Attack of the Phantom Stress: Welcome to The Real World

I graduated. It’s been fun. It’s been real. No, wait, not that…that comes with joining The Real World. And along with graduation comes a host of unsettling events they don’t tell you about when you sign up to pay your entire life savings…or at least the one you would have made in the future…

Things They Don’t Tell You About The Real World:

Attack of the phantom stress. You are dozing in the early morning. It is peaceful. You are dreaming of golden afternoons, lemonade, and the birds chirping through the open window. Suddenly your dream takes a nasty turn. You are struck by a vague but very insistent feeling that Something is not right Something is not right Something is wrong. You wake up, sweating, heart pounding, wrapped in sheets, reaching desperately for an alarm clock that isn’t there, shouting, “What day is it? What’s due today? How much did I oversleep? Where are my pants?” Then, as you come to, out of your groggy sleep-induced panic, you realize several things.

1. There is no homework due today, because

2. It is Sunday, and

3. You have graduated.

You lie on your back wide awake, staring at the alarm clock you finally found, watching it blink  7:02.    7:02.    7:02.   You do this for several hours while the adrenaline, which served you so well when going deep-sleep-to-shower in 4 seconds flat on a school morning, has a party in your veins.

Housing deposits. The school who has taken so much of your time, your young adulthood, your sweat, your tears, your desperate pleas for mercy and assignment extensions and better grades than you deserve, and most of all has taken your money, oho yes has it taken your money!—this same school has the gall to deliver an envelope to your high school self’s old home address. It is a check, addressed to you. It is the original housing deposit you paid four years ago when you were youthful, carefree, and starry-eyed with the future. It is worth less than 1% of the loans you took out to pay for your education. You open the envelope and laugh hysterically for five minutes, then use it to pay a quarter of the rent.

Laundry. It’s always awkward. You move out of the dorms where you have been living as an admittedly lame senior in college. Along with the bright and hopeful views in The Real World, you’ve been hoping for a new setting for washing clothes. Alas. Your apartment building, where you are living as a capable, confident, independent adult (read: staying up way too late watching Youtube videos because you can), has a laundry room. Which means you can still pay too much to be able to wave your underwear around in front of everyone!

Citing your sources: an exercise in futility. In academia, if you don’t cite your sources, you get points off. In the Real World, the bleary-eyed intern (yes, that’s you) spends hours on the internet wasteland, fact-checking obscure author claims about heart failure and stress, using websites that are somehow both free and scholarly. Like you don’t already know these answers first hand…

Some things never change, I guess. Hooray to the graduates!

The Real World: it’s not as different as we thought.

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Book of the Week: Ida B (and her plans for the world)

When I’m sorting through library books I’ve never heard of, and may or may not want to read, I usually make decisions based on one of three things:

1) Cover, front and back. (I’ll be as judgy as I want, thank you very much.)

2) Thickness of book. (And if the book is thick, will I feel smart by checking it out, or –deep down– will I know I’m just an incompetent phony?)

3) First four pages of book. (That’s all you get. I have a short library-previewing attention span.)

My latest greatest book passed all three tests, and it’s called Ida B. …and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World. Who wouldn’t want to read a book like that? From the back of the book:

This is what I have for lunch every single day: peanut butter on one slice of bread, milk, and an apple, preferably a McIntosh because they’re tangy with a thin skin, which Daddy says resembles me at times.

“Don’t you want to try something different, Ida B?” Daddy will say.

Well, by lunchtime I’m wide awake and I’ve already been busy doing my chores and learning and having some fun. I’ve got a list of things that I can’t wait to do in the afternoon, my head is filled to the rim with interesting ideas and plans, and that’s exactly how I want it to stay.

“There are too many things to think about in this world besides what I’m going to have for lunch, Daddy,” I say, and he looks at me like I am a true mystery.

Ida B Applewood swoops her readers into her world, where everything is exciting and interesting and half the fun of doing things is making plans for them first. She’s imaginative, insightful, and very serious about having fun. She makes stick rafts and sends them down her creek with notes asking people to write back and answer the important questions–“If this raft reaches the ocean, will you please let us know? Thank you very much.” And includes her address. She gets tired of washing her face so she tries leaving the soap on permanently. Every one of the apple trees in her orchard has a name and a personality.

I like this girl.

But then, things happen in Ida B’s life that she could not have planned for. Her family starts going through some hard times, and Ida has to go to public school, which she hates. Her parents make decisions about her life that feel an awful lot like betrayal. These problems are waaay too big for Ida to plan for. Ida B’s only solution is to make her heart small, and hard, and black. And getting back to having fun and saving the world is going to be tough to do.

I loved this book (by Katherine Hannigan) because Ida B is so real, so good at telling us about problems from a kid’s point of view. It’s so easy for me to say, But Ida B, it’s gonna be okay–but when I was Ida B’s size, her problems would  have looked absolutely huge to me. Who knows if it’s really gonna be okay?

You’ll just have to read it yourself.

Should We Pay Kids To Read?

Not everyone is a reader.  Some people devour all printed text like there will be a publishing famine. Others struggle with reading or just don’t care for it.  You hear of all kinds of rewards systems to get kids to read, but I always wonder–do they really work?

Image courtesy of

The one they had when I was in school was the BOOK IT! Pizza Hut program, where if our whole class met our reading goal, Pizza Hut would sponsor a pizza party!  But then Pizza Hut got smart and realized LOTS more kids could read than they had estimated, so it was cancelled. My teacher had pity on us and held a potluck.

Another example of rewards for reading is my friend’s family–one summer her parents decided to pay their kids a dollar for every book they read.  The next summer, they had to pay the kids not to read.  Success!

But, while I was in the BOOK IT! program, my parents weren’t too excited about it.  They thought if I only read for rewards, then–whoops!–no rewards, no reading! Little did they know; I’m an addict for life.  But maybe (the argument goes) I was a lifelong reader way before that…

Maybe reading incentive programs are one way of getting kids interested in books.  But might they also teach that reading brings “treats” instead of pleasure in itself?

One article had this to say:

All those reading incentive campaigns inflicted on elementary school children across the country provide sobering evidence of just how many parents and educators are trapped by Skinnerian thinking.  They also illustrate the consequences of extrinsic motivators more generally. About the likely results of “Book It!”, Pizza Hut’s food-for-reading program, educational psychologist John Nicholls replied, only half in jest, that it would probably produce “a lot of fat kids who don’t like to read.”

(For the full article, click here.  It’s a brief, articulate critique of programs like BOOK IT! and Accelerated Reader.)

Wow, that’s a pretty strong rejection of programs that everyone seems to be doing.  I’m curious–what started you reading? Did you ever do one of these programs?  Did it destroy your “reading ethic” or help it out?  I’d love to hear!