Monday, September 5, 2011

Public Policy from the 8-Year-Old

Recent conversation among DG, T1, and me in the car:

T1:  I don't want to hear the news anymore.  It's upsetting to me.

Me: What?

This is my first indication that he is even listening to what is on the radio, although I don't know why this is a surprise to me as he can cite the last 7 songs on Radio Disney at any given time.  We had just heard a story from the BBC that said parents could be cited with neglect for allowing their children to become obese.  It mentioned "adoption," indicating that children could be taken from their parents.

Me: Are you upset about that story?

T1: Yes, I would not want to be taken away from my parents.  And I worry that Super PACs will ruin the world as we know it .....

What?  DG's words, I think, coming right out of his mouth.  He has no idea what a Super PAC even is.

DG: You know, L. one of the most wonderful things about this country is that you can feel however you want about the government and say whatever you want.

T1:  I won't get in trouble?

DG: No, it's how things get changed in society.  People who feel strongly about something they don't like in their community, tell the person who represents them in the government.  It works in your school with the Student Council.

T1: I want to do that; I want to change things.

Me: Know what the best thing is to do?  If you want to make public policy when you're an adult?  You have to pay attention in school and do your homework.

T1: Oh. But I only get a half an hour for my homework.

Me: It's about thinking.  The deeper you think, the easier it is to decide what your answer will be. It's simpler really.

T1: Ok. Can we play Wii when we get home?

And with that, it was over, but are the makings of a little politician brewing?  Is he going to continue to his quest to stand up for what he believes in?  I sure hope so.  I LOVED this  exchange.  Just hearing something else coming out of the 8-year-old boy's mouth besides whatever's related to a video game was heartening.  But what's more inspiring is that his confidence is building.  He's thinking of running for 3rd grade rep for his class in the school student government system.  I'm thinking he's got the first glimpses of how his education affects the rest of his life (okay, maybe that's a stretch...)

I just hope he can remember this when homework time comes....

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Conscience and How the Death of an 11-month-old Jarred it Awake

There's this section of freeway near my house called the Arroyo Seco Parkway that twists and stretches for only a few miles from downtown LA to Pasadena.  It's, I think, the first freeway built in Los Angeles, and was probably meant for driving Model A's at about 25 miles an hour.  Today, it's heavily traveled at average speeds of 60 to 70 miles an hour.  Problem is, there is no shoulder and you have to slow down to about 20 for the exits.  Even the on-ramps are so short, that drivers have to come to a complete stop before accelerating to join the sea of traffic.  This freeway is also dangerous.  Like I said, it's twisty.  A stalled car can cause a massive pile-up.  I am hyper vigilant every time I drive on it. (DG drives it every day. *nervous*).

Last week, there was a tragic accident on this freeway.  A stalled car was rear-ended by an SUV and burst into flames.  The driver got out, but couldn't get out her 11-month-old baby.  She tried.  Good Samaritans from the nearby neighborhood tried, but no one could save the baby.

This tragedy is still affecting me so much.  I'm deeply saddened for that poor mother who could not get the child from the car seat.  I'm angry at the lack of consciousness of droning drivers in LA who are either distracted or zoned out to actually take driving as the serious job that it is.  But mostly, I'm disturbed by the accounts that several cars slowly moved beyond the accident on their way to their next thing.  People were on phones (no doubt reporting the accident 9 million times), but motorists didn't stop.  And the reason this bothers me so much is because I wonder what I would have done had I come upon this scene.  Would I have driven by rationalizing that others were handling the situation, or would I have stopped and helped in whatever way I could, even if it was just to support the brave souls who burned themselves trying to get the baby out?

I'm convinced, for whatever it's worth, that I probably would have driven past, praying that someone would save the day and everything would turn out alright.  I know myself, and I think that getting involved would have meant perhaps jeopardizing my own children's safety (there's no shoulder!) or maybe mine.  But I find myself disturbed at this reaction.  I wasn't there.  This was not a situation that I would have even had to make a decision about, but I'm finding myself disappointed in myself for not acting in the scenario in my head where I drive by this accident. 

Life is so fragile.  We never know what's around the corner that could lift us up to unbelievable heights of success or drop us to the pit of tragedy.  My moral compass feels very selfish at this thought.  I worry that, for myself, I've forgotten what community is and how we're supposed to work together to the end of peaceful, joyful existence for all, and when difficulties strike, we're supposed to walk each other through it, selflessly.  I need to remind myself that I'm part of a larger fabric, and that giving of myself, in whatever way I can, is the right thing to do.

No one could have saved that poor baby.  It was an accident, and if you believe in fate or God or whatever universal force decides these things, you can go on about your day with the thought that that baby's death was a catalyst for something else: a re-vision of that freeway with safety updates, infant and toddler car seats with remote control ejector buttons for the straps (I don't know), or a change in me, a decision to act more globally for the good of everyone.  One step at a time, I guess.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


I feel like a quitter.  I've been reading blogs for months and months, but I can't bring myself to write a thing.  I'm struggling again with the work/home balance, and blogging is pretty far down the priority ladder.  What's difficult about this is that if I took the time, I might be rewarded by the wonderful personal satisfaction I get by doing something for myself alone, but there seems to be very little room for me and my interests.  So I pine away for time to percolate ideas, to share about how T1 and T2 are growing into these amazing young people, and to create an identity for myself beyond the traditional roles I find myself entrenched in, something that's creative and not connected to somebody else.  But the pressure to actually write it is insurmountable.  If I put blogging higher up on the priority ladder, something else would have to give.  Instead, I just don't do it.

So, I'm thinking about quitting.  The blogging, I mean.  Seriously, it's been months since I've written anything anyway.  I have tons to say, but I have nothing to say.  I'm torn.  What should I do?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Challenge--or the Perfectionist's Math Test

Today's word is Challenge.

Just as a follow up to my last post, I did have the surgery to remove the skin cancer today, and so far, I feel pretty good.  I suspect there will be some pain tomorrow, but the doctor assures me that this will probably be the end of the skin cancer.  Now I just have to be hyper-vigilant in making sure I don't get any more. There's a challenge, no?

So on to today's challenge....T2 is a bright second grader whose teacher talks about her glowingly at our conferences.  "She's always working hard and trying to learn as much as she can."  She loves school and is completely challenged by every single opportunity, however mundane it may seem.  She finds a challenge in every boring homework worksheet and creates curriculum for fantasy classes that she teaches to her stuffed animals, always simultaneously reinforcing her own learning.

Today, she came home crestfallen with a timed math paper on which she received a 2 out of 15.  Apparently, she "got stuck" on a problem, she says, and did not finish the test.  T1, of course, was announcing this all over the house, soliciting glances of ire from T2's eyes.  If she could have "Superman-heat-vision-ed" him, she would have.  The problem she got stuck on was this word problem:

"Mrs. Tan has 23 stickers.  She will give 5 children an equal numbers of stickers.  How many stickers will each child get?  5? 4? 3? or 6?" 

T2 took the problem to mean that there was an even number of stickers overall, not just an even number to each child.  On her paper, she grouped the stickers into 5s and couldn't for the life of her figure out what to do with the other 3 stickers.  She never moved on.  In her note, the teacher said, "remember--don't spend all of your time on one problem--move on!"

Here is the challenge.  Clearly T2 is a perfectionist.  In this age of high achieving children in a "Race to Nowhere," T2 is starting from a very young age to see herself as exceptional.  She is perpetually the highest scorer in the class.  When frustrations like this trip her up, she is working with what psychologist Carol Dweck calls in her book "Mindset," a "fixed mindset" that if she can't figure out what frustrates her, she is no longer smart.  How can I let my highly self-critical daughter know that mistakes are part of the learning process?  And that messing up this timed math test is exactly what she needed to do in this moment to learn how to be a test taker?  And how can I assure her that tests are not a measure of her intelligence or ability to solve the problems?

What DG and I did do was reflect back her feelings of disappointment in her paper.  Not a judgment of her work, but rather a comforting, "Yeah, that probably felt extremely frustrating when you couldn't get that answer" kind of  way.  Then DG asked her the rest of the questions on the test, to show her that she did know the material.  He explained "remainder," so that she would have a logical explanation for why there were extra in the problem.  Her self deprecation was assuaged for the time being.

But what about the next time?  I praised her effort, not her intelligence, like Dweck says, and crossed my fingers that this will be what she takes with her to the next test. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Today's word is: Biopsy

As in, the kind your doctor takes when she suspects you may have cancer.  CANCER.  And cancer definitely sucks.  I say f*you to cancer on a regular basis when anyone I know or a loved one of someone I know has to deal with its insidious nature in their life.

My step father died of cancer when he was in his early 60s.  That was 25 years ago.  Every single time I hear of someone dying of cancer, or dealing with someone being treated for cancer, I feel that pain of losing my parent all over again. It never becomes something that I hear and just go, "Oh yeah. It's cancer, but it's that totally treatable kind like non-Hodgkins lymphoma, prostate cancer, early-detected breast cancer, basal cell melanoma skin cancer." I have a fear that no matter how treatable it is, once you have it, you always have it.  They say you're in remission but not always cured (although I think that sometimes people are cured of cancer).  Once you have it, you have to resign your life to whatever it takes to manage it.

This is what I now have to do as the biopsy did come back as skin cancer.  Yes, thankfully, it is the totally treatable basal cell melanoma.  I'll be having surgery next Tuesday to remove all of it.  They assure me that this will take care of it.  No more melanoma after surgery, but I will need to see the plastic surgeon since it's on my shoulder in a conspicuous place.  And I trust that I'm in good hands, and the my extremely reputable, highfalutin Santa Monica plastic surgeon will have me walking out of that doctor's office lookin' better than when I went in.

It's scary to think that this could have been much worse.  The only reason I went to have the mole checked out is because I had some cancer insurance that was going to expire.  If I didn't have this, I would have waited.  Waiting is the worst thing you can do when there's a potential for cancer.  But waiting is my first instinct because I come at the end of a long list of people and things that need taking care of. 

There's my family--my children, my husband, the cats, the fish

There's my job--colleagues and students who are depending on me

The household obligations--those groceries are going to buy themselves, you know.

So taking care of myself is increasingly harder and harder to do.  But after the surgery, I must come first.  As cliche as it sounds, if I'm not healthy, I won't be here for my children.  So pictures you see of me this summer will be of the woman with the long sleeved tunic, sitting in the shade, protecting herself so she can beat the bastard cancer.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Home is Where You Let Your Guard Down

Today's word is:  Appreciation.

I have a tremendous appreciation for my life these days.  I have a job that I love that allows me unbelievable flexibility and rewarding work.  I have children who, most of the time, are cooperative and fun to be around.  And I have a husband who loves me unconditionally, picks up where I am lacking, and shares my desire to jam pack our life with experiences, for better or worse, everyday.

So imagine my giddiness this morning as I looked forward to his coming home after a 5-day business trip.  Lots of husbands leave for long periods of time, their wives experiencing single parenthood first hand, but this was the first time DG has gone away for more than a night or two.

I was as organized as the highest paid office manager in a Fortune500 company.  I made lunches, got kids to school, went to work, remembered to put gas in the car....  I knew exactly who needed to be where and how long it would take to negotiate that fine dance of organization that makes a family with multiple children run smoothly.  I had it down.  Never once during the 5 days did I forget anything, overlook a task, or lose my patience with a child.

DG has been home since about 3 pm.  Since then, I've found myself neglecting to turn off a stove burner, glued to the couch, light headed with exhaustion, and unwilling to do any of the things that made the days go so smoothly while he was gone.  Maybe I'm finally letting my guard down.  Maybe I was afraid to stop the intensity of extreme home/life management because to do so would mean, I'd lose my focus and spin out of control.  Or maybe DG grounds me so imperceptibly that just his presence alleviates the pressure of having to do it all, because I know now I don't have to.  Reinforcements are here, and they're welcomed with open arms.

Welcome home, DG.  We missed you.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tasty Morsels

Tonight I went to a belated St. Patrick's day party where kids could jump in the Inflated Bounce House, and parents could sit in the late afternoon sun and sip Guinness--if you're into such a thing--the sipping Guinness, I mean.  The talking parents is always good.

No, I sipped no Guinness; instead I had a couple of these:

photo courtesy of

 Trader Joe's Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Pretzels. Mmm, mmm, mmm.  Crunchy, peanutty, and just the right amount of chocolate.  There's a review of them at Cocoa Heaven.  Tasty.

If you ever find yourself in Trader Joe's, be sure to pick up a bag.  But seriously, take it to a party, 'cause it would be a no-brainer to eat the whole bag.

Hope your weekend is "tasty."