A road through the past

I’m in favor of modern, paved roads, when it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg to drive on them (more on that later). Nine times out of 10 times, modern roads are helpful. But if you’re the fool who carries historical maps inside your head, modern roads can befuddle you occasionally.

On our summer vacation, we took a day to visit Gettysburg. This was a risky move, as the battlefield was an enticing attraction to only two members of our five-person family. I have always been a reader of American History. Big Brother has an interest in history as well. He took an 8th grade Civil War class last spring and was eager to see the field.

For the others, interest in Gettysburg was less acute. My wife likes to visit famous places, but once somebody tells her who won, she feels like she’s got all the info about the battle she needs. Buster believes when you go someplace with a cannon on every hill, you should be allowed to blow up something. Big Man just wants a hotel with a pool.

Sorry, Buster. All those guns are just for looking at.

It was a hot, humid day, but everyone bore it well. My wife was a trooper, driving us around and stopping wherever I asked so we could examine the monuments and walk the ground. I used the map in my head to answer Big Brother’s questions.

By the time we got to Little Round Top, it was the heat of the afternoon. We all climbed to the apex and took in the view. I wandered to the left, trying to locate the end of the Union battle line. Big Brother followed, and suddenly we were on a sacred quest to find the monument to the 20th Maine.

The beaten path ended, and we found ourselves exploring through underbrush. Now that the hunt had begun, the younger boys took up the chase, rushing downhill through the weeds to keep up. My wife followed out of concern for her wayward boys, issuing a constant bugle call of poison ivy warnings.

In the overgrowth, we discover the monument to the regiment in line next to the 20th. We must be close. Big Brother forged ahead, convinced he would soon be standing upon that hallowed spot.

He stopped short, clearly befuddled. When I came up to him, I understood why. He stood at a clearing with a paved road running through. We followed the road to an intersection, wondering how we could have missed the marker.

At the intersection we noticed a park ranger addressing a small group across the intersecting road. Then we knew our mistake. The modern roads had messed up the maps in our heads. The monument was just where it should have been, and just where we might have looked, had the Union line been bisected by asphalt in 1863.

No matter. We found our Holy Grail. A 13-year-old solidified his connection to the past. Even his tired and sweaty little brothers seemed satisfied. Their dad was happy about many things at that moment.

We didn’t see everything, but we couldn’t leave without finding this.

Mom had gone to get the car. When we felt the air conditioning inside, she became Gettysburg’s greatest hero.

EPILOGUE

A month later I got the Pay-by-Plate toll in the mail from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  The toll for driving from the Ohio border to the Gettysburg exit, one way, was $67. Paved roads are getting to be trouble.

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3 kids x 3 different schools = 9 billion emails

I attempted to write a post about having three kids in three separate school buildings this year, and how I’m feeling, more than ever, like I am going back to school alongside my kids. That post wasn’t good: it came off as whiney; it wasn’t entertaining; and its tone insinuated that the blame for parents being inundated with emails and homework belonged to the schools and the teachers.

While some schools and teachers are better than others at managing the information dump on parents, they are all following the dictates of a society that, yearning so mightily to make things easier, has made things more difficult.

The best way to illustrate this may be to compare school life today, with school life during the 1975-76 academic year, when I was in third grade (the same grade as my youngest child today).

During the 1975-76 school year, my mother became a single parent. She had seven children still in the public school system. There was no such thing as email. This, no doubt, prevented her jumping off a tall bridge.

CAR LINES

Our schools’ car lines block traffic in the streets around the schools. They allow parents to display the worst of their angry impatience or disregard for the time of other parents. Consequently, every school sends out a two-page email of car line procedures.

In 1975, the car line was three cars speeding up to the front door 15-30 minutes late. Only kids who had fallen behind schedule were driven to school. Everyone else walked or rode the bus.

LUNCH MONEY

The web site our schools use to keep track of lunch accounts changed. I must set up a new account and register each of my children. To do this, I need a student number for each child. I know one of them. My high schooler also needs a PIN number to access the money on his account in the cafeteria. I wish he could just be concerned with the numbers in math class.

My mom gave me enough money every Monday to buy a lunch ticket for the week. Each day the lunch lady punched a hole in the ticket. After five holes, the ticket was discarded. If I forget my money, they made a note in their book that I had “charged” lunch. The next day I got two holes punched in my ticket. There were no extras to buy; lunch was lunch, no more, no less.

Demonstrating car line procedures in the days before PDF diagrams and email.

PROGRESS REPORTING

Our schools use another website/app for parents to follow their kids’ assignments and grades. I set up an account this year. I was able to get one kid on it, but only the app accepts my login. Of course you can only add students via the web site (which doesn’t recognize my credentials). Also, you need a separate code number (different from the student ID) for each kid. This is another secret number I have for only one kid. Looks like the others will be monitoring themselves.

My mom monitored our progress by leaving things alone until she got a note from a teacher. She would address the issue and then go back about her own business. But things were far less competitive then, and she already had one child attending a state university, so she understood that not going to Harvard would not mean the end of the world to any of us.

RULES OF CONDUCT

Today I received an email with a link to the Orchestra Handbook for our middle school. My son and I are supposed to read the handbook together and sign the last page. This is just one of the multiple school activities where the rules need to be in writing and the parents must acknowledge receipt of them.

If any rules were in writing, it was most likely a placard on the wall of the classroom that read:

RULES:

Sit Down.

Shut Up.

Rules beyond that were based upon the general principles of proper decorum, and if the teacher had to explain them, it was already a bad day. When we broke the rules, we were punished, and if we whined about it at home, we were punished there too. However, we were almost never sued for breach of contract.

There are other examples, but this is already a long post. We shouldn’t be surprised that our schools reflect our frightened, angry, litigious, password-protected (without so much protection), ease-of-use (difficult) society. But nobody needs to carry cash, so that’s awesome.

Social media justice

It began with an email. I thought it was a scam so I ignored it.

I could not have violated Facebook’s community standards. I hadn’t posted anything in months. Certainly, silence could not be against community standards.

Out of curiosity, I clicked to open the Facebook app. Maybe silence is against community standards.

It was true. My Facebook account had been suspended, just as the mysterious email had foretold.

I went back to the email: I had 30 days to appeal the suspension. After that my account would be deleted permanently.

Let’s see how this works, I thought, switching back to the app. I clicked the button to appeal. The app wanted my phone number. I was a little reluctant, but I finally decided I could offer that much to get to the bottom of this mystery.

The next screen asked me to upload a photo of my ID (e.g. license, passport, etc.).

Whoa. My identity is pretty important to me, and when it comes right down to it, Facebook is not. I started becoming disillusioned with FB the moment after I originally signed up. That disillusionment has grown over the years, as FB has become a tool to turn my deepest thoughts and shallowest curiosities into advertising to be thrown back into my face. Then there’s the issue of a corporation passing judgment on whose ideas are valid and whose aren’t.

Yes, there is a pleasant side to FB, and I do look at it sometimes to see what my friends are up to, and to understand what type of embarrassing secrets people now willingly share with the world in return for validation or sympathy.

I figure there are about 10 days left until I get deleted from the official registry of world people, and I think I’m OK with that. I would like to know what standard I violated by doing nothing (maybe I didn’t reach my quota of “Likes” in the past decade – I couldn’t argue with that), but I think I can live not knowing.

Here’s the interesting part.

Since my account got suspended, I have been receiving FB notifications like never before. Suddenly, I’m getting them in my email, and my entire phone screen is filled with them. I rarely got notifications when I was an upstanding citizen. Weird, huh?

It’s almost like FB is trying hard to lure me back. “Look at all this fun stuff you’re missing by not uploading your official state ID to us!”

They really want me to upload that ID. I’m sure it’s for my own good.

Even so, I think I’ll play out this game of chicken to the end. Maybe they’ll realize I’m calling their bluff and drop the charges. Probably not, in which case I might have to learn to present myself as a flesh and blood person again. I wonder if I’m up to it.

Waiting to hear if my profile will be released or executed.

The encore nobody asked for

When I was in 2nd grade, I puked so hard one day it left me traumatized about going back to school for a week. Though I was physically recovered, every time I tried to go to school my imagination insisted I would puke again the moment I entered the building. Eventually, dear old Jack, our bus driver, had to carry me over his shoulder into my classroom. I kicked and screamed, but I didn’t puke. Thus ended my nearest flirtation with dropping out of school.

I think the reason I was so affected by this puking incident was that it happened in the lunch line, which was about as embarrassing as a public vomit could be. At least I think it was in the lunch line. Memories get faded over the decades, but I know somebody puked in the lunch line. Maybe it was me; maybe it was another kid; it could have been that I, and one or more other kids, puked in the lunch line. Somebody did. When you must step around a chunky puddle to get to your egg salad sandwich, it sticks with you.

A doctor and nurse are a start, I suppose, but for the sake of the child I sure hope the guy in the back is a sturdy bus driver.

It’s been too long since we talked about vomit, hasn’t it? That’s my fault and I beg your pardon. What brings me back around to these thoughts is my 2nd grader’s recent bout with the gut bug. Big Man is much more composed about puking than I was, but to be fair, he had the advantage of puking in the privacy of his own home.

Even so, he’s remarkably composed about the upheaval. He dutifully pukes in his mop bucket, then asks for a washcloth in the same calm tone that he might ask, “Can I have an ice cream sandwich?” on a hot summer day. Between the tempests, he is apt to give a self-diagnosis of his medical situation: “I think it’s my waist that’s causing me to puke.” Close enough, in my book.

One strange phenomenon I have noticed in him, and his brother, is this: they have the pukes, get better, run around like normal for a day or more, then have one good final puke after the parents have let their guards down and put the bucket away.

I don’t know how common this is. I only found one mention of such a thing online. It was referred to as an encore vomit. I don’t know that we’ve ever cheered loudly enough over puke to make anyone think we wanted more of it, but there it is. The kids think they are back to normal, but their little tummies aren’t really, and there is some miscommunication about how much food can be tolerated. Hence the curtain call.

Maybe I wouldn’t have been so worried about puking again in school if it had been presented to me as an encore performance. That might have made it seem less humiliating. Of course, the cafeteria egg salad wasn’t exactly tempting me back either.