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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Happy First Day of School

The First Day of School has been likened to a holiday for parents. For me it's more like New Years Day than that thing that happens January first. For my kids it's as good as Christmas. I've been shopping the sales for weeks and my home office is stocked for the year ahead. I decorated the school bulletin boards (black, white, and gold, GO Narwhals!!!) and bathroom walls and stalls (with info graphics and encouraging memes swiped from Facebook) last week. 

The Baby went off to 5th grade in a Slytherin costume t shirt complete with cape, with lizard photo folios in her new sling style backpack. Her binder was "perfect, exactly like my teacher wanted."  She also hasn't grown out of her hot stinky feet and the need to remove her shoes from them the moment she gets back in the car after school. This didn't happen in Summer. The other girls don't do this. Anyone know how to mitigate stinky sweaty feet‽ It's like something died in her shoes. I understand boys sometimes have this problem. I'm out of my depth here. Help is appreciated. 

Rainbow Brite has new rainbow Skechers to go with her yoga pants and lucky Irish t shirt for the first day of middle school. She's also the proud owner of a metallic blue combination lock for her first school locker. She made me sign the permission forms for using a locker and smartphone (this is a new thing) before we even left the campus. Heaven forbid they get mixed in with the rest of the papers I have to sign and I forget them. 

Lil Einstein has the cutest interpretation of combat boots I've ever seen for her sophomore year of high school. These boots were made for walkin'...all over the juniors and seniors in her Trigonometry and AP Physics classes. There's no English class on her schedule‽ No biggie, she's taking English 1A over at the Junior College. She casually mentions to me that she might not be able to get all of her homework done in class this year...and she's thinking about joining the math club. You go geek! She's gone from depressed and unmotivated to this academic monster over the last two years and I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief. A gifted child can be just as challenging as a learning disabled one. 

The Senior...ah, the oldest child, who shaped me as a mother through trials by fire, started her day with "the friendship algorithm" printed on her t shirt and that eternally optimistic smile on her face that has brought her through high school on a college track in spite of spending half her days in RSP classes since 3rd grade. I snuck her favorite candy into her backpack before she left and she came back to me still smiling. A little bit of mint chocolate is the best medicine. She didn't need any new clothes or school supplies this year, just a $20 senior t shirt, $65 yearbook, $100 class ring, $200 senior portrait session, $??? prom dress fabric and notions, $50 prom ticket, $???? senior trip, $??? cap and gown, $??? college application fees, $??? testing fees...(help)!

After drop off I met some other moms and grandparents at Panera a few blocks away and we ate breakfast and gossiped about our kids and their teachers, encouraging each other and enjoying the celebration and sympathy. Still buzzing with excitement I didn't dare go home. I'm too liable to start another huge project I'll never have the same energy to finish when I'm in that state. Instead, I met up with my MIL and we ran errands together and caught up over lunch. 

Fortunately, the first day is an early release day for the younger two. We picked them up and celebrated their survival with ice cream. Then, squeezed in one more errand before picking up the older two. Once home, they commenced to nap. Somehow, they never age out of that exhausted first day of school nap. I have a heap of "homework" to fill out and return tomorrow, but I'm still buzzing so it won't be a problem. 

The only thing missing is a "First Day of School Miracle". Wait, we had one of those too. Last night I told my children I would be leaving to take them to school at 7:30 and that they were all old enough to set their alarms and get themselves ready and in the car by that time without me yelling at them. AND THEY DID!!! That's right, it actually happened. It might even happen again tomorrow.

The First Day of School isn't sort of like a holiday for parents. It's my favorite holiday!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Maya Angelo and Crisis Preganancies

The following post from Maya Angelo on Facebook got me right in the feels and reminded me of some important things:

“When I was 16, a boy in high school evinced interest in me, so I had sex with him — just once. And after I came out of that room, I thought, Is that all there is to it? My goodness, I’ll never do that again! Then, when I found out I was pregnant, I went to the boy and asked him for help, but he said it wasn’t his baby and he didn’t want any part of it.

I was scared to pieces. Back then, if you had money, there were some girls who got abortions, but I couldn’t deal with that idea. Oh, no. No. I knew there was somebody inside me. So I decided to keep the baby.

My older brother, Bailey, my confidant, told me not to tell my mother or she’d take me out of school. So I hid it the whole time with big blouses! Finally, three weeks before I was due, I left a note on my stepfather’s pillow telling him I was pregnant. He told my mother, and when she came home, she calmly asked me to run her bath.

I’ll never forget what she said: “Now tell me this — do you love the boy?” I said no. “Does he love you?” I said no. “Then there’s no point in ruining three lives. We are going to have our baby!”

What a knockout she was as a mother of teens. Very loving. Very accepting. Not one minute of recrimination. And I never felt any shame.

I’m telling you that the best decision I ever made was keeping that baby! Yes, absolutely. Guy was a delight from the start — so good, so bright, and I can’t imagine my life without him.

At 17 I got a job as a cook and later as a nightclub waitress. I found a room with cooking privileges, because I was a woman with a baby and needed my own place. My mother, who had a 14-room house, looked at me as if I was crazy! She said, “Remember this: You can always come home.” She kept that door open. And every time life kicked me in the belly, I would go home for a few weeks.

I struggled, sure. We lived hand-to-mouth, but it was really heart-to-hand. Guy had love and laughter and a lot of good reading and poetry as a child. Having my son brought out the best in me and enlarged my life. Whatever he missed, he himself is a great father today. He was once asked what it was like growing up in Maya Angelou’s shadow, and he said, “I always thought I was in her light.”

Years later, when I was married, I wanted to have more children, but I couldn’t conceive. Isn’t it wonderful that I had a child at 16? Praise God!”

Maya Angelou from the essay “The Decision That Changed My Life: Keeping My Baby” in 2001 found in the Family Circle Magazine. 
Today you have the best opportunity to make the best out of the life you have right now. Don't wait for things to get better, make them better. The Angelou Johnson Family.

I'd never heard this story before, but I am an admirer of Maya Angelo. I think it's good to be reminded that just because abortion is legal, that doesn't mean it's the best solution to a crisis pregnancy. I've heard many stories like this, how keeping the baby saved the mother, often because she was willing to work hard and do things for her child that she did not have the self worth to do for herself. What made the difference for Maya was the loving support of her mother. 

We need more of that kind of support for women who choose to keep their babies. I love the work being done by Pregnancy Counseling Center in Santa Rosa. From high school sex education programs to free pregnancy tests, counseling and resource help, sexual abuse recovery groups, post abortion counseling, to the medical clinic with on site ultrasound services, they provide substantial care and resources to every woman who comes, and even support for their partners. Often a woman will have a dozen voices surrounding her that are pressuring her to have an abortion, but her heart is unsure. PCC is a safe place where everything is confidential so all the pressure comes off, and she can see clearly that she really has multiple options and support for whatever she chooses. We can't call abortion a choice if there is no provision for other options. 

What we've learned from surveys of counseling centers like PCC is that when women in crisis pregnancies are given accurate and complete information, and support for all their options, 95% choose to keep their babies. When they are able to see the fetus by ultrasound, 98% will choose to keep their babies. A small percentage (approx. 3%) of those will choose to give their baby up for adoption. I believe that women all have a strong instinct to protect our unborn children. Deep inside we know them to be unique living beings. But we also have a strong instinct for self-preservation. It's appalling to me that we as a culture are okay with putting women in a situation that requires them to choose between their own lives and the lives of their unborn children. 

If you are pro-life, or pro choice, or just pro-women, you should be looking for places like PCC to support. Because the issue is bigger than whether abortion should be legal or not. It's bigger than having autonomy over our own bodies. The issue includes how we treat women in a crisis they did not create all by themselves. It includes having autonomy over our minds to gather accurate information and make clear decisions without pressure from partners and friends who have their own motivations. It's about the life women have to keep living after they've made their decision, and the lives their children will live if we punish them socioeconomically for their choice. It's about the shame and other abuse we heap on them, as if the natural consequences of that decision are not difficult and deterrent enough. With the majority of women now having abortions being those who already have children, it's about the massive increase in poverty forcing women to choose between the survival of their whole current family and that of one more tiny member. It's not just uneducated teenagers who made a mistake that we're talking about.

When we balance the ambition and wealth creation of capitalism with a social safety net that ensures worker protections like a fair minimum wage, universal health care, and access to as much education as anyone wants to pursue, we create a pathway out of poverty for all of our citizens and remove the crushing weight, now unfairly carried by women, to provide what her village ought to. The whole country benefits economically from the steady addition of healthy educated young adults. Furthermore, the surest solution to overpopulation is not abortion among the impoverished, but the higher education of women. Around the world we see birth rates drop as women have increased equality and access to education. 

When we support women in crisis pregnancies with unconditional acceptance and a safety net to fall back on, like Maya's mother gave her, we help them to succeed in raising more beautiful people that will be friends and co-laborers on earth with our children, that we can hand our world over to some day with joy and pride. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Child Safety vs Independence

When issues of child safety vs independence come up there's always a lot of tension. Not just between people, but within us as moms. How do we foster independence in our children without putting them in any danger? We can't! There's no way to do it without some level of risk. But that's the point. We want them to learn thoughtful risk management so they can continue to be safe out in the world as young adults. 

I was abused by my foster brother in the 'safety of my own home' and as a mother have had to fight the random persistent fear that anyone I know could be a child molester. I know in my logical brain that it's just not true, but I'm perhaps more vigilant in that area than a mother who doesn't have that experience. On the other hand, I had the run of our small town at age seven and was babysitting someone else's five children at the age of 15 and no one thought that was dangerous or unusual at the time. My kids are growing up in a much different world, but because of that experience I've pushed myself to find ways to give them more freedom than some people think is appropriate. It's easy to underestimate the level of independence a child is ready for because our protective instinct is so strong. But remembering the glorious feeling of my own slowly escalating freedom growing up, and putting specific ages to it, has given me some perspective. 

I've looked around to see what other parents are allowing and it's all over the place. Some people want to codify into law a specific set of guidelines, usually very strict ones. But they're usually people that don't have the challenges of poverty to contend with. The law is presently pretty flexible where I am in California and that's important because, as parents, we're all trying to do our best, every child is different in what they're prepared to face in the world at each age, and the world they're growing up in is constantly changing. Furthermore, the challenges being faced by an increasingly large percentage of Americans living in poverty can be solved in a variety of creative ways that may not always fit a legal box made by well meaning people in a more privileged class.

There have been times that I've considered calling CPS about what appeared to me to be a bad/dangerous parenting decision, but haven't been compelled to actually do it yet. My dad was a police officer when I was young so I'm not squeamish about calling the cops. But when we see something we have a choice: is it serious enough to possibly warrant separating the child from their parents (causing definite trauma) or is that family just in need of a supportive community instead. Like most parents, I would do anything to protect a child, including someone else's. We can stay and watch over a child we think may be unsupervised and talk (kindly) to the parent when they show up. We can lend a hand to another mom with her hands full. We can say a kind word to a child whose mom looks unhinged in the grocery store. We've all been there. But our culture has become very hostile toward parents. Making an effort to be the community that you would like to have can be a better solution. 

On the other side of that equation I've received a call from CPS because of something my two year old said in preschool. My husband and I met with the agent and clarified our disciplinary policy, which is well reasoned and was not a problem. But that visit was as scary as hell. I've done the mandated reporter training, though I'm not currently in the position of being one, so I understand why the preschool teacher had to report first. But my visceral reaction toward her for not approaching ME first was severe. I can imagine a less confident parent making more trouble for themselves by having a massively explosive reaction. For most of us a call from CPS is our second biggest nightmare, close behind actually losing a child.

This brings me to my last point. Ultimately, some children will be lost. That's why we have that nightmare. We know there are horrible people out there who know we can't do it all. They know we can't possibly watch our child every second of their lives. And they're looking for openings to exploit. We know that the world is a dangerous place and a deadly accident can happen in the blink of an eye. We know that our brains are not capable of the vigilant undistracted watchfulness that internet trolls expect us to have over our children. This is the horrible fear every parent must live with. We cannot take that much responsibility on ourselves. The world is what it is, and we can only do so much within it. When we are crippled by fear of the world, we cripple our children's ability to live in it. We have to raise them for the world we want to build, without unreasonable fear of the world we are in. This is the opportunity cost. Generations of parents who lost half their children to disease and accidents kept pressing forward. They left us a much safer world. We cannot let fear, or grief, stop the forward progress of humanity. 

As my kids are all getting older, the biggest takeaways on the independence vs child safety argument that I can offer are these:

• Teach the skills they need for independence early and often. It will be a long process and there will be some risk. 

• Don't rush to judge what other parents are allowing because you don't know what level they've taught to and what their risk/benefit analysis with their child was. 

• There's a big risk in waiting too long to cultivate independence, that you will miss the window and have risk averse young adults living with you forever. 

• The dangers we have to guard against are different, but statistically we are living in a safer world than the one we were raised in. Fear causes us to make bad decisions, so it's important to fight against it. 

• When you've done your best, be kind to yourself. And be kind to other parents. We all have to go through this, and not everyone will come out unscathed. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

On Compulsory Education

For too many kids compulsory high school attendance is a form of imprisonment. More than 20 years after leaving I'm still traumatized by my formal education. How do I know? I recently applied to take a few classes at my local junior college and I had to fight off a panic attack just sitting at my home computer logging on to their website. As an adult returning to school you might expect me to worry about my grades, about the challenge of taking classes on top of an already full and established life, or the new social situation I'll be entering. But that's not it at all. I'm afraid of becoming trapped again. 

How can I be trapped by something I've signed up for? I know it doesn't make sense. But all of my my high school memories are connected to a deep sense of imprisonment. I was a gifted kid with a B+ average taking the most challenging classes they would let me. But I maintained that gpa without ever doing homework at home or studying...anything. I refused to do work at home as my only avenue of rebellion against teachers wasting so much of my time at school. I was deeply profoundly bored. 

People say trite things about kids who are bored, but I wasn't allowed to relieve my own boredom. I was trapped. I was forced to spend all day with people I didn't know who didn't care to know me. I lived by a bell schedule that told me when I could eat and when I could pee. I was doing nothing that was either meaningful or productive for the world. I passed the dreaded exit exams in my freshman year, one of only four freshmen to pass the writing test. Every day that I was compelled to attend after that was a day I felt imprisoned. 

It was too horrific for me to stay. Halfway through my junior year I dropped out and homeschooled myself to get a real diploma. I only had five classes left to take to get it so I graduated early. At the same time I took a full time job as office manager for two businesses starting up in the same space and got to learn the printing industry. Learning in the real world doing real productive and meaningful things was like coming out of a coma. I was engaged and excited. The real world is a much better place to learn than this artificial environment we've created to formally educate our children. 

I've become very involved in public education as the mother of 4 daughters. Our educational system has a lot of real problems that will take a lot of creativity to solve. Educators are beginning to ask how people would change the system  and this one thing stands out for me. We need to remove the 'compulsory' element of our public education system and create an 'opportunity' educational structure. If we want children to learn we must sell them on the subject we're presenting. We know that forcing them to learn by rote does not result in a retained education. They have to want to learn. We must promote based on mastery and build real world incentives into the system at every level. And we must get the kids who feel trapped out of the classroom and into apprenticeship learning opportunities. 

You may argue that if education isn't compulsory parents won't make their children attend! This is why real world incentives are essential. Many parents will send their kids simply for the free childcare, and others for the free lunch. But these parents drop their kids off and have no further involvement in the process. Parental involvement is one of the biggest factors in student success.   If there are real parent incentives for being involved in the education of their children, the education the children get will be more meaningful and effective. 

These rewards can be additional educational opportunities like trips to national parks or museums framed as 'vacations.' Or digital rewards like ebooks, music, and movies curated to expand engagement with the arts. It can be a system to reward diligence by providing students with the tools to develop their talents with options like musical instruments, art supplies, or sports gear. Advancing in core subjects can be rewarded with opportunities to take fun classes. The prison like bell schedule can be eliminated and the centralization of education broken up as each child navigates their own path through the educational opportunities presented in their region. The most productive and retained learning experiences my children have had have been out of school visiting museums and historic places. Anything we can do to take education on location, we should be doing. 

No, I don't expect anyone to give my proposal serious thought. It would create massive chaos within the existing structure. It's so fundamental a change I'm sure there are readers already writing their rebuttals before I reach the end of my argument. 'The system shouldn't have to change to accommodate a few gifted kids. They'll be alright regardless.' But there are so many impoverished kids that are also struggling, also dropping out, and also determined never to be trapped again by formal education. They too, feel imprisoned by it. Their schools even have metal detectors at the doors and police patrolling the halls. They are becoming more averse to education with each passing day. Our school system is shutting down the natural curiosity born in every child by forcing them to learn in one proscribed way on one expected timeline. 

I am daring to imagine something completely different. I'm imagining a crazy complicated system that we now have the technology to make simple if we had the will. I'm imagining a course of education that begins with the health of newborns and the simultaneous education of their parents and exends fluidly through childhood into adulthood along a variety of pathways to employment. I'm imagining a complete shift in the way we view education from teaching a set curriculum on a set schedule to teaching how to learn and coaching students down the path of lifelong learning that will prepare them to meet the challenges of the future. 

It has massive consequences, but it all begins with changing one word. Start changing it in your head and see what possibilities open up, how it demands we make school better suit the students. America should be the land of opportunity, not compulsion. Especially for our children. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

(My) Political Perspective

Imagine how that would improve the situation for veterans, and frankly, for the military if they could recruit soldiers who are already educated. Maybe we could all get educated enough to figure out how to avoid war. Or at least fight them without loss of life. Wouldn't that be something. I just saw another announcement that for the first time our military has fewer active duty soldiers than we had during the last world war. Why the heck have we been maintaining an active military that's larger than we needed to fight a world war for the last 70 years‽ There have been a few obvious points where we needed it, but to maintain it at that level the whole time?!? Our military is getting more than half of our national budget. And we have the greatest military in the world by such a large margin it's ridiculous. It's time to shift our priorities some. We only need to be able to destroy every other country on earth once. Being able to do it 100x over is a misuse of our resources. 

Strengthening our infrastructure and educating our population is as important to national defense as an active military. Developing our natural and food resources and protecting them from toxic pollution and corporate destruction done to create scarcity for profit is as important to national defense as an active military. These resources can be quickly drawn on should a genuine military need arise. And housing the homeless reduces the amount of crime and disease in our cities and the burden on police and medical personnel making us all safer. 

This isn't radical. It's incredibly practical. What kind of country do you want to live in? I'd like to live in one worth defending. I don't think of that as a liberal idea. I think it's incredibly conservative to protect and invest in our country, our people, and our national security in more than the one obvious way.

I've always been told that money smart people are conservative, but every leading economist is supporting Bernie Sanders right now. Investing in our people and our infrastructure isn't just a wildly liberal move. It's a smart money move. We know that pure capitalism is self destructive and pure socialism is as well, but a wise balance between them can keep either from crushing our economy. We have to stop fighting from opposite corners on principle and figure out what that balance is. 

Yup, that's my political soapbox speech. I was raised Christian Conservative Republican but I can't stomach the hate speech anymore and I can't reconcile their behavior with my Bible. I can't stomach Hillary Clinton either. Fortunately, there's a guy in this race that quotes the Bible like he actually knows it without ever making a big deal about his religious beliefs, or even identifying with a particular religion.  A guy who lives by the same basic rules and comes from the same culture Jesus did. He basically embodies "WWJD" without any of the judgy churchiness. I don't understand how I have Christian friends and family who think Trump is God's man in this race. Trump is a psychopath whose quotes and behavior are eerily similar to Hitler's. Seriously! They did a "Trump or Hitler" quotes questionnaire and it was scary how much they sound alike (translated of course).

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right." Somehow that has been coming to my mind a lot as I view political comments and memes on Facebook. I hold my tongue and move along a lot because I know we all have different perspectives, I can't make a good argument short enough to matter without sounding trite and insulting, and I'm smart enough to know I'm at least as fallible as Lincoln. But you clicked on my blog so you get to read my thoughts on the matter. 

I'm not looking for a fight. I'm just hoping people are thinking and trying to overcome their cognitive biases as I know I have been striving to as I've watched Reaganomics, which was much praised in my childhood, fail spectacularly, and our "war on terror" destabilize the Middle East causing the radicalization of ever more terrorists. The last few elections I could hardly bring myself to vote. I couldn't support what my party had become, but I couldn't support the other guys either. Trump made it clear to me that I'm definitely not a Republican anymore. In Bernie I've found there's some hope of an uncorrupted humble intelligent and honest President who actually cares about everyone in this country. If you're in California and you've been a Republican but you're in that middle space now, change your registration to "no party" by May 23rd and help give him a chance in the primary.

If you vote only on the abortion issue, I am pleading with you. Abortion is largely a symptom of poverty and poor education. Making it illegal won't end it. It never has. But we can treat the disease by improving the opportunities for and equality of women, and especially minority women. I believe that's what Bernie will strive to do. I believe that's what Jesus would do. He didn't come to lay down the law. He came to make a way. Literally this:

Furthermore, if you support safe food Bernie is the only candidate with an established record of standing up to Monsanto. How much will anything else really matter when we're all poisoned by our food? 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Wedding Regrets

Like nearly every little girl, I had visions of my perfect wedding when I was growing up. There are half a dozen home-made wedding dresses in Barbie World that can attest to that. When I married at the age of 19, my dress was perfect, the day was perfect, the people were perfect. For a relatively minuscule budget we managed to have an event with an open invitation to our church family, in addition to the 150 invitations we sent out. That was our first priority, and we were overwhelmed by the people who came out to support us or sent cards and letters from around the country. The ushers estimated 250 people packed into the church to celebrate with us. Young as I was, I managed to marry the perfect man for me. Nearly 20 years later I can still affirm that.

But the budget was small, our church didn't have a ceiling (it was under construction), the photographer was still learning, and the background color of the reception hall was just plain ugly. None of those are really regrets. They were things I accepted in order to accommodate our priority of having the people we love, and who love us, surround us on our wedding day. Miss Manners wrote that you should write out your guest list first and then figure out what kind of wedding you can have for that many people on your budget, rather than planning a fancy wedding for however many people you can afford and cutting your friends list.

Many dear friends volunteered to help make it happen. A lovely friend of my mother's, and mine now, volunteered to help with the decorations. I knew she made beautiful crafts and gratefully accepted her help. I had a vision of what I wanted that I could do within my budget. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't that great either. My mom wouldn't let me have a bridesmaid in each color of the rainbow, so I had to settle for a blander palette. It was just adequate. There was no way it could be my dream plan and I had reconciled myself to that. When we met in the reception hall to talk about it, she had some other visions, but I was stressed and felt like so many things were already out of my control and had been compromised on that I wasn't able to see her vision. That was the moment I fell apart and cried. It happens to every bride at some point. I didn't want to control every detail, I just didn't want to feel so entirely out of control. Later that evening I pulled myself together and got over it. She graciously helped me create my vision for the reception hall decorations anyway.

A while later her daughter got married. Again, she created all the decorations. This time according to her own vision. It was incredibly beautiful. I discreetly inquired about the cost of doing so much. Crafters generally love to share when they make something amazing from very little budget. Her budget for those amazing decorations was about the same as mine had been. At that moment I deeply regretted shutting down her offer of a better vision because I was so afraid to let go of any more of my own.

It's never fun to learn you've been small minded. It's a lesson I hope I learned well enough to not repeat. Creativity is highly valued at present in all sorts of projects. But when a leader is so enamored of their own vision that they shut down the visions of the creative people around them, those people cannot give them their best. As with most regrets, I don't lament what was, but what could have been.

I'm pretty sure I complimented my friend profusely at her daughter's wedding. I'm not sure I apologized. If you're reading this, I'm so sorry I shut you down. Not just because my decorations could have been so much better, but because I value you as a person and I appreciate now your character, that you were able to continue to help me because you loved me even when I was young and stupid. You have always made me feel loved. Thank you.