Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In the horrors

Meelyn comes home every day with interesting stories to relate about driver's ed class, but only a small part of it has to do with the driving. During the ten minute break time, she and the other four girls gather in a group accompanied by one or two boys, and sit and chat. Meelyn says that she mostly stays silent and observes, filing comments away for later family discussion.

One conversation that took place yesterday started when one of the boys said, "I've been dating my girlfriend for three months and her birthday's coming up. What should I get for her?"

I was thinking about what Ellen's rules were for Scarlett in Gone With the Wind: she could receive gifts from a suitor such as a book of poetry, a small bottle of eau de toilette...maybe a single pink rose. Even Bill Clinton followed those rules. We all know that he got Monica Lewinsky a lovely copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, which was a very tasteful and irreproachable gift, although I think that the fact that he was married must have put a bit of a damper on things from the suitor angle. And I don't know if Ellen O'Hara would have approved of the fact that his pants were around his ankles when he presented it to her.

Anyway, the girls in Meelyn's class piped up and starting one-upping each other with stories of what their young swains had given to them, up to and including a $178 gold necklace from Kohl's.
Are there parents out there who think that this is okay? Do they even know that their daughters have received gifts like this? In a world where a boy can be constructing bombs in the very garage where his parents park their vehicles at night, I don't think that parental obliviousness can possibly be overstated enough.

It creeps me out. Because whether we want to admit it or not, there are some men (and presumably boys) who buy costly gifts for their girlfriends as a return for services rendered. Some men, not all. The problem is that a girl might not have an accurate idea of who's who until he starts taking liberties (also from Gone With the Wind; ref.: Rhett buys Scarlett a bonnet in Paris.) Please don't get upset with me for saying it, either. If you are reading this and you don't know that for some, this is an unspoken rule of the world of dating, I think you may have been living under a cloud. Miss Manners speaks to this very issue of gift-giving and dinner-buying in her book, Miss Manners' Guide to Excrutiatingly Correct Behavior, about how some men expect payment for the dinner they've bought before it even has time to leave the lady's digestive tract. Heh.

Besides, my mother taught me that the only gift of jewelry a young man can present to a young lady that she can accept without compromising herself is an engagement ring. And then he still has to wait.

But the really disturbing thing that the kids were talking about had nothing to do with gifts or implied IOUs for sex or who's doin' it and who isn't; it had to do with their grandparents. Not everyone participated in this conversation. It apparently was just two of the girls.

One of them said, with a deep, disgusted sigh, "I dread class being over today because I have to go see my grandma."

Another one chimed in, "My parents pay me $20 to go talk to my grandma, who is really old and practically deaf."

Meelyn was astounded by this, being brought up in a family where grandparents are beloved people. She told me this story with disbelief and for a moment, I thought she was going to have to restrain me from punching a parent in the head.

Here's the scenario:

Me: [Walks up to an SUV in the driving center's parking lot with a mother waiting behind the wheel] Hi! I'm Shelley. Our daughters are in driver's ed class together. How 'bout them one-way streets, huh? Anyhoo, my daughter told me that you pay your daughter $20 to go visit her grandma. Is that true?

Mother: Yes. Brittany just refuses to go, so my husband and I thought that $20 per visit would be a great incentive.

Me: Okay. Just checking. [Swings Louis Vuitton handbag at mother's empty shell of a head] Take that!...*whump!*....and that!....*whack!*...and I won't hit you anymore because you're going to have enough pain as it is when you get old and your grandkids HAVE TO BE PAID TO PRETEND THAT THEY LOVE YOU. Enjoy that crappy nursing home they'll stash you in, toots."

I seriously think it would kill Grandad if he thought that my kids had to be paid to come visit. And with my mom and dad, getting Meelyn and Aisling to visit isn't as much of an issue as getting them to come back home after the visit's over.

To set the record straight, I don't think that Christian parents or homeschooling parents are exempted from this kind of lousy parenting. You can observe both great and horrible skills from both groups. But the people I know and hang with aren't like this at all about their families. Katie's Beck goes to stay with her grandma; Kayte's Alex looks forward to his annual Nephews' Field Trip with his Aunt Nan; another friend has her frail, elderly parents stay with her for weeks on end and as far as I know, her children have never suggested that Mimi and PawPaw should be kicked out into the streets. And I've never heard any suggestions that financial transactions were involved between parents and children, either.

The idea of paying a kid to visit her own grandmother is just beyond my ken. I sincerely hope that the girl was just being a big braggy talker, trying to make herself look tough and all full of ennui about the older generations in front of her peers.

If she wasn't, what's this world coming to?

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