Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Please Stop Rolling

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published July 24, 2014] © 2014 

Okay, it scares even me. Over the years, as new phrases came into the vernacular, my kids would hear them at school, start saying them at home, and pretty soon even Mom was using them. Well, most of them. But now, more and more phrases have come into common use that annoy me beyond reason. I know: it’s the first step toward terminal curmudgeonliness. I fear I’m steps away from morphing from the kid-adoring neighbor lady to the one who rolls out onto her front porch in her walker and hurls epithets at the skate boarders.

Language, of course, is always evolving. More than one high school kid, forced to read Shakespeare’s plays, has whined, “Why couldn’t he just write in English?” My kids might have been among them. It took 500 years for Bill’s work to require so much translation but I’ll bet that it will take less than 50 for Early 21st Century English to sound just as foreign. New words are being introduced at warp speed. A single mention of a catchy new term on a TV sitcom or a celebrity’s tweet and it’s suddenly coming out of the mouths of millions.   

Portmanteaus – the blending of two words to create a new one with a different meaning – are introduced daily, aided and abetted by the Internet. Some portmanteaus have become firmly entrenched in the English language like motel (motor + hotel), televangelist (television evangelist), pleather (plastic leather), blog (web log), brunch (breakfast + lunch) and frenemy (enemy disguised as a friend). New and often hilarious ones appear daily on Urban Dictionary, for example, harassenger: a passenger who is constantly harassing you about your driving skills.

But some words and expressions I hear every day I just can’t get my ahead around. Here’s a few from “Irascible Inga’s Crotchety Guide to Language”:

Pop: Oy. Oy again. When I hear someone say that a particular color of eye shadow makes her eyes pop or a certain piece of furniture makes the room pop, it makes ME pop, but not the same way. Apparently, there is nothing that cannot pop anymore.

Hot mess: What happens when things fail to pop.

Price point: What was wrong with plain old “price”?

He gets me: Could you be more specific? 

The new album dropped last week: From what height?  Is it OK? Wouldn’t Fed Ex Ground have been a more sensible choice? 

Big girl panties:  Definitely a contender for most over-used phrase of the year, as in “She needs to put on her big girl panties and deal with the situation.”  Can we just leave underwear out of it?  The visual is, well, never mind.

When a door closes, a window opens: Only during a tornado.

I have to take this (cell phone call): No, you really don’t!

Grow our company: Is it a plant? 

Opens up about: Apparently the verb “talk” just doesn’t sell magazines anymore. Instead, celebrity interviewees are alleged to “open up” about their lives implying that they’ve chosen this particular interview with US magazine to divulge their previously undisclosed innermost thoughts. Actual celebrity quote: “I guess if I had more time, I’d start a vegetable garden.”  Cover headline: “Jennifer opens up about the secret passion even her friends didn’t know about!!!” 

That’s how I roll:  Please, please stop rolling.

I’m all about...: Evil cousin of “he gets me.”

Wheelhouse: Suddenly everybody has one. Overnight, we’ve become a nation of tugboat operators. 

Everything happens for a reason: Yes, but not the one you’re thinking. Meant to be comforting in situations of minor disappointment (“I didn’t get into Berkley, but everything happens for a reason.”)  Fails miserably when applied to mass casualty tragedies, unless, of course, it refers to people other than you.

Like: Here, at least I know I have, like, lots of company.

You did good: My high school English teacher would be rising  out of her grave at an adjective being used as an adverb but my kids’ teachers in the La Jolla school system all said it. One of my sons sent me an article recently saying ‘you did good’ is in such popular usage that it can be now considered ‘correct.’ The attached note read: “Mom: sorry this had to happen in your life time.”

I suppose if these are my worst complaints about the language, I shouldn’t complain. But I will anyway. And as for your skate boarders, could you keep it down during my nap?


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

*Yes, Women ARE People

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published July 17, 2014] © 2014 

When my first husband and I were married, an insurance salesman advised us only to insure ourselves against serious losses: his life and my contact lenses.

It’s actually a little puzzling that it took me so long to figure out what was wrong with that statement as my mother was an ardent third generation feminist. Equal rights for women has been a family theme for as many generations back as anyone can remember. My grandmother, who had a Ph.D. in zoology in 1910, and great-grandmother, who graduated from college in 1880, were passionate suffragists.

Unlike my childhood friends, my early years were filled with youth-level biographies of Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and even Margaret Sanger. (It couldn’t have been easy to write a kids’ books about legalizing birth control. I think they were a little vague on some of the details.)

One of my grade school reports was written, somewhat to the astonishment of my teacher, about the 19th amendment to the Constitution which gave women the right to vote. As I said in my impassioned oral report version, it took 72 years of relentless effort from the time of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920 by only one vote.  Of course, my classmates and I were years from being able to vote, and Seneca Falls might as well have been on Mars. A lot of blank stares. But my mother was so proud.

As fate would have it, I had only sons and nephews, no daughters or nieces, not that I didn’t do my best to inculcate my sons with the value of feminism for both sexes. The nuances, never mind applications, of the term can be tricky. My younger son, Henry, came home from fifth grade one day in a huff announcing that the P.E. teacher was “sexist.” Turns out she gave the girls an extra serve in volleyball if they needed it, but not the boys. Henry wished me to take action. (I told my not-yet-husband Olof about it on the phone that night and he said, “What?  You don’t already have an appointment with the school board?”)

I explained to Henry that it was important to clarify the issue. Was he distressed that one group, solely on the basis of sex, was being given an advantage over the other? 

“Yeah!” he said. “And we lost!”

“And if you had won?”

“Then who cares how many serves they get. Call her, will you, Mom?”

It’s really sad to me that the word feminism has gotten such a bad rap when it just means political, social, and economic equality of the sexes. The term has unfortunately been bad-mouthed, co-opted, distorted, and otherwise maligned, with feminists too often caricatured as testicle-targeting harpies with shrill voices and bad haircuts. I don’t think any woman I know could really envision the life that women have historically lived when they couldn’t vote, couldn’t own property, and had no rights other than what a husband allowed. Never mind the 12 children we would each likely have. Believe me, that would definitely cut down on the lunch dates.

Prevailing opinion in the second half of the 1800s was that higher education transferred blood from a woman’s reproductive organs to the brain which would result in damaged children. Even bicycle riding was controversial for women. But if we think feminism has a bad reputation now, the early suffragists – women campaigning for the right to vote – were not only publicly maligned but jailed, sent to work houses, and even tortured. We take the vote for granted now, but as my mother wanted me to remember, a lot of people worked really hard for this. It didn’t just happen.

After the 14th amendment in 1868 bestowed citizenship on all persons born or naturalized in this country, famed suffragist Susan B. Anthony attempted to vote in the presidential election of 1872 on the grounds that women were citizens. (The only other legally-recognized categories of persons at the time were minors, aliens, idiots, and felons.) The effort succeeded in getting her arrested. “Are women people?” became a catchphrase of the suffragist movement. Sadly, there seem to be a few politicians still grappling with the question.

Now I have a tiny granddaughter. I hope it won’t take her even a nanosecond to figure out what’s wrong with insuring her husband’s life and her contact lenses (which I’m sure will be obsolete by then anyway). I hope she’ll be as proud to be a feminist as I am. And you can be sure I’m already shopping for the early suffragists children’s series. But I might wait until she can pronounce Seneca Falls.


Monday, July 7, 2014

*Adventures In Potty Training

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published July 10, 2014]  © 2014 

I’ve finally come to understand the basic connection between grandparents and tiny grandchildren: diapers. They really want to get out of them, and we don't want to get into them.

Nothing made this clearer than a recent weekend when two of our grandtots were in residence. It would be accurate to say that much of the conversation revolved around the words “pee pee” and “poo poo” and who might be doing which of them when. Olof and I did not escape scrutiny.
The tots’ parents made sure the household’s bathrooms were well stocked with mini-jelly beans as rewards for successful performance. This concerned me as Olof is inordinately fond of jelly beans and I wasn’t sure I could trust him not to filch a few whether he’d gone pee pee in the potty or not.

“Olof,” I said, “you had better not even THINK of touching those jelly beans.”
He retorted, “I think there’s a good reason they’re not using chocolate, Inga.” 

The grandkids, ironically, were definitely on the honor system. It was just the grandparents who couldn’t be trusted.
The older of the two grandchildren is now fully potty trained, even at night. “So,” I said to her parents when we babysat one night, “do we need to take her to the bathroom before we go to bed?”

“Nope,” they said. “She’s good until morning.”
“But that’s eleven hours,” we said with more than a little incredulity. Olof and I looked at each other wistfully. Those days are so over for us. Neither of us ever expected to suffer from Pre-school Bladder Envy.

Since she is a now a pro in the potty department, the four-year-old is actively helping her 2-year-old brother master the mysteries of planned performance. She is an eager dispenser of jelly beans, an accomplished clapper, and an expert demonstrator of toilet flush technique. (It’s all in the wrist.)  Post-execution hand washing and foot stool sink placement are also in her vast repertoire. She awards herself a mini-jelly bean as an administrative fee when output goals are met.
Unlike grandma, she even knows which is the front on the pull-ups. While we’re on the subject of pull-ups, these are the best invention ever. They didn’t have them when my kids were toddlers. We either had either diapers or cotton training pants theoretically reinforced in key areas in an illusion of protection which didn’t prevent “accidents” from turning the child’s entire outfit noxiously soggy. While online research indicates that there are better options in the training pant world now, somewhere along the way, some brilliant parent, tired of re-attiring a squirmy two-year-old after a training pant failure, said, “there really needs to be an intermediate step here.”  And voilĂ , pull-ups, a stretchy disposable diaper material underpant that the kid can pull on and off himself.

Now, as with anything kid-related, there is controversy. It’s no secret that there is no more competitive world than parenthood. Among the factions in this case are the anti-pull-up contingent who say that the feel of the disposable diaper material only confuses the child and delays potty training. If you want your kid to be pooping on his shoes until he’s ten, go for the pull-ups. They maintain that one should go straight from diapers to the training pants, or in the case of uber-competitive parents hell-bent on giving the kid an early mindset for Harvard, right from diapers to actual superhero underpants. (One mom scarily blogged,I used big kid underwear right from the start and told him if they peed or pooped in them the characters would be mad.”)
Personally, I think the person who invented pull-ups should get the Nobel Prize for Laundry. With the pull-ups, if things don’t go exactly as planned, the kid's clothes aren’t wet too. And the kid can theoretically take off the pull-up himself and even pull up a dry one. This, in my view, is the sort of ingenuity that made America great.

Anyway, the grandtots were very generous about rewarding us with mini-jelly beans if we’d performed. We weren’t all that interested in an audience so they had to take our word for it. They did. They were even happy to clap for us in absentia.
Even though they’ve gone home, we’re finding the subject of potty performance has somehow lingered. It’s kind of like a song you can’t get out of your head. Is it because the adult version of pull-ups could be in our future?

Then again, we could just be missing the jelly beans.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What That Boring Summer Job Can Do For You

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published July 3, 2014] © 2014 

My husband Olof’s parents and mine were similar in many ways and the one precept which they both held most dear was the intrinsic value of child labor. No job was too menial or too boring if it paid.

When my sister and I were seven and eight, our mother got us our first jobs: stuffing  and licking 1,000 envelopes for a local agency. At a penny apiece, it was far faster to lick the envelopes than use a wet sponge. It’s amazing we didn’t end up with brain damage from all that glue. I distinctly remember our little tongues desperately trying to produce saliva after the first hour.

Olof, meanwhile, was working in the family hardware store for $1.00 per hour where he learned to mix paint, make keys, and had the sum total of his sex education in the pipe fitting department.

Over the years, I did the standard babysitting, retailing, and waitressing ($.53 an hour, $.45 after taxes, gold nylon uniform: $20).  I spent one summer as a parking lot attendant in the Jersey Shore's blazing sun and another as a clerk-typist for Scholastic Magazines in their book division in the pre-word processor days typing endless clean copies (with eight carbons) of a book called No Hitter about all the no-hitter baseball games up to that point.  (It's on Amazon for $.01, and, no, don't send me a copy.  I've read it.  Eleven times.)  I hate to start comments with the words "kids today", but truly, kids today have no idea what a boon to humanity the word processor was.  Space travel and penicillin have nothing on it.  I can say with some conviction: a world without carbon paper truly is a better place.

Olof and I used to like to play "who had the worst summer job?" One thing about horrible jobs is that wretchedness quickly becomes relative.  Olof worked one summer as a roofer in the East Bay's brutal 100-degree summer heat in a perpetual knee-crippling crouch position pounding nails hour after hour.  The next summer, concluding that anything indoors had to be better, he scored a job as summer vacation help cleaning toilets at the Pittsburgh, California steel mill.  Even though it required an investment in a hard hat and steel-toed boots, it was out of the hot sun and paid union wages.  Relative to roofing, what was not to like?

My worst summer job by far was proofreading telephone books.  And yes, this is a job, and yes, for some people it was a career. People get really touchy if their name or address or particularly, phone number is listed incorrectly in the phone book, so some human - that would have been me - sat there cross-checking the microscopically-printed galleys line by line with the typewritten list.  I've observed over the years that career counselors don't list ninety percent of jobs that people actually end up doing.  I'm trying to imagine, for example, some perky high school student's yearbook listing; "Future goal:  career in the telephone book proofreading field." 

For both sets of our parents, summer employment provided cash for the expenses we were expected to pay, but I think they regarded it as character building as well.  Not that I was ever inclined to be rude to waiters or sales clerks, but working in those fields gives you a new respect for the job.  Forget two years mandatory military service.  Everybody should be required to work retail.

I mention all this because I often hear parent say at this time of year that they don't think it's worth having their kids take a $10 an hour menial job when they could be doing something educational.  Both Olof's and my parents would have said that it's all how you define "educational."

Of course, there's no requirement that summer jobs have to be ill-paid and boring even if many of them are.  My older son, a diver, was lucky enough to combine a life passion with income by supplying giant keyhole limpets to a Scripps Oceanography researcher.  And a high paying job can be pretty miserable too as my younger son discovered during a career-goal-changing Summer From Hell working 100-hour weeks for an investment banking firm.  Still, I think some of the best education he received was three summers earlier working as minimum wage juice bar employee delivering custom wheat grass combinations to downtown La Jolla business folks.  He said he's never felt so invisible.

So are we better or even different people for our summer job experience?  Different, certainly.  Both Olof and I would agree that most of our summer jobs were excellent incentives to pursue higher education in the hope of never ever doing any of these jobs again.  Just as important as knowing what you want to do in life is knowing what you really really don't.
That's me in my $20 gold nylon waitress uniform, summer 1968