessarily live happily ever after, in the form of an auction catalog.

A Void by Georges Perec is a 300 page missing person mystery without the letter “e”, heroically translated to English by Gilbert Adair from the French original, where the letter “e” is an epicurean vocabulary essential, as in, Questce que c’est la vie?, meaning, “what is life?”

Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish is another novel playing with missing letters. Chapter 1 uses only words that begin with A, chapter 2 uses words that begin with A and B, and so on until chapter 27 where the process is reversed: the letter Z disappears, then Z and Y, and so on until chapter 52 where only A words exist. [Not to be braved after festive doses of  Holiday Punch, Glögg or Glühwein .]

The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson is a semi-autobiographical, deeply moving personal work with fixed first and last chapters plus 25 other chapters in between to be read in any order. [Very convenient amid all the distracting relatives, parcels and edibles of the holidays.]

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is not exactly a unique format, but rather, as Amazon aptly puts it, “as if the Blair Witch Project had been a book […] written by Nabokov […] and revised by Stephen King“. All in all, a terrific and horrific literary debut.

On this bizarre mesmerizing beat, and to conclude this unusual list, I recommend to all that read German well [unlike me] Unterwegssein ist Alles by Jürgen Ploog, friend and neighbor, Lufthansa pilot in the early days of commercial aviation, pals with William Burroughs and pioneer of the German literary non-conformist underground. Until an English translation of his work is available, take a  sneak peak here, here and here. Merry Pre-Xmas and Fiery Fall!

Mirror-Mirror-on-the-Wall, Who is the Sexiest Man of All?

Ever knew or read about the beautiful girl that both the guys and the girls adored? I met one back in the 1980s when I did my first college degree. She was tall, blonde, sporty, fun-loving, stylish, sexy, smart, and kind. She was Miss Congeniality and Miss Universe rolled into one; a bit like Farrah Fawcett in the original Charlie´s Angels, minus the airplane take-off hairdo so in vogue in the 1980s, along with neon leotards and beefy shoulder pads designed to make the curviest woman look like a young Schwarzenegger in drag.

But at the end of the five-year degree, the boys in the course awarded Most Sexy Girl vote to someone else, a brunette with lips that made you think of cherries, a behind that made you think of apricots, long straight hair so silky you could think of drinking it, and velvety wide brown eyes as seen on anime and manga popularized 30 years later. All in all, she was very edible, which clearly didn’t go unnoticed by the boys, while our mostly brunette girl lot puzzled over their choice in frustration. Had they chosen our local Farrah Fawcett, that would have been alright by us – we were clearly out of her league – but this ordinary brunette – this attainable anyone  – this overgrown Heidi of the Alps?! It was obscenely outrageous, like sweet girl child actresses developing breasts!

Many years later, I came to muse over another overt sexist injustice prevailing even in the most gender-equalized parts of the world: why old men, even paunchy, rotund, old men with face folds and lower lips sagging south like a St. Bernard dog after a difficult Swiss mountain rescue – why they are still connected to their maleness. Whereas old women, even slim, elegant old women with a lifetime legacy of wrinkles, don’t even have hands, let alone vaginas: they got claws; mammalian no longer, but reptilian, knobby, ossified talons.

There are, however, women able to retain a femininity that neither wrinkles or menopause could dislodge; women like Iman, or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, or Diana Vreeland, or Christiane Amanpour, or Coco Chanel, or Aung San Suu Kyi, or Frida Kahlo, or Laurie Anderson. Or those perennially popular über-icons of style, like Audrey Hepburn, the one and only quintessential gamine ; or Grace Kelly, the original little girl princess dream come true and tragic; or Lisa Fonssagrives, the first supermodel before supermodels were invented [who I tend to mix up with Dovima of the famous beastly picture] and the highest paid model in the late 1950s, when she earned $60 an hour, which compares to Evangelista‘s $10.000 a day benchmark four decades later.

Off the tip of my keyboard, I effortlessly piled over twenty names on the list of ageless femininity. Then I got stuck with ageless masculinity. Men typically cited as icons of style or sexiness or both – Clooney, Pitt, Kennedy, DiCaprio, and so on – they invariably feel so… one-dimensional. As if their agent or personal coach or secretary of state had told them – this is the one thing you look good as, so do try to focus on it, and it alone. Pitt is pretty. Clooney is crafty. DiCaprio is frat-house daring. Kennedy was, well, luckier than Clinton about what you can do for your country. [Envision Miss Lewinski in the middle of an NFL stadium choc-a-bloc with celebs and the security detail, wearing something expensively designed for invisibility with blindingly sparkly accents, and singing Happy Birthday Mr. President to Bill and Hillary.] And Mathew McConaughey – well, he does a great rendition of a male Mona Lisa, circa 500 years later  [imaginary agent’s voice: “now, sonny, you go to the Lew-vre and observe what that Moan-a-Lissa does with her mouth.”]

Matter of fact is, off the top of my head I can only come up with one male name:  PETER BEARD. “Peter who?” People I tell this to invariably ask.  Peter Beard:  all-American dream boy, sun-bleached Long Island childhood, Ivy League college, wildlife photographer,and  Karen Blixen‘s platonic passion in the outskirts of Nairobi, if you believe the Hollywood rendition of the baroness’s book Out of AfricaOnce described as “half Tarzan, half Byron” by Bob Colacello, diary writer for pop art pioneer Andy Warhol, Peter Beard´s Africa earned him a place in the  world-class photography hall of fame alongside names like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

Just like our local Farrah Fawcett all those years ago, Peter Beard is in a class of his own. But unlike the testosterone-surging Catholic boys back in college picking the proverbial peach, my Mr. Most Sexy vote goes to an unattainable, adventurous man who aged well, probably because of fear of old age, recklessly roamed the African wilderness, produced truckloads of world renowned art, was inspired by a Nordic vixen in the sub-Saharan bush, mingled with cultural elite, was bone crushed by an angry cow-elephant, and serially charmed women that paparazzi live to shoot. How Peter Beard´s life is not as wide open on Wikipedia as a butterflied lobster char-grilled at a Cuban paladar, is a baffling mystery.

[A Study of Peter Beard (film) by Lars Bruun]
[Vanity Fair on Peter Beard: “African Dreamerby Leslie Bennetts]
[Supermodel Veruschka in Africa with Peter Beard, a film, in French]

If we are such rare comic dust, why bother changing partners?

There are moments when I believe that the reason why I endure life with my husband is our cosmic insignificance in  a starry night sky. Not that this kind of sky abounds in contemporary civilized latitudes, though isolated star-gazing apt spots still remain on, say, the Julier pass on the way to St. Moritz, or the Tramuntana range in Mallorca, where you can contemplate the civilized sky as it appeared  30 or 40 years ago unless a full moon is raining on your parade.

Perhaps cosmic significance, not insignificance, is a better way of putting it.  If we are such tiny, brief,  lively dust in the  dead quiet of the universe, why waste time with the pain of such trite trivia as changing partners? Any non-malicious, decently healthy person will do, really. If that is exactly what you are stuck with,  shouldn’t you be thanking your lucky star? And if this is proving too Madre Teresa for mere mortals, isn’t it time to take a hike to one of those starry sky places with cowbells or sheep bells for nightlife entertainment?

[A sobering base from where to contemplate the Julier pass night sky: La Veduta, a parallel universe away from nearby bubbly St. Moritz.]

[An equally mystical epiphany in far more comfortable surroundings: Albellons Parc Natural in the Tramuntana range, Island of Mallorca, Spain.]