Sunday, August 25, 2013

Did I Say My Son Liked Football?

I was wrong.

My 14-year-old had been trying football for the first time. For six weeks this summer, he worked out with the team at his new high school. These workouts were, in the words of one coach, “brutal.”

To my great surprise, my son LIKED them. I think this kid, who has never played any sport, felt a sense of, first, relief and, then, accomplishment when he found he could, not only handle it, but keep up with everyone there.

The problem?

Tackling, when he had to knock a running player to the ground, with the coaches screaming, “Crush him!”

The last day, my son was silent when he got in the car.

As we pulled away, I asked what was wrong and this proud boy broke down, sobbing so hard he was choking.

“I can’t do it,” he said. “I can’t tackle.”

“It’s scary?”

“No,” he said, “well, yes, you’re scared for yourself, but what I am really scared of is hurting the other guy.”

He had landed, hard, on another boy’s head. Some boys were left bleeding; others had to be led off the field.

“I don’t want to go back,” he said.

We had always said it was his choice. We were glad he wanted to try football, but he could stop if he didn’t like it.

We were really trying hard not to push, but there were things he liked. Maybe tackling would get easier? Maybe he should talk to the coach?

The coach, he said, had always said you have to love football to do it. “I don’t love it,” my son said. He was sure.

He’s doing swimming.

After all, if you crash into someone in swimming, you’re doing it wrong.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


According to articles in the Daily Mail, three-quarters of all women surveyed avoid having their photo taken. The only thing that surprises me about this claim is that the number sounds too low. Also, I think many men hate having their picture taken just as much.
Three or four years ago, when he was in the 6th grade, my son did a cool science-fair project. His hypothesis was that people hate photos of themselves because they are used to seeing themselves in the mirror, where the image is reversed. Therefore, all the little minor asymmetries of your face appear to be on the wrong side and the image looks wrong to you. My son took people’s pictures and then showed them the results, some regular and some that he had reversed. He asked them which pictures they liked. People who reported hating their own photos did generally choose a reversed image as their favorite. And now, when I did a quick Google search about why people hate their photos, I see that other people –maybe even grown-up scientists doing real research – have thought the same thing. (Yay, my boy!)
My husband and my kids have told me that my profile picture is just way too weird and I need to put up another. So, in the interests of stopping my husband from snapping pictures of me with his phone all the time, I have chosen one that he took the other day.
Yes, I think the reason I can tolerate this one is that my sunglasses cover half my face. But since my whole head was covered in the last one, I consider this progress.
A sweet new ad from Dove, about this very topic. (The video can also be found here.)



Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sign of the Times

When I sign a signature-capture device to use my credit card at a store, that “signature” ends up being a lot of loops and swirls, nothing like my “regular” signature. It doesn’t even look like writing.

So, what’s the point?

Those electronic signatures are sometimes checked. My husband once signed one, at work, with a smiley face. Well, the disgruntled drug rep ended up coming back to get his “real” signature the next day.

But why is my husband’s real signature, a scrawled line in which no letters can be made out (he’s a doctor, after all), considered any more official than a smiley face?

Working as a bank teller when I was a kid, I would always compare the signature on the receipt or check with the one on the card – because I was told to.

I wasn’t actually taught how to determine whether the same person had written both – because there really isn’t a way. To this day, sales clerks and tellers are given the same vague instruction.

But signatures are not to verify that you are you. They are to verify that you are agreeing to a contract, for example, to pay that bill. That’s why, if you don’t have a signature on the back of your credit card, the store clerk will ask you to sign that and then sign the receipt. If you think they are being dopes, they’re not. The signature on the credit card is required because it shows you have entered into a contract with the credit-card company.

This is why illiterate people can still sign with an X. Interestingly, according to this article, the X’s were originally supposed to be crosses (God was watching you) and sometimes people kissed the X as well, which is why kisses are represented by X’s in writing.

But signatures of any kind might soon be a thing of the past. In Australia, Mastercard and Visa are looking to get rid of signatures entirely.

Meanwhile, my kids’ teachers tell me to “sign” their course expectations, by typing my name into one space on a form (marked “print name”) and then into another space (marked “signature”) and then email it back to them. And my husband and I literally spent hours yesterday signing crap that is never going to see the light of day again, because we were buying a car.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Organizing Principle

This weekend, my husband got the organizing bug, a rare occurrence at our house. He wanted to go through some of our books.

Image courtesy of vorakorn
I resisted. I veer away from organizing. I don’t like having to make all those decisions. And have you ever noticed that when you, say, decide to clean out a closet, things get a whole lot worse – with everything pulled out, the dust flying – before they get better? … IF they get better … It’s right about then that I am tempted to stop.

Well, we did go through the books and my husband Googled up a used-book store nearby to bring them to.

That place was amazing. It was a funky shop, in an old building, several rooms, every single one of them filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves, containing thousands upon thousands of books. There were shelves in the bathroom. There were books stacked around a kitchen sink in one of the rooms.

Everything was in perfect order. All books were categorized and alphabetized and neatly labeled. There wasn’t a speck of dust. Some books were intricately stacked. Others were put on particularly prominent display. You could see, because there was order, that the store had some really interesting books. There were cool design touches: some really neat-looking old couches and stuffed chairs, pieces of art, funny old signs.

This was the work – an amazing amount of work – of a mind that loved order. That mind belonged, I assume, to the rumpled man behind the counter, who sat quietly reading.

I wanted to ask him if he could come to our house and whip it into shape.

Perhaps we are a lost cause, though. We brought some of his books home with us.

Monday, August 12, 2013

I Don’t Get Watching Sports

My grandmother, who stood almost 5 feet tall in her slippers, was a sports fan.

She watched football. When I was in college, back when “toll calls” cost money, the one time she called me was when one of my college’s football games was on television. Why, she demanded to know, was it on TV … since my college’s team was so bad?

She watched baseball. (She rooted for the Red Sox and for whoever was playing against the Yankees.) She would watch one game on TV, with the sound turned off because the announcer was irritating, while listening to a different game on the radio.

She watched bowling and golf, and I am here to tell you, the only thing more boring than watching fat men bowl is watching somewhat skinnier men golf. When the golfer hits the ball and the camera shows a shot of the sky, do you ever see the ball? I don’t.

I did not take after my grandmother, re sports.

When I wrote about beer, I would have to Google the teams they were sponsoring to see what sport we were talking about.

I am possibly the only person in Texas who is unaware of the Superbowl.

It boggles my mind that the local TV news will spend 10 of its 28 minutes on sports.

And interviews with athletes? They seem to be nice people, but why?

“What’s your plan for the game?”

“Well, we are really going to try to win.”

I admit, sometimes, at the gym, there will be a mens’ soccer game on TV. If I ever become a sports fan, it will be for that because, as far as I can tell, there is no such thing as a bad-looking professional soccer player.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It’s A Boy!

When I was expecting my first child, I didn’t care whether the baby was a boy or a girl. But during a routine ultrasound, when the doctor asked me if I wanted to know, I said, “Sure.”

When she said, “Girl,” I felt a surprising sense of relief.

My husband, a native Texan, played football. He grew up hunting with his father. And when we visited his family (I grew up in family of girls), there seemed to be some sort of unspoken code of how boys and men were supposed to act, a code I didn’t understand.

But I could do “Girl.” Having been a girl, I figured I understood “Girl.”

Well, my second baby was a boy. Honestly, his younger years weren’t very different from his sister’s. There were a few things, like the contrast between his first reaction, as a toddler, to a butterfly and his sister’s: she, entranced, wanted it to land on her finger; he tried to stomp on it.

But they usually played the same, with similar toys. As his sister used to point out often, to his great consternation, his beloved “action figures” really were dolls.

But now here he is, 14 years old, 6 feet tall, with a deep voice and broad shoulders, coming home from football practice smelling like a bear.

And he LIKES playing football. He’s new to it, so we’ll see. But, to my great surprise, though the team is doing “two a days,” two intense practices every day in the 100-degree Houston heat, he LIKES it.

The best part, he says happily, is blocking, when they crouch down in that line and then push each other.
I may not understand everything he goes through, but it seems like he, with the guidance of the men in his life, is figuring it out just fine.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Whose Schedule Are We On – And When Did We All Agree To It?

I dread the beginning of the school year.

The getting up when it’s still dark outside and, feeling rushed, your thoughts not your own, having to jump into clothes (the poor kids into uniforms designed to be ugly) and into the car to get everyone to school.

The 3+ hours of homework the school prides itself on assigning every night, which eats up the evening, causes anxiety and dread, will encroach, if we allow it, on the kids getting enough sleep. (See an article I wrote about how experts think this much homework is not a good idea.)

I often think that, if my kids and I ruled the world, everything would be moved back by an hour or two.

We would get up later and linger in our pajamas longer, contemplating the day ahead. I am a firm believer in what Henry David Thoreau said about alarm clocks versus waking up naturally: “Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor.”

But it isn’t just mornings. The whole day would move to a nicer rhythm. In the summer, when we are more in charge of our own lives, my family eats dinner late – often not till 8 pm, a dinner the kids and I spent time making and will spend time enjoying. My kids go to bed later, when they feel like it, after reading or drawing or writing or (gasp) playing a computer game, all for the pure pleasure of it, for as long as they want to.

Being busy, busy, busy all the time has serious drawbacks.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

I Like Coffee

Today's latte.
A lot. 

I remember precisely when I started to drink coffee. I was in high school, on a Latin Club trip to Italy. At breakfast, the hotels served the most wonderful-tasting coffee.

My friend and I drank up. We were only going to be in Italy for 10 days; we figured we could sleep when we got home.

Now, in addition to making my own – the coffeemaker turns on automatically in the morning, I get a large latte, made with skim milk, every day. The people at my local Starbucks don’t ask me for my order anymore, except to say, as I join the back of the line on a hot Houston day, “Cheryl – iced or hot?”

But it always makes my heart skip a beat (and it’s not my caffeine intake) when I see an article about the health effects of coffee. Apparently, there is A LOT of research going on, trying, it seems, to discover something bad about coffee. I think it says something about our Puritan attitudes: if people enjoy something, particularly if it changes how they feel, it must be bad for them, right?

Even financial planners get into the coffee-hating. Ever notice how they always tsk-tsk about that daily latte and how it’s going to keep you from ever retiring?

But guess what? The medical research is finding that coffee is good for you, uncovering lower rates of depression, suicide, heart disease, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s, several kinds of cancers, glaucoma, diabetes and even accidents and infections in coffee-drinkers. A recent article in The Atlantic went so far as to say that coffee should be considered a nutrient.

So, HA!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Figuring Out Teenagers

My most recent article, about parenting teenagers, for a group of Houston magazines called The Buzz.