Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Letter from California-November 25, 2003

Another big story broke in California this week, immediately hitting the top of the world news, and I briefly considered writing about it. About 4 seconds later, I concluded that there was nothing fun or entertaining about the sad carnival taking place in Never Land right now, and so we won’t be talking about it here. You have my personal guarantee on that.

Instead, I thought I’d tell a story about how different two lives can be when they are separated by 30 years and 3000 miles, and I’ve also got a little bit of Hollywood insider information about a rising star that I predict you’ll see in a TV sitcom near you sometime soon.

My son’s grandmother flew to LAX last weekend to be in attendance at the Grandparents’ Day festivities at his Kindergarten, and it spurred some thinking by me about the differences between my own elementary school days in Sumter in the ‘70s and my son’s in Los Angeles in the ‘00s. It was the perfect time to watch a Carolina grandma with the California grandkids.

Coincidentally, I went to see a comedian named Craig Shoemaker, who lives in L.A., sometimes appears on Hollywood Squares, and wrote a children’s book called What You Have Now, What Daddy Had Then. In this picture book, one page has a color cartoon picture of his own California child and a caption like “You have sushi.” On the facing page, there is a black and white cartoon drawing of himself as a child with a caption like “Daddy had fish sticks.” The whole book is a series of comparisons of his own life as a kid and that of his child.

The visit from my mother gave me a chance to do my own comparisons like those in the book, and it starts with the visit itself. My mother and I were on the phone about two weeks ago, lamenting that she wouldn’t be able to be here for the Grandparents’ Day activities. For kicks, I decided to see what kind of last minute fare I could pull together on the Internet, and after a few minutes work, we found an obscenely low price on a flight, bought an e-ticket with a credit card, and three days later, she was on a plane.

You have last-minute e-tickets that cost about the same as a nice dinner for two with wine in Beverly Hills. Daddy had paper tickets bought two months in advance that cost a month’s salary.

I went to public Sumter Schools (District 2), where the teachers and administrators of the time did a very fine job of educating and training us to be good citizens, despite the lack of resources and facilities. Sure, they didn’t have to contend with guns, cell phones, or Britney-inspired standards of dress, but between dodging our spitballs and fanning themselves in the heat of our non-air conditioned classrooms, they did a job, in my opinion, that many of today’s California public schools would envy.

In fact, the public schools in our own little corner of California fall so short of that standard that many seek refuge in the private schools, some of which are truly excellent. My son goes to one of those, and my mother’s reaction on seeing it was, like mine, quite awe-struck. “I’ve paid $250 a night to stay in places like this,” were the words I used.

You have a staff of experts with every educational resource at their fingertips and a comfortable environment. Daddy had good people who understood that solid teaching and passion could overcome a lack of flag football equipment and a computer lab that could coordinate a moon launch.

On Grandparents’ Day, my mother was asked again and again whether she was another relative standing in for a grandparent. So many Californians are having children later in life that the average parent of the Kindergartners in my son’s class is between 35 and 40 years old. I had college loans by the time my mother was that age.

You have a grandmother that your friends think is your mother. Daddy had a mother that people thought was his older sister.

My son sat with his grandmother at a picnic table in the autumn California sun, eating ham sandwiches, looking at his drawing of himself flying a kite with his grandmother, and the place where you keep your pencils, erasers, and glue in your classroom. They spent the whole day there, talking to the teachers, the other students and their grandparents. As a result my son came away knowing that his grandmother, just like the grandparents of his classmates, cared about his education and about him.

You have…well, pretty much the same stuff Daddy had. When it comes to the important things, anyway.

Thanks, Craig Shoemaker. I hope you get that sitcom and become a huge star, in part because you’re a very funny guy and in part because the world could use another highly visible Hollywood parent with an obvious love for his children.

And that’s more important than whether they get 100% fresh fruit smoothies or ice cold Tang.


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