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June 2007

A Dog's Life

30dogs2190 There's been a lot written about the two Americas - the poor, disenfranchised America and the wealthy, entitled America. A story in today's New York Times, "For Poor Families, an Added Burden of Too Many Pets," brought this into a new focus. Families, mostly poor and living in the Appalachian Mountains, are taking in abandoned dogs that they can not afford to vaccinate, neuter, and sometimes feed. "I'd do without food myself before they do," said Phillip Swetman, the owner of 13 dogs. He got most of them through dog "drive-bys" - folks who throw dogs into ditches, that would likely die unless someone took them in.

The story went onto to describe a project by the Humane Society that sends volunteer veterinarians and students into poor areas to sterilize and treat pets. The program is overwhelmed with demand.

Pampereddog I can't help but contrast this with many of Westchester's pampered pets. Don't get me wrong - I have two cats that I adore, and they get Iams cat food which is a little more expensive than most. But now there is pet couture - you can buy your animal a polo shirt or a tankini. Companies sell crystal-encrusted leashes. One company, called "Sexy Beast" is billed as a "luxury canine care brand" and sells cleansers and powders with ingredients like chamomile and rosemary to freshen your pet's coat and skin.

The poverty in America is heartbreaking, and when you see the discrepancy between rich and poor played out in the pet world, it's a telling symbol of how disgraceful things in this country have become.


Summer Food

Hamburger I may have found my big career break. If I win the 2007 Sutter Home Build a Better Burger National Recipe Contest and Cook-Off, I could be $50,000 richer. Recently I've come across recipes for "Andouille and Beef Burgers with Spicy Mayo and Caramelized Onions" and "Mushroom-Stuffed Pork Burgers." The only problem is that these sound pretty disgusting. I have always believed the best hamburger recipe is as follows: take a package of 87% lean beef. (85% is ok; 90% will produce too dry a burger.) Form into shape of patties. Grill. After that, knock yourself out with cheese, tomatoes, onions or whatever toppings you like. But don't mess with the burger. I have a feeling mine would not be the winning recipe.

Lobsteroll In other food news, we were up in Maine last week. I had my best lobster roll ever. Delicious fresh lobster meat held together with a minimum of mayonnaise, served on a toasted, buttered hot dog bun. Add potato chips on the side and serve on a deck. Perfection.

I also came across an intriguing new ice cream flavor, at least it wasIcecream new to me. It was Grapenut Ice Cream. Sure enough it was packed with the breakfast cereal nuggets, all folded into a vanilla-based ice cream that had more of a frozen yogurt taste then anything. I loved it. Does anyone know about this flavor?


Fate Song

Radio Does anyone else out there play "Fate Song"? Fate song is a game that comes in handy when you are in a conundrum about something in your life. Is this true love? Will the diagnosis be good or bad? Will I get the job?

You get the idea. As faithful readers know, this hasn't been a spectacular work week. (Oh Lord, I just realized it's only Tuesday. That doesn't bode at all well.) Feeling very beleaguered, and making an early morning run to the tailor to pick up the pants to the new suit that my daughter needed for today's job interview (yes, she could have gotten them herself but I wanted to help), I decided to play Fate Song about my career.

How will things work out work-wise, I asked the radio Gods. I was answered with the song "Oooo Child,"Music as in "Ooo Child, things are gonna get easier, Ooo Child, things will be brighter." I think it's by the Five Stair Steps, but don't quote me on that. I would have been encouraged, except that the song has a really mournful tune, making me speculate that things will get easier and brighter because I will have no job at all.

In other news, my daughter's interview went well and now they want her references. There's a country song called "Working Girl Blues" - a whole long of twangin' and complainin'. I'm hopeful and confident that will NOT be her fate song, but she'll have to play the game herself to find out.


Work Troubles

Work You know how I've been all happy about my daughter's job search and my son's summer job? Remind me why. I have had the work day from hell. It's a big Internet world out there, so I'll have to keep it cryptic. As some of you know, I work for a certain newspaper. This newspaper employs many editors. It would be nice if they spoke to each other occasionally, on such subjects as, "I assigned Kate this topic for a column, ok?" And then the other, higher-ranking editor would say, "That sounds swell." Or, "No, have her write on something else."

A system like this would preclude having finished columns, complete with photo assignments made, be killed at the last minute. It would prevent those things from happening twice in one week. It would keep a certain columnist sane and happy.

But never mind - tomorrow my daughter goes for her in-person interview for her potential new job. Whether she gets this position or not, over time she will work for good bosses and difficult ones, have days where she feels on top of the world and days where she worries that she will soon be fired. I wish I could protect her from all this, but alas, it seems to go with the territory. Even if you do have a great looking suit from Banana Republic.


A New Frontier

Interview_2 Things continue at a rapid pace around here, and the family has logged another first. Today my daughter had her first real job interview. (She has had several jobs - in an ice cream store, in a deli, an internship - but this is the first application for a permanent, after college real job.)

It was not an in person interview- hopefully that will follow. It was a telephone interview with two senior members of the firm. Evidently they had liked the resume and cover letter she had sent, and were following up.  My daughter was pretty nervous and prepared for hours for what would turn out to be a 20 minute chat. But it seemed to have gone well. The next step - she is to send a writing sample. (It's a writing job.) If she clears that hurtle, she will have an interview in the office.

It's all very exciting. Yesterday she/we bought her first suit. She feared she would "look like a 40 year old man" in a business suit, but - thanks to Banana Republic - she looks very elegant and grown up, and ready to present herself to the working world.

Meanwhile tomorrow we drive the Boy up to his summer job in Maine. Could it be that both of my children will soon be gainfully employed? Stay tuned for this thrilling development.

The Kate Chronicles will take a brief intermission, as I will have no Internet service up in Maine. Back on Monday. Enjoy these summer days!


Pomp and Circumstance

Graduation_2 The graduation gown is crumpled in the back hall. There is also a graduation cap, which the Boy claims is not actually his. The tent was hot and the ceremony was lovely. It's been an action-packed few weeks around here, with one college graduation, one high school graduation, one senior prom, countless graduation parties, an emergent job search (for the new college graduate), roommate and housing forms (for the entering college freshman) and some mad dash shopping trips, since the boy leaves in three days for his summer job up in Maine, and the girl had no clothes appropriate for interviews.

I can't help but think I'm in some weird backwards nature phenomenon. Instead of theStorm calm before the storm, this is the storm before the calm. Soon enough, the calendar will be pretty open. Soon enough my house will be quiet. Soon enough there will not be mess everywhere. Soon enough these two young adults, who create loads of laundry, go through groceries before they're unpacked, and go out until all hours of the night won't be around any more. 

I bet I'll enjoy the calm. For about a day or two before I start missing the storm in a big way.


Bottoms Up at Applebee's

Margarita I've never been a fan of the Applebee's chain - the food manages to be both bland and nastySippycup at the same time. But I have to rethink my position now, after reading wire reports noting that the restaurant served a toddler a margarita last week.

It seems that Kim Mayorga became a little confused when her two year old started making funny faces as he was drinking the apple juice she had ordered the baby at Applebee's. When Mom opened the sippy cup lid, she was bowled over by the smell of tequila and Triple Sec. It turns out that the restaurant stores the margarita mix and apple juice in identical plastic bottles - thus the mix-up.

The baby, Julian, got drowsy and started vomiting (that happens to me after too many margaritas too) but will be ok. The Antioch, California Applebee's franchise which served him the cocktail will pay for the baby's medical expenses. The restaurant says they are going to change their storage policies to prevent this kind of mix-up again. But maybe it's not too late to order a grape juice and see what arrives at the table.


A Voice From the Past

Letter Our school district has a charming tradition. The kids write letters to themselves in fourth and sixth grades and the letters are held until the week of high school graduation, at which point they are mailed.

Today the Boy got a letter that he wrote to himself when he was nine years old. In it, he wonders if he'll still be friends with Evan and Dan. He is. He also says he is trying to learn from his mistakes and he's going to attempt to stop cursing. He didn't.

The one from sixth grade - sealed in June of 2001 - is especially priceless. When asked if he could have any three people, living or dead, come to dinner, who would they be? His response: "Wayne Gretzky, George Bush (I'd show him!) and Homer Simpson."  Describing what he thought he'd look like in high school, he writes, "I'll hopefully always be wearing a hat! Clothes cool casual. I'd still be funny, eat tons." Dead on prediction.

As to a wish for his future self, he writes, "Dear Self, Don't do anything stupid in the near future." His prediction for the future: "People dying, children crying, same old same old."

The boy was 11 when he wrote this. Right now he is 18 and currently attending his umpteenth graduation  party. Earlier today he had graduation rehearsal. As if I wasn't sentimental enough before these letters came in...


It's A Clown Thing

Clowns Move over Hillary. Martha's marching. Ever since she moved to Chappaqua, Sen. Hillary Clinton has marched in the local Memorial Day parade. But now Martha Stewart is also on the march! Last week, she made an appearance at the annual Katonah Fire Department Parade. But don't get excited, suburbarazzi. It was a faux sighting - it was a Martha Stewart impersonator - and not a very good one, judging by the photos - who joined members of Dugan's Company, which is also known as the Department's clown brigade.

The Martha impersonator walked along side the clowns wearing a mask, a gold lame dress and a Miss America-style banner proclaiming her to be Martha Stewart. She waved a spatula and carried a basket of Mstewart_2 chocolate chip cookies. As a final touch, the impersonator sported a button which read "Katonah," with a red circle around the word and a slash across it - an allusion to Ms. Stewart's legal attempts to copyright the hamlet's name for a line of furniture.

The Katonah Fire Department says it stays non-political and that the Martha impersonator was an interloper.  Fair enough. But Martha is making a lot of enemies in her home town, and when it comes to battling the "Katonah" copy right, opponents aren't just clowning around.


You Think Your Job is Rough?

Sci1105wj_485_2 I've got work on the brain this week, maybe because it's such a busy time of year. Between graduations, prom and various other rites of passage, it's not easy to meet deadlines, let alone come up with new story ideas that don't involve....well, graduations, prom and rites of passage.

But if I ever complain about my job again, please remind me of the following: Popular Science's new list of the Worst Jobs in Science. Just to give you some perspective here, number 10 is the Orangutan Pee Collector. Yes, this hapless scientist and her colleagues are deep in Borneo, stretching out plastic sheets under tree-swinging apes to catch their urine. (The orangutans are threatened by rampant illegal logging, and the scientists, who do get pee-ed on, are measuring their urine for stress levels and more.)

Also among the top 10 - "Semen Washer" (warning to young ones looking for work - this job is sometimes posted as "lab technician") and "Manure Inspector". As to the latter, scientists are studying ways to reduce E. coli.

And give Popular Science credit for a healthy sense of humor - they also list "Kansas Biology Teacher," noting the position is on "the front lines of science's devolution" because state law requires them to teach "Intelligent Design" in lieu of evolution.


Working Hard May Be Against Your Religion

Pope OK - it's been proclaimed from on high. You shouldn't work too hard. According to Pope Benedict XVI, too much stress and hard work is bad for the spirit. At a recent public appearance, the Pope quoted from the writings of Saint Bernard on the subject of overwork. Benedict quotes the Saint as advising fellow pontiffs to "watch out for the dangers of an excessive activity, whatever..the job that you hold, because many jobs often lead to the 'hardening of the heart,' as well as 'suffering of the spirit, loss of intelligence.'"

Gracious - that writing was from the 12th century, so Saint Bernard wasn't even dealing with blackberries, instant messaging, call waiting or email. I'm sure life in the 1100s had it's own stresses and any historians out there are welcome to fill me in. Meanwhile, I'm not Catholic, but since the weather is so gorgeous today, I may follow just this one teaching.


S'Mores in the S'Burbs

Smore Come on - what is more delicious than S'mores? You probably rememberMarshmallowsongrill them from your camp days. The recipe is simple: Take half a graham cracker. Place a few squares of Hershey's chocolate on it. Roast marshmallow. Place warm, gooey marshmallow on chocolate squares. Top with the other half of the graham cracker. (This will allow the chocolate to melt.) Smoosh  and eat promptly.

We have a fire pit at home, so we could roast the marshmallows in the backyard.

Salmondinner Dessert was proceeded by a healthy dinner - salmon, rice and sugar snap peas, stir-fried in ginger and oil. It was good, but not as good as those s'mores.


Needles and Pins

Accupuncture Does anyone remember the song "Needles and Pins" by the Searchers? I think it was about the pain of love. In any case, that song came to mind this afternoon, as I lay on a table with needles stuck in my neck and shoulders. It wasn't the pain of love that drove me to it - it was the pain of muscle spasms.

Usually, I'm a Western medicine kind of gal, but I am a complete convert when it comes to acupuncture for  muscle problems, particularly the exercise-induced kind. I had back problems for ages - two rounds of acupuncture - cured. This morning, I couldn't turn my head too far to the left. This evening, after 20 minutes of needles stuck in and around the affected area - back to full range of motion. I don't know how it works. I don't know why it works. I just know that it does work. And I'm sticking with it.


ABC Degree

Nurseryschoolgrad Today I went out to lunch at a nice restaurant - a bit of a special treat, since I usually have a sandwich at my desk. When I walked into this fairly upscale establishment I was surprised to find the place overrun with shrieking toddlers and their parents.

I went outside to wait for my friend and escape the din, but soon a whining child of about three and her mother came out next to me. I asked the Mom what was going on, and she informed me that it was a nursery school graduation celebration.

Huh? Nursery School Graduation? I'm delighted they all have mastered the rigorous curriculum and all, but a luncheon at a fancy place? At that age, my kids had experienced the special treat of going to McDonald's a handful of times. And all I remember about the end of pre-school was my son getting a hug from his teacher. (In this day and age, the teachers are probably not allowed to do that anymore.)

Anyway, I can only hope that none of the little ones ordered the lobster wrap. It was absolutely delicious, but it did cost $17 and I'm guessing the pesto mayonnaise may have been lost on their young palates.


Smoothing Your Brow

Botox2_2 Never say never. But at this point I can't imagine getting injections of Botulinum Toxin, a.k.a Botox, in my face. It's not that I don't have wrinkles around my eyes or forehead. And it's not a stand against vanity - ask my hairdresser or the folks at the gym how much I'm willing to pay to battle the onset of time. But there is just something - I don't know - gross and scary about injecting toxins that paralyze the muscles in your face.

Each to his own, and all that, but I was struck today by a Botox magazine advertisement, with the following banner: "It's all about freedom of expression...ask your doctor about BOTOX Cosmetic."

Below runs three photographs of a woman who, believe me, has no freedom of expression. That is, there is a huge disconnect between the top of her face - above the bridge of her nose everything is absolutely smooth, like it's been ironed with maximum strength starch - and the bottom half, which is spread into huge,  you-know-what eating grin.

Botox1 On the next page, there follows an advertisement for Juvederm, brought to you from the creators of Botox, which is described as "a smooth injectable gel your doctor uses to instantly smooth out those parentheses lines on the side of your nose and mouth." And I thought I knew everything there was about grammar! And what is the grab line for this product? "So smooth and natural, everyone will notice but no one will know."

Whoever is writing this ad copy may have taken a needle of this stuff a  little too close to the frontal lobe.


A High School Drama Over Artistic Freedom

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Emili Feigelson and Adam Becker in "The Laramie Project."

By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: June 3, 2007
Pleasantville

EARLIER this spring, just about the time when John Jay High School in Cross River was making headlines for banning the use of the word “vagina” in a reading of “The Vagina Monologues,” a group of students at Sleepy Hollow High School approached the administration about putting on “The Laramie Project.”

“The Laramie Project” is a play that explores the killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, who was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie. After Mr. Shepard’s death, members of the Tectonic Theater Project, a group based in New York, traveled to Laramie and interviewed more than 200 people. The edited interviews, as well as the trial testimony of the two men convicted of Mr. Shepard’s murder, were distilled into the script.

Students from Sleepy Hollow High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance considered the play’s message powerful and wanted to stage a production. But high schools are not independent theaters, and the students soon found themselves negotiating with the principal about the use of profanity in the play.

To the students, it was a question of censorship. “It was agony,” said Emili Feigelson, 17, co-president of the alliance. “The play is taken from interviews, and we were very worried about maintaining the play’s artistic integrity.”

To the administration, it was simply school policy. The play was reviewed using the same standards applied to any other school event.

“We have a code of conduct, and it specifies language guidelines,” said Howard W. Smith, superintendent of the Tarrytown schools. “It’s ironic that given the subject matter, the subject matter itself was never controversial. It was just the language. We are a school, and there are generally accepted standards.”

Conflicts between high school regulations and free speech are not uncommon, and some disputes have reached the Supreme Court, which has generally ruled in favor of the school’s right to regulate speech. In the 1980s, the court upheld the authority of school officials to ban vulgar or offensive student speech and to control the content of school newspapers.

In March, the justices heard another free-speech school case, this one involving a student in Alaska who unfurled a banner with the inscription “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” at an off-campus event attended by students. The principal demanded that the student take the banner down. The student refused and was suspended for 10 days. (The court has not yet ruled on the case.)

Things never reached that point in Sleepy Hollow. Instead, students worked with a teacher to come up with an edited version of “The Laramie Project.”

“We decided the message was more important than keeping in the words, so we edited it and the principal approved it,” Emili said.

While they were in the midst of trying to find a school site for the production — the high school auditorium is under construction — a staff member at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville heard about the students’ efforts. The center was presenting its “Out at the Movies” lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film series, so it seemed fitting to offer the theater for a reading, said Kathryn Bonomi, a film programmer there. Ms. Bonomi also invited a cast member from the Tectonic Theater Project to work with the students.

The students presented their reading at the film center on May 23, in a production that was not formally affiliated with the school. Still, the audience was filled with Sleepy Hollow students and parents. Dr. Smith also came to see the show. Afterward, the eight performers, not all of whom are in the Gay-Straight Alliance, talked about their experience.

“It’s the only thing besides ‘Saving Private Ryan’ that made me cry,” said Anthony Hinds, a 17-year-old junior. “It opened up how much homophobia was in our schools. All of the sudden a filter was taken out of my mind. Now, when my friends say, ‘Oh, that’s so gay,’ I say, ‘Listen to what you’re saying. I know you’re not homophobic, so why would you say that?’ ”

Lucie Steiner, 17, a senior and the co-president of the alliance, said: “It forces you to learn about people and relate to people you don’t want to relate to. In the script, you see people as monsters saying things that your friends say every day.”

Sleepy Hollow High School students aren’t the first in Westchester to tackle “The Laramie Project.” Rye Country Day, Harrison, Croton-Harmon, Ossining, Pelham and John Jay high schools have all staged productions.

The students were tentatively scheduled to read the edited version of the play at the W. L. Morse School, a Sleepy Hollow elementary school, on Thursday. Many were still unhappy about the editing.

“It’s dangerous to be safe,” Lucie said. “The purpose of high school is to educate kids on things that matter, and this absolutely matters.”


Slow Down....

722879712206_0_sm On Saturday, I was walking through town, when I overheard a young Mom nervously talking to another woman about that morning's fourth grade travel soccer try-outs. I smiled inwardly and continued with my errands. But I felt a pang, too. Because the next day I was attending my son's high school  Senior Athlete Awards Dinner, where he and his varsity team mates would be briefly up on stage with their coach, collecting yet another plaque, while we witnessed one more "last time" ceremony.

I've written before about graduating as a soccer Mom. But now time seems to be stuck976289712206_0_sm_2 in the fast-forward mode, and - parallel to my son -  I feel like I'm  graduating from this life I've been living for the last 20 years. Our family's days seem to be punctuated with graduation parties and "goodbye" events - senior class barbecues, senior awards ceremonies, senior beach days and more.

Meanwhile, this huge folder of papers arrived from the college that the Boy will attend next year. It has been sitting in our family room for longer than I care to admit, and this morning my husband and I finally started to read through it. There are the requisite housing forms and medical forms and the like. They'll all get filled out within the next two weeks and the Boy will soon start his college journey.

The problem is, I can remember those fourth grade soccer try-outs ridiculously well. And why not? They were just last week, weren't they?


Mind Boggling

Solitaire_2 I used to be addicted to computer solitaire. I wasted many happy hours dragging and clicking images of playing cards across the screen. Although I played against the clock,  I found it to be strangely soothing. It empties your mind and sets you up into a kind of Zen state. I never loaded solitaire onto my computer, because I knew I would never get any work done. Instead, I played on The Boy's machine, much to his occasional annoyance. ("Just one more game, I swear, just one more....")

Eventually, solitaire lost it's charm, but I've fallen pray to two new games which appeal to the wordmeister in me in a big way. One is online Boggle. Boggle gives you a little 4 x 4 grid of letters and you have three minutes to form as many words as possible out of the letters. (There are rules of course - you can't skip letters, you can't reuse letters - that kind of thing.) In the online version, you compete against other people, and I found myself cursing strangers who dominate the top standings and have names like "PrincessAnne"  and "BoredMum."

Boggle_3 My boggling got out of hand for awhile but I've reeled it back in. Sadly, though, I've discovered online Words In A Word. This game, also played against a three minute clock and against other competitors, shows a word on the screen, and the challenge is to form as many words from those letters as possible. It's really hard, because the words you form must be a minimum of five letters. Right now, Words In A Word is being dominated by someone named "Hellgrrrrl", but BloggerMom - that's my online game moniker - has Hellgrrrl clearly in her sights.


Not Your Mom's Prom

Generations
Gen190

By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: May 27, 2007
I KEEP coming across advertisements that assure teenagers that this is “Not Your Mother’s Prom.” One designer promises that her sexy gowns are “definitely not the prom dress that your mother wore back in the 60s or 70s.” A florist featuring corsages studded with gems and orchids sprinkled with glitter insists “these are definitely not your mother’s prom flowers.” The stretch Hummers as the transport of choice? You guessed it — not your mom’s limo.

I find these advertisements amusing — not for the incredible materialistic excess, but for the presumptions about the proms of this generation’s parents. Most parents of high school seniors are Baby Boomers, and if you grew up in the tristate region, to say that proms were no big deal is a gross understatement. Proms, like any other event organized by adults, were decidedly uncool. I went to high school in the 1970s, and it was a disillusioning time to be a teenager. During that decade, the Vietnam War ended; the chaotic airlift off the roofs of Saigon was our iconic image. The president resigned. The Beatles broke up.

We were a somewhat sour bunch. We weren’t exactly zipping around carefree in our cars (forget S.U.V.s, which were then called trucks) — there was gas rationing. In New York, we lined up at the pumps on different days, depending on whether our license plates ended in an odd or even number.

Clothes were awful — people wore everything from hot pants to leisure suits. I wore a mood ring and wavered between two looks — miniskirts and granny gowns. We girls didn’t wear any makeup and there was only one acceptable hairstyle — parted down the middle and worn long. (This was true for boys and girls, who, my daughter claims, are indistinguishable in my high school yearbook.)

It was not a milieu that encouraged enthusiasm for a formal school dance. Most of my friends disdained the prom and didn’t go. It seemed to us like a hangover from the 1950s. I almost went to my prom. I had a date — my laconic boyfriend. He arrived at my house in a button-down shirt, but he did not own a jacket. The idea of renting a tuxedo never even came up. We rummaged through my older brother’s closet for something suitable for my date to wear. Pre-prom pictures? My parents were not even home.

We got as far as the door of the club where the prom was being held, which I think was in New Rochelle. Then my date turned to me and said, “This looks like a drag.” I agreed. We left. The rest of the evening does not warrant further reminiscing.

The next morning we drove to Jones Beach. For some reason that I can’t remember, I was driving my boyfriend’s parents’ Volkswagen bug, which always smelled of burning oil. Also mysterious in retrospect is why I chose to drive barefoot on the Long Island Expressway. Or why I had no money whatsoever (forget the boyfriend — he was always broke) so that when we got to a tollbooth, I had to get out of the car and beg money from the driver in the car behind me.

Well, teenagers are known for their poor judgment and idiotic behavior, and now that I’m a parent I know this better than ever. I’m also a veteran prom mom. My daughter went to a prom in her junior and senior years in high school, and my son will soon be attending his senior prom.

The prom has now become a huge deal — a wildly expensive multiday event, with preprom parties and postprom vacation rentals. Today’s parents are intimately involved in planning the whole thing. They send fancy invitations to the elaborate preprom parties they give. They invite fellow parents to planning meetings. Some compare safety records of limo companies. Others rent houses down the street from where their kids are staying, with the idea that this constitutes supervision. Still others draft agreements for teenagers to sign about the rules and responsibilities for the prom weekend.

In the middle of all this, some girls spend weeks on preparations and make appointments for professional hairstyles, manicures and pedicures and makeup applications. (My daughter did her own hair and nails, but there was a meltdown over shoes.) I’m less sure about the boys — it seems that they just rent a tux, take a shower and shell out for the tickets, but I may be missing something. Teenage boys don’t talk much.

It’s the parents’ role in all this that surprises me. We seem to be madly ambivalent about our children’s prom. First, we fork out ridiculous sums of money to enable the whole thing. Then we agonize over potential alcohol poisoning and drug abuse. We sign rental agreements for beach houses, and then wring our hands over liability. After being hyperinvolved, parents then worry excessively. At preprom parties we gather around our daughters and sons like paparazzi, snapping photographs and taking videos. Eventually they are whisked away for their big night. “Have fun!” we call after them. “Keep your cellphone on so we can reach you!”

I’m not sure where all this is coming from. Are we living vicariously through our kids, providing them with the prom we never had? I don’t think so. To this day, none of this holds any appeal for me. You could argue that the cultural pendulum has simply swung back, and our kids are growing up in a culture that celebrates Paris Hilton’s partying. Maybe parents today remember how clueless their own parents were, and want to do better.

But the notion of coddled kids sneaking flasks into their expensive clothes is not one that reflects well on this generation of parents. Then again, the image of a disdainful teenager, too cool to do anything but burn the bottom of her feet on the Long Island Expressway, is not a pretty one either.


Stanford U or Bust

Stanford_2 It's not easy to get accepted into Stanford University. It's also not easy for high school students to deal with high-pressure parents who expect maximum performance, bragging rights and a prestigious college decal to slap on the back of their vehicle.

All of which might account for the saga of Azia Kim. Evidently the 18 year old couldn't bring herself to tell her parents she had been rejected from Stanford. Instead, she had them drop her off for freshman orientation, and then spent the last year posing as a student on the Palo Alto campus, squatting in a dorm room, sneaking into the cafeteria and even going so far as to buy text books. She had friends and went to study groups, though not classes. How did she explain the lack of tuition bills to her parents? She just told them she had received a full scholarship.

The incident has been a huge embarrassment to the University. Needless to say, their security systems are under some well-deserved criticism.

Stanford2 Obviously I have no idea about the mental state of this young woman. The online chatter on the school newspaper ranges from condemnation to sympathy. One student writes that she knows of a girl who is doing precisely the same thing at Harvard.

When I was visiting my sister this spring (who works at Stanford and couldn't/wouldn't talk to me about this incident under instructions from the administration), we went to see the movie "The Hoax." The movie is about the author and con man Clifford Irving, who claimed to be writing an authorized biography of Howard Hughes. He had never even met the man.

If Azia Kim has any literary skill - or a good agent gets to her soon - she may have her own story to sell. But I hope she gets some help soon too.