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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pay For Your Own Darn Cell Phone

I have slacked off and failed to charge our son for his cell phone use for the past five months. Why? Because I forgot how much each megabyte of data costs, and Consumer Cellular* charges by the gigabyte, and that meant I needed to do math and I just haven’t felt like it.
Hubs would be displeased.
But I sat down this morning, pulled up the last five invoices and ran the numbers. The boy owes us $79.66 for January-May.
How did I arrive at that figure? Let me start from the beginning.
The boy has been asking for a cell phone since he exited the womb. We held firm to our refusal until he turned 14 in September and entered high school.
And we have no regrets. Our girls, 10 and 12, do not own cell phones. The elder mistakenly thought that “fourteen” and “freshman” were the magic words that unlocked cell phone ownership. I laughed in her face and replied, “You and your brother attend the same school, and will until he leaves for college. Therefore I have no need for you to carry a phone, because I can reach either of you via him.” Bwah-ha-ha!
But yes, she’ll likely get hers when she enters high school. That’s how kids and teachers and the entire developed world communicate. We get that.
A cell phone is a never-ending, monthly-recurring charge. Once you start it, you’re never going to stop. So when do you pass the baton to the kid and make him/her responsible for the bill?
How about right away?
We’ve told our kids they can have a cell phone when they can pay for it, independent of the salary we give them to cover their basic needs. The boy has had a job for the last two years. He walks our elderly neighbor’s dogs every weekday morning and twice on Saturdays. He pulls in $50-60 a week. That’s better than I do with my books. (Cough, cough, click the link, support a starving artist?)
The next consideration has to do with minutes and data sharing. Hubs cogently pointed out that while the extra line on my account only costs $10, the kid (and before long kids) will be sucking up my minutes and data like a toddler sucking at a half pint of chocolate milk. We needed to incentivize seeking out Wi-Fi and dis-incentivize streaming Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora via cell tower while riding in the back of the bus.
Hence the math I had to do.
My monthly plan through Consumer Cellular* gives me 250 minutes of phone time for $15 and 5 GB of data for $30. So, the boy pays $0.06 for every minute he talks on the phone (to anyone other than me), and $0.006 for every MB of data he eats.
He watches those numbers carefully, friends. He occasionally asks me to pull up the online statement to see where he’s at for the month.
It works great. And he ends up paying around $15-18 a month for the privilege of having a cell phone. When my daughters get their lines we’ll probably have to up the minutes and data plan, but they’ll be covering that extra charge.
Just wanted to share this little family plan with you, in case you’re pondering how to handle cell phones and kids. This is how we do it. It’s certainly not the only way, but it works for us. And we think it’s teaching our young about responsibility and finances.
If nothing else it shuts down the “I want a cell phone!” whining.
“You got a job yet? No? Then there’s nothing I can do for you.”

*Consumer Cellular did not pay me anything to reference them in this blog. I just really like them and think everyone should consider switching. They’re awesome. (P.S., Consumer Cellular, if you liked this post, I’m open to talking about remuneration of some sort…)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Losing English

I love the English language. It’s my first language. I teach it. I write in it. Finding just the perfect word gives me a little charge of visceral glee that non-lexophiles probably find slightly perverse.
But there’s nothing special about English.
There’s just as much—or more—beauty, utility, meaning, and nuance in Spanish, Russian, Tagalog, and Navajo.
Classic stories have been written in Chinese, Japanese, Lao, and Hindi.
Heart-wrenching lyrics are sung in Mongolian, French, Polish, and Inuktitut.
One can find Finnish-, Khmer-, Farsi-, and Serbian-speaking performers, scientists, teachers, and data processors.
English is just another mother tongue.
A foreign-serving missionary once told me, “I’m not doing anybody any favors learning to speak their language. English is the international language. That’s what everybody speaks.”
No, it isn’t.
About 20% of the world’s people (or 1.5 billion) speak English; only 360 million natively. Nearly as many speak some dialect of Chinese.
Oh, you say that most of the world’s business takes place in English? I don’t have any numbers on that, but I can tell you that a couple of thousand years ago Latin had its Golden Age. It remained the favored language of educated people all the way through the Renaissance (14th-16th centuries A.D.).
It’s a dead language now. No one speaks it natively.
English isn’t special. It isn’t more learned, more cultured, or more valuable than any other language. It just happens to be the set of lexicon and grammar that has flourished in this particular time and place in history.
America is changing. Our Hispanic population is quickly overtaking our Caucasian population.
And by and large, Hispanics speak Spanish.
We may lose English.
We have certainly lost the America of the 1700’s and the 1800’s. We’re in the process of losing the America of the 1900’s, too. There are some losses that I consider mourn-worthy. Others are long overdue.
Everything changes.
Let me correct myself on that. The Amish have done a bang-up job of freeze-framing a pre-industrial lifestyle. So I guess it is possible to hold onto the past.
But that’s not nature’s normal. And I don’t think it’s something to which we should aspire.
We’re not going to lose English in my lifetime, or probably my children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes. But the world may lose it eventually.
And like everything that goes, there is a genuine loss.
But language itself will go on.
So when you hear someone around you speaking in a tongue that isn’t yours, don’t get your knickers in such a twist, Brother Amos. It’s just a different set of words. You’re not going to lose your own language, and during your life you’re unlikely to see a time when public discourse in America is wholly foreign to you.
Our kids will grow up and adapt to whatever language is spoken around them, as kids always have.
It’s all going to be fine.
Shalom. Paz. Paix. Vrede. ሰላም. Salam. Мир. Bakea. 和平. Mír. Paco. Rauha. Maluhia. Ειρήνη. शांति.  שָׁלוֹם. Friður. Pax. Síocháin. Pace. សន្តិភាព. Мир. Keamanan. سوله. Тынчтык.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sumo & Why Christians Fail at Conveying Their Message

When I lived in Japan I made a video to send home to some friends, to share my new digs with them. I gave a tour of my apartment, showed them places around my town, and included snippets of every day life in Japan. At the end of the video I tacked on a few minutes of a Sumo match.
One friend told me she laughed like crazy at the Sumo wrestling.
I asked why.
“Because it’s so fake!” she answered. “And what was with the salt they were throwing all over the place?”
Despite my assurances that Sumo was a serious business in Japan, with an ancient history and a lot of symbolism (including the salt), she refused to believe me.
“Sumo is the national sport here,” I insisted. “It’s a big deal, like football or baseball in America.”
“Maria,” she said in a patronizing voice. “Don’t be ridiculous. This is not a real thing.” And she likened it to WWF.
No argument could convince my American friend that I, who lived in Japan, spoke Japanese, had Japanese friends and colleagues, and had actually seen a Sumo wrestler in person, knew what I was talking about. To her I had either been deceived, or was trying to deceive her.
In attempting to figure out how to convince her to believe in Sumo, I realized that the problem lies not only in the believability of the subject, but also in the credibility of the witness: Have I in the past proven myself gullible or ignorant? Have I in the past proven myself untrustworthy?
The first question speaks to my knowledge, the second to my character.
I once worked for an apostate Catholic. One day when I mentioned my church she said, “When you get a little older you’ll stop believing in fairy tales.” At 31, I wondered how old she thought I had to be to shed my naiveté. A few weeks later we were talking about weddings and I mentioned that I was 30 when I got married. Her brow furrowed and she got that confused-puppy look on her face. Turns out she thought I was closer to 19. (My youthful complexion, or immature manner? I’m going with the former.) It was sweetly satisfying to see one of her arguments against my faith—chronological childishness—fall away.
But while age-related bias is outside our control, our relationship to truth and the practice of integrity is entirely up to us.
Twenty years ago, when I faced my Sumo skeptic, we hadn’t yet entered the fullness of the information age. I couldn’t tell my friend to look it up on Google, or to check Wikipedia or Snopes. Today, however, we have the sum total of the knowledge amassed throughout human history accessible to us via a rectangle we carry in our pockets.
And I’ll bet at least a few folks reading this already dismissed at least one of the above sources (Google, Wikipedia, or Snopes) as unreliable. A disturbing number of people trust Kaytlyn the 26-year-old mom’s nutrition blog more than they do the FDA, not because they’ve researched Kaytlyn’s credentials or read the abstracts of studies carried out by actual trained nutritionists, but because they prefer what Kaytlyn says to what the FDA says.
We’re fully in the thick of an assault on truth—spawned right from the bowels of the original Father of Lies himself—and as Christians, this should horrify us.
If it doesn’t, we’re swimming in the problem and drinking it like the drowning.
Our core message is pretty unbelievable. That there’s a God (or at least an intelligent power) who kick-started the universe and everything in it isn’t that much of a stretch for the thinking mind. But that he came down into creation and suffered torture and death in order to satisfy hell’s rightful claim on us is pretty incredible. Who does that? “Greater love hath no [one] than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
So it is imperative that we be trustworthy and discerning bearers of that message—as well as every other message—if anyone is ever going to believe us. Or even listen to us.
I’ll be frank—if I didn’t already know Christ myself, the things I’ve seen and read from certain Christians and their leaders in both the private and public arenas over the last couple of years would have catapulted me in the opposite direction before I ever listened to another word out of another arrogant and hypocritical mouth. I’m having a hard time not running for the door as it is.
Full disclosure, I don’t get it all right, either. If I possessed all truth on every subject then I would share the mind of God, which I do not.
But, by golly, I’m going to make sure I have the most well-informed, fact-supported, and truthful answer I can get before I lob my opinion at anybody. And when I’m shown to be wrong, I’m going to admit it. Because, as a follower of Jesus I claim to value both truth and humility.
I don’t know if my friend ever changed her mind about the veracity of Sumo as a sport. But the experience of being unable to convince her about my Japanese culture competence has taught me one important lesson: if truth is that easy to disregard, I’ve got to be that much more invested in truth everywhere.
 We could all stand to throw some salt (and light) on that.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Teaching Kids to Self-Advocate

If you’ve ever worked with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) you know that goals are set for student achievement with respect to behavior, academics, and various skills. Self-advocacy—the ability to ask for what one needs—is a big one, not only on IEPs, but throughout school and childhood. Too many kids don’t know how or are afraid to talk to adults.
“I see teenagers whose parents are still ordering meals for them,” a waiter told me one time after our then-preschooler requested, “Pasghetti, pwease.”
Our overarching goal as parents should be to raise self-sufficient adults. Teaching kids how to speak up and to carry on a conversation with others is integral to their success in almost every other field. Not sure where to start?
Have the kiddos order their own meals at restaurants.
As soon as your itty-bitty can string together three intelligible words, she can order her own mac-n-cheese. You might need to clarify to the server that “wemo-wade” means lemonade, but the experience of speaking directly to the waiter sparks a sense of autonomy as well as the chance to see how her voice allows her to interact successfully with the world. Very few servers will find this tedious or annoying—in fact, I haven’t yet seen one who didn’t crack a smile.
Require your kids to greet adults. Every time.
Lately I’ve seen a lot of pushback to making kids give out hugs and kisses, and rightly so. Your kid’s body is his own, and he should never be forced to do anything with it that makes him uncomfortable. We’ve got one kid who will hug anyone who isn’t quick enough to deflect her, and another who prefers not to touch or be touched, ever. But kids need to learn and practice the basic courtesy of greeting another human being:
“Hi, it’s nice to meet you. My name is Yvette.”
“I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”
“Would you like a glass of water or iced tea?”
Let your child do his own check-in at the doctor’s office.
The sign-in form is pretty basic: name, time of arrival, has your insurance changed? If the child can write his own name, you can tell him what to write in the other boxes. In some offices all he has to do is tell the receptionist, “I’m Joe Moe. I have an appointment with Dr. Oh at nine thirty.” He can do that, can’t he? You go sit down and get caught up on Words With Friends.
“Please” and “Thank You” are never optional.
I recently volunteered in my daughter’s fourth-grade classroom, and the teacher asked me to distribute pieces of candy as a special prize for a project they’d just finished. I kept track, and exactly zero students—including my own daughter—said “thank you” when I gave them the candy. I let the teacher know and she gave them what for, then made them all thank me.
My daughter looked like she wanted to crawl under her desk.
If you pray before a meal, pass that honor around the table.
Saying grace is a great learning opportunity, both in semi-public speaking, and in being grateful for what we have. Every kid in a praying home ought to take a turn on a regular basis. In one story I read a woman asked her daughter if she’d pray over the meal when company came that day. That daughter balked, and her mother said, “Just say what you hear me say.” So company arrived, they bowed their heads around the table, and the girl prayed, “Dear God, why did I invite all these people over?”
Have kids initiate some phone calls.
I don’t mean you hand them your cell phone and tell them to dispute the insurance statement with the billing department at your dentist’s office. I mean sometimes they call Grandma and Grandpa and either say, “Hi! This is Julie,” or they learn how to leave a coherent message on the answering system. I realized we’d dropped the ball on this with one of our kids when I got a voicemail that said nothing but, “I want to go to Sedona’s house.” Um, who is this? How did you get this number? Who’s Sedona?
Let them manage their own purchases and returns.
This one’s tough when they’re fairly little, and they approach the cashier with a fistful of money, and four impatient people are in line behind you, and you just want to get out of there and onto the next errand. But what learning opportunities you’re missing if you take over transactions for them every time:
Kid: Pushes a Lego package onto the conveyor belt. “I want this.”
Cashier: “That’ll be $5.29.”
Kid: Dumps coins and wadded up bills on the counter.
Cashier: Patiently counts out the money. “You’re fifteen cents short, I’m afraid.”
Kid: Turns to Mom with beseeching look in his eyes.
Mom: “Here you go.” Hands him the money then stuffs the Legos in her purse. “You can have them back as soon as you refund me that fifteen cents by cleaning up your room.”
See? Everything’s a learning opportunity.
Never quit looking for chances to hand the ball to the kid.
Remember, your goal as a parent is to work yourself out of a job. The more tasks your child takes on, the fewer you have, and the better equipped junior becomes to manage his own life one day. And I’ll full-on brag here: I am so proud to be able to sit around the dinner table with my kids and any adults who visit us, knowing my children are able to carry on a polite conversation. It’s an awe-inspiring experience watching a child turn into an adult.
So have them talk to their own teacher about that disappointing grade, challenge them to talk you into or out of something they want, ask them about their days and their lives and really listen to what they say. You’re giving them the gifts of language, autonomy, and reason.
And those gifts will serve them well their entire lives.

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