Whatcha Readin Fer?


United States Constitution and Public Education

photo © 2010 Ted | more info (via: Wylio)

“The correlation between student achievement and zip code is 100 percent,” he says. “The quality of education you receive is entirely predictable based on where you live.” ~ Marco Sommerville, City Council Member Akron, Ohio

On a week when my childrens school held an early morning coffee to celebrate being ranked the top elementary school in an already good district, Kelley Williams-Bolar was released from 9 days in jail for lying to have her 2 daughters attend a better school than they were zoned for. The disparity between her experience and mine really struck me.

A special education teachers assistant, who was studying for her teaching certificate, Williams-Bolar may not be able to become teacher, having been charged with a felony for records falsification. The case has prompted national outrage, but an investigation of the widespread discussion shows that it quickly stalls when it comes to solutions. Current and future Presidents can talk all they want about what our educational standards and ideals should be, but with over half of the funding for public school districts coming from local property taxes, they (the federal government) lack the real means to effect change.

Our decision to move here was predicated almost entirely on the school district, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I have not felt gratitude for having that option. It hasn’t always been easy, and I know many families who make regular sacrifices to afford the district, but it’s been entirely worth it for the experience that my children have had at their schools. I believe their experiences here will contribute directly to their future success and I know that I would hate to be in her place. It is definitely a “There but for the Grace of God” type situation.

What makes our district great? Great funding from the high property taxes, additionally, our district get strong financial support from the Irvine Company and that has allowed us to retain music, art and science classes. The economic situation of many families in our district allows a higher than average number of parents to stay at home and this helps to create not only a thriving PTA, but also increases vital support to the classrooms through parent volunteering. And lastly, the educational level of the households in the district; college graduates tend to produce more college graduates. Even through some steep budget cuts, we’ve remained in decent shape as far as our schools.

But at a time when schools are reeling nationwide from the housing collapse and it’s property tax ramifications, I wonder what I would do in her place. I don’t suppose I’d try and beat the system, but I also know how much less my kids would be getting…and how hard that would be for me to tolerate. Our district has taken some hits, and I still know how lucky we are. I have wondered often over the last few years how districts with considerably less resources than ours have managed. My kids have had computer access and teachers with the highest qualifications, music and science and art. What are the schools in the poorest areas doing? What must it be like to be struggling for chalk and textbooks? To have computer access be an unreachable dream, to be unable to afford to hire any but the least talented teachers and administrators?

“When parents flee troubled schools under the No Child Left Behind Act School Choice option, the district loses not only the per-pupil funding, but must provide transportation to the new school. This causes a funding drain that may seriously impact the students left in the school.” ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_choice – cite_note-12

Vouchers, Tax Credits, Charter Schools, Standardized Testing, Systemic failures in teaching methodology, Parental economics and education, there is little consensus for what improves a districts performance. Like most things, it is likely a mix of remedies, and in all honesty, these days I place far more hope and confidence in private entities to make the biggest gains when it comes to repairing our educational system. I think the future lies with groups like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the innovation behind crowd-sourced creations like TED.com, just to name a few, rather than our government.

There is no question that Williams-Bolars’ two daughters would receive an entirely sub-standard education by attending their home school. A quick check of greatschools.org shows a wide gap between the performances of the district they were zoned to over the one they were schooled in for 2 years. How much difference do we suppose this will make to their future? And how great a leap do we ask them to make to overcome their circumstances? Then ask yourself how many children those two girls represent? And then expect our country to do well on just the backs of the children in this district and the minority of others like it. That seems, at the very least, to be doing things the hard way, if not outright building failure into the system.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of the story, but there is no doubt in my mind that several opportunities were missed on both sides to resolve this issue at a less critical juncture. And it is entirely clear that she willfully broke the law, but it seems equally clear that being put into this position should be unacceptable to Americans across the board. Is it really so hard to believe that our children here in this district cannot ultimately do well with the education they receive if such a large majority of their future fellow citizens will not be equipped to lift up the society in which they live. Her children and mine are not separated by the possible successes of their future. They will live and contribute to the same country and the health of that country will depend on both of them. Children who are unprepared for the future do not just disappear from society.

To charge this woman with a felony seems unreal. The school district valued the cost of the education that her daughters received illegally at $30,000 for two years. I can’t imagine she had the resources to repay that either. She was given two concurrent, 5 year sentences, suspended to 10 days plus time served and 80 hours of community service, possibly jeopardizing her future as a teacher and in effect, putting 3 lives under the sword if she cannot create a better future for herself and her daughters. I’m not saying she was right, I’m saying she shouldn’t have had to face that choice. It is the sickest of jokes, that in our country you can go to jail for trying to get your children a better education. In the American education system, we are not creating all men equally, and it is time to stop pretending that educational access is part of a grand system of meritocracy.

What would you do if your children were doomed by your economic circumstances to attend a school that you knew would fail them?



The Other Woman…


Tea-ceremony Roomphoto © 2007 Masahiro Hayata | more info (via: Wylio)


I first noticed their relationship on Facebook when I was doing a routine maintenance check of my son’s friend list. Huh. My son is friends with the PTA president from his school. I’m not friends with the PTA president, I thought, feeling again both the irony and gratitude of my son having superior social skills to me. Well he’s become pretty good friends with her son this year, I thought, I guess that makes sense.

As the year went on, her house became his preferred after-school destination and she and I eventually became ‘Facebook Friends’ and every now and then she would remark on how she missed him as well when he was gone over-long at his fathers house. Oh, that’s nice I thought, she doesn’t find him annoying. He hasn’t worn out his welcome. He’s behaving well when he’s over there.

And then the moment came when I realized she was more than just the mother of a friend. She was the Other Woman. That day, he stormed into the house, home well before the regular time, and trying to contain tears of rage and hurt, wordless with anger and frustration. What happened, I asked? There had been a fight. In the way of 11-year-old boys, roughhousing had gotten out of hand. Push had come to shove. And although no one was hurt, he could hardly spit his anger out and I put everything aside to try and help this son, who is often my most short-fused child, cope with this moment. But as I was talking to him, I recalled something. The first thing he had reached for upon bursting in the door was his iPod Touch. He was, of course, friends with his friend on Facebook…Uh oh. Two and two came together fast in my head.

Were you going to write something on his wall? I asked, because just stop right there and calm down. One of the worst things you can do is write your anger up in a public forum. This will blow over but if you do that, you are inviting everybody into your private business, and that’s a very bad idea. I went over the whole social media policy with him right there, until he seemed reasonably able to promise he wouldn’t write anything on his friends wall. I mean it, I said, wait until you calm down. These things blow over. Promise? Yes, he said again and we went on to talk a bit more. And although his anger didn’t seem to dissipate too much, he went to his room to chill for a few minutes.

But an itch in the back of my mind kept at me and I checked Facebook just out of caution. He didn’t write anything on his friends’ wall. He wrote something on Her wall. He wrote something awful about her son on her wall. Something including a prime four-letter word we don’t let him use. He wrote it for her and all her friends to see, many of them, one presumes, the parents and other PTA members at school. Oh. My. God. And just like that, we were in a whole different moment. A whole different, potentially crappy moment from which there could be no escaping the judgment of who knows how many other parents besides the recipient. Oh Crap.

The whiplash of my voice dragged him from his room and I think I could hear the sound of the ocean in my ears as I stared at my son. This child I adored. The one with the long history of letting his temper get the best of him. The one with the easily touched pride, the one with the amazingly high I.Q. that he had masked so extraordinarily well in this moment and I was horrified at what this could mean for him. I was furious that every word of logic and reason had been thrown out even as it left my mouth. “Delete it,” I demanded, “and get in the car. We’re going over there for you to apologize to this woman.”

That’s not all I said. I probably fit more scathing and castigating disapproval into that three block ride than at any other time in his short life about how ill-conceived an impulse it was. About what if the mothers of his friends at school see that? What will they decide about him, as well as his brother and sister based on his willingness to publically address another adult like that? We talked about Facebook and rage, we talked about actions taken in the heat of rage, we talked about my rage. And we talked about how I wouldn’t spend his childhood apologizing to other parents like his grandmother had done for his father. We also said goodbye to his iPod.

She wasn’t there when we arrived, but he saw his friend…and immediately began to laugh. Predictably, all was forgiven, which is what I could have told him would happen if he had ever bothered to listen to what I was saying about 11 year old boys and scrapes and feelings blowing over (for the record, no I don’t really think he will learn many things from my words. I actually know it doesn’t really work that way). And as they made up, his mother drove up. And then the laughter was over as it was time to face the music. I told her that Middle Son had something he needed to apologize to her for and I stood behind my son while he braced himself to do the right thing.

She, it turns out, had not seen the post; although I made him tell her about it anyway, because decisions that poor should produce discomfort. Or better put, according to a friend’s bumper sticker, “Stupid should hurt.” But I hated that we were in this position at all. I prayed that having two boys herself would help her to be understanding about the idiocy that they can find themselves in.

What actually happened was totally out of the realm of my understanding. She wasn’t mad. There wasn’t even the pretense of a stern parental face of disapproval. Both my son and I stood there braced for her reaction and she did the most extraordinary thing. Her face was utterly transformed by compassion as everything about her posture gave itself over to this child. She enfolded him immediately in forgiveness. And then she reached out and her hand touched his face, held his cheek as tenderly as I have done myself and I never saw anything beyond that moment, so stunned was I.

It was a moment that triggered a thousand things for me. I don’t know what it triggered for her. Her attention, thankfully, was so focused on him that I doubt she noticed my mouth fall open as I was struck by so many things simultaneously. Her stark empathy, her forgiveness of my son in my place, the easy physical contact, the total lack of judgment, her willingness to absolve him from any burden and her total lack of offense. There wasn’t even a question of forgiveness.

All the way home I examined my own surprised reaction to this moment, mostly my shock and surprise at not being harshly judged and what this told me about how I still came to the world. How completely I expected to be judged. No other outcome had occurred to me, it was only a question of how severe would be the blow. Why was I still living in this mindset? More importantly, was I passing this belief down to my children?

She could not know my shock at that gesture. Not one of the people I come from could have made that gesture, not even the kindest of them would have made the move to break that invisible barrier of physical space, the reserve is that deeply ingrained. And in that moment I understood, his relationship with her was different. It was a relationship of it’s own. In that house he would find something that he hadn’t found at home.

Don’t get me wrong, in reaction to my desperate desire for a more physically affectionate childhood I am very physical with my kids. I have had almost no barriers between their space and mine, often laying about at home like a mother lion with cubs piled all over her. I have only recently moved to reclaim my space when the number of children on me threatened to become suffocating. But with other people, even my closest friends, I am no longer able to cross that space. It’s the legacy of a reserved childhood.

All of this is why she is such a likely candidate as the first ‘Other Woman’ in my sons’ life. And after the first tinge of jealousy passed, I realized that she is exactly who I would want for him. She really likes him. She has shown him unbelievable tenderness and patience. The kind of tenderness, kindness and benefit of the doubt so absent from my own background that it stunned me into complete silence when I saw it.

She is the first female outside the family that he has had this kind of relationship to. The fact that we are not friends is the very thing that makes her the Other Woman. We are not ‘not’ friends either, but if we had been very good friends, her liking him the way she does would have been something that I still shared in, instead of something that was exclusively his.

This is the part where he (and his siblings after him) go out and discover how to like and be liked in the world, how to place value on his relationships with other people. It’s the first step into an independent world, where he will define himself, without my presence, in the eyes of another adult. It’s important. And it’s the first real moment illustrating a truth I’ve know for 11 years now…that from the moment a child is born, they are in the act of walking away from you.

He likes to tell me that she’s nicer than me and that her chocolate chip pancakes are better, but it’s the first chance for this child to hit me with that “his parents are so much cooler than you” right of passage. And I know this child, I know him so well, because he’s so like me. And I also know that differentiating from me, when the time comes, will be a stickier thing for him because of that, and I will have to try hard not to be surprised if he has to strike at me more deliberately because of it.

In the meantime, I think this will be a good first experience for him. She likes him it appears, enormously, and I will always be glad for women in his life that turn a face of approval on him and treat him well, who show him affection without judgment. And in the end, we have to let them love other people…as much as they love us. But in a way, it also felt like a small goodbye, as I became a little bit smaller in the landscape of his life. Don’t these moments always feel like that?



Lately Found…


Women + Inspiration…It’s better than coffee.   Fill Up, Press Play…






*brought to you by the i4ccampaign.com





Vision Boards. Sounds too new agey, right? That’s what I thought the first time I was asked to do it, but I found the very process could sometimes bring more order and clarity to what my subconscious might be working on. And if that doesn’t sell you, Karen Walrond over at Chookooloonks makes one with her daughter every year. Read her how-to post and then tell me you don’t want to find your daughter straight away and share something like this with her…


 Mother-Daughter Vision Boards

chookooloonks.com

*While you’re there, pause and browse some of the lovely images on her photographic website.






Over on Summer Tomato, Darya Pino has a fun and quick Guide to Supermarket Navigation. You should check them out for some great information, tips and advice about eating healthy in urban areas…

Guide to Finding Real Food at the Supermarket

summertomato.com








TED2011 has released it’s line up of speakers. Attending a TED event is on my bucket list, but until then, their website is more than generous.






I love this picture…

Georgia O'Keeffe—Neck

Georgia O'Keeffe—Neck by Alfred Stieglitz






FRENEMIES?


Cousins, Siblings, Frenemies

These two. They are cousins and, after 3 years and intention, brother and sister. It’s of interest to me that out of the 6, they are the only two without Asian blood in them. My ‘Little Photo-Negatives’ I call them. When summer rolls around again their biological similarities will be even more outstanding as they, like their mother, will fry and burn at the first moment of forgotten sunscreen. All their other siblings will grow darker and darker and darker over the duration of the season, standing in stark contrast to these two.

Their physical similarities seem so highlighted in this photo above and often I wonder at their individual fates. I wonder where their journey will take them. I wonder where will they go from where they started and how much of it will be spent together. I wonder things like this a lot, but such is the case when you are fighting to weld together a family to outlast your own lifetime from such a widely diverse biological field.

He is 2 years older than her and for those first two years he didn’t say anything. At all. And he wasn’t frustrated by it (or anything else). A more easy going baby you’ve never seen. But beneath that easy going nature you began to sense that something wasn’t quite right. While he was very engaged with his father and I, he didn’t interact with anyone else. He was unflappably happy to play by himself. But you began to notice that play consisted primarily of finding bowls and plates and any other circular object and spinning it, like a performer in a Chinese circus. He could make them do things I couldn’t begin to and would watch them with endless fascination. He also liked to play relentlessly with the little toddler size basketball hoop that we had. And all the while he didn’t say a word or make the slightest sound, other than crying on occasion, at which times he was as impossibly loud as he was silent. And content with it. His lack of frustration actually worked against him and the tutors who worked with him 5 to 6 days a week from the age of two in an attempt to push through the peacefully anti-social bubble that enclosed him.

And then, when he was 5 years old we threw a grenade into his life in the form of his 18-month-old cousin. She was his polar opposite in almost in every way possible. Highly verbal at an early age, hyper-competent, controlling and frustrated by everything, content with nothing. This child who had been so traumatized for her 18 months of life was a fighter who was at odds with all of life was throwing at her and provoking in every way. She was a storm of trauma into his placid pool of contentment.

She spent the first year either ignoring him (and forcing me to do the same) by utterly dominating all my attention 24 hours a day, or teaching him how to have tantrums by demonstration and alternately finding every available button on him to push and manipulate for reaction. I tell no lie when I say we used to be grateful that for the sake of the older kids that they got a break from her by leaving for their fathers every weekend. He got no such break. And while it wasn’t enjoyable, I can say that the way she pushed him increased his emotional range for sure, although at first in the most unpleasant of ways as he learned to imitate her tantrums. We can never know what road he might have gone if she had not come into our family. We can be certain of only one thing. She had an unmistakable effect on him.

The next 18 months they spent arguing, fighting and screaming at each other. Gone was our peaceful, gentle, pliable child and mostly it was awful. There were certainly times that we worried about the level of stress that she was putting on him. But later, one has to wonder if somehow his under-developed-for-his-age skills and her pseudo-maturity didn’t cause them meet somewhere in the middle and give them both a unique balance which only they can share.

I can see this now because about 2 weeks ago, something changed. Something that has ended up with whispered confidences and shared giggles, with hugs and casual endearments and heads often touching unconsciously while they watch a show together. Suddenly, they manifest a consideration for each other at moments that I wasn’t sure I would ever see.

Recently, they spent the entire afternoon inseparably in each others company, playing together, sharing confidences and calling each other “Honey”. What might sound normal for two children living together was remarkable when I reflect on where their journey started.

And suddenly, they were magic together. It is wonderful for them, but it is even bigger for her and what it means on her road to just being a child again. It is big and huge, a victory of near exhaustive efforts on the part of everyone in this household that she will now turn to the children in the house for social companionship and attention. And it only took three years…

Heard Today: 5 Year Old “Um Honey? oh sorry, sorry, I mean Jack…”
7 Year Old “Oh, that’s alright. You can call me Honey. I don’t mind.”
And so she did…all night.



The First Year Meant…


Learning to surrender your vulnerable first born to strangers when you couldn’t be at home with one and at the hospital with the other two at the same time.

Learning to feed 3 babies at once.

Following an ambulance back to the hospital and praying that the lights won’t go on.

Getting less sleep than a Navy Seal during Hell Week (granted, however, I didn’t have to carry “Ole Misery”).

Living with strangers.

Knowing how to do CPR on a baby for real.

Driving 45+ minutes each way back and forth to the hospital every day.

Living with the sounds of alarms meant to warn you that your child had stopped breathing randomly going off.

Measuring out and monitoring careful daily doses of medicine for 2 out of three children.

A complete and total loss of privacy because I kept the bassinets in my bedroom.

Living off of take out Chinese, Teddy Bear grahams and pink vanilla frosting.

Learning that Girlfriends are the best things God created.

Calling 911.  More than once.

Driving through a 5am downpour on the phone with the hospital desperately trying to locate them while the monitor on your child keeps going off to tell you her heart rate has plummeted again.

Totally hyperventilating the one time you go out to lunch with a friend and realize you’ve left your phone at home.

Loving firemen, nurses and EMT’s.

Learning the true meaning of desperation every weekend when you know you will be alone till Monday morning.

Saying hello to high blood pressure.

Learning the nightmare of 5pm colic.

Making midnight phone calls hoping to hear that they have gained grams rather than lost them.

Sometimes already feeding two babies and just having to listen to the one who just woke up cry until you are done.

Being mobbed at malls and answering questions about them, like “Are they natural?”

Never going anywhere without two fully loaded diaper bags and two strollers.

Memorizing medical records until Doctors ask if you’re one of them.

Never, ever really sleeping no matter who offers you time to rest because you’re a first time mother, and they don’t do that.

Becoming a better person the moment they were born.




Where is My Inner Chinese Mother?


I am not Asian enough with my children. This is not a new feeling for me. I felt this way long before Amy Chua and the WSJ decided to run her article, the one with the regrettably inflammatory headline about “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and just piss everybody off.  Nope, I felt not Asian enough long before that, but until I read her article I wasn’t really able to quantify why my parenting actions didn’t match up the standard of excellence that I thought I’d have.

When I embarked on my efforts to become with child, I completely expected that said child would be as carefully tended and enriched as any of the other children appeared to be around him. I would be paving the way, laying the genetic path for a new generation, who would go on to save the planet and reinvent world cuisine in a way that would make Ferran Adrià weep bitter tears.  Dreams of second language immersion classes, piano lessons, readings of poetry and the classics danced in my head. Then I had the actual kids.

There were piano lessons, which should have come with combat pay and they do indeed attend Japanese language school every Saturday morning but since those 3 and a half hours only the only exposure they get to the language I’ll be as shocked as anyone if they retain any of it (although I don’t necessarily believe their exposure to a second language is wasted and I absolutely haven’t given up on Spanish since we live in California).  We had Asian intentions, but they were married up to Western follow-through.

Like the rest of America, the WSJ excerpt from her book got the girlfriends and I talking. As a group, we tend to be less interested in fielding emotional responses than understanding what about the article produced the furor and what, if anything could be taken away from it all.  My girlfriends and I run the gamut of expectations and actual achievement among our children and we have a great acceptance of this. Parenting is about as personal an endeavor as there is, tailored so individually to suit each different family that right answers are very difficult to come by. Advice and collaboration trumps judgment in all ways when it comes to how we parent.

Our resident Chinese parenting expert, who just happens, conveniently, to be a Chinese parent herself and no slouch in the areas of high self-esteem, self-confidence and academic success, gave her opinion. “She’s a Chinese mother with no soul,” she explained amidst bringing up points about Confucianism and Legalist origins in Chinese parenting, issues of biracial identity and the different value system immigrant parents place on things

We have long noted that our Chinese friend comes to parenting her twin girls with very different expectations and attitudes than we do. This is the same girlfriend who once told me and another girlfriend to “channel our inner Chinese female”. We both shuffled uncomfortably, exchanged baffled glances and were forced to announce, “We don’t have one.”  And it was as true as can be. We don’t. But there are plenty of moments in parenting our kids that we both admit we wish we had one.

A very large part of the reason that I was interested and open to Ms. Chua’s very candid and intimate invitation into her home and parenting dynamics was that I has recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book “Outliers: the Story of Success”.  One chapter in particular discussed Asians and math.  Along with discussing certain cultural advantages he felt were inherent in the language and number systems, he chiefly identified an attitude and ethic stemming from, of all things, the agricultural history of rice farming in Asian societies.

The understanding of success being equated to effort is very different in Chinese culture…“throughout history…the people who grow rice have always worker harder than almost any other kind of farmer.” Rice production is more intensive and grueling and requiring of skill than the history of Western farming and this cultural legacy has meaning.

Most of, if not all of my friends, approach things like talent at math or science to be innate in some way. It is still requiring of effort to be successful, but Gladwell argues we fundamentally believe that you’re either born good at something or not.  The Chinese believe that such success and achievement has everything to do with how much effort you are willing to put into mastering a subject in a way that we excuse ourselves from because we want to see skill to begin with before we deem the effort worthwhile.  This might be where the chief difference lies.

Gladwell argues with clarity that cultural legacies matter deeply and I think that in our need to apply the whitewash of equality as rapidly and as liberally as possible, we loose sight of this.  I’m not saying that it should be emulated. Ms. Chua is an extreme example, and she knows it. But I can see in myself that very Western belief that talent is a matter of birth and that perhaps if I were more ready to put in some of the kind of efforts at the kitchen table over homework achievement that she does that we would see better results.

I am sure that there are plenty of Chinese children for whom this style of parenting is less than efficient, and I’m still a fan of trying your best to parent to the temperament of the child, but why discount such an extreme and extremely candid view of this other culture of parenting? What I’m saying is that there was so much more to Amy Chua’s story of her family and it’s foolish to let the trumped up title claiming “superiority” get in the way of a really interesting and important cultural exchange.

In the meantime, I will take her honesty and extremity as fuel into the furnace of my own parenting, I will continue to question why I feel stressed about asking my children to do even the most basic chores, and I’ll stress about being able to give them more effort than I do while my father’s voice continues to ring in my head when I look at report cards that are less than straight A’s “Well, the world needs ditch diggers too.” I will worry, as I always have, that I am raising a house full of under-achieving little slack-asses, who will end up working for my Chinese girlfriends kids.

Perhaps that will be the new tagline for my blog from now on, “Raising Hopeless Slack-Asses Since 1999” Perhaps I will just think about challenging my ideas on what my children and I can achieve and try a little harder to do more.

More complete articles about Amy Chua’s book can be found at Slate here and PBS here and at Gawker here.

And a more measured rebuttal was rus in today’s WSJ



Lately Found…


Here’s the weekly round up. Enjoy!

The best thing seen this week was this TED talk by Brene Brown about her research on what separates people who do well from people who don’t.  There a post coming on this one. It really struck home. (She has a great website too!) Try this quote on, and if it speaks to you, then hit play:

“There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.”  ~ Brene Brown


There were these nifty little vinyl chalkboard goodies for organization from bradensgracewallart over at Etsy. Lots of styles and varieties to choose from!


The Sleep Talkin Man was introduced to me by an old high school friend.  A few years ago, a wife began recording and posting the outrageous things her normally mild mannered English husband said in his sleep.  Be really, really warned about the language, but it is some of the most shockingly funny stuff that lives in this man’s subconscious.  My latest favorite (one of the clean ones):  “I’m telling you, you can’t dance. You just look like a fat pogo stick, now sit down!”


And lastly, The Scar Project: Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality was nominated nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography.  If you look at these images, you will never look at breast cancer, or your own body, in the same way again. These women are beautiful.

Enjoy!



Arizona…and Giving Children the World.


Light in Arizona

www.hiren.info

After reading a recent post over at mom-101 about explaining the unexplainable to your child, I began to think about the many things we have had to talk to ours about.  In the end, we’ve only just scraped the surface of the vastness of the human condition. It’s early days yet.

For instance, they are largely unaware of this latest moment in Arizona, which at 11 years of age might be appropriate I think. I’ve been listening for any reports of chatter on the subject coming home from school, but nothing has triggered any conversations as yet.  I suppose when situations like this do come across their radar, I tend to have 2 main goals. The first is that they are not left with an unreasoning sense of fear about their world and the second is that they grasp the true breadth of the tragedy. The people who are injured by the act certainly, but in cases like Arizona, the actions of a very young man in the service to madness and the unholy grief that his family must be experiencing as well, to find themselves sucked into this wormhole of pain and media madness. There is plenty of sadness and grief to go around and those wounded deserve our reverence and respect.

There is a whole history of man’s inhumanity to man that they have yet to learn about and I hope to be able to temper that learning with compassion and an offsetting dose of stories of the many, many moments of heroism and acts of genuine grace also contained in our history.

It’s an interesting job to be their docent at this age, as they stand on the edge, getting ready to expand outside themselves into the bigger world of human history.   They are beginning to becoming aware of 9/11 in an abstract way, but are too young yet to know the real context of it once you add in the human stories that came out of it. Those personal experiences are what pull it out of history and make it a personal event that you can internalize, and they are important. I think it is crucial to make that connection as best you can before you reach a snap decision about such things. They should never, ever be black and white. And it’s OK to say that some things are bigger than our judgment or understanding of them; that some things only deserve a reverent sadness.

John Lennon’s birthday coincided this year with their awakening to the existence of a band called the Beatles. That he was not only shot but that he was shot by someone who claimed to be a fan was almost beyond their grasp. The idea that some people suffer from the kind of madness that is without cure or rational intention was a tough thing to tackle, but I trust there will be a long time to build upon their understanding over the coming years.

Another interesting moment came when I had on Ken Burns documentary on The War and while they were in my room, they were not paying much attention to the TV. And then they heard the voice of the announcer when he began to talk about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I can tell you that 3 little Japanese-American heads stopped what they were doing and swiveled toward the TV. “Wha? Huh?” “Say What?!” “Mom?!  Oh yeah, I think, looking at the three sets of eyes turned my way, that’s got to be a bit of an identity crises. That talk led to the understanding that we had used nuclear weapons against Japan and a bare glimmer of the conflicting views on that action and it ended with a chipper sort of, “but we’re good friends now!”

I don’t put the news on for them to watch just yet, hell, I don’t even watch the news myself, because televised news anymore is more like watching an hour of grim death than being genuinely informed, and who the hell needs that when you can build your own newspaper on the internet. I don’t think they’re ready to take in that much hardcore ‘reality’ all at once.  They also they don’t know about Hollywood yet, which I consider one of my better accomplishments.  No one is desperate from fame or is measuring themselves against some size 2 model. Yay! And a couple of years ago, in a moment of irony, they learned about same sex marriage from the very people who didn’t want it taught in our schools to children. “Mom, what are all these people doing over there holding up signs. What’s Prop 8?”

Out of all of it, the moment that stands out in my mind was when my then 1st grade children were playing in my room and by chance there was some footage from the war in Iraq on a special reports promo of actual combat, firefight, the whole bit  and both boys stopped what they were doing, their attention grabbed by the sound of gunfire. They stood there, riveted for a few moments and then Middle Son asked in surprise, “Is that real?” and Oldest son answered before I could, saying “No. They don’t have wars anymore.” OMG. There was my child saying the most sane, rational, should-be-true-if-only-it-were-true statement, and it was going to be up to me to tell him that mankind just wasn’t that good yet.

Sometimes being a Mom seems like it’s the biggest job of all…

*here’s a link to an article on HuffPost with suggestions about how to talk to your kids at times like these.





Bathing in the Blood of Virgins…


Real Menopause looks like...

What The Hell?!!

Every few months or so, I look like this for about 5-8 days. Picture it in your head, but in your head, replace the blood with hormones…then add the blood again. Then fall to your knees and thank all the gods of the known world that you aren’t a member of my family, who would desperately like to be absent from these moments. I can tell you I’d like to be absent from these moments myself, but, other than some short separations from reality, it appears I’m not allowed to be, because this is the way that my body has decided to stop having babies. Apparently, no one told it that the doctor and I took care of that over 7 years ago.

Welcome to the End of life as we know it the beginning of perimenopause. For some women, perimenopause comes lightly, without much of a ripple in the serene pool that is their female journey. To others, it hits like the uglier, meaner older brother of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Welcome to madness. Welcome to your new, starring role as Lady MacBeth for an eight-day run! Welcome! (Now is a really good time to just start saying, “What the Hell?!!” because you’ll be saying it a lot). You and your family are going to love this!

I have always had my glorious journeys through the land of PMS, but previously it was mainly confined to random bouts of hormonally driven weeping, sitting around eating potato chips and Ben & Jerry’s, and a few irrational accusations and a slight hysteria over how I suddenly have nothing to wear. It was never this…this total, split-second transformation into a demon from the garden of hell, who sits on the chests of her babies and sucks away their souls. WTF man?!

I was tipped off to the fact that this month was one of the months where the curtain would be going up when I spun out of control and once again found myself beginning to resemble Lady MacBeth more than my regular waking self (some might argue the difference is slight). The trouble is, these days she’s there before I know it. I mean, my emotional mood swings have now attained the kind of speed and velocity previously only known to the makers of the Bugatti Veyron. I can now go from 0 – to rage in 2.7 seconds. What the Hell?!!

I have read too that it is genetic to some degree. (I can recall that my mothers journey through this land was, what’s the right phrase, oh yeah, Scary as Hell). I even remember praying a year or so ago, “please don’t let me get as crazy as my mom was. Please, not that…” And then I went back to my task of making wild accusations, shining bright spotlights into the eyes of my children and demanding to know what they really think of me as a mother. I can only hope the The Golf Pro is coaching them through it with whispered advice like, “Freeze! Maybe she won’t see you. Don’t move. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t make eye contact! They see it as a challenge and she might charge!” I hope he is helping them learn the 28 day calender. I hope they learn to be more in tune to their sisters, future girlfriends and wives in some way.

Also, I begin to fear with real cause that I may have timed this absolutely perfectly, so that my hormonal madness will coincide with the hormonal surges of three teenagers. Go Me, right? Or rather, oh dear God, what am I going to do? This has to be one of those unspoken, widespread events that is connected to a new generation of women who are delaying having kids until their 30’s and even their 40’s nowadays, but I don’t hear that much about it. Where’s the sisterhood?! I can’t be the only one to find themselves in this position. (…annnnnnd cue the crickets)

The thing is, I hate myself as Lady MacBeth. It ruins my hair and skin, the stage lighting is harsh, and it has changed my metabolism for the worst. But more than all that, it steals me from my children because my focus has to leave them and turn to the management of my own out of control madness. It takes me away from my role as a therapeutic parent, away from the years of hard won patience and affection and empathy I’ve fought to give them, and worst of all, it steals my sense of humor. Unforgivable for me, as it is my chief coping mechanism. I don’t want this to be the person they assume their mother is, but I don’t know how they can render any other portrait. They have no context for the arc of my life outside their own. For all they know, I’ve always been this crazy (shut-up Madilyn).

Is there a bight side to all this early exposure they are getting to the Classics? I hope so. I hope there is an upside to the fact that every couple of months they get to experience both Shakespeare’s and all the Greek Tragedies compressed into a week long festival of bloodletting and baby-eating protagonists right there in their own home. Perhaps if they are ever required to read Medea in high school they won’t need the Cliff Notes, they can just roll their eyes at the idea…”Puh-leaze…Been there!”

This last time, in an effort to give them some insight into what was happening, I chose a child to sit down with and try to explain it in a way they might be able to relate to. I began by comparing it to the teenage hormones we’ve talked to them about. The ones that we’ve told them are going to make them kind of insane. The ones that are coming their way.  The child looked at me and said “So,  you’re going to blame the hormones?” And that’s when I looked at my child and wondered if it was part of the madness that made me choose a boy first to try and explain this to.



Lately Found…


Here’s the things I wanted to share from the week. Hope you find something that makes you smile…

The most wonderful thing by far was this piece entitled Vivian Maier, Street Photographer and Nanny. It is about the posthumous discover of one of the largest caches of street photography work ever found.

None of it had ever been seen before and some people consider that the woman who took them, a nanny by trade, may have been one of the best street photographers of the era. This is one of my favorites, from the website where they are writing about the enormous project of uncovering her story and work. Utterly amazing…

Vivian Maier in Lately Found

http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/

I found WallBling over at ETSY, and I want one. Seriously want one.  Personalized, handmade signs for your home.  I could absolute put a family mission statement, a list of values for our family or a love note to the kids on one of these…like this:

in Lately Found

And for those of you who need inspiration for life’s Second Act, over at More magazine they reminded me of these “Mothers of Reinvention”

And finally, for those of you who need to laugh until your head explodes, try “Damn You AutoCorrect

You’re Welcome…