Grandma, Grace, Portage, Petunias, and a Jade Green Sweatshirt

My grandma would be 101 years old today, if she were still alive.  Last year I tried to write the centennial tribute she deserved, but I was recovering from a brain injury, so not only was everything a struggle but I felt really terrible and inadequate about everything…and also, I realized, “Grandma meant so much to me that I can’t cram it all into one article.”

So here is another article with some inspirations from Grandma that have struck me over the past few months.

Grace

The school I attended in seventh and eighth grades closed this year and will be torn down.  That’s fine with me–it was poorly designed in the first place and was in bad shape when I was there 30 years ago.  I was reminiscing to my son about the bleak concrete courtyard in which we were forced to hang around until the first bell rang, and about how I was on the first bus to arrive and therefore had to sit there for 40 minutes, often getting bullied.  In particular, there was this one eighth-grade football player who made my seventh-grade mornings miserable by yelling insults at me across the courtyard while his friends laughed.

Suddenly I remembered telling Grandma about that, when she called after I’d spent the whole day wincing shamefully over what that football player had yelled when he noticed that I was sitting with my legs crossed at the knee.  I couldn’t bear to repeat exactly everything he said (the gist was that I was trying to control my urge to be raped by him); what I told her was his opening line of sneering, “Who sits with their legs crossed?!” in a way that sounded like it was a totally stupid, wrong thing to do.  Grandma said, “Hmm, who sits with her legs crossed?  A graceful, elegant lady with impeccable manners!”  That really turned it around for me.  That bully and others continued to hurt my feelings, but it did help to notice how often their insults boiled down to, “You’re behaving too well!  You think you’re better than us!” which implied that, for all their frightening volume and vitriol and violence, they actually were afraid that I was better than them–and gee, maybe I was.  It depends on what your standards are, and I’m glad that Grandma nudged me to consider mine. Read more of this post

That Time We Ate Million-year-old Dust

This is a story my cousin Tiffany recalled during a recent family gathering when my mom asked us what we remembered from the summer my parents were away a lot, leaving me and my brother and cousins to fend for ourselves.  As soon as she mentioned the dust, I remembered that picnic too, and we were able to reconstruct the story.  I decided it’s entertaining enough to tell in public.

Twenty-seven years ago this month, I was 16, my brother Ben and cousin Tiffany were 13, and Tiffany’s brother Mark was 10–and our grandmother (Janmother) was hospitalized suddenly.  My dad, Ben, and I rushed to Oklahoma City, where she lived (a 3-hour drive from our home), to be with her while she awaited the test results that showed her cancer had recurred.  She would spend the rest of that summer in the hospital having treatment.

Meanwhile, Tiffany and Mark, who lived in Tennessee, had non-refundable plane tickets to visit us–arriving just a few days after Janmother went to the hospital!  We drove from Oklahoma City to the Tulsa airport to get them and took them right back to Oklahoma City at first.

Then we began the pattern that defined the rest of the summer: My dad, who couldn’t take much time off from his job, spent weekends in Oklahoma City.  My mom, whose work was mostly during the school year, spent weekdays there.  Every Sunday night and Friday night, they switched places.  This meant that one of them was always on hand to supervise Janmother’s care–which proved frighteningly necessary in that hospital!  In order to overlap so that they could update each other on Janmother’s condition and the state of things at home (and have a little time together, for gosh sakes!), they left us home alone for 7 or more hours each time.  We also were alone every weekday while my dad was at work.

We were responsible teenagers!  We didn’t have any wild parties, burn down the house, or get seriously injured.  We just got a bit more silly than we might have been with supervision. Read more of this post

Why My Toddler Doesn’t Watch Sesame Street

I remember, when I was 3 or 4 years old, sitting in front of the television watching the test pattern waiting for my local public television station to begin its broadcast day.  I liked the pretty colored stripes.  Finally they would disappear, the station information would be displayed along with a drawing of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (the state bird), and an authoritative voice would announce, “This is OETA.  Public television for all of Oklahoma.”  Then I would hear that cheerful song about sweeping the clouds away and going where the air is sweet, and for the next hour my television would show me a wonderful world in which fuzzy monsters and real people of all colors live side-by-side in a place where you can find a friend just by stepping out of the house.

My daughter Lydia is 18 months old and has never seen an episode of “Sesame Street”.  Why do I deprive her of this experience I loved so much??  There are two reasons.

One is that children under 2 years old should not watch any television at all.  The American Academy of Pediatrics still says this and has updated its statement to include the use of computers and tablets–no screen-time for toddlers.  I know, a lot of my parenting peers think this is simply impossible.  I agree that it’s impossible to avoid any screen exposure at all, in a world where electronic screens are incorporated into many public places and most adults are constantly poking some kind of PocketFox.  (Just yesterday, I was in a hospital elevator with a wall-mounted screen relentlessly playing hospital publicity videos!)  Still, it’s worth the effort to save our babies’ eyes and hearts and brains by keeping them away from the screens as much as we can and certainly not encouraging them to watch TV.  I’ve explained how we kept our first child off the screens until he was 2 and phased it in carefully after that.

Everybody told me it would be harder with the second child.  Yes, it is, because her big brother loves to play computer games, and our computer is in the living room.  It’s true that Lydia sometimes toddles over to watch what he is doing, so she’s probably had more total screen-time than he had by this age.  But when we rearranged before she was born, we placed our L-shaped computer desk such that the screen is turned 45 degrees toward the wall, instead of facing the center of the room; that makes it less eye-catching.  Our television set faces the couch, but we hardly ever watch it when Lydia’s awake.  Neither parent has a smartphone, so she’s not seeing a screen while we’re holding her.  I try to keep my iPad out of her sight; if she climbs into my lap while I’m using it, I finish up as quickly as I can.  Most importantly, we never turn on a video for her or let her play with the iPad herself.

But “Sesame Street” is so sweet and charming and a rich source of cultural references in our family and the wider society!  As I said in my previous article:

But then, when I was 7 months pregnant, an odd sound made by the elevator at work reminded me of the “Rubber Ducky” song from “Sesame Street”, and I suddenly felt devastated–how could I deprive my child of the joy of knowing Ernie and Big Bird and…and LOVABLE FURRY GROVER?!

Well, here’s what we learned when raising Nicholas: Read more of this post

That Time I Drank 33-Year-Old Grape Juice

My family has an ancestral home, a place that’s been owned by our family ever since it was built in 1910.  It’s a large, elegant, three-story brick house on the main street of a pleasant town in Ohio.  My maternal grandmother grew up there, and although she itched to leave that town because of the stifling social climate, she enjoyed coming back to visit.  Her sister inherited the house and passed it on to her children.  My cousin-once-removed lives there alone now but cheerfully welcomes all of the extended family to big gatherings for special occasions and smaller visits whenever we’re in the area.

I was there for a medium-sized gathering in 1997.  My mother and her Japanese storytelling colleague were passing through Ohio on a tour and spending a weekend at the ancestral home, so my uncle and his two daughters came over from Indiana, and I took a bus from Pittsburgh.

My great-aunt and great-uncle were still alive at that time.  They were the kind of people who like to save things.  Read more of this post

Standing in the Waves with Grandma

Learn all you can now so you’ll have time when you’re old to learn the things that haven’t been invented yet.
—Louise Kirn Oguss

Louise Kirn Oguss was my maternal grandmother, and that’s what she said to me when I was thirteen and resisting the idea that I soon ought to learn to drive.  I didn’t like the idea of piloting a two-ton machine that could kill people, and I wanted to leave my small town as soon as anyone would let me and live in New York City, where I wouldn’t need a car to get around.  Grandma explained that, although it was fine to avoid driving in my day-to-day life, having that skill in my repertoire could be useful in many situations–in fact, I might even save a life by driving someone to a hospital, and if I were ever called upon for emergency driving, everyone would be safer if I knew what I was doing.  I admitted that she had a point, and although I dawdled a little bit in learning to drive, I did get my license before I finished high school.

But by then, Grandma was gone.  She died of cancer just after my fifteenth birthday.  If she were still alive, today would be her one hundredth birthday.

I wish she’d stayed longer.  I never got enough time with her, even in the summers when I went without my parents to stay with Grandma in her wonderful old house in Far Rockaway, in the southeastern corner of Queens at the very end of the A train subway line, and we had adventures together all over New York City and at Silver Point Beach just outside the city.  I wished I could live there all the time!  Grandma and I enjoyed museums and people-watching and eating exotic foods and exploring buildings and neighborhoods and parks, and we never ran out of things to talk about.  She told me stories from all eras of her life, she told me things she’d picked up from her wildly varied reading, and she truly listened to me and made me feel fascinating and fully appreciated.  She knew how to listen to other people, too, and what questions to ask, so that we got to hear the stories of pizza chefs and cab drivers and a very old lady in the supermarket who had once been the pianist for the Rockettes.  Grandma had a gift for drawing out each person’s special traits and valuing them.  I wish I were better at that!

But I feel guilty complaining that I didn’t get more time with her, because I’m her oldest grandchild–one of my cousins wasn’t even born yet when Grandma died, and some were too young to remember her well.  I’m lucky to have known her as well as I did and to have so many memories of doing things with her.

I wanted to write a tribute to Grandma on her centennial, like I did for my other grandmother but better, explaining how very special she was to me and how profound an influence she has had on my life.  Three months ago I started turning over ideas, hoping to come up with some kind of structure so I wouldn’t just ramble on but could really convey her wonderfulness.  But then I was in an accident, and too much of my time and energy went into just getting by, and I’m still not fully recovered, and then in these last few days I’ve had big mood crashes and headaches just when I thought I was going to write . . . and I know Grandma would understand; I know she would say that the specific date is not important, that the most important thing for me to do is heal, that I don’t owe her a tribute anyway . . . but still, I felt that I was letting her down and letting myself down and that I’ve spent far too much of the past twenty-seven years regretting that Grandma isn’t with me instead of taking a positive approach like hers and being a better person.

Thinking about it this morning, suddenly I not-quite-heard Grandma’s voice in my mind: “But honey.  You’ve already written so many interesting things.”

She’s right.  I learned to do one of those things that hadn’t been invented yet: I write for the Internet.  I’ve published more than 600 articles!  Grandma would appreciate every one of them.  (Who knows–maybe she does?  Would it be heaven without wi-fi?)  It’s true that I’ve written almost nothing about Grandma herself, but my mission to tell people about Earth and all the great things we can do here is something Grandma would totally get behind.  She’d be thrilled to see how I can link my own articles together and link them to reference materials and other interesting stuff, and minutes later people in Australia and India and Holland are reading my words.  And in the process, I have learned to be braver about what I say and to decide when it’s good enough without calling someone else to read it for me.

Grandma meant so much to me that I can’t cram it all into one article.  Here is just one story that I hope will show you a little bit of what she was like and how she shaped me.

The first summer I went to Grandma’s alone, I was just six years old and not only shy but nervous and cautious by nature.  I didn’t know how to swim and hadn’t been near the ocean for two years.  On our first visit to the beach, I must have looked anxious as we approached the pounding surf.  Grandma said, “Now, here is what I like to do: We’ll go into the water up to our knees and stand, holding hands, and as the waves go in and out they’ll pull sand from under our feet, but we’ll stay put and see who can stand the longest without taking a step.”  We did this.  The water buffeting my legs was daunting, so much deeper when a wave came in and then sucking at me as it went out, and it was full of slimy seaweed and scratchy bits of shell–but I was safe holding Grandma’s hand.  I felt the sand being pulled out from under the edges of my feet, then more and more until I was standing on tiny narrow piles, and then one foot dropped and I was falling forward, face-first into the salty froth–and Grandma pulled me up and laughed and said, “Let’s go in two steps farther!”  Pretty soon I was in up to my shoulders and loving every minute of it.  I played exactly the same game with my son when he was six and made his first visit to the ocean.  Yes, it’s weird and wet and powerful–isn’t it great?!

Being cautious has its advantages.  Grandma never tried to talk me out of my essential nature.  She showed me how to feel just safe enough to have fun and, by broadening the range of things I felt safe doing, to work up the courage to try new things more easily.  That combined with fifteen years of her belief in my ability to do great things, and with the example of her own life, to support me in feeling able to do what I yearned to do: I left the small town for the big city (not New York, it turned out, but Pittsburgh), got a great education, had a lot of fun with some fascinating men, worked out a career and a home and a family that suit me, and found ways to help make the world a better place.  I’d still like to be kinder and more positive and better at asking people about themselves, like her–but I feel that if Grandma dropped in on me now, she’d be very glad to see what my life is like.

And she’d tell me to get off the computer when it’s giving me a headache.  Happy birthday, Grandma!  Good night!

That Time I Caused Trouble in Sunday School

This is a story I’ve told my son Nicholas many times.  It’s entertaining for him, but it’s also a story that really gets him thinking about right and wrong, temptation and resistance, punishment and forgiveness, what those kids who get into trouble all the time might be thinking, and many other interesting issues.  It’s inspired some great discussions!

I’ve been thinking for a long time about writing some “storytelling” style posts like this, to share some of my better anecdotes from my visit to Earth.  Please comment below or contact me if you would like to read more stories like this!

I was a mostly well-behaved child.  I liked to learn rules and follow them.  I liked to do things that made adults approve of me.  Sometimes I was disobedient or obnoxious at home or in other familiar places with familiar people, but because I was very shy my behavior in public situations like school was calibrated to attract as little attention as possible.  It was very rare for me to “get in trouble” in school even enough to have a teacher take me aside to speak to me, and I certainly never got sent to the principal or anything like that.

This was true also in Sunday school, which I attended at a church so large that there was a separate class for each grade, which might have as many as 50 names on the attendance sheet and 20-30 kids present on any given day.  Our classrooms were much like those in a school, with a big chalkboard at the front and small bulletin boards alongside it.  Each grade had a different curriculum theme, but they varied widely–some were vague, so the teachers scrambled to put together random activities to keep the kids busy and maybe sort of relate to the theme; other years had structured activities and worksheets for every week.

Fifth grade spent the entire year pondering the question, “Why Do Bad Things Happen?”  This was a Unitarian church, so each week we studied the perspective of a different religion or culture.  One of the first ideas presented was that bad things happen to bad people who deserve them.  That idea was quickly refuted by kids thinking of examples of good people who’d had bad things happen to them, and vice versa.  But there was also a tangential discussion of whether people who do bad things are always bad people and whether there really is any such thing as a bad person, or we’re all just people who sometimes do bad things and sometimes do good things.  Many of the kids talked about believing that they were basically good people, or at least medium people, but once in a while “something comes over me” such that a bad thing just had to be done and they were powerless to resist.  When a later lesson brought up the idea of evil spirits that possess people and force them to behave badly, most of the class agreed that even if this weren’t literally true, it was a good description of what the urge to misbehave is like.

I didn’t argue aloud, but I was skeptical.  I was a good girl, and badness was not tempting.  Read more of this post

The Nutcracker: music for the imagination

Ah, December, the month when the days are getting shorter and shortest as we try to pack in shopping, parties, preparations for hospitality or travel, and tranquil spiritual contemplation along with all our usual activities!  It makes a kid who persistently wants attention all the more annoying.

The December my son Nicholas turned two, I found a great way to get him to use his imagination, work out some of his physical energy, and leave me alone just enough that I could wash the dishes!  It also boosts my holiday spirit and gives me a nice feeling of being a classy, educational sort of mom.

Most of us are familiar with The Nutcracker as a ballet, a theatrical event that we might attend annually or only when somebody we know is in it.  But it’s also a musical composition by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky that is beautiful and tells a story even when you have only the music.

We happen to live just blocks away from the incomparable Jerry’s Records, so I picked up The Nutcracker as a two-record set for $4.
Nutcracker album cover
Read more…

The Internet of 20 Years Ago

I just happened upon this article from Wired magazine, which is undated but appears to be from right around 1994–the era when the World Wide Web existed but many major corporations still had no clue about what this Internet thing was, and when most people who did use the Internet still knew what a “shell prompt” was.

If you were already online then, you’ll enjoy this blast of nostalgia for that golden age before the Eternal September and the spam tsunami.

If you weren’t online yet at that point, you may be interested in this glimpse of how things used to be.

I was going to share this link on my Pinterest page where I post assorted interesting stuff–but it’s not pinnable because there are no images on the page.  Ah, those were the days!

My Favorite Love Song

I’m not very romantic. A lot of the gooey sentiments expressed around Valentine’s Day send me into fits of critical thinking. I’m kind of like this. But I am in love with Daniel, and have been for almost 20 years, and sometimes get kind of sentimental about it.

In particular, I can get all choked up thinking about the years when I truly believed it was unlikely that I would ever find someone I really loved and liked and felt really well matched with, who would feel the same way about me–because I thought I was too weird, too smart, too interested in unpopular things and not good enough at feigning interest in popular things, too unfashionable, too tall, too radical, too shy, too strange in my perception of romantic relationships, too nervous, too obsessed with words so that a long list repeatedly using a word like “too” would start to make that word seem so ridiculous that I’d feel uncertain it really existed. My first many crushes on boys convinced me that anybody I thought was wonderful would consider me somewhere between horribly repulsive and unworthy of notice.

Despite all that, I wistfully enjoyed listening to this song, composed by Linda Ronstadt and Wendy Waldman, performed by Lucy Simon on In Harmony, the 1980 album of wonderful songs for children performed by popular singers of the era. I loved the whole album (except for “The Sailor and the Mermaid”–gack, romance and terrible singing!) and played it a zillion times and memorized all the songs, but it’s this one that came to mind when I finally did find someone really compatible and fall in love.

I Have a Song

I have a song. I think it’s a song that’s about you.
I have a song. I think it’s a song about somebody who
Can see a cloud go drifting by, feel the very same as I.
Oh, I have a song. I think it’s a song that’s about you,
That’s about you.

I have a dream. I think it’s a dream maybe you have too.
I have a dream, a wonderful dream about somebody who
I think would really like to know the part of me I’m scared to show.
Oh, I have a dream. I think it’s a dream maybe you have too,
That maybe you have too.

I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
I have a hope, a wonderful hope about somebody who
Believes in love, believes in me, believes in how good life can be.
Oh, I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
Oh, I have a hope. I think it’s a hope that I share with you.
Oh, I share with you.

See? It’s not about how I’m obsessed with you and you’re everything to me and I’d die without you and I’d kill for you and I’m nothing without you and all that overblown freakishness. This song is about how we appreciate the same things, enjoy being together, want to know each other deeply and be okay with that. It’s a song about my fondest dream and hope, that someone special will love the true me, and how I’m a little frightened even to talk about that, but I hope maybe you’ll understand and feel the same and we can share our lives together.

It’s not that it’s the greatest song. It’s very ’70s-sounding, with instrumental music that starts off so saggy that it makes me want to roll my eyes a little. But it’s earnest and singable, and it says exactly what I want. To me, finding the man for whom my heart had this song is the most romantic thing imaginable, and all I really want for Valentine’s Day is to listen to it (or even just think it) while held in his arms.

My brother had the same doubts I did about ever finding a compatible partner, and then he didn’t have my experience of choosing an ultra-geeky college with a skewed gender ratio where it was surprisingly easy to surround myself with compatible people, fall in love repeatedly, and find a wonderful life-partner before I turned 21. My brother had a harder time, well into adulthood. But then he found somebody wonderful! We went to their wedding a few years ago. I’m not into weddings. But when the music that accompanied my brother down the aisle was “I Have a Song”, I almost collapsed into a sobbing sentimental heap. Because he had that song, that dream, that hope, and now finally he had someone to share that song! Wow.

So that’s what I think is romantic. This is the love song that works for me!

Why my kid never believed in Santa Claus

He never believed in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, either.  There are three important reasons why Daniel and I decided, before Nicholas was born, that we were not going to pretend that any of these characters were real.

The first is that we didn’t like the idea of lying to our child.  We felt that claiming these characters were real, when we know they aren’t, would kind of make us feel bad.  Our child should be able to trust us.  Now that we’ve met the individual child we got, we know he’s a very analytical type who easily figures out what’s going on and demands full explanations of processes.  He was hard to confuse with things like Piaget’s famous conservation experiments even when he was a toddler.  The first time he ever saw a stage magician, he immediately started trying to figure out how to do those tricks.  If we’d presented the fables as truth, we’d have been interrogated with years of questions about exactly how those reindeer fly to every house in one night, where the bunny gets the eggs, etc., etc.

The second reason is that we wanted him to appreciate, from the very beginning, that holiday magic is something we all make for one another.  Christmas gifts aren’t brought by a guy in a sleigh to whom money is no object; we spend hours choosing or making gifts for our loved ones, thinking about what each person would like, as a way of expressing our love and respect for each other.  Easter isn’t about a magic bunny who brings us candy for no apparent reason; Easter is about Jesus and the springtime renewal of the world, and Grandma likes to send us some candy.  Losing a tooth is an exciting step toward maturity that is honored with a little treat, and there is a traditional routine for collecting this treat from your parents overnight using a special marsupial (Tooth Beary) crocheted by Grandma.

The third reason is that I wanted to teach my child my religion.  (Daniel does not belong to an organized religion, so the deal was that I could take Nicholas to church and teach him my faith until such time as he might tell me he didn’t believe it and didn’t want to go.  By age 3 he had decided he definitely wanted to be an Episcopalian, and he was baptized.)  If I told him Santa Claus was real, and he then found out otherwise, he would then logically doubt what I’d been telling him about God being real.  After all, the invisibility and super-powers of God are not all that different from what people attribute to Santa.  As I mentioned last week, Nicholas has shown no signs of doubting the existence of God but has remarked on the oddity of people believing in these other entities while not believing in God.

So, without Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, poor Nicholas has had a really dreary, cynical childhood, huh?  Read more…

Gradually Expanding Range for a Child Walking Alone

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting:
Staying Safe

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

***

“It’s a different world than when we were kids.” I often hear parents say this when they are talking about how they don’t allow their children–or even teenagers–to go anywhere alone, to walk anywhere, even to play in their own front yard.

Yes, this is a different world, the America of 2013 compared with the America of 1981, when I was 8 years old like my son is now–AMERICA IS A SAFER PLACE THAN IT WAS WHEN I WAS A CHILD. Every type of violent crime is significantly less common now than it was then. The thing many parents are most afraid will happen to a child let out of their sight is kidnapping, although abductions of children by strangers are extremely rare.

I’ve been working in crime research for 15 years, and that’s really given me some perspective on risk: The vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, not by a stranger who abruptly captures the victim in a public place–and this is especially true of child molestation. Yes, terrible things can happen to innocent people, and it is horrible when they do, but it is important not to get too freaked out about “risk”.  (I want you to see this cartoon that clearly illustrates the issue, but I can’t get it to display on my page!)

Of course, we do feel some concern about the safety of our beloved only child. Realistically, the highest risk he faces in walking around the neighborhood is being hit by a car. I’ve written before about how we taught him traffic safety skills and decided when he was ready to walk around the block alone. In second grade, he began walking home from school alone some days, and now in third grade he is doing it 4 days a week. This is a journey of 5 blocks, with a crossing guard posted at the only busy intersection. Nicholas always gets home safely and has had no problems.

This summer, he grew bored with his walks around the block and asked to walk farther, alone. We have not been letting him walk to his school alone when the crossing guard is not on duty, because of that busy street. But we thought we might allow him to walk as far as the nearest busy street in each direction from our house.  Read more…

How to Get a Kid to Like Mushrooms

We strive to be the kind of family that shares meals–not the kind that “has to” fix nuggets and fries for the kid every night!  The reality is somewhere in between.  Many of my multi-week menus indicate adaptations for Nicholas: We prepared meal components separately and served his in separate dishes not touching, while we mixed ours together; or we set aside food for him to eat plain, while we seasoned ours in some interesting way; or we served him cucumber or apple slices because he wouldn’t eat our vegetables; or we even fixed a packaged food for him to eat while we ate leftovers of something he hadn’t liked so much.  Different people like different things, and once in a while our menu bends around one of the adults disliking something.

Still, in general we want Nicholas to eat a wide variety of foods for nutritional and politeness reasons, and we want him to like what we like because it’s convenient!  I’ve read–and I remember from my own childhood experiences–that children often come to enjoy a food they previously rejected as their tastes change with time and/or repeated tasting of the food enables them to notice its good aspects more than its bad ones.

Nicholas just turned 8 and just overcame his resistance to mushrooms, in almost exactly the same way as I did at almost exactly the same age.  These are the features of this process: Read more…

Living on the Flip Side

The sky is so blue today.  The sun is so bright, the leaves are still green, and the birds are singing.  It’s a beautiful day, just like the eleventh of this month eleven years ago.

I remember walking home after my office closed early on September 11, 2001, thinking how impossibly wrong it felt that something so horrible could happen on such a nice day.  I am one of the lucky people who easily survived the terrorist attacks and didn’t know anyone who was directly affected.  But of course we were all emotionally affected, and for me the moment when it really became a day of horror was when I saw (replayed on television) the sickeningly rapid, thundering, smoldering collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

And I thought, Oh, no, no, no–WE ARE ON THE RED SIDE OF THE CARD!!! Read more…

I don’t wear makeup.

I used to wear makeup.  From age 12 to 16, I added more types of makeup to my daily routine each year, and I went through that daily routine even if I wasn’t planning to leave the house.  I continued for a while into college before I realized that the insanely stressful life I was leading there did not allow time for makeup and many other students did not wear it–but I felt that college was an exceptional situation, so I still wore makeup to church, to my summer jobs, and whenever I went back to visit the town where I grew up.  After college, I wore makeup to work and church and social events very consistently at first, but over time I began to wear less and less, until at age 31 I quit almost completely.  Why? Read more…

The Singing Earth

A little late for Earth Day, I’m linking to this wonderful video that has entertained and motivated me many times since I first saw it when I was five years old.

I can’t say that it was this singing Earth who first inspired me to care about the environment.  My parents set a pretty good example and taught me many sensible ideas about avoiding waste and pollution, so I can’t remember a time when I was totally oblivious to concerns about taking care of our planet.

But over the many years between my ceasing to watch Saturday morning cartoons (note to young folks: Schoolhouse Rock segments like this one used to be shown in between cartoon programs) and Schoolhouse Rock becoming available on video and then on YouTube, the singing Earth popped into my mind frequently.  I would read about deforestation and hear him plaintively singing, “The fires got higher and higher; the clearings got wider and wider.”  That hole in the ozone layer was, in my mind, the bald spot in poor Mr. Earth’s cloudy hair.  Sometimes when I was tempted to chuck my aluminum can in the garbage or sheath something in plastic wrap, I would picture his gentle face and reconsider.  Mother Nature?  Sure, that’s a pleasant concept too, but when I personify our planet I tend to picture this earnest, kind of worn-out, but hopeful guy.

Come on, people!  It’s been 34 years!  Please listen to his message!  It’s so simple:

If everyone tries a bit harder,
Our fuel will go farther and farther.

Turn that extra light out!  How can you say no to the singing Earth?  That final ten seconds may be the cutest thing I have ever seen on television.

By the way, if you have any leftover prescription drugs you’re not going to use, instead of polluting Earth’s water supply with them, take them to National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day this Saturday, April 28!  Enter your zip code to find the collection location nearest you.

Visit Your Green Resource for more environmental inspirations!

It’s like we’re related or something.

I have a very good memory for details.  The best I can explain it is that I retain a lot of details from my experiences and reading, and they are connected to one another in a massive and complex web that I nonetheless find very easy to follow, moving along from one irrelevant-sounding detail to another until I find the fact I seek.  Although this process is very pleasing to me, I’ve gradually become aware that many people find it boring or irritating even to hear about, so I try to avoid spelling out how I retrieved the information in favor of getting on with what I’m saying.

I don’t know if I taught this thought process to my 7-year-old son or it’s inherited, but a few days ago we had the following conversation:

NICK: There’s a certain toy I really need to have, but I’m not sure what to call it.  What’s that dip made from avocados? Read more…

Walking to School

Happy Walk to School Day!  My son and I walked to his school this morning, and his father will walk him home this afternoon.  He’s in first grade.  Sometime during his years at this K-8 school, he’ll begin walking by himself, but for now I am enjoying the walk and the time with him.  We live slightly less than half a mile (five-and-a-half blocks) from the school, a distance we can walk in 10-15 minutes in just about any weather.

Being in a walkable neighborhood was a major consideration when we bought our home, two years before Nicholas was born.  (Use Walkscore to check out the walkability of different addresses!)  Walking to a good public school was only part of it: grocery store, library, post office, our church, restaurants, many other businesses, and playgrounds all are within a mile of our home, and all the streets have sidewalks.  We also live near a city bus stop, and Nicholas and I commuted together by public transit every day while he was attending a preschool near my office.  But being able to walk the whole way to school is even nicer!  (After taking him to school, I walk another six blocks to the bus stop and go to work.) Read more…

Bullying: an article I wrote, and three I don’t have to write

Although I am discussing my work here, the point of view is my own, and this is not an official statement of the Pittsburgh Youth Study.

As the data manager of a long-term research study, I recently helped to write this academic paper: Bullying Perpetration and Victimization as Predictors of Delinquency and Depression in the Pittsburgh Youth Study.  What we found, looking at data collected from the 503 men we’ve been interviewing repeatedly since they were in first grade, is that bullies are more likely than non-bullies to grow up to be criminals, and bullying victims are more likely than non-victims to grow up to be depressed.  That’s not really surprising, is it?  But it’s good to add to the hard scientific evidence that bullying is a serious problem with lifelong consequences.  This whole issue of the Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research was a special issue on school bullying, with 7 more articles on the subject.

I had been kind of thinking I should write something about bullying that might be read by people who don’t read dull academic journals.  But I felt very shy about it and afraid to admit that, well, I know there’s a problem and can prove there’s a problem but can’t claim I ever solved this problem for myself or anybody and tried so many things that didn’t work and when I even think about it I get so scared and what if– Read more…

7 Quick Takes on visiting New York City again after 21 years

I grew up in Oklahoma, visiting my grandparents in New York City every summer from age 6 to 14.  Then my grandma died, and my grandpa began spending most of his time in Arizona.  I had two more brief visits in New York before he sold the house when I was 17.  I had thought I would move to New York when I grew up, but I fell in love with Pittsburgh.  I kept wanting to visit New York, but it kept not working out, until this summer.  These are just a few of the things I noticed: Read more…

A Nonviolent Strategy for Action Heroes

One day, when our son Nicholas was two-and-a-half years old, Daniel and I were talking about how we would do the Star Wars prequels better (a frequent topic of discussion) and I envisioned a scene in which someone is climbing a high, steep cliff by climbing the ivy growing on it, but as dusk falls the ivy wakes up and turns out to be a carnivorous plant, and there he is clinging to it high off the ground, and–

At this point Nicholas awakened from his nap.

Later, we were all eating dinner when Daniel brought up my idea again. Nicholas wanted to know what we were talking about. I said I had made up a story; I told it, “…and then I don’t know what would happen next.”

Nicholas immediately suggested, “He can say, [assertive tone] ‘Ivy, no! Don’t bite me! I don’t like that!'”

Ever noticed how the characters in these action movies never even try that approach? They just assume that carnivorous whatevers will not listen to reason and immediately resort to violence! Well, my son knows better than that!

Within days after this incident, I broke out in poison ivy rash. When I explained what it was, and every time he noticed it thereafter, Nicholas would ask, “Mama, why didn’t you say, ‘Ivy, no! Don’t bite me!’?” I told him that I did, but the ivy did not listen. >:-(