Monthly Archives: July 2013

When Streisand and Summer ruled the world

I do not subscribe to any Sirius or other satellite radio stations, although Jeebus knows that I should since I live in the cultural wasteland of the South. I have a 15 minute commute to work every day, during which I randomly play with the 5 pre-programmed stations on my car radio.

I know that some people are shocked at my lack of iPod or even old-fashioned CDs, but it’s my choice. I find the randomness of public radio to be a challenge, something I sometimes win and sometimes lose in the short bursts of transportation that occur in my movement from A to B on the map of life. There is that old streak of anarchy in me, the refusal to bow down to big technology or pay monthly contract fees for entertainment. Somewhere, deep in my Gen X heart, I still dream of the days of college radio and living, breathing DJs.

Two things happened recently that I found to be interconnected and yet completely at odds with my pursuit of getting to my son’s after school daycare in time to avoid late charges. I felt the need to share these insights, not because I think that they are life-changing, but because they are banal and tinted with saccharine-memories. After all, it is the memory of what we once were that pushes and cajoles us into the person we are today.

Enough waxing eloquent – here are the facts. I needed to get some photos developed, and since all of the cool independent photo development stores in my area have closed, I was forced to go to Walmart to get this task accomplished. The 22 minute drive to Walmart weighed heavy on my soul, and I spent a moment digging through my pile of CDs to see what I could see. Amid all of the Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Patti Smith favorites I came upon a lone Donna Summer CD.

Oh! I had thought. Disco to get me through the day. Let’s do this.

I nodded my head through ‘Sunset People’, ‘Bad Girls’, ‘On the Radio’, and ‘McArthur’s Park’ until IT HAPPENED. A song that I had totally and completely forgotten about, but have always loved since I was 11 years old and this 1970’s hit first made the charts. The first notes of the song started, and it was as if a doorway opened into an old, cobwebby haunted house deep within my teenage soul. Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer and their gorgeous, eternal duet filled the dingy walls of my 2006 red Suzuki Grand Vitara SUV, and I was lost.

I’m sorry – did you just say that you have no idea what I am talking about? There was a Streisand phase – A PHASE, I SAY! – when the diva spent single after single showing off those incredible power chords. Songs featuring one, solitary, 25-second long note held in perfect pitch by La Streisand? Ppfft. Piece of McArther Park cake! And what better female to match Babs note for note was 1970’s Disco Queen extraordinaire Donna Summer! The 1979 chart-topping single “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” still makes chills run down my spine.

As I listened to the song, it wasn’t hard to remember every line, every little throat nuance from these two superstars. My drive to the superstore was fun, fun, fun… and I played the song another 2x as I made my way to the elementary school to pick up my son. These were not shorty studio songs – back then, putting out 2 and 3 versions of songs of various lengths was not uncommon.

Streisand and Summer giving their all to strengthen women and let them know that it was OK to move on, expect better. Seems quaint now, but in the 1970’s, this was groundbreaking stuff.

Fast forward to a few weeks later. Again, I’m drifting through radio stations with no real purpose except to find a morning or afternoon zoo that I can tolerate, or maybe a song I can listen to long enough to get me where I need to be.

Along the way, I stumbled upon Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason”, co-written and sung by Nate Ruess. It’s a duet – can’t deny that. But is lacks the brutal emotion of the 1979 Streisand and Summer duet. Can I dare to take this a step further? Streisand paired with the BeeGee’s Barry Gibbs for 1980’s “Guilty” duet. While Pink may be current, Streisand is forever. As I listened to the music, I tried to figure out if what I was hearing was worthy of comparison.

Um, no.

I want today’s alternative music to succeed. I want the new heralds of the new music nirvana to emerge. Has it happened lately? No. Pop, pop, pop.

A thousand years ago, when I was 16-years old, we used to pilgrimage from the suburbia of Naperville, IL to Chicago. We used to go to Wax Trax and fill our alternative-plastic baskets with imports and exports, then go upstairs and buy books, videos, and T-shirts. When we were under 18-years old, we danced on the tables at Medusa’s and when we were close to 18 we went to the Smart Bar and the Lounge Ax to see famous bands.
All I can say about today’s duets is ack ack ack (ala Bill the Cat). Pitbull and Christina Aguilara? Depressing. Rihanna and Mikky Ekky? You’re kidding, right?

Streisand and Summer? Eternal.

Dance on, world at large. Dance on.

The Five Words Every Parent and Teacher Need to Know

It happens every day in every way. Maybe it’s a dress code issue with a thirteen year old, or attempting to get a first grader to explain why they got the color red on that day’s behavior report. Sometimes it’s the seventh grader you pull out of class to stand in the hallway because they just would not stop talking, or the sixteen year old who called her mother a nasty name. The faces and events change, but the stress level of the child does not. Any young person who finds themselves confronted by an adult will always react defensively. The first instinct of most children is fight or flight.


But in my 25 years of experience as a social worker, than a teacher, and then a parent, I learned one very important lesson.

When trying to discuss a problem or sensitive issue with a child, your tone and body language matter. I’ve learned to soften my eyes when looking them in the face, not harden them with the “teacher glare”. I’ve learned to smile a little bit to demonstrate that I am an open door, not a closed one, and to speak in a gentle, even tone. When possible I try to get all involved parties seated, as this significantly reduces tension. Be direct, but don’t sugar coat the problem. Ask for the child’s input – let them know that this is a learning experience, and that most problems have more than one solution.

But before I do any of that – I say the five magic words that will make even the angriest teenager’s shoulder muscles relax.

“I’m not angry with you.”

It sounds too simple, right? But it works. Over and over, it works. On the days when I have to broach why a student just won’t stop tapping a desk and humming, or why an eight-year old refuses to share their toys, I always use those words to ease into the conversation. They works for tougher stuff, too, like a special ed student who might tell me to F*** off in class, or a hostile female student who never liked me anyway and now must have a conversation with me about having her cell phone out in school.

“I’m not mad at you.”

On those days when the skirts are too short, the ADHD medicine wears off, the homework gets forgotten for the umpteenth time or they can’t keep their hands to themselves, when they spit in the hallway or throw food in the cafeteria… and it’s up to me to pull the child aside for the inevitable conversation? The 5 words that will calm everyone down remain the same.

“I’m not angry with you.”

Because they think that you are. They think that they are immortal/invalidated/held hostage by rules and regulations. They believe that you hate them, and that you are out to get them. They think that you are singling them out, that you are ‘the enemy’ and that you want to get them in trouble. But mostly, no matter how gentle your tone or how strong your working relationship is with them, they truly believe that you are mad at them. Really, really mad at them. And that is what triggers that fight or flight response, because more than anything in the world they don’t want you to be mad at them.

“I’m not angry at you.”

As soon as I say those five magic words, the change in the kid’s face is visible. Some sigh ever-so-slightly, some start to tear up, some hang their heads in relief while others will just slouch – but the response will be immediate and obvious. Once they hear me say the words that I am not mad, that I will not yell at them or pull rank or in any way belittle them, they are way more open to having a discussion.

“I’m not angry at you.”

The truth is, the words calm me down just as much as they calm the kids down. By voicing the sentiment, I am opening the door, not slamming it shut. Let’s be honest – sometimes I am so pissed at them that I could just explode, but that is my problem, not theirs. Sometimes I just want to throw my hands in the air and yell “I am done with you! Why do you have to argue with me every time I ask you to do something?” Sometimes I want to just tell them that they are lazy, rude, acting ignorant, or being a real jerk – but that is my problem, not theirs.

“I’m not mad at you.”

By putting their deepest fear at rest, I can take the role of teacher/parent/role model and try to address the issue, not the anger. I can make the moment a teachable moment instead of an argument or an ugly situation. I can keep the conversation private, just you and me, without involving other students or administration or escalation. Most of all, I can keep a small problem from snowballing into a huge problem. The last thing anybody wants is frightened, panicked students who go home and get their parents involved, thus creating a cycle of he-said, she-said with administration having to mediate. Been there, done that. There is a better way.

“I’m not angry at you. I just wanted to talk to you without all the other kids hearing your business. OK? Can you tell me why you…?… Well, here’s the problem the way I see it… If you were the teacher, what would you do in my shoes?… I think that’s a reasonable solution. So we’re in agreement that you are going to… repeat back to me what we decided… Let’s go back in the room and try again…”

These five little words can make a huge difference in the lives of the ones you care about, no matter if you are at home or at school. Try using them the next time you need to have a difficult or tense conversation with a student or child. You may be pleasantly surprised at the reaction you get, and how it will reduce the fight or flight mentality which can derail so many conversations with kids.

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