Friday, June 2, 2006
No trash pick-up? No problem
"We are thinking of relocating to Carlisle," someone wrote recently to the town's online discussion group, firstname.lastname@example.org. "Is it true there is no trash pick-up available?"
Yes, Virginia, it is true. To most of us, the absence of trash pick-up is one of Carlisle's advantages. One resident's response to the inquiry was, "I don't mean to sound snooty, but Carlisle is the kind of town that tends to appeal to people who don't want trash pick-up." He continued, "The town Transfer Station is a marvel of efficiency; it's a short drive from everywhere, and it's where you get to see your neighbors each week."
Another asked the questioner to "imagine a real-life Brigadoon. [Carlisle] is a typical New England town, only it's still 1900. A church bell tolls the hour, and everybody knows everybody else. We take pride in things others consider inconveniences, and there's a spirit of self-sufficiency and independence that's disappeared elsewhere."
Brigadoon? Everybody knows everybody else? Well, not really, but we like to believe that our town is unique. Where else would a driver stop traffic on Concord Street, near Buttrick's Pond, to ferry a small turtle safely across the road? Where else, on a beautiful promise-of-summer weekend, could families choose among so many trails and woodland hikes right within our borders? Where else can you get the best ice cream around and get a scoop for your dog as well?
Carlisle is a town that respects its history — one look at the historical district and the New England town of 1900 is still there. This is a town with a clear-eyed view of the future — last month Town Meeting established an Affordable Housing Trust to retain control of its development. We have a first-class library which, in addition to books, CDs and Internet connectivity, offers a great variety of programs for all ages. Volunteers serve on town boards and committees, and run town government. Carlisle cares deeply about education, conservation, preservation and tradition, and yes, our tax rate is high because we care.
Of course there are downsides, or inconveniences, here, but we do take pride in them. Take our refrigerator-size mosquitoes, for example — they gave our newspaper its name. Then there's winter, in whose thrall we're held, sometimes for six months. That's when Carlisleans get out and cross-country ski at our own ski area, snowshoe, shovel, hike, go to holiday fairs and shovel some more. We complain about sharing the road with bikers, traffic clogging our narrow roads, the proliferation of oversized homes, and escalating property taxes. Inconveniences, not drawbacks.
But most of us are still here despite the inconveniences. We warmly welcome newcomers — we'll see you at the Transfer Station (but do learn to call it "the dump").
Under your influence
It's prom and graduation season, so naturally many adults worry about how teens will celebrate. Will they drink? Will they drive? If yours doesn't, will he or she get in a car with someone who has? It's not just older teens we should be thinking about. Temptation, curiosity, boredom, and the wish to be older get the better of younger kids, too. We don't talk about it much in Carlisle, but we do have young kids experimenting, often in their own homes. Taking risks, to one extent or another, is a natural part of adolescence; we're not immune here.
Recently, I've been working with the Alliance for Teen Safety to try to craft messages to get kids to postpone first use of alcohol. Testing the messages has been discouraging; teens have already heard so much in health classes and DARE, and they've already made their judgments about how much of it applies to them. Most of the messages adults dream up affect them the way Reefer Madness did for generations past.
Meanwhile, alcohol and other drugs are readily available. Even kids who've decided not to partake (who, by the way, are the majority, according to the 2004 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of CCHS students) say they know where to get substances, in a heartbeat.
This month, SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) sponsored the placement at CCHS of a mangled car, with the message that one doesn't have to get wrecked to have a good time. Within the first hour, the car had been keyed; that is, someone had made a big scratch along the side. In the following weeks, several pieces of the car have disappeared.
What kids are telling us is that scare tactics don't work. They know perfectly well that your brain does not turn permanently to mush with a drink or two. They see adults drink all the time. They've heard about alcoholism and how it can run in families, but longer-term perspective is not abundant in the under-20 set. They've heard about the dangers of binging and alcohol poisoning. But those who've decided to drink or do drugs think they can handle it.
What does matter to kids? Parents. And we aren't always clear, with ourselves or with them.
Whether we drink, in front of our kids, is not the issue so much as what we say and what we model (do we have fun without getting high?). I would bet that most of us don't put the same forethought into the matter that we do into the big talk about sex. I know I didn't. We need to be explicit with kids, from an early age, about what we expect of them regarding drugs and alcohol. This is especially important in middle school, when kids are already exposed to so many messages in the culture.
First, parents need to think through what they believe and what rules will work. Intentionally or otherwise, parents present a gamut of values. On learning a child has used alcohol or other drugs, some parents are shocked and unhappy or angry. Some think drinking is a rite of passage, so no big deal. Some think their kids should "learn" to drink before college.
But our kids' safety — and our responsibility for it — is surely something we can all agree is a superseding value. The issue is worth a big talk, probably a few big talks. Just when you thought it was safe to leave kids home alone for the evening, or possibly a weekend, it is precisely the time you should not.
© 2006 The