RAGTAG DAILY PROMPT # 68: SUMMERTIME PLAY – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP # 68: PLAY


It’s hot. It’s humid.

It’s summer and the only thing to do is get wet, stay wet, and wait for the cooler weather to come!

Ready! 
Set! 
Jump! 
WET!

AND NOW, WITH TWO HANDS – Marilyn Armstrong

Ragtime Daily Prompt #66 – ABIDE (WITH ME)


“And now,” said Mrs. Nelson, “You can try it with both hands.”

This was huge. Before now, I could only play one note at a time, one hand at a time. I was four and a half. Almost five, I would point out.

Today, I was going to play “Abide With Me” with two hand using chords (okay, only two notes in each, but still chords). A power performance!

I was definitely going to be a great pianist. I couldn’t reach the pedals yet. I was much too small, but eventually, I’d get there.

Thus I advanced my musical career which, in the end, didn’t amount to much. I enjoyed it, though. I tried majoring in it in college, but piano wasn’t the right instrument for me. I needed something more compact, with fewer long reaches. I was tiny with very small hands (but big feet, go figure). Making those long reaches in complicated pieces was impossible for me.

By the time we were moving past the easier Nocturnes and into the longer Beethoven sonatas, it was obvious to me it wasn’t lack of practice. I practiced a lot. Every day, for hours.

I was simply ill-equipped to get it done on a piano.

Piano became a hobby and writing became my profession and I’m not at all sorry it worked out that way. I can’t even imagine myself performing with an orchestra or alone on the big stage.

I’ve also got an insane degree of stage-fright where music is concerned, though I can speak in public. There’s no accounting for irrational fear, is there?

SHORTER IS BETTER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I have seen many plays that were interesting, but way too long. The producers had to fill out the required time for a Broadway play, whether or not they had enough good material. A lot of movies are also too long for the same reason.

To me, most action movies are no more than a series of barely distinguishable scenes of violence strung together from the opening credits and beginning “premise,” to an even more spectacularly violent dénouement. As far as I’m concerned, you could cut movies of this genre in half without altering the plot (what plot?) at all. But then, you might have a 47-minute movie which no one would pay to see. I would be one of the people who didn’t pay to see it.

smiley-face-desktop-x-391568

This is particularly painful with comedies, particularly on television. Many sit-coms have a few funny bits and that’s it. The rest of the show just isn’t funny. In a perfect world, you could air an 18-minute episode because that’s all the funny material you had. You should be able to present the material that works, then call it a day.

For the most part, half-hour shows are only 21 minutes after subtracting commercial breaks. Take off another one or two for coming attractions and you’re down to 19 minutes. So maybe the problem is the really bad scripts? Maybe they only feel long because they are so bad? Or maybe they are so short, there’s no time to develop a plot?

I worry about this with blogs too. I have good ideas but I they don’t always add up to a whole post. So I’m simply going to present a few paragraphs from a couple of interesting articles I read recently.

First, apparently, babies and young children are ‘designed,’ by evolution, to seem cute and winning to adults to ensure kids get the maximum love and attention they need to thrive and grow. Infants’ big eyes, button noses, and chubby cheeks elicit a kind of primal bonding reaction in adults. So do the sounds they make and the way they smell. It’s a visceral, chemical, and nearly universal reaction.

Children start to lose those physically attractive ‘baby’ features around age two or three, so adults are hard-wired to respond equally strongly to the speech patterns of young children.

The way kids perceive and say things sound funny and charming to us. Their observations about the world seem irresistibly adorable. This phenomenon has a name: “Cognitive Babyness.” Studies show that between age two and seven, a child’s cute behavior replaces their cute faces in stimulating a caregiving response.

Go evolution!

Ana McGuffey - 1946 - Mme. Alexander - Doll's faces are intended to embody the "adorable" factor of real toddlers.
Ana McGuffey – 1946 – Mme. Alexander – Doll’s faces are intended to embody the “adorable” factor of real toddlers.

So much for interesting factoids. I’ll move to my next mini topic.

I taught Yoga and Meditation for eight years. I know the enormous benefits to adults — increased focus, attention span, calmness, control, and confidence. Also, decreased tension and stress, anger, frustration, distractibility, and fewer physical aches and pains. It never occurred to me that teaching some form of Yoga and/or Mindfulness into schoolchildren might have the same amazing benefits. \

Recently, I’ve read articles about these kinds of programs being taught in kindergarten through high school, all around the country. They have produced outstanding results.

The skills taught have reduced the symptoms in ADHD kids. Calmed children with anxiety disorders. Helped kids with learning issues, behavior problems, and social deficits. The same studies have shown improved grades, a higher degree of empathy and kindness between kids — and an enhanced enthusiasm for school.

Many schools have incorporated some form of mindfulness into the curriculum for teachers as well as students.

Way to go! Good for you! Over and out!

STAY AT HOME KIDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I have a friend who has three daughters, including a set of twins. They are now in their late twenties and early thirties. And they are all back living at home now. I was shocked to hear this.

All three girls have four-year college degrees. All three have full-time jobs. But none can earn enough to live on their own. One of the girls has a one and a half-year-old baby. The mom is no longer with the father, though he is still in the baby’s life. He also works but doesn’t earn enough to contribute to his daughter’s support.

What is going on here? What a tragedy, that middle class, educated working, young people can’t afford to live on their own without their parents’ support. It can’t be good for twenty and thirty-somethings to be living with their parents. It’s infantilizing and demoralizing. There also doesn’t seem to be any prospect for them to move out in the near future. This set up is not necessarily great for the parents either, especially if they want to retire at some point.

Starting wages today don’t seem to be high enough to pay for a home and even minimal living expenses. At least in New England, where I live. And this is even true with a college degree. Part of the problem may be that kids leave college with heavy debts that contribute to their financial dependence on their parents. So, it’s a vicious cycle.

And if you have a baby, the financial situation becomes exponentially worse!

My friend’s daughters are lucky that their parents can afford to support them. And that they didn’t already downsize their home. The kids contribute to the household, but not significantly. What will happen when my friend and her husband want to retire? They probably won’t be able to.

My friend is also lucky that she can work part-time from home. So, with the help of the other girls, they don’t have to pay for daycare or other childcare. This makes a big difference, financially. I know young people who pay a large percentage of their annual income on childcare – just so they can continue to work. This is also a travesty.

I don’t have any earth-shattering insights or solutions to any of these problems. I just got to see first hand what this economy and this society can do to young adults and their retirement age parents.

I’ve read about this phenomenon, but things affect you differently when people you know are involved. I can now put a face on this problem. It’s no longer an abstract issue, but a personal story. I’m shocked, appalled and depressed.

What will happen to whole generations? What will happen to our society? This is our future. And it looks pretty bleak.

PARENTS HELPING THEIR KIDS THRIVE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There was an article in the Sunday New York Times a while back that was titled “To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents.” It was written by Paul Tough and was an excerpt from a book he had written called “Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.” The article cited a long-term study that started in 1986 and has followed the subjects constantly to the present.

The study proved that children who lived in poverty did substantially better than their peers, into adulthood, if one simple thing was changed in their homes during their first three years of life. If their parents received coaching from trained researchers who encouraged them to play with and stimulate their infants, for example, by reading to them, singing to them and playing peekaboo, the kids did much better.

Parents were taught the importance of these face to face exchanges in creating attachment, warmth, and trust between parents and children. This, in turn, helped create a more stable, nurturing environment in the impoverished homes, which are usually plagued by stress, neglect, and instability.

blocks

It’s hard to believe that some people don’t know that they should talk to and play with their infants and young children. But if no one ever did that with you when you were a child and no one later taught you how important it is, how would you know?

The impact of this easy and low-cost intervention was off the charts. The study showed that the children who had the play counseling had higher IQ’s, less aggressive behavior and better self-control than the control groups. They also had better ability to focus, follow directions, interact calmly with others and cope with disappointment and frustration. In other words, they improved intellectually, socially and emotionally. All this just by receiving the kind of attention that most of us take for granted every child automatically gets.

dad & baby

It turns out that adults can be taught to create an environment that fosters success for their children. Why isn’t this being done in every poor neighborhood in the world? Or at least in this country?

This is particularly frustrating for me because my father proposed the same type of in-home interventions in the 1960’s and no one listened to him. My father was a well-known psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and sociologist who stressed the importance of the first 3 years of life. He also did a study that showed how little stimulation and affection a large number of black children living in poverty in Harlem, New York, in the 1950’s were receiving from their parents. He suggested doing exactly what the 1986 study did – send in trained professionals to teach the parents how to give their children the kind of nurturing they needed to thrive.

mom reading

Guess who shot my father’s idea down? The “liberals” of the day and the radical Black Panther movement. They said it was racist to assume that black people didn’t know how to be good parents. It was also considered paternalistic and condescending to send (often white) people into black homes to “tell them” how to deal with their own children. My father backed away from the conflict that surrounded his proposal.

smiles for Mom

Now, 50 years later, the idea is being proposed again. Think of all the kids who could have benefited in all these years! With so much poverty, even just in this country, you’d think this article would have been front page news. You’d think that politicians, as well as educators and mental health professionals,  would be jumping on the bandwagon and yelling from the rooftops. You’d hope that large numbers of “family counselors” would be amassing to go in and make a huge difference in the lives of millions of children.

I haven’t heard anything yet. But I’m still waiting and hoping.

mom & toddler

THE TINY WORMS IN THE FRIDGE – Marilyn Armstrong

My house was neat enough if you didn’t look too closely. You could walk into it without falling over a pile of dirty clothing (that was all in the basement — another story entirely) and the dogs and cats were  (usually) housebroken.

I couldn’t say the same for my toddler or my friends. Overall, the toddler was less of a threat to house and home than the friends, but when they got to messing around, anything could happen.

As my son grew, he developed (what a surprise) a passion for all kinds of creatures. Rabbits. Hamsters. Birds. We already had cats (many) and dogs.

We never properly owned more than two dogs but often had three or four. Two of them were ours. One was on loan from a friend who was in the army or on the road playing gigs. The fourth had belonged to a houseguest who had left but somehow forgotten to take their dog. Sometimes, it took us years to get the owner to come back and take the furkid too.

I love animals that aren’t insects, so while I frequently pointed out that it was NOT my dog and would they please come and get him or her, I would never throw them out. The owner I might toss out the door, but never the dog.

The year Owen turned eight, he decided he wanted geckos. They were the “in” things for 8-year-old boys that year. I pointed out that I didn’t think they would last long with the cats in the house.

He wanted the geckos. I was not much of a disciplinarian. If you argue with me, I’ll say no at least twice. After that? I usually give up.

As soon as we got the terrarium and the plants and finally settled the geckos into their home, Owen promptly lost interest in them and rediscovered his bicycle. That left me to care for the geckos, who would only eat mealworms.

I am not a big fan of worms. Any worms. I can tolerate earthworms because they are good for the soil, but overall, if it creeps or crawls, it’s not my thing. Did I mention that the geckos would only eat LIVE mealworms? I had to buy them in little cups at the pet store.

So mom dropped over and the cup of mealworms for the geckos had tipped over in the fridge. Which was now full of tiny worms. I assured her that my fridge does not usually contain worms and the worms were what the geckos ate. I don’t think she believed me. It was years before she would eat anything at my house. She always quietly inspected everything, in case there were a few worms there.

As for the geckos, a few days later, the cats figured out how to open the terrarium and there were no more geckos. And thankfully, no more mealworms.

AMERICA’S NUMBER ONE! ROUND 2: REUNIFICATION – BY TOM CURLEY

WE’RE NUMBER ONE, BUT AT WHAT?

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! We’re number ONE! We’re the BEST! 

You’ve heard it all your life. You hear it at ball games.  You hear it at every political rally, regardless of which party is telling you how great they are. Hell, we got an overdose of it during the 4th of July celebrations.


So now that there has been a “second” summit with Kim Jong-Un, described by him as “disappointing” (other translations say “depressing” and personally, I call them “futile and stupid” — and by Pompeo as “Not so bad” leaving the rest of us wondering “What summit? Was there a summit?” I have to again ask the question: What are we best at? Leaving out sports like football and baseball … what else?


Better health care? Better crime levels unless by “better” you also mean “more of them”? Where is America’s “sweet spot?” Good question, don’t you think?

But let’s get real for a second. Are we really number one? Are we the best country in the world? If so, at what?

Recently UNICEF released a “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries” study. They ranked 29 developed countries according to the well-being of their children on a number of factors. Where did the greatest nation in the world rank? Number one, right? Nope.

The US ranks #26. To be more specific we rank:

#26 for “Material Well-Being”.

#25 for “Health and Safety”.

#26 for “Infant Mortality Rates”.

#26 for “Low Birthweight”.

#22 for “Immunization Rates.

#27 for “Preschool Enrollment rates”.

#25 for “Participation in Further Education”.

#16 for “Overweight”.

#29 for “Teen-Pregnancy rates”.

#12 for “Being Bullied”.

It goes on. Were we #1 for anything? Yes. We were # for “Alcohol,” meaning we have the top rank for the absence of drunkenness. But considering our current government, can you blame the rest of the world for drinking more?

Another round for the world!

Republicans love to say that the U.S. has the greatest healthcare system in the world. The Commonwealth Fund ranks us #11 out of the 11 most developed nations. The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. #37 out of all the countries in the world. Just below Costa Rica and just above Slovenia.

But you know what we are best at? Putting people in jail.


From Wikipedia: “In October 2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world, at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the United States represents 4.4% of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.”


Take that North Korea! Take that all you Third World Dictators! We’re number one! Lock us up! Lock us up! Oh wait, we’re already doing that.

We’re number one!!

You know what else we’re good at?

Ripping children, toddlers, and babies from their mothers and fathers because they had the nerve to travel thousands of miles from their home countries seeking asylum because their lives are in danger. We’re number one at ignoring their screams as their parents get dragged away, having no idea why this is happening.

MCALLEN, TX – JUNE 12: A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

We’re number one at putting them in overcrowded cages.

We’re number one in putting them in outdoor tent cities where the daytime temperatures reach 100 degrees.

We’re number one at telling a parent who is in custody that his or child is “taking a bath,” only to find the child has been taken to some unknown facility  1000 miles away.

How do I know this? Because I can’t think of any other country doing this!  I did a Google search. There was a country that did this and it didn’t end well for the country — or the children.

Germany 1933

It’s pretty much common consensus that our internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War 2 was the lowest point in our history — discounting slavery, of course. That would be lower. 

This horrific excuse for an administration says they are just enforcing the law. Except there is no law that says you have to rip a baby from his mother while she’s breastfeeding!

Our Chump-in-Chief says: “It’s the Democrat’s fault!”

Wow, I didn’t see that coming.

The Director of Homeland Security says there is no policy of separating children from their parents and they’re not doing it.


I watched her say it on TV next to another screen showing kids being separated from parents and being put in detention camps. 

The California top court ordered the Trump administration to get those families back together by the end of this month — July 27th. Anyone giving odds on this really happening? 


The administration has basically admitted that they are doing this as a bargaining chip for getting that stupid fucking wall. Ponder that for a second.

One man was so distraught over losing his kid he hung himself while in detention. Pity about that. Give Trump his wall and maybe this can all go away.  If there is a devil, he’s sitting in hell going WTF? Dudes, dial it back a bit! This is over the top for anyone with half a conscience.

There’s a difference between patriotism and nationalism.

A nationalist says “My Country, right or wrong. Love it or leave it.” They think our country is like a sports team you support no matter how badly they are doing.

A patriot says “I love our country but when our government is doing something wrong, we point it out and you are obliged to fix it. We’re not perfect. We can do better.

My country right or wrong? Here’s the full quote.

Our country is not a sports team. We love to say that we are a nation of laws. Great. But shouldn’t we also be a nation of human beings? A nation of compassionate people with some modicum of decency?

We’re a nation of immigrants.

We all came from somewhere else. Except for Native Americans. If you want to get really technical, even they walked here from a land bridge from Russia around 50,000 years ago, so they’re immigrants too.

One of the most important icons of this country is the Statue of Liberty.  The plaque on it has the famous words “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

It should be changed now to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’ll rip your kids away from you and huddle them into overcrowded detention centers.”

Something to think about as the end of the month approaches and the big day of the reunification of immigrant children and their parents is on the schedule. 

I’ve made a point of trying to find some sliver of humor in any of the blogs I write. I have to admit I got nothing on this one. I even teared up a few times while I wrote it. So I’ll try to end with a joke.

How many Trump administration people does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer? 20,010. One to change the bulb, three to blame the bulbs failure on the Democrats, three to blame it on Hilary and Obama, three to say the bulb didn’t need to be changed in the first place, and 20,000 ICE employees to commit horrific acts of child abuse. 

Oh well, at least I tried.