Chatterboxes

As we boarded our flight from Houston to Columbus last night, I noticed that an older guy in the row across from us was switching seats so a young woman could sit next to another young woman.  “What a nice gesture by that guy,” I thought.

By the end of the flight, I was cursing him.

These two high school students talked non-stop during the entire plane flight, in that kind of high-pitched, high-speed Valley Girl patois that you just can’t ignore no matter how hard you try.  And believe me, I tried. They apparently were returning from some kind of field trip, and they were raring for a complete download.  It was an extraordinary exhibition of yakking.  I can’t imagine flapping my gums for a solid two-and-a-half hours, even if I had something important to say.  These two girls clearly weren’t concerned about that; no incident was too small, no event too mundane, no observation too trivial to escape their prattle.

How do you feel about holding hands?  I’d rather put my arm through the guy’s arm, wouldn’t you?  I don’t like it when they try to put their fingers through your fingers.

I really prefer rum-and-cokes.  I bet I had five of them.

I’m one of those teacher’s pet students who never gets into trouble even when I do something wrong.  One time I literally punched a guy and nobody did anything about it.  And I was like, whatev!  I’m a good student and I guess I get to do what I want!

Omigod!  My knee got so sore.  And when I looked down at it, there was a red mark on it!

The little snippets from the torrent came flooding over to our side of the plane, and by the end of the trip you could tell that everyone within a three-row radius was gritting their teeth, hoping that the flight would land before their brains turned to mush and restraining themselves from bursting out:  “For the love of God, could you please stop talking!”

But there were no outbursts, because people heading back to their homes in the Midwest are polite to a fault.  But when the plane landed, you could feel an inner cheer from our fellow travelers, and as we walked through the quiet terminal, on one of the last flights of the night, we all shared a single thought:  silence never sounded so good.

Body Mass Buttinskys

Lilly, a sixth-grade girl in Florida, is the star player on her middle school volleyball team.  According to her mother, the girl is 5′ 5″, weighs 124 pounds, and is “all muscle.”  So the mother was shocked when the school sent her a letter advising that the girl is “overweight.”

How could such a letter possibly be sent?  Because Florida is one of a number of states that has begun sending letters to parents advising them when their child is viewed as overweight and warning of the dangers of childhood obesity.  Florida mandates “health screenings” for kids, and then uses a body mass index calculation to determine when a child is overweight.  Experts recognize that body mass index statistics are a crude means of determining whether a child is overweight, and in Lilly’s case the measure was made even cruder because she was reported as being two inches shorter than she really is.  The so-called “fat letter” was the result.

Childhood obesity is a concern, but sending “fat letters” based on rough measures like the body mass index hardly seems like a prudent way to address the problem.  We live in an age of eating disorders and concerns about the messages popular culture sends to girls about their bodies.  What does it say when a healthy, active volleyball player gets a letter from a government agency saying she is teetering on the edge of obesity?  Why send such personal, stigmatizing letters to kids who are already wrestling with the incredible self-consciousness and self-esteem issues that are an inevitable part of the teenage years?

Moreover, why are schools involved in this process?  The last I checked, American public schools were struggling to educate kids and, in some instances, keep order in school buildings.  Saddling schools with the job of policing childhood obesity is just giving them another task that distracts from the basic mission of education.  And when governmental entities are involved in making broad generalizations about health, mistakes such as the misreporting of Lilly’s height happen, letters that should never get sent are posted by mistake, and the damage is done.  I think the weight of individual children should be left to their parents and pediatricians and the children themselves.  Government buttinskys should butt out.