Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Betta Fish

A male betta fish. Image courtesy of PANPOTE /
You know those sad “fighting fish” in the pet store, the ones that droop, alone, in little containers of
water, waiting for someone to buy them and put them in a slightly bigger container of water where they will spend the rest of their lives alone?

The ones with the larger, more flamboyant fins and tails are males. They are the ones that have to be kept alone. If put with another male fighting, or betta, fish, they will kill each other. They will also kill female betta fish and other fish. They are just mean and aggressive.

But female betta fish, my daughter has discovered, can live with each other and with other fish.

I happen to think the females are prettier than the males. Their fins and tails are not so large that they seem deformed and unable to move. (Betta fish were bred from small, very plain fish that live in the muddy, shallow water of rice paddies.)

This leads me to some questions:

First, betta fish are just one of many poster children for why it’s better to be female than male. I mean, really, would you rather be the cute and cuddly mama seal or the big dumb elephant seal male, bellowing and steamrollering over babies?

Second, what does it say about people that we bred betta fish to be the way they are? We always seem to be breeding animals until they don’t function right, as shown in this BBC documentary on purebred dogs.

Third, male violence and aggression does seem to win out, in human culture throughout history, as well as in the animal kingdom. Why do we smart, healthier females, the ones who have the babies, put up with it? Why aren’t there more Umojas?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dog Years

If you put a hat (or a tiara) on Lola's head and tell her she's pretty,
she will wear it -- even though she has her doubts.
The other day, Lola the dog started behaving: she didn’t tip over the garbage, didn’t steal food, didn’t
jump on visitors, didn’t pull on her leash like she was hauling a sledge.
I brought her to the vet.
She didn’t leap out of the car and drag me to the vet’s door. (She loves the vet.) I had to coax her. She didn’t jump up to see the receptionist over the counter, and because she didn’t do that, she didn’t see the bowl of treats up there and try to stick her face into it.
If you saw her, though, you wouldn’t think she was sick. Her tail waved. She climbed onto the examining table because she knew that’s what happened next. She licked the vet’s cheek as the vet listened to her heart.
You would think she was a calm, well-behaved dog.
“This isn’t like her,” I explained.
Turns out Lola was ill, mildly so. She felt better a few hours after taking her first dose of antibiotics.
“Thank God!” my high-school daughter texted me. She had been texting me all day, to find out what the vet had said. “I thought Lola was going to die.”
Me too.
Your mind goes that way with dogs, doesn’t it? You are always aware that they aren’t going to live as long as you are. They go from puppy to full-size in two years. Lola, a black standard poodle, started to experience “fade,” gray hairs interspersed in the inky black, by the time she was three. At six, her chin is all gray.
Happy to report that Lola’s her old, bouncy self. She just went outside to dig in the flowerbeds.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

No Comprendo

Teaching kids a foreign language, at least the way it is done in most American schools, is a colossal waste of time.

First, it’s a matter of too little too late. Even today, it’s most often not offered until high school – and then it’s a requirement.

Second, it’s how it’s taught. This is how my daughter’s Spanish teachers taught vocabulary: they gave the kids a list on Monday, the homework was to copy that list over three times and then they gave a quiz on them on Friday. After doing her required two years of this, my daughter doesn’t speak a word of Spanish and probably has an aversion to overcome if she does ever want to learn.

It’s been this way forever. Julia Child, in her memoir, My Life in France, remembers, when she first arrived in that country, after years of French instruction in an American school, she could conjugate verbs, but couldn’t actually talk with anyone. She learned, of course, through immersion.

A woman I know, who is, as an adult, learning Spanish, believes language should be taught the way infants acquire it. First, you try to understand what people are saying and, babbling, try to respond. Slowly, with lots of positive encouragement, you refine that. Only much later, if you need to at all, would you learn to write.

What about immersion trips, big and small, even just to a meal at a local restaurant where the staff would only speak the language to the kids? What about watching movies and TV shows in the language? Or pairing up with a class of native speakers learning English anywhere in the world and having the kids talk to each other via Skype?

If it’s going to be required, let’s require that it actually be taught.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy

The thing that has most surprised me about adulthood is how much time I spend dealing with stupid crap.

I am constantly filling out forms, waiting on hold, standing in line.

And the end result is never anything fun. Oh, joy, my car’s emissions sticker is up-to-date. Or, yay, my taxes are done.

And don’t even get me started about when you need something notarized.

In contrast, the only time I stood in line when I was a kid was to see Santa or ride the pony.

And I worry about the stupid crap. You have to. Bad things happen when you forget to pay your taxes or update your emissions sticker.

Around our house, the fines and charges you get hit with for forgetting or being late are known as “a tax for being stupid.”

Everybody, from your accountant to the guy who maintains your A/C to your dentist, tells you stuff to do and dates to remember – and they act like what they’re asking you for is oh-so-simple.

It would be, if theirs wasn’t one of literally thousands of picky, little, stupid things.

Our garage-door opener hasn’t worked for months. Our washing machine won’t spin unless you remember, mid-cycle, to lift the lid and slam it down. (Kicking the machine and swearing at it also help.) I need to call an oral surgeon about my daughter’s wisdom teeth. I need to set up my new laptop. (My old one died, taking Outlook, which I was using to keep track of all this crap, with it. Actually, good riddance to Outlook, but now I have to set up and learn new software. Oh, joy.)

I look at each of these things and think, “Oh, there’s about 4, 6, 8, 10+ hours of my life.”


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When Your Child's Friend Has A Food Allergy

I still remember the ripple of panic I felt when my daughter's little kindergarten friend came over to play -- and his mom told me that he had life-threatening allergies to several foods.

But she, a nurse, calmly told me what I needed to know -- and that little childhood friendship bloomed.

I recently wrote this article for The Buzz Magazines in Houston, about what all parents should know about food allergies.