Conversation Versus Confrontation Affects Our Children

Conversation Versus Confrontation Affects Our Children

When I was right smack in the middle of raising my daughters, five o’clock pm could be an awesome and a crazy time. Awesome, because my mother and I were always in conversation at that time, talking about her day and my day. Crazy because my daughters were doing their homework and they interrupted us. Which on the face of it was fine. My mother would wait, loved them like crazy. But often the topic SHE was relating to me was her passion–the news. What was happening: children starving in Africa, Inda. Or something going down in D.C.

Now I’m near to being in my mother’s place–drawn into the issues, the tension, the worry of what is going on in our country and in the world. But when I am with my children, I see the importance of pulling away from those topics and immersing myself in what concerns them: child-rearing and their jobs. Of course often they cross over–one affects the other. Believe me, I see the importance of both and wrote this in my work-in-progress novel: (Ella is the mother of a child who has gone missing)

It was not unlike when Ella had defended certain aspects of current culture to her mother Cecile, something she had done often. Cecile ripped apart the changing mores of society. But Ella defended change, because the result was Ella’s society, Ella’s culture. She lived in it and dealt with it and so she had defended it. She couldn’t condemn what was a part of her, what she had embraced and brought her child into. If she had condemned culture and society, then she would be condemning herself.

THOSE WHO POWER UP SOCIETY OFTEN MUST APPROVE OF IT. And then again, not always.

Let’s consider conversation versus confrontation. I like to think that when my mother and I spoke about our lives it was a conversation. And In fact right now–governments are forgetting conversation. They need to be reminded that diplomacy is all about airing one’s opinions but not in a bullying fashion. It’s not confrontation so that you make THE OTHER want to scream back at you–or drop a bomb on your country. It’s conversation, a sharing. The very word comes from Middle English and means living among, familiarity, intimacy; 

Krista Tippett is the host of a radio program ON BEING. She interviews movers, shakers, thinkers and her podcast has reached a global audience of 1.5 million listeners a month. On Being was listed in the iTunes top ten podcasts of 2014. Tippett was recently interviewed in TIME MAGAZINE.

TIME: (when discussing conversation versus confrontation) Are there limits to listening?

Krista: Listening is not just about being quiet while the other person talks, it is about being present and willing to be surprised and curious. That is muscle memory we have to build up.

TIME: What are you mulling over to explore next in your podcast?

Krista: This matter of what a conversation is, as opposed to a debate or confrontation. We don’t even know right now how to get the people we disagree with in the room with us, unless you set up a formal debate, and it is my ideas against your ideas. Public life is so unsettled, it creates this opening in which we can start to weave whatever common life is going to look like in the 21st century. Can we figure out what questions we have in common if we don’t have answers, and let those be the tools with which we think about how we create the world we want our children to inhabit?

Just think about that. If we continue to fight one another, we are leaving more chaos and confusion for the next generation. We need to listen to the millennials and those behind them. We need to balance their bright and fervent ideas with the history that we might carry with us–whatever age we are.

SO BACK TO MY MOTHER: I needed to understand (and I think I did) the passion she had for helping others as she aged, because she wanted to leave this world a better place. And she in turn had to understand THE CHANGES that I had already embraced with the very act of bringing children to live in this culture.

It’s an ongoing process–it’s a give and take. Conversation must continue. That intimacy. When Krista Tippett interviewed Richard Rohr, one of my favorite thinkers, he said something related to where my mother was and where I am right now:

To be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. Because what you’ve learned, especially by my age, is that all of it passes away. The things that you’re so impassioned about when you’re 22 or 42 don’t even mean anything anymore, and yet, you got so angry about it or so invested in it. So, this word “contemplation,” it’s a different form of consciousness. It’s a different form of time.

“It’s a different form of time” or a different way of feeling time, of living it.

When TIME Magazine also asked Tippett what she was reading, she answered: WHEN THINGS FALL APART by Pema Chodron. I was not familiar with that book, but it definitely relates to the chasm in conversation that we are now experiencing in the U.S.

About Chodron’s Book: How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart—when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? The answer, Pema Chödrön suggests, might be just the opposite of what you expect. Here, in her most beloved and acclaimed work, Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. Drawing from traditional Buddhist wisdom, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy. 

Tippett then comments: ...things are always falling apart. That would be a thing for everyone in this country to remember–that actually the ground was never all that stable under our feet. Understanding is the nature of waking up…Tippett then says: 

In the 24/7 news environment, people are bombarded with the same story of what is catastrophic and corrupt and failing 25 times before lunch. They start to internalize that not as news but as the norm…(We must work against that.)

There are actually so many beautiful generative things happening in the world, and to end this discussion, I would like to mention that this is NATIONAL POETRY month. Maybe each of us could select a book of poetry and read at least one poem a day. Let me know what book you chose and if that helps THE CONVERSATION. Here is mine:

From New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver: Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches …

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch? Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?

Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left–fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from where you are, to look for your soul?

Art: CONVERSATION OF A FRIDAY: Gallery 13 North in Lambertville recently signed international artist, Lourdes Ral from Barcelona, Spain.

Hey, Listen: I’m a Woman and I’ve Got a Brain

Hey, Listen: I'm a Woman and I've Got a Brain

Thanks a lot, Eve, I guess you were the beginning of it all. And it really sucks: women are temptresses; men need protection from women; and men, because they gained power first, (at least in some countries) get to talk first, deny first. “None of her accusations were true.” “I did not have sex with that woman.” Yes they are and yes you did.

WOMEN, A VICE PRESIDENT and a TV PERSONALITY MAKE SEX the NEWS

So let’s consider some so-called solutions to the eternal men/women quagmire: don’t dine with a woman alone and for sure take your wife to any social occasion if alcohol is being served. Really? Take that temptress, that woman, your wife–how can she help you out? I will state that religion can be a good thing. But good things can get out of control, run to extremes that make absolutely no sense.

Current news underlines that. The VP is the one who needs his wife to protect him. And a certain TV personality claims ( like another male who now dominates the news) that his role working with women is exemplary. He works at Fox News, so maybe not. Because this guy is sometimes into FAKE NEWS and my guess is he’s also into FAKE MORALITY. How did we get here? Our VP might say it’s because women are in the workplace and if you’re a married man–watch out–we’re coming for you. (Snark comment about the VP could go here, but I won’t.)

CONSIDER the JOB INTERVIEW

Instead I’ll take you back some years when I was interviewing for a job. In the tumult of the current news cycle, I reflected on my own life in the workplace. First job interviews.

In my early twenties I applied at three major high schools in the southern suburbs of the city of Chicago. I was interviewed at the first two by men. They were cordial. That’s all I remember. At the third I was interviewed by two women who would become my department chair and co-chair. They sent me to meet the principal who shook my hand and then the school superintendent for the entire district. He happened to be in the building that day and I was invited into his office. He asked me questions about my education, questions I don’t remember. He did ask me one question that I will never forget.

“Would you still want the job if I told you that a student could come at you with a knife?” “Yes.”

When you like everything you have just experienced and then you are asked this question, there might be some hesitation in your answer, BUT YOU SAY YES. You are a female and you can handle your life as well as any male who might or might not be asked the same question. If later I did ask my fellow newly-hired teachers if that was part of their interview, I confess–I don’t remember what they answered. I GOT THE JOB. I loved the job. I handled myself with dignity and quick thinking when we had race riots in our school about two years later. I matured.

As a young teacher and then later on when I became an RN, worked at two different hospitals, a telecommunication center and a health department–I WAS ALWAYS INTERVIEWED BY WOMEN. The interviews were not easy. At one hospital she would not consider hiring me in the labor and delivery department unless I agreed to work on a medical floor. I did not agree and instead interviewed and got a position in an L&D unit at a Chicago inner-city hospital. Best work decision I ever made. Like my teaching position, I GREW in that job. It’s actually the impetus for the novel I am writing. But I digress.

WOMEN WORKING with Men–A GIVEN 

Florence Nightingale was surrounded by men and they thanked God for her presence. She and her fellow nurses saved lives–and there was alcohol present–you know, it’s a germicide. My point is that each person, male and female, has a responsibility to conduct themselves properly in the work place. But of course that doesn’t always happen. Chalk it up to being human–or something along those lines.

Because my work experience has been in professions that are predominantly women, I have had little to no problem with sexual advances or discrimination. Yes, once in an elevator a doctor I had never seen before took advantage of my school-nurse uniform and propositioned me. Luckily, I got off at the next floor. And all of the MDs on the L&D units were not always verbally “proper”. There was no name-calling, but there was tension that went to the stress of a busy night with clients in pain or annoying family members, or just two many children coming into the world in a 30 minute period. You let off steam and sometimes it’s a female nurse you have shouted at. We shouted back. A given. Reprimands were about a mis-diagnosis, or not always putting the patient first–and rightly so. Lots of life is on the line. But the stress of aiding in a difficult birth comes with some passes.

For me it has always been an acknowledgment either spoken or unspoken that I’m doing a good job, if not a great job, and that I have a brain. That’s what counts. Of course different jobs have different work cultures. Being a female working with the men on Fox News speaks to that, compels a woman to know that culture and to be aware of it. I truly hope there will be a time when someone working there breaks the harassment that seems to be endemic.

On an L&D unit when there’s down time, interns, docs, nurses might talk about family, or whose dating who, or even grumble about the anesthesiologist. (We did that a lot, but he was really okay.) When I did leave my nursing position in that Chicago hospital, a doctor wrote me a letter, mailed to my home, asking me to come back, telling me how he valued what I had given to my patients. That was awesome.

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED DISCRIMINATION? 

The other part of this discussion speaks to your own personal relationships. If you are single, the workplace can often become the arena for meeting a future partner. And if you work at home but your spouse or partner goes to an office or studio or hospital etc every day, then your relationship relies on its strength. But that’s just the way it should be. Forget some norm that you (if you are a woman) cannot have alcohol after work with a client, boss or co-worker unless he has his partner or spouse with him. Truly, are you kidding me? That’s not to say that nasty stuff is impossible. It is. It definitely is. Use that awesome brain of yours. Be alert. If necessary talk back. Discrimination exists, but there are laws. And within the workplace, it’s great to be noticed. But I for one would advise that the notice relates to your brain, your smarts. What do you think?

Thanks to MrsProfessionalism wordpress.com

 

Parenthood and Sesame Street

Parenthood and Sesame Street

Parenthood and Sesame Street

When I was raising my three children ( we have two daughters and a son), we were a nuclear family, not an extended family–no aunt or uncle or grandparent lived with us. For the time period we were pretty typical–I stayed home with the children and my husband commuted to his work in Chicago five days a week. I loved parenting, I thrived on it. That’s why as the girls got older, I convinced my husband to have another child and our son was born when I was in my forties. I believe having children keeps you young–but today I simply want to talk about and thank Sesame Street.

If I needed an extended hand of some sort to help me while raising my children–take a shower, finish a chore or have a few moments to myself–it was Sesame Street, offered by The Children’s Television Network, broadcast in those days on PBS Channel Eleven in Chicago. For years and even up to the present, all of my children can quote Ernie and Bert, Elmo and The Count or remember various film clips that taught them things–one of their favorite being “there goes another lobster trap.” Don’t ask me why–it was probably the accent of the speaker, but that’s what Sesame Street was–this world that came into our home and became a familiar friend, teaching and entertaining–often better than some babysitters.

Yes, Sesame Street taught ABCs and numbers, but it also taught how to write a story with a beginning middle and end, helped children travel to places they might never see–in our case from the plains of the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean (lobster traps), mountains, the Arctic and more. The world came into our family room in the form of music of different cultures and dance forms (Savion Glover tapped away on Sesame Street while rhyming.My son was enthralled.

As a bonus, Sesame Street consistently created humor for any parent or guardian watching. There were jokes and puns that children might not get right away, but over the years when they themselves were parenting–that aha moment would come, making the experience joyful all over again. (Why are the two pals called Ernie and Bert? Maybe because of the two pals in the famous film It’s A Wonderful Life!)

Recently a documentary about Sesame Street was released: Muppet Guy Talking–Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched. It provides an intimate view of Jim Henson, the brains and genius behind the Muppets. Though it wasn’t his goal, Henson got into puppeteering on a local television show while in college. Enamored of the skill, he finished college, studying art and theater design and then producing Sam and Friends (a puppet show) for six years. Assisting him was a fellow student named Jane Nebel, whom he married in 1959.

For thousands of years people have created various types of puppets–but Henson’s was the new kid on the block. At that time, most hand puppets had solid heads (think Kukla and Ollie) but Kermit’s face was made to be malleable so he could move his mouth in synchronization with his speech. He could also draw the viewer in because his arms were attached to rods that moved more like those of a marionette. Henson once said that in order for a puppet to work on television, it had to have “life and sensitivity.” Thus was born the Muppets.

Henson made period appearances with these puppets on the Today Show, until he was invited to work with creator Joan Ganz Cooney on Sesame Street. He hesitated, not certain that he wanted to become a children’s entertainer. But Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, Grover and all the other Sesame Street puppets became the core of the show. Children LOVED them. I loved them.

In the documentary, Frank Oz talks about Henson’s genius–and reminds us not to call them children’s shows. “I’m going to ask you a question, what is a children’s film versus an adult’s film? I maintain that kids can handle more than people think. I don’t know how to perform for kids. In my opinion what happens when one performs for kids is one talks down to kids. And kids, anybody, they want to reach up. So we just do what we as adults think is fun and it will come through!”

After Henson joined Sesame Street, few would disagree that it was primarily Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Grover and the rest who made Sesame Street so captivating. Joan Ganz Cooney once remarked that the group involved had a collective genius but that Henson was the individual genius. “He was our era’s Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, W.C. Fields and Marx Brothers, and indeed he drew from all of them to create a new art form that influenced popular culture around the world.”

Fran Brill, a puppeteer in the documentary, talked about the joys of working with a Muppet. “…it’s easier in a way to become a completely different character when you have a puppet on your arm. I would never get cast in a lot of things, as a three-year-old princess or a lot of the characters we came up with. Which was the fun of it. You’re more flexible as a puppeteer, but I still think a lot of the best puppeteers are good actors.”

The premiere of the film and the interviews with Oz, Brill and others took place a few days before the proposed federal budget was announced that would slash funding to the arts and public broadcasting. I am sure Jim Henson would be devastated. The core values that Sesame Street taught my children and millions of others are necessary for creating good citizens of our country–kindness, empathy and understanding. Try teaching or controlling ten, twenty, hundreds, thousands of human beings who don’t have ANY or few of those qualities. CHAOS. And in our world today when many families must have both parents work, Sesame Street can be that extension, that helper for growing children.

Jim Henson’s death at an early age was a great loss for all children and for adults as well. A TIME article about his life states: Henson was a kind, infinitely patient man. Those who worked for him say he literally never raised his voice. Frank Oz, the puppeteer behind Bert, Miss Piggy and many others, was Henson’s partner for 27 years. “Jim was not perfect, but I’ll tell you something–he was as close to how you’re supposed to behave toward other people as anyone I’ve ever known.” In 1990, at age 53, Henson died very suddenly after contracting an aggressive form of pneumonia.

Jim Henson and all the Muppets and their puppeteers gave my family hours of laughter, education and just profound good feelings. Children soak up what they are exposed to–the quality and gifts of Sesame Street have helped form good friends, students, lovers and parents. The lessons taught on Sesame Street were potent and unforgettable. Quoting TIME again: Henson may influence the next century as much as this one, as his viewers grow up carrying his vision.

Thanks to TIME MAGAZINE, Jim Henson: The TV Creator

Photo Credits: Muppet Wiki, Good Housekeeping

Michelle Obama with Elmo and can anyone help me with the name of the other Muppet??

Parenthood and Sesame Street

Books That Pave the Way for Life’s Journey

Books That Pave the Way for Life's Journey

Books can take us on many journeys and I love to get lost in fiction. But ever so often a book can inform, change an attitude, a choice, maybe even a life. Having the ideas of thinkers and researchers at our side when we have a question, a problem or a new idea can make the difference between informed choice and blowing in the wind. The net makes it even easier, as you can type in a term: education, marriage, parenting, employment, health, exercise, travel, science, politics–and voila, your choices are numerous. I’ve picked a few today to get your thinking about nonfiction. Some of these choices have been in print for years. Some are hot off the press. We all want to embrace the next decades with knowledge and understanding–so happy searching and reading.

I highly recommend Dr. Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine and Miracles that relates, through his personal experience, how death is truly part of life and acceptance of a loved one’s death makes a passage easier on the one leaving and the one staying. When he was asked to recommend a list of self-help books, he responded: “Every book ever written is a self-help book. What’s the Bible? What about Buddha? Each generation thinks somebody new is starting the process, but we keep repeating the wisdom of the sages and the ages.”

Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient was written by Norman Cousins, a longtime editor at the Saturday Review. The book relates how Cousins laughed his way out of a crippling disease by watching the Marx Brothers and thus “jump-started the whole mind-body connection.”

Man’s Search for Meaning is the memoir of Victor Frankl MD PhD, who survived Auschwitz. He argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, states that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, but the discovery and then the pursuit of what we find meaningful..

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi This is one I have not read, but it is definitely on my list. If you have read Atul Gawande and Anne Lamott, readers state you should read this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir that finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds. It is written by an idealistic young neurosurgeon as he attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? He died within two years of his diagnosis.

Blindsided by Richard M. Cohen, a Journalist and husband to Meredith Vieira. In this memoir, Cohen relates his battle with MS, startling the reader with his grace and wisdom.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Mood and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison This professor of psychiatry shares her personal struggle with manic depression. She is also the author of Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive illness and the Artistic Temperament.  

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion A personal favorite, this 2005 National Book Award winner recounts how Joan could continue to live after her husband’s sudden death and then was faced with their only child lapsing into a coma. (Read Blue Nights for the end of that part of Didion’s story.)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I received this book for one of those “life-changing” birthdays. It’s amazing. The author shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world. You will better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics.

The Book of Joy authors, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama Despite the hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—these two men are the most joyful people on the planet.

If you have suggestions, please mention them in your comments. Wishing you good health and good reading. We are all in this together.

Parts of this post appeared in 2011 in a different form.

Photo credit: janeaustenrunsmylife

Have Kids Lost the “Huck Finn” Gene?

Have Kids Lost the "Huck Finn" Gene?

Picture this: Jeannie and I have two forts: one is a pile of fallen tree logs in the corner of her backyard. The other is a lean-to-shed next to her parents’ garage. It has no window, but they let us paint it bright yellow with blue trim. There’s also a weedy rock garden (her mom has no time for gardening with seven children and more to come) and though if I were to transport myself to that rock garden today, it would be small–but to Jeannie and me in the lower grades, it was big–and in our imaginations the perfect place to push imaginary evil doers. Hot oil anyone? We might not yet have read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finnbut we were swimming in their gene pool as “adventure” and “creating our own worlds” flowed in our blood.

OUR PRESENT NEIGHBORHOOD? RIPE FOR FORTS

Now where I live in Southern California, my husband and I take frequent walks. We see open space between rows of houses that is lined with trees on either side and filled with piles of leaves and even inviting dead branches in every size you can imagine. But no forts, in a tree or on the ground.

If it rains, the dry creek behind our house fills up with water. The trails we can easily walk to take us up low hills where you can look out over your neighborhood, pick wild flowers and challenge each other to see who can make the rise first.

WHAT DO WE NOT SEE? WHAT DO WE NOT HEAR? Children. Their shouts, their bikes streaming by, their arms loaded with an old quilt or a cardboard box to add to some fort that is gradually taking shape in their minds or behind their houses. Do kids even know what a fort is anymore?

WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN?

Where are the children and what are they doing? When the few children that live near us come out to throw a ball around or rollerblade, we are thrilled. We hear their voices on the evening breeze and are immediately taken back to our old neighborhood, where in summer the sweetest sounds were children’s voices: freeze tag, hide and seek, hopscotch, baseball in the street, tree climbing, bike riding and of course fort-building.

When we were raising our three children–how joyful. In the first suburban Chicago house there was a shed, and because it was filled with lawn equipment, the area BEHIND THE SHED became the fort for our two daughters, complete with dishes and bricks for a table. Our children knew how to make this work. The second house had a huge side yard with play equipment and my son was out there constantly, always joined by his friend who lived–you guessed it–across the fence.

Then in Iowa, we had a tree fort, built right around one of the huge oaks in our backyard. But once again the space behind the garage often attracted friends like Charlie, who could get to our garage roof from the higher ground back there. Why not? That’s what boys do!

BROKEN ARMS OR UNDREAMED DREAMS

So what keeps kids inside and away from the fun? Maybe weather. Okay. Global warming sucks, and one reason, if you lived in the Midwest this past winter, they didn’t even have enough snow to make outdoor play fun. My son would race out of the house during a good Iowa snowfall–because the street one block away provided a magnificent sledding hill. Yes, there were cars, but they were extremely careful going down that hill in a rollicking Iowa snow storm.

Fear. A younger parent reading this will think about broken arms and head trauma. Okay, I get that. So buy your kid a bike helmet and make him wear it. When I was a kid, my old friend Bing broke his arm falling off the railing of our back porch–the distance could not have been more than a 3 foot drop. But it was an accident, it was the angle of the fall. Why stay inside to prevent that. My son broke his arm sliding in a wading pool. I kid you not. Charlie climbed our roof–he was fine. I fell off a bike with a quick turn on the grass after coming down our steep hill–I was no young chicken but I was fine. You can’t stay inside because of what MIGHT happen.

I say give kids some guidelines and then let them go. They have to feel that life is an adventure. You cannot lock them up with a television or a computer, please.

SOME STATISTICS. 

Almost all (96%) of the 1,001 parents with children aged between four and 14 quizzed for the National Trust thought it was important their children had a connection with nature and thought playing outdoors was important for their development. The research found, on average, children were playing outside for just over four hours a week, compared to 8.2 hours a week when the adults questioned were children. To read more go here. 

I HAVE THE VELCRO STORY FOR YOU: I’M SURE YOU HAVE MORE

Tom Sawyer knew how to attract his friends, even if the attraction involved a little bit of work. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was so damn smart. He wrote: Tom had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. 

Let’s pledge to get our children and grandchildren to covet the outdoors, adventure, and creativity. Sure, some young people are making millions bent over their computers and creating apps. But there is still room for roaming that stimulates the brain in a different way. Take, velcro.

George de Mestral invented his first touch fastener when, in 1941, he went for a walk in the woods and wondered if the burrs that clung to his trousers — and dog — could be turned into something useful. See! What if de Mestral had stayed indoors that day. He patented it in 1955 and subsequently refined and developed its practical manufacture until its commercial introduction in the late 1950s. He gave his invention the name Velcro, creating it from the French word velours or velvet and crochet or hook. The rest is history, as they say.

FORTS, SPORTS, BIKE ADVENTURES & MORE

Parents reading this might claim that there children get enough of the outdoors through sports. Yes and no Sports today are usually organized with adults there. Sports today are not the backyard lot when you created your own rules and learned how to WORK THINGS OUT with the kids down the block. That’s SO important. Children need to grow up slowly, yes, but as they do, day to day they learn skills that they will never lose. Jeannie and I had to negotiate when selecting the color of our fort or even deciding it would be in HER backyard. Getting out of the house and away from the eyes and ears of parents is part of growing up. STILL WORRIED? Well today, someone in the group that is roaming the hills or building that fort will have a cell phone, connection to Mom or Dad. So let them go out into the world. And don’t call or text them. Give them a deadline and hope that they wander into the world of imagination without an app or a screen to guide them.

Thanks to: DiviantArt

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Open Up Your Heart To The Other

Who is your other? On the extreme it is the man in the grainy photo in the newspaper–the man being pummeled by another another man, or dragged from a car. Or it’s a woman in a mug shot who is being charged for drug-dealing. This “other” is so easy to look away from. Because is there a connection between these two people and you or me? Remember I said extreme because the majority reading this post do not get involved in crime on the streets or get arrested. But regardless, there is a connection–these are faces of human beings. Their DNA may be different from ours, but we all go WAY BACK, we all have the same beginnings. Again, human beings. Can you open your heart to that concept? It can be really hard.

HELPING THE OTHER

I recently read an article about a man who everyday goes into the streets of LA (and this without belonging to any organization) and works with the homeless. He might spend hours with the one person he finds who is ill or dying. That day he does what he can to help that particular individual. He is answering the call to open his heart to humanity and he is doing it with the other–the extreme other–the total stranger.

My husband volunteers with the Conejo Valley Youth Employment Service helping teens and the homeless find jobs. He does have an office where he can sit and meet with people. But when dealing with the homeless, he often deals with people who don’t keep to a schedule, who say they’ll return with a resume and don’t. It can also be frustrating with the youth who one day are all about getting a job and the next forget they even had an appointment to work on a resume, interview skills, an elevator speech. Still my husband keeps at it, opening his heart to the other, to people he has never met, knows nothing about and for some have been living on the street.

VARIETY IS TRULY THE SPICE OF LIVING 

James Baldwin, author of THE FIRE NEXT TIME and other works, wrote: Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. Baldwin makes a valid point. Our ability to turn away from others, to avoid the other, to look down on the other–that often begins in the home. But I posit that it can be changed around through living and realizing the human connection. Through education and being out in the world, we all can learn that fearing the other closes us off from the splendid variety of life, of people and their ideas, of music and culture, art and writing.

WHO IS THE OTHER? TO SOMEONE–IT COULD BE ME 

Yes, it could be. Because when I walk the streets of a busy city where no one truly knows me, I become THE OTHER to someone. Maybe I’m the other because I’m not the same age as the person looking at me or because I’m a female or because I’m white. But I surely know that if I suddenly became a human being in need–if I suddenly fell to the sidewalk with a heart attack or a stroke, I would hope that someone around me would not see me as THE OTHER and walk away, but would come to my aid.

THE BASIC CONCEPT IS TRYING

James Baldwin also wrote: There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. So true. But when you first read that sentence, test yourself: do you immediately think of the selfish and hidden things about yourself that you try to disguise or lie about or ignore?           OR: did you immediately think about all the wonderful possibilities in your makeup that you just haven’t tapped into yet?

How great if it is and always will be the latter. If we are always opening to the possibility of our changing, of our personal growth and development–of our truly SEEING OTHER PEOPLE. That would be amazing. 

OPEN UP YOUR HEART 

My brother Bill Pfordresher is a song writer and one of his songs urges a lover to:

Open up your heart and let it go,

That’s the way it starts,

This I know-Open up your heart to me. 

And later on the lyric is: Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

For a lover or for the love of living, don’t let time get away.

ACT NOW

On Friday, my husband and I took the train to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. We went to a concert and then walked back to the station through an area of LA that is full of government buildings, the Catholic Church of the diocese of LA and places for many homeless people to walk or sit or sleep under the shade of a tree. A march had occurred that morning and there were crowds of people leaving the march and lots of police on motorcycles and bikes patrolling the area. What did we do? We walked. We smiled at folks on the street, stopped to ask one policeman a question and would have purchased something from a vendor but we had already eaten. We opened our hearts to LA and everything it had to offer that Friday afternoon. Call me Pollyanna if you want to. I’m no saint. But I believe that more and more we have to fight some dictum that tells us to turn away from folks because they are not JUST LIKE ME. You can volunteer or write a check, make a phone call or reach out to someone you know (maybe a stranger but more likely someone who needs a friend.) Do it today. Don’t be a person who is Watching one’s life slip by day after day…

Photo: Zocalo Public Square

Will You Become Nostalgic for Weather?

Will You Become Nostalgic for Weather?

Living in Southern California provides many positives: a major one, weather. The Golden State truly provides days and days of sunshine which can lift the spirits and certainly makes nature-deficit disorder a rarity. (Coined by Richard Louv, nature-deficit disorder refers to people of all ages who are disconnected from nature, spending inordinate amounts of time indoors.) But in most climates, we are lured outdoors to walk or participate in sports. Even in cold climates nature provides ice skating and skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.

SEASONAL AFFECT DISORDER or SAD

Variety is the spice of life and that is also true for weather. People begin to feel depressed if the sun doesn’t shine for days at a time. I’ve written about that too–in a post about Seasonal Affect Disorder. Those of you living in temperate climates are familiar with this condition: SAD is diagnosed when a patient experiences depression and other symptoms for at least two consecutive years during the same season; and it generally applies to people dealing with long winters where sunlight is rare and the body begins to suffer–not only from outdoor activities being curbed but also from the physical affect that light has on the body. Because there is a definite relationship between light sources to the body and the production of serotonin which affects our moods.

FOUR SEASONS ARE THE BEST!

But though sunlight can lift the spirits, a person’s memory bank of weather also plays a part–we love rainy days and snow days and autumn days. A temperate climate allows for FOUR SEASONS that have definite borders. When autumn approaches, leaves change color and drop from the trees, grass begins to form deep roots instead of height, the air gets cooler and the days shorter. Fall requires different clothing and there is nothing better than a brisk walk in brisk fall air. It has its own perfume, its own way of touching the skin.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DOES NOT HAVE FOUR SEASONS. IS THAT GOOD?

In Southern California the shift into fall is often imperceptible. Yes, the days get shorter, some of the trees drop their leaves, but much of the vegetation keeps on flowering so that there is not a definitive change. I miss that. Then suddenly it is Christmas and folks, like those in the midwest where I lived most of my life, are driving cars with an evergreen tied to the top. But it takes some adjusting to drape Italian lights in foliage that is still bursting with greenery. Winter here is our rainy season. The nights do get colder and the rose bushes and hydrangeas get cut back. But there’s no snow. You can travel to northern parts of California to ski, but last year our snow depth in the mountains was very low. This year it is greatly improved.

WOW, SPRING IS COMING AND I ENVY YOU IN TEMPERATE CLIMATES!

Here’s my point: many of you are about to or just now experiencing the beginning of spring. I envy you. The air begins to warm and you shed your jacket by 11:00 am. The trees begin to flower–redbuds, forsythia, then magnolia and fruit trees. Tulips and daffodils push up from the earth and the days get longer. You find yourself pulled from your home where people’s voices once again blend with birdsong and the buzz of tires on the street. It’s truly a rebirth and often produces a smile from a stranger. Because we all feel it–new life, green grass, bluer skies.

WOULD YOU WANT TO LOSE YOUR FOUR SEASONS???

Nostalgia for weather accentuates how grateful I am for nature and all that it provides us. So when spring begins and like a wave of blessing speeds across our country warming the winds and pulling people outside–consider: we need to protect the seasons, make sure that we don’t lose them, honor all the memories we have of spring, summer, winter and fall.

PLEASE FIGHT FOR THE EPA! FIGHT FOR YOUR SEASONS

So forgive me for this final thought, but if the Evironmental Protection Agency is defunded the way the current government is talking about–the entire country might eventually have the desert-like climate that is Southern California. No more leaf-peepers in New England; no more skiing in Colorado; no more ice-fishing in Minnesota. This is no joke. We must fight for the four season. Fight for clean air. AND ESPECIALLY, fight for clean water. No human being can survive without water–lots of it. To learn more go here. (Five Reasons to Like the Environmental Protection Agency)

I love talking about the seasons and how in some climates they are SO different. Which season is your favorite? Whichever you choose, I hope you don’t lose it. Help protect our earth. Help save our seasons or you might become nostalgic for weather you will never see again. Help fight for the EPA.

Photo source: Pinterest

Will You Become Nostalgic for Weather?

Will You Become Nostalgic for Weather?

Living in Southern California provides many positives: a major one, weather. The Golden State truly provides days and days of sunshine which can lift the spirits and certainly makes nature-deficit disorder a rarity. (Coined by Richard Louv, nature-deficit disorder refers to people of all ages who are disconnected from nature, spending inordinate amounts of time indoors.) But in most climates, we are lured outdoors to walk or participate in sports. Even in cold climates nature provides ice skating and skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.

SEASONAL AFFECT DISORDER or SAD

Variety is the spice of life and that is also true for weather. People begin to feel depressed if the sun doesn’t shine for days at a time. I’ve written about that too–in a post about Seasonal Affect Disorder. Those of you living in temperate climates are familiar with this condition: SAD is diagnosed when a patient experiences depression and other symptoms for at least two consecutive years during the same season; and it generally applies to people dealing with long winters where sunlight is rare and the body begins to suffer–not only from outdoor activities being curbed but also from the physical affect that light has on the body. Because there is a definite relationship between light sources to the body and the production of serotonin which affects our moods.

FOUR SEASONS ARE THE BEST!

But though sunlight can lift the spirits, a person’s memory bank of weather also plays a part–we love rainy days and snow days and autumn days. A temperate climate allows for FOUR SEASONS that have definite borders. When autumn approaches, leaves change color and drop from the trees, grass begins to form deep roots instead of height, the air gets cooler and the days shorter. Fall requires different clothing and there is nothing better than a brisk walk in brisk fall air. It has its own perfume, its own way of touching the skin.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DOES NOT HAVE FOUR SEASONS. IS THAT GOOD?

In Southern California the shift into fall is often imperceptible. Yes, the days get shorter, some of the trees drop their leaves, but much of the vegetation keeps on flowering so that there is not a definitive change. I miss that. Then suddenly it is Christmas and folks, like those in the midwest where I lived most of my life, are driving cars with an evergreen tied to the top. But it takes some adjusting to drape Italian lights in foliage that is still bursting with greenery. Winter here is our rainy season. The nights do get colder and the rose bushes and hydrangeas get cut back. But there’s no snow. You can travel to northern parts of California to ski, but last year our snow depth in the mountains was very low. This year it is greatly improved.

WOW, SPRING IS COMING AND I ENVY YOU IN TEMPERATE CLIMATES!

Here’s my point: many of you are about to or just now experiencing the beginning of spring. I envy you. The air begins to warm and you shed your jacket by 11:00 am. The trees begin to flower–redbuds, forsythia, then magnolia and fruit trees. Tulips and daffodils push up from the earth and the days get longer. You find yourself pulled from your home where people’s voices once again blend with birdsong and the buzz of tires on the street. It’s truly a rebirth and often produces a smile from a stranger. Because we all feel it–new life, green grass, bluer skies.

WOULD YOU WANT TO LOSE YOUR FOUR SEASONS???

Nostalgia for weather accentuates how grateful I am for nature and all that it provides us. So when spring begins and like a wave of blessing speeds across our country warming the winds and pulling people outside–consider: we need to protect the seasons, make sure that we don’t lose them, honor all the memories we have of spring, summer, winter and fall.

PLEASE FIGHT FOR THE EPA! FIGHT FOR YOUR SEASONS

So forgive me for this final thought, but if the Evironmental Protection Agency is defunded the way the current government is talking about–the entire country might eventually have the desert-like climate that is Southern California. No more leaf-peepers in New England; no more skiing in Colorado; no more ice-fishing in Minnesota. This is no joke. We must fight for the four season. Fight for clean air. AND ESPECIALLY, fight for clean water. No human being can survive without water–lots of it. To learn more go here. (Five Reasons to Like the Environmental Protection Agency)

I love talking about the seasons and how in some climates they are SO different. Which season is your favorite? Whichever you choose, I hope you don’t lose it. Help protect our earth. Help save our seasons or you might become nostalgic for weather you will never see again. Help fight for the EPA.

 Photo source: Pinterest

What American Kids Need: Love, Education and Public Schools

What American Kids Need: Love, Education and Public Schools

We all know what education is and we know its purpose. I would not be writing this piece if I had not had some form of education. But I also feel compelled to support with great emotion–public education.

MY PERSONAL INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC EDUCATION 

I minored in education in college and spent five years teaching at the secondary level in a public high school. This school in the far Chicago suburbs pulled together a very diverse group of students, but wow, it was amazing. I loved teaching. It was hard work. I not only had to be facile with my subject matter, but also be able to help students work through physical, social and demographic challenges. They often struggled and so did I. After all, I was so young! Right out of college. But by the time I left teaching, my reputation was a good one and I had some serious “how to deal with unrest and problems” chops. I gave everything I could to those young people.

PLEASE TOLERATE A FEW DEFINITIONS 

But for this subsequent discussion, a definition. These are taken from the website: Center for Public Education:

  • Public education means a tuition-free, publicly funded system that must provide an education to each child in a neighborhood school within a publicly governed school system. The academic standards, the teachers and administrators, the values and methods of operation employed in these schools are all subject to oversight and direction by public policy-making bodies. The rights of students and parents are legally defined and are enforceable by the courts. 
  • Public education means that a wide range of decision making resides at the community level through the operation of locally elected school boards and through other avenues of direct citizen participation in the schools.
  • Public education also means a system in which parents and the general public can obtain detailed information about their schools and be involved in school activities.

The website then goes on to ask a few very important questions.

  • What would education and society in America be like if these principles weren’t at the core of what is meant by public education?
  • What if education were turned over to publicly funded schools that did not have to adhere to these principles?
  • Which of these principles would be eliminated ?
  • Which children would be left behind?

It is so wrong and totally unfortunate when the needs of children are abandoned because of an ideologue’s vision of the future that does not encompass what is good for EVERY child.

SO LET’S TALK ABOUT RELIGION  

Would you believe that I attended private schools (Catholic) from grade school through college, but will always advocate for public education? Why? Many reasons. First because private education should be a personal choice–a family willing to PAY FOR the opportunity to send their child to a religious-based school. Or to get a scholarship to a private school that specializes in some facet of education. PRIVATE schools should not be given funds that are to be appropriated through our tax base to public schools.

Our country was founded on a basis that does not honor one religion over another. There have been times in our history when that principle was seriously challenged–and still is. But when we come together with a variety of beliefs into the PUBLIC FORUM, we should agree to educate American children and not skew educational content to one religion or another. (Note: my grandchildren attend a public school in California. If their parents wish them to participate in any kind of religious education–then they attend AFTER school hours.)

THE CHARTER SCHOOL PROBLEM

The fact that in our history individual citizens have tried to keep their children from attending integrated schools, schools in certain neighborhoods, schools that are housed in older facilities–have contributed to what we are experiencing now: the charter school.

Here is a clear explanation of why charter schools have twisted the law to allow them to utilize public funds. It was written by Barbara Miner a reporter who lives in Milwaukee. She writes: For more than a quarter-century, I have reported on the voucher program in Milwaukee: the country’s first contemporary voucher initiative and a model for other cities and state programs, from Cleveland to New Orleans, Florida to Indiana.

Milwaukee’s program began in 1990, when the state Legislature passed a bill allowing 300 students in seven nonsectarian private schools to receive taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. It was billed as a small, low-cost experiment to help poor black children, and had a five-year sunset clause.

That was the bait. The first “switch” came a few weeks later, when the Republican governor eliminated the sunset clause. Ever since, vouchers have been a divisive yet permanent fixture in Wisconsin.

So by eliminating the sunset clause of five years, the program continued and expanded. The program WAS NEVER put to a public vote in the state of Wisconsin.

HERE ARE THE RESULTS: Today, some 33,000 students in 212 schools receive publicly funded vouchers, not just in Milwaukee but throughout Wisconsin. If it were its own school district, the voucher program would be the state’s second largest. The overwhelming majority of the schools are religious.

Miner goes on to explain just what that means: Even if every single student at a school receives a publicly funded voucher, as is the case in 22 of Milwaukee’s schools, that school is still defined as private. Because they are defined as “private,” voucher schools operate by separate rules, with minimal public oversight or transparency.

Miner lists some of the ways these schools can get around laws that normally govern publicly funded schools.

  1. They can sidestep basic constitutional protections such as freedom of speech.
  2. They do not have to provide the same level of second-language or special-education services.
  3. They can suspend or expel students without legal due process.
  4. They can ignore the state’s requirements for open meetings and records.
  5. They can disregard state law prohibiting discrimination against students on grounds of sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or marital or parental status.

You pay taxes for the public schools in the area where you live. If you are good to go with the above–fine. I AM NOT! Violating the above principles that are so deeply a part of public education is not giving children LOVE and SUPPORT. Milner’s article attracted my attention, BECAUSE LIKE ME, she attended Catholic schools. But she writes: I believe that this country’s long-standing defense of religious liberty is a hallmark of our democracy. But the voucher program has distorted this all-important concept of religious freedom. 

The voucher program allows private schools to use PUBLIC DOLLARS to:  proselytize and teach church doctrine that is at odds with public policy;

  1. that women must be submissive to men
  2. that homosexuality is evil
  3. that birth control is a sin
  4. that creationism is scientifically sound.

Privatizing our public schools while forcing taxpayers to pay and not giving then A VOICE, WEAKENS OUR DEMOCRACY. And this is not a small amount of public money that is being funneled into these charter schools. Miner states that this year alone, the tab for the private and religious schools in Wisconsin is 248 million. That’s a chunk of change being taken from the public school system and weakening the education given to many children in that state.

I know you have your own opinions on this topic. But please consider: though it has had deep-seated problems PUBLIC EDUCATION PROVIDES THE BEDROCK FOR PROGRESS IN OUR COUNTRY and is needed to EDUCATE GOOD CITIZENS.

The solution is to fix our public schools–not abandon them. Our public schools are the only institutions with the commitment, the capacity, and the legal obligation to teach all children. With Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, the entire country now must answer this question: If public education is an essential bedrock of our democracy, why are we  undermining it? Why are we thinking of abandoning it?

Want to fight back–attend the school board meetings at your local high school. Get involved. After all, WE THE PEOPLE still have a say.

Photo Credit: onelineathens.com  

Instead of Fear: Positive Things We Can Do to Help Immigrants

Instead of Fear: Positive Things We Can Do to Help Immigrants

When I answered my phone earlier today, a voice that sounded like Darth Vader told me that they were from the IRS and that I would soon be visited by police–I HUNG UP. I didn’t bother to listen to their bullshit reason. I know the IRS will never call me. I read stuff. I educate myself. But many folks do not. This is another lie, another gimmick, another ruse to get someone to fork over money or leave their house unattended or whatever. FEAR FEAR. Ramp it up. It’s everywhere. And it makes me very angry.

We seem to be living in an era where it’s okay to use fear to make money, sell something, get elected. (It’s been done before, but as FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which translated means–don’t sit around thinking about all the things you fear or you will become paralyzed.)

SECURITY COMPANIES INSTILL FEAR

There was a time when people in the security business advertised their services by listing what you could get if you signed up: a sign in your front yard, wiring for so many rooms. Now they skip that. Now they use video of robbers at your front door or slogans like: it’s the holidays so robbers will be after your new computer and the gifts you have purchased. Then there’s the gun issue. I will not live in any state that allows open carry. I pay my taxes. I have the gift of a phone that can go with me everywhere. I can always dial 911.

NEIGHBORS INSTILL FEAR 

In the area where I live there was a big effort to prevent moving special education children from one school in one neighborhood to another school in another neighborhood. And the letters I read in the paper linked it to an influx of fear–if those kids were moved, the neighborhood would change. Really? Where is the human consideration for caring for one’s fellow man? It’s gone. Lock your doors. But remember, everything you do your children see and take to heart. Are you raising fearful children?

Fear almost always involves THE OTHER. It was the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. And as indoctrination took over, most people turned away and allowed their neighbors or doctors or teachers to be taken away. FEAR.

OUR GOVERNMENT INSTILLS FEAR

In our country today some people in power are making immigrants THE OTHER. A recent travel ban and a lie about a massacre that did not exist or illegal voting that cannot be proved strives to CONTROL US with fear. “There are bad people out there and they are going to take over.” So don’t question. Give up your own principles that you grew up with. Buy into the fear program. Join us.

AN IMMIGRANT SPEAKS

No. Absolutely not. A recent article by Lev Golinkin in the LA Times stressed once again that we are a country of immigrants. He was nine when his family fled the Soviet Ukraine. They were refugees in Austria and then made it to America. He assimilated quickly because he was young. But even at that age he discovered that immigrants are not always welcome.

I am third generation German descent. On my mother’s side my people were farmers and when they settled in the outskirts of Chicago, they opened a florist business, actually grew flowers in a large field right next to their home. My maternal grandmother had some education beyond high school. My maternal grandfather did not.

English was spoken in their households. Golinkin writes that native-born Americans enjoy a tremendous advantage over someone who cannot speak English. He writes that not knowing the language of the country one has immigrated to is greater than a barrier: When you don’t speak English, it’s as if you’ve suffered a debilitating stroke, except instead of being rushed to the hospital, you have to look for a job. What you value about yourself–your smarts, humor, honesty, eloquence–requires language. But it’s gone. You could be a poet in Arabic; in English, you’re an idiot. Worse, when you can’t communicate your thoughts to those around you, they assume you don’t have any in the first place. You disappear; you’re a non-person.

Golinkin provides some things you can do to help immigrants that you might encounter during your day:

  1. You see someone verbally attacking an immigrant who struggles with the language. Enter the equation and ask if you can help. Imbalance vanishes. Now the immigrant has a voice and the tormentor will either help with the stopped transaction or walk away.
  2. Don’t criticize an immigrant who doesn’t immediately call the police. Americans are taught from birth to assert their rights, but refugees and immigrants are wired to do the opposite. They don’t want to raise their voices or to be noticed. Golinkin relates that even though his father is an engineer and his mother a security guard for two decades in the US, they still are terrified of even the most innocuous encounters with police. I get that. My heart rate goes crazy if I’m ever pulled over by police and I’m white and native born.
  3. Finally, Golinkin asks that you not be offended if you don’t get a thank you after you have helped an immigrant. He remembers people who helped him when he first arrived in the US. Not only was he struggling with language, but he also was sick of being a charity case. BUT, he didn’t forget anyone who helped him. The bad experiences have faded, but those who helped him shine like stars.

I can still see their faces from the brief interactions that enabled me and my family to materialize out the ghostly existence of statelessness and feel human. You don’t forget the good ones.

If each one of us could strive to aid another. If each one of us could teach our children to be tolerant. If each one of us could reject what we hear daily about FEAR FEAR FEAR–we  can definitely make a difference. David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

We can argue about immigration and trade and foreign policy, but nothing will be right until we restore and revive the meaning of America. Are we still the purpose-driven experiment Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race; and to look after one another because we are all important in this common project? Or are we just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world?

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Vox.com