Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bullycides and the It Gets Better Project

Last week, Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington bridge. He announced that he was about to do it on his Facebook page, then he drove there, left his wallet on the bridge, and jumped.

The reason he did this was that his roommate, Dharun Ravi, secretly videotaped him "making out" with another male and announced it on Twitter... then encouraged everyone on Twitter to watch live streaming video two days later when he secretly turned on the webcam again to watch Tyler. Dharun did this from student Molly Wei's room.

First, let me show you photos of these shmucks:

What an adorable pair, no? Molly with her cross hanging from her neck...

The maximum sentence for the top count of the current charges is a 5-year prison sentence for invasion of privacy for each of them.

What I wish is that Tyler had the kind of social support he needed following this kind of cruelty. That's the intent of the It Gets Better project:

Two gay men started this channel on YouTube as a direct result of hearing about other recent cases of teens committing suicide because of bullying about their sexuality. On this channel, gay people submit videos of themselves talking about how they had it tough as teens, but that their lives got better and that it would not always be this tough for kids going through bullying and taunting about their sexuality.

I hate that we are in a world where this still happens. Bullying is a topic so close to my heart, and I worked on Joel Haber's important book Bullyproof Your Child for Life because I wanted to contribute something to the anti-bullying efforts. I hesitate to link that here because I don't want anyone to make the leap that I'm trying to sell books on the back of a tragedy like this, but dammit, we need to do something. We need to have parents read books like this, go to seminars to learn about what's really going on with the "new brand" of bullying (through social media sites, webcams, text messages, etc.)... in my mind, it's even worse than "classic" bullying because it makes it so much easier to form an anonymous mob-- some kids who wouldn't think of being cruel to someone's face, but have no problem joining in the online laughter at someone's expense.

It's that mob feeling that makes bullying unbearable-- when you feel like a whole crowd of your peers think you're a joke.

I experienced taunting as a kid, for being nerdy. Kids called me "Jenny Gladnerd." Those kids are mostly now my Facebook friends, congratulating me on all my successes as a writer. I'm a proud nerd now. (See? It's even up top on the description of my blog.) But it was hard then. I can't imagine how hard it was for Tyler, or the huge numbers of kids who go through much worse bullying than I did. All I can do is hurt for them and their families, and try to be part of the solution.

The following links will take you to stories of other kids and young adults who've committed suicide as a result of bullying (also known as "bullycide"). Let's honor them and talk to our kids about this, to make sure they never participate in this kind of cruelty, and to make sure they know that if it happens to them, it WILL GET BETTER.

Denise Baillie, 14

Asher Brown, 13

Kristina Calco, 15

Billy Lucas, 15

Ryan Patrick Halligan, 13

Jared Benjamin High, 13

Karl Peart, 16

Phoebe Prince, 15

Oliver Sabine, 17

Seth Walsh, 13

Corinne Wilson, 13

Sian Yates, 13


Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: Elmo's Healthy Heroes

The nice people at Sesame Street Live gave me tickets to see Elmo's Healthy Heroes with 3-year-old Sarina... ironically, I got sick just before the show. Sarina-- the little person who got me sick, mind you-- was feeling better, though, so my parents took her to see it at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY.

Nassau Coliseum is always a great place to see a show. There is so much elevation between rows that you never have to worry about seeing over people's heads-- there's always a good view. And in the case of the children's shows here, they don't take up the whole Coliseum. Maybe a third of the place. The only complaint I heard about the venue is that it was absolutely freezing.

Anyway, I sniffled and stuffled at home while those three were off having the times of their lives, apparently, because as my dear daughter came home bearing a giant Elmo balloon and two light-up whozamajigs that spin, she was bursting with energy and excitement about the show. And my parents were pretty darn jazzed about it, too.

As the show opens, Super Grover comes crashing down out of the sky (he's okay) and can't seem to fly again. The show then becomes about how Super Grover has lost his superness, and the other characters have to figure out how to get him to be super again. They figure out that Grover hasn't been eating right, sleeping right, taking care of his hygiene, or exercising, so they teach him how to turn his health around.

The show is high-energy and full of music-- including some well-known Sesame Street classics like "Somebody Come and Play" and "Doin' the Pigeon," and clever new lyrics set to familiar songs, like James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "I Hope I Get It" from A Chorus Line.

My daughter couldn't wait to show me the "Fabulous Five Cheer" that she learned-- and practiced numerous times in front of the mirror. And the next morning, she told me that she was hungry and ready for breakfast... and that she had to "eat her colors," as she learned from Elmo.

So it worked on all levels, educational and entertainment. All of your favorite characters are in this show (Big Bird, Grover, Elmo, Abby, Cookie Monster, Oscar, Telly, Zoe, Bert and Ernie, Rosita, Prairie Dawn, Grundgetta, Honker, and The Count), and they make a big entrance and interact with the audience. The sound quality was very good, and the costumes, sets, and special effects were lots of fun.

The show runs 90 minutes with an intermission. Even though I didn't get to see it personally, I will trust the delight of my family and tell you that this one's a hit. Check to see if it's coming to a venue near you at


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Happiness Is...

when you emerge from the kitchen, where you've just made lunch-- Bubba Burgers, by the way, are quite delicious-- to tell your 3-year-old daughter to come on in, and the first thing you notice is that a drawer is open, and that this open drawer contains just the backing of your Cica-Care, a stupidly expensive sheet of self-adhesive silicone gel that's proven to improve the appearance of scars, and you almost didn't buy it because of the stupidly expensive cost, but in the end, your mother talked you into it because you did have major surgery, after all, and if it would cost $50 to not have a smiley face on your abdomen the rest of your life, you should do it, so you did, but now you see this backing in the open drawer and you know that it is in the hands of your darling daughter, Sarina, who may be doing any one of a number of dastardly things with it right now, and you have a monster cold, which is making you a little off your game right now and not as good at chasing her as usual, but you spot her, right there in the entranceway, moments before she is about to stick the Cica-Care on the cat.



Monday, September 13, 2010

Our Trip to Sesame Place

I've never been to Sesame Place before, and now that Sarina is 3, I had been hoping to take her there... luckily, I won four passes from MyWorkButterfly and one from Sesame Place's Twitter account, so I got to bring the whole family!

We arrived the day before our "big day" and stayed at the Radisson Hotel Philadelphia Northeast. There are a couple of hotels right in Langhorne where Sesame Place is, but they're pricier. From the reviews, it seemed like this Radisson would be a good pick-- a very reasonable price and an easy commute.

The reviews were right: the drive was nothing, and the hotel was terrific. We stayed in a 2-room suite that was spectacular. One of the rooms was your basic size hotel room with two double beds, though a step up in terms of decor, cleanliness, and comfort (we got to try Sleep Number beds for the first time... they were interesting, though not as amazing as I'd hoped), but the other room made us feel like we were VIPs. It was huge, with a lovely living room area, in addition to a separate kitchen area and entrance, and a king-size bed. We got a discounted rate, but even without that, it's well worth the full price to get the suite if you can do it. Here are some pictures:

I'd guess that about half the people staying there were Sesame Place people. There were lots of families roaming the hotel with little kids clutching Elmo dolls, wearing Cookie Monster t-shirts, and waving Abby Cadabby wands. We met up with a couple of these families in the hotel's restaurant (good food), and they looked like they'd just seen a war.

"I have never seen anything that crowded in my entire life, and I never want to again," said one dad.

My heart sank. It was a Thursday, for crying out loud. It was that crowded on a Thursday? That didn't bode well for us, who were going on Friday at the end of the summer. I figured Friday had to be an even busier day.

"There weren't many people with the line passes," the mom told us. "If we had it to do over, I'd get those."

She was talking about the "Abby's Unlimited Magic Queue" bracelets you can buy for an extra $30 per person. Not a cheap add-on, but it means you get to cut the line at most of the attractions and even at some of the shows. We took her advice and got passes for four out of six of us, figuring not all of us needed to accompany Sarina on every ride, so we didn't all need passes.

We had been warned to get there very early, because it gets more crowded as the day goes on, but all the worry was for naught-- it was crowded, but "normal" crowded, not crazy-crowded. The line passes were nice, but on the day we went, not a necessity. The waits for the rides were not exhorbitant. On reflection, I think it had been so busy that Thursday because the few days before it had been rainy-- probably all the people who had planned to go on Monday through Wednesday had all piled up on Thursday.

About half the attractions are water-based rides-- such as a wave pool, a family tube ride, and a water slide-- and the other half are dry rides such as a carousel, flying Elmos, and a "mountain" to climb. In our one full day at Sesame Place, we didn't get to all the rides, but I'd guess we went on more than half of them. It was plenty. There are rides appropriate for the littlest ones all the way through adults (I screamed like Drew Barrymore in E.T. all the way down the family tube ride... which led to a wise-ass attendant kicking water at me every time our tube slowed down, and at least two hours of ribbing from my sister, who noted that my 3-year-old daughter was laughing while I was screaming).

But the big event of the day was our character lunch. That's the thing I'd suggest you really don't miss.

Seeing characters at the park throughout the day is very hit-and-miss, and when you do spot them, there's usually a long line to meet them (except Elmo, who has his own picture-taking spot that you can visit). We spotted The Count, Telly, and Abby roaming the park, but didn't stop to talk to them. If you're looking for a little one-on-one hugging time, you have to do a meal with the characters. Totally worth it.

Whoever plays these characters, they're great people. They really take their time at each table and do little things to make the kids feel special. Bert came over to us twice and just sat with us and invited Sarina to sit on his lap (not even complaining when I told him she was wet from the wave pool). Ernie signed "I love you" to my brother. Cookie Monster pretended to eat the cookies we offered him. They make sure that each "roaming" character makes it over to every table, in addition to doing a little dance in the middle of the cafeteria. Big Bird doesn't come around, but he sits in one spot and the kids can line up to visit with him. Elmo also stays in one spot, and a professional photographer snaps pictures with him that you can buy for a few extra bucks if you want to.

The food is passable. Nothing great, but of course, that's not the point. I was too excited to eat much, anyway. I was busy with pictures and video the whole time.

We also went to see a showing of Elmo's World Live, where somehow, Sarina managed to get into the show despite that no one had actually called her to the stage. (The two people in charge of picking volunteers looked at each other and signaled what appeared to me to be something like, "Did you call her up here?" "No. Did you?" "No." "Oh, well. She doesn't look like too much trouble. Give her a costume.") It was a fun little show where about 8 kid volunteers pretended to be fish at various parts. If you like Elmo's World on TV, this will feel a bit surreal, like you've just walked into your television set.

I had just one bad experience at Sesame Place, and it had to do with the attendants not enforcing the rules. At the pool, there's a sign that specifies that no regular diapers are allowed-- kids who wear diapers must be in swim diapers. But there was a boy, maybe 18 months old, wandering around in the pool in a saggy regular diaper. I couldn't figure out who his parents were-- he was totally unsupervised in the water-- so I went and told one of the attendants. He looked appropriately concerned, walked as if he were about to go over to the little boy, then changed his mind and went to talk to the other attendant. Together, they did... nothing.

A few minutes later, the little boy went out of the pool, then right back into it. As we walked along the edge, we spotted the probable reason: a poop, sitting right out at the edge of the pool. This time, I went to the other attendant and told him that there was a giant pile of poop right at the edge of the pool and a little boy in a regular diaper still in the pool. As I walked away, the attendant called to the baby. "Hey, buddy," he said.

Uh, yeah, right. Hey, buddy? An 18-month old is going to understand that and come right over? Of course, he didn't. I watched from he side for another couple of minutes and saw that once again, the attendant did nothing, and Diaper Boy kept frolicking freely. But at least someone came over with a broom and swept the poop away.

I was sufficiently grossed out and we left the pool, but what bugged me more was that that same water is recirculated throughout the park. There are always health dangers that come along with water rides, but this was too much. Those two young attendants should have had the power and inclination to enforce the rules.

After that... interesting... experience, we went to the parade. Get there early and put down a towel if you want to stake out a good spot. We had a good view and the crowd was very nice-- parents and kids weren't jockeying for position and pushing each other out of the way like I expected. It's a good show, with floats and music and dancing, and characters giving out high-fives and handshakes along the way. The parade runs twice a day.

No matter what your kids are into-- bouncing, climbing, watching shows, spinning, or tubing, you'll find plenty of fun here. We're already looking forward to going back next year.