Friday, January 04, 2008

2007 Reflection

So 2007 is behind us.

As I examine the sum of the deeds and events of the year for our family, I feel it was a great year.

Each of us blossomed in unique ways this year.

Desiree (my youngest daughter) grew both emotionally and physically this year. She has become one of the most conscientious children I have ever known. Her empathy and her understanding of others is remarkable. For a child who just celebrated her tenth birthday last month, she exemplifies an emotional strength and an understanding of others, that many of us “adults” have never attained (including myself).

Academically she still struggles in some areas, but even this, she takes in stride. She became excited when told she required additional work in the morning to get up to speed in mathematics. She met the challenge with genuine enthusiasm. Her math skills are blossoming quickly as a result. She’s a giver, a true and genuine giver, and she likes to work hard when given the chance. She’ll also go out of her way to comfort, or aid others around her.

I worry of course, this means her childhood is being rushed too quickly, that she is taking on adult ideals and adult emotions at too young an age. However, my wife points out to me all the time, how much “little girl” there is in her still. This is obvious in her favorite games and toys, the way she interacts with other children, and even the way she decorates her own bedroom.

My favorite moment with Desiree this year is hard to isolate because there were so many. However, one that stands out immediately is one that is fresh in my mind. Recently Desiree had to write an essay over the holidays for her school. She was told to essentially write an editorial about something she was “passionate” about.

She wrote an essay about a television commercial of all things. In fact, she discussed a commercial for a popular children’s cereal. She compared the commercial that airs now, to the commercial that used to air a few years ago. She drew a comparison of the two, and criticized the new campaign. She accurately described the marketing’s focus, and then cleverly deduced how and why the advert had changed, and then expressed strong opinion on why the change had deteriorated the overall strength of the ad.

It was a brilliant analysis of how mass-media markets to young children like herself. She saw through the ad’s gimmicky fa├žade, and then extrapolated her own view.

This is, in my opinion, a clever expression of thought. It required her to view media that was attempting to manipulate her emotionally, compare it to media she had digested before, and then draw independent conclusions. It was independent thought, with an editorial viewpoint. It was strong analysis, and it was entirely her own creation.

Reading this essay, it made me proud that her mind was so open, so capable of combining her emotions with objective analysis to produce a fabulous essay about how television ads attempt to market to children her own age.

Chantal (me eldest daughter) also blossomed this year. She is beginning to show the early signs of teenage life. This means her emotions are becoming more complex, and her reactions to the outside world aren’t as “pretty and perfect” as they used to be. Indeed, she’s begun to experiment with cynicism, and even at times outright rebellion, surely a precursor of what is to come as moves into her teenage phase of life.

I could consider this advancement a loss, as she wiggles out of her childhood cocoon and sheds some of her innocence along the way. However, I don’t see this as regression, or loss. I see this as growth, and I have to admit, as a spectator it is fascinating to watch her find her voice, and her sense of self.

Chantal is very much an individualist. She does not dress like her school mates do, she develops her own eclectic style, one that is unique and all her own. She is famous for trying out unique clothing combinations, accessorizing her appearance in unique ways, and sometimes even “crafting” her own clothes and symbols that she uses to establish her own identity.

I worry at times, that she will suffer socially because of this. Middle school rewards conformity, and indeed it is really the first place where conformity is introduced as a means to social acceptance. Chantal, for better or for worse, has rejected it outright, and has accepted the consequences in return. She is even proud of her decision, and is self-aware she has decided to be this way.

There are many moments that I enjoyed with Chantal this year. She blossomed academically, in a year where there was a lot of pressure on her to improve. She moved to a stricter and more demanding school, and she not only survived, she thrived, bringing home impressive grades and praise from her teachers. This is quite an achievement given some of the challenges Chantal faced in her early development.

However, for me, the proudest moment I had with Chantal was when she was faced with an awful field trip, shortly after the school year began. I can’t imagine the stress of the situation. She was brought to a new school, and all her old friends were no longer in the same class. Everyone in her class was new, and unfamiliar. The teachers were new and unfamiliar, and the school itself was vast and crowded compared to where she had gone to school before.

It was the first year of middle school, and every kid (and even some of the teachers), were stressed out about this new phase in their lives.

To alleviate the stress all the children were feeling at the school year, the teachers took the children on a field trip. Alas, for Chantal, the selection of where to go on their field trip instantly became an issue.

The school had decided to take the children to a live production of “High School Musical”, a Disney television show that is geared to the pre-teen crowd. It is, as you can expect, highly sanitized, and polished into a television product that threatens nobody, says as little as possible, but provides a lot of glamour, pretty boys, pretty girls and sugary music along the way.

Chantal despises the show.

She considers the show beneath her. She can’t stand the clothes they wear; she particularly dislikes how the girls in the show are submissive and seem to obsess about boys and shopping. She even once compared the women on the show to “Barbie” and claimed the show was too “fake” for her to enjoy.

These were her own assessments of the show, in fact, my wife and I had never seen the television program, so her exposure to the show, and her decision to dislike her came all from her.

When the field trip was announced, she made her vehement disapproval of the show known to her class.

She was immediately ostracized and even somewhat vilified for opinion. Many other girls in the class “loved” that show, and it is of course, one of the most popular shows for young girls on television right now. Chantal knew this, and yet she expressed her dissatisfaction with both the show and the field-trip to see a live version of the show.

She came home very disillusioned that day. She was unaware, that going against the grain in a social situation can yield some very nasty backlash. Some of her classmates teased her, even her own teacher seemed unsympathetic to her protests.

When she came home, we had a long talk about it. She expressed beautifully why she felt the field-trip was inappropriate.

“Why not a trip to the art museum?” she asked. “How about a science museum or a trip to a place that celebrated the natural beauty of the northwest?” she wondered. “Why on Earth would you participate in an academic event that was essentially sponsored by Disney?”

I was worried she was becoming an elitist, someone who couldn’t shrug off her concerns and just have fun with a situation. However, her own expression of dismay over the choice was just far too eloquent to deny. She had a point, why was the school rallying around a television show?

As the discussion progressed, she began to protest the fact she had to go. She basically felt, since she thought the trip was a waste of time, she didn’t have to go. For better or for worse, I explained to her that this was her new school, her new class, and even though she did not like the show, she had duties as a student, and just like a regular class she was compelled to attend the event.

She was very disappointed in my decision. Still, she listened to my reasoning, and even listened to my concerns that while she was perfectly entitled to her opinion about the field trip, and in fact, I even admired it - her point of view did not make her “better” than the other kids that did enjoy the show.

On her own, she then deduced, that if her classmates were willing to accept her, for how she feels, for how she dresses, she must in-turn accept them for their differences.

I thought it was a fantastic insight into how society requires tolerance. I also thought it was good of her to attend the field trip with a stiff upper-lip.

She came home the day after the field trip, even more vindicated about her opinion of the show. She pointed out several instances of the show she found offensive. She argued quite strongly that the show was sexist. I have no idea if her opinion is right or wrong, in fact, I do not even care if it is, I just admire that she came to this opinion on her own, of her own free will.

She was proud of the fact though that she attended the field trip without antagonizing those classmates who loved the spectacle. Her own teacher even commented that Chantal behaved extremely well, and while she was clearly unhappy with the show, never showed any sign of “sour grapes” or offered any condescending remarks about the show or her classmates.

She instead went to the event gracefully, and then came home and expressed what it was about the event that she did not like. She stuck to her guns, she didn’t cave into the majority opinion, but neither did she wield a superior attitude about her own point of view either. That is a highly complex reaction to a rather stressful social situation. I thought it showed great maturity, and I will always remember her and admire her for how she handled that situation.

There are so many other proud moments of 2007 for me, too many to catalog here. Overall though, I have to say, it was a good year.

It was not a perfect year, there are moments of 2007 I’d love to forget, moments that made me sad, or disappointed me. Those moments were rare though. For the most part 2007 was one of my fondest years ever.

I hope 2008 provides just as much joy and wonder…

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