The Best Stage of Parenting

There’s a scene in Father of the Bride that I relate to these days, as a parent of two young adult daughters. In the scene, Steve Martin’s character gapes as his grown daughter morphs into a tiny girl in braids who pipes up at the dinner table to announce her upcoming nuptials. My girls aren’t getting married yet, I’m happy to say. But I get the spirit of the movie scene when I watch all the little ways my daughters behave like grownups when I clearly remember bringing them home as helpless infants and then muddling through years of thwarted attempts to train them in basic responsibility and focus. It has dawned on me that somewhere in the last few years, something took, and now I can only drink in each delicious moment as these kids confidently lead their lives and reveal their depth.

Several little ways they have of showing ownership and wisdom have me not gaping, but wondering warmly at where my reluctant, fairy-obsessed, teacher-vexing progeny of lax parentage went, and who replaced them with these delightful grownups. Moms and dads struggling through the frustration and fog of various childhood stages, take hope:... [Read More]

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What’s Cooking at Our House

Since I’ve been laid off my afternoon job, and I’m at home with family, I’ve been taking my turn cooking several nights a week. We like variety here, so we use the Instant Pot some nights with results that are good to great. Tacos or some variation on that theme are often served. Thai food is popular, too. Here is a sampling of the menu from the last couple of months, with a bonus picture from last September. What are you cooking?

... [Read More]

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The Great Disconnect

Imagine being part of an organization in which the coordinators expected you and your colleagues to produce, meaningfully and with increasing depth. If you didn’t, you would face consequences.

Now let’s turn up the pressure. You and your fellows number in the hundreds per group leader.  And as if to heighten the lack of warmth, organizers have you meet throughout the day in large random groupings, so it’s impossible to get acquainted with more than a few people.  The maze-like building, in a place where promptness is paramount,  makes the setting more impersonal.

Yet it’s profoundly personal, too.  You are surrounded by hostile souls who for whom the idea of constructive output seems alien, and they do what they can to impede the production process.  They invest their energies into treating you and one another maliciously–creating salacious rumors, calling names, excluding.  Their conversation and writings fixate on the obscene.... [Read More]

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Try Your Hand: Book Review Roulette

Spin the big Kindle library wheel for a bargain book review and see if you’ve landed a nod, a dud, or a blank. This is a low-stakes game that might yield some good leads or fun screeds. It won’t hurt your wallet or leave you with life regrets. Here is how to play:

1.) LOOK: Examine the two grids of Kindle books below. These twenty-four books have been randomly assigned a number.... [Read More]

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Getting Around in Thailand on Pedals

Thirty-five years ago, before helmets were ubiquitous and when bicycle passengers were the norm, a summons from my mother to ride with her to the market brought my own agenda to an end. I could be languishing in the shade, in my cool summer togs laying brick pathways in the dirt behind the flower beds. Or, we were entertaining friends, racing around the cement slab out back and trying not to stub our toes on a harsh metal pipe emerging from the middle of the patio. I might be reading when the call came, lying on my stomach on a wooden bench, sheltered from the sun by the overhanging roof and re-living a Narnia volume or one of the many cheap Scholastic books we owned.

But I would drop everything when I heard the call. I’d trot into the garage, where my petite mom steadied the bike so I could clamber up onto the cushioned bench behind the seat. Then a couple of steadying pushoffs with her foot, a moment of balancing, and we’d sail out of the garage and down our driveway, navigating an unpaved road flanked by cinder block walls.... [Read More]

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How One School Pivoted After Campus Closure

I’ve been working long-distance for a small K-12 California school since 2006, and I’ve always appreciated the leadership–but wow, have the principal and faculty outdone themselves since school campuses were closed weeks ago, due to the virus. I could sense in the days preceding the closure that he felt some stress, and I was told that developments with the virus were weighing on him. It concerned me–none of us could predict what was coming and what it might mean for our school.

Then the principal’s letters to parents and staff started coming in: campus is closed until thus and such a date–no, it’s actually closed longer. Here’s the plan–no, here’s the new plan. There was a first phase of online learning with teacher training to buy time, and then everyone settled into a second phase with clear, uniform procedures. All of this was accomplished via positive e-mails and a weekly parent letter; sandwiched between a paragraph of encouragement and links to resources, each parent communication carefully explained any new developments so there were no misunderstandings. Regular social media photos feature young students beaming from their computers at home, seniors posing with certificates, teachers handing out weekly packets to families in cars. Anyone would think it was the best thing that ever happened to the school, and in spite of the uncertainties, extra pressures all around, and financial stress (I actually don’t know how much longer they can keep me on), there have been some upsides to it.... [Read More]

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Getting Around in Thailand on Two Wheels

I’m sitting behind my dad on the motorcycle at night, squeezing my eyes shut as we zoom through the dark and hoping, hoping, hoping. We’re approaching our little side road, our soi, and I’m willing the engine to accelerate, to not slow down and not swing right, in the direction of home and what was sure to be immediate bedtime. Yes! We keep going. When I’m chosen to go along on these evening jaunts, I never know where we’ll alight, which of my dad’s friends we’re going to visit, what movies will be playing on TV. Or even when we’ll arrive back home to settle in for the night. I don’t think my dad really knows, either.

We show up at a motorcyle shop, metal folding doors across its front pushed back enough for our Vietnamese friend to stand in the opening, chatting with my dad. Usually, I stand in the background tuning out the long conversation, looking around, studying the seat of the motorcycle. Tonight, we walk through the shop to living quarters upstairs, where family members are ranged on the floor around a color TV watching an American movie. And what a strange one it is. A repulsive little brown creature, with uncannily communicative big eyes, makes friends with a little boy. At the end, a space ship lands in the woods to pick up the creature. The dark, lonely wooded landscape and the swelling music add to the eeriness. Then the creature and the little boy hug in an emotional parting. A loud Eww! escapes me. My dad laughs.... [Read More]

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A Virtual World of Possibilities

My husband and daughter have been playing the video game “Elder Scrolls” for a few years now (yes, they take breaks to eat, go to school, go to work, etc.) This virtual world is stunning in its detail and sprawl. When the weather is bleak outdoors, the digital forests with sun filtering through trees, birds singing, and wildflowers blooming give me a lift. Sometimes–although I would never publicize this on an online forum–when weather doesn’t permit walking, I jog in place in front of the screen, pretending to “run with” my daughter’s screen character. It is cheering, if there are no nightmarish beings attacking, to imagine I’m taking some air on cobbled paths winding through woods, or on a beach, or over a boardwalk. As my daughter works her way through the game, with its stiff storylines and stilted dialogue, we are building our own family lore around it, which to me is more amusing than what the Tolkien wannabe script writers offer. Here are some absurdities you can only get from the blending of real and programmed worlds:

Virtual Clutter: In Elder Scrolls, players constantly acquire objects and carry them around in their packs or whatever their digital conveyance is. If I understand it right, these items come in handy later, or give the player an edge in fighting, or extra food for recipes, or clothes. At times, it gets to be too much, so you can sell off items to people in the game, or you can dump them somewhere. Apparently, my husband has taken to dumping. My daughter discovered this after she spent some time buying herself a house and furnishing it how she liked. It was tidy and cozy, a calm retreat from battling mutants. One day, unsuspecting, she selected that area on the map to visit her home. My husband had been there before her. He had been busy cleaning out his gear, leaving items strewn around the medieval dwelling. And in the middle of the floor was a sacrificial heart.... [Read More]

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The Most Potent Voices in Education

I started getting my education reading fix years ago with E.D. Hirsch, with an article my mom had pointed me to.  It turned out that “You Can Always Look It Up–Or Can You?” served as a gateway essay to reams of mind-altering substance offered by writers steeped in the field. Most education writers claim that their work is research-based in some way. But I now have an entrenched habit of seeking out a particular cohort of educational thinkers, who all seem to approach their recommendations from a similar, principled foundation that appeals to both the mind and the intuition with its pure common sense.

Eager for more after my first experience, I went on to Hirsch’s explanation of how Romanticism has shaped education. Then I developed an affinity for Robert Pondiscio, a contributor to Hirsch’s Core Knowledge blog. It was not long after when I discovered the grounded insights of Daniel Willingham, whose artful application of cognitive science to education helps teachers to foster their students’ potential.... [Read More]

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On Student Differences: Response to Education Post Comment

I promised Mate De that I would get back to her on the comment thread from this post; now that I got started, my response has become a post of its own. Mate De did a good job of embedding many topics in a short space.

Mate De: I so agree with you on this, but I think the real problem is that there is pretty much a one size fits all approach to education in this country. There are a lot of kids who are just different learners.... [Read More]

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A Pretty Good Cat

My siblings are bonkers about cats. I’m used to that. I’ve borne years of anthropomorphic fantasies about a line of household pets that included a sensitive and gorgeous special breed, country cross-varieties vaguely named after T.S. Eliot characters, and a few city “patio cats.” I’ve witnessed naming deliberations for new kitties that drag on for weeks, with “Pockets” being a near winner and a friend begging them not to saddle it with a noun handle for life. They eventually settled on human names for their animals, which pleased everyone: Eleanor, Titus. Titus, nearly two decades old, is still with us, and shows up occasionally in pictures, like the time he was sporting a small wide tie that my brother said made him think of “a night manager at Denny’s.”

What has just dawned on me, however, is that another family member has been something of a dark horse when it comes to passion for felines. I mean, I knew my dad liked cats, but I finally realized the degree of this affinity today when my mom texted us with a charming innovation my dad used to solve a problem with their old cat.... [Read More]

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Online Learning Would Be Ideal–For a Few

Recently, conservatives have expressed hopes that the switch to remote learning during the time of crisis will lead to major school reform, to models that will decrease our dependence on federally funded schools. If online education approaches are improved and refined during this time of transition for schools, I wouldn’t argue against that. However, I don’t believe that this temporary switch should revolutionize the way we do education in the United States.

Students who are advanced and ready for this model will do well. However, our typical student who is struggling with literacy and other crucial academic skills will fall further behind. For example, many students have difficulty reading and/or understanding what they are reading, even in the upper grades. Their difficulties can be traced to either a lack of knowledge, lack of phonics instruction with decoding practice, or both. Technology can be a great tool to help with individualized skill practice and immediate feedback for these students; however, they will suffer from a lack of in-person instruction.... [Read More]

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Snippets

—I have frequent wardrobe mishaps. For instance, I might swivel my head to look at you, and suddenly a lens from my sunglasses will fall away, leaving one eye freakishly staring out from an empty frame. Today, I did the thing with the extra long sweater I found at the thrift store: I once again shut it in the car door, so that a piece of my clothing was fluttering in the cold morning air while the rest of me was in the heated car. The first time this happened, I had to go in the bathroom and wash mud out of a section of the garment. Fortunately, today, no follow up was required. I should know now to check when I get in the car, but I never think of it.

—Colleagues at my new job want to friend me on Facebook. I am a passive FB friender, and I had no plans to blend my personal account with work. I’ve visualized myself explaining my reluctance to accept friendship requests, and the imaginary me comes off as petty, all explanations sounding like lame excuse-making. A request has already come through, so I hit on a plan to make everyone happy: I would create an FB account just for my work friends and post a few key pictures on it. Bad idea. FB discouraged me from creating a unique name, and what’s more, wrested a phone number and work e-mail from me. I’m sure this new account is going to bob up on friends’ suggested people list, and my new, pale FB silhouette is going to be bombarded with friend requests. I’d like to delete the account, but don’t see a way to do so. FB has already sent three messages to my work e-mail. Make it stop! And now I’m not any farther in my quest to not offend anyone at work.... [Read More]

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The Bored Board Bored Me

I’m not exactly suffering from lack of entertainment–diversions are everywhere. Is it time for the treadmill? Then a glorious period film keeps me company as I take my brisk uphill walk on this technology that exists because I don’t do hard work otherwise. Do I have a Saturday evening free? Then I can browse and “like” to my heart’s content on Ricochet. Am I simply tired and don’t want to think? Then I pop open my iPad cover and idly scroll Facebook. Even while doing daily chores, I’m listening to something: Bible teaching in the morning while my mind is fresh, and a light story narrated by a professional reader in the evenings when merely brushing my teeth can feel burdensome.

I admit, though, that even surrounded by these riches, I am still capable of boredom. Here’s my list of ennui-evoking circumstances–what’s on yours? (And you can’t say “lengthy meditations on what makes the writer yawn.”)... [Read More]

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Advice from Popular Culture

From Hollywood, to kids’ cartoons, to sappy inspirational Facebook posts, entertainment culture is full of advice on how to live our lives. Imagine the consequences of taking this wisdom seriously. Actually, you don’t need to imagine: our culture is littered with living examples of men and women who embraced the subtle and not-so-subtle popular messages. Still, it would be interesting to flip through a book called A Year of Living Hollywood. Here is some of the most common propaganda of social media, celebrities, and movies:

1. Follow your heart. This pretty saying comes first, because it’s our culture’s favorite. I remember years ago asking a wise older friend for advice about getting married, and this is what she said to me, very tenderly though: Follow your heart. I was confused. My very problem was that I had followed my heart, and it wasn’t getting me anywhere. What I needed was some sensible input, help weighing up the pros and cons and identifying flags of all hues in this relationship.... [Read More]

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