Monday, November 9, 2015

On Public Bathrooms & Locker Rooms

Last week, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was defeated because of concerns criminals might dress like women to get into women’s bathrooms.

Never mind that twelve states and  hundreds of US cities, including Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, have laws just like HERO and none have seen a surge in crime in women’s bathrooms.

Perhaps I hang out in a better class of bathroom than HERO opponents do, but I am not concerned about crime there. (Being grossed out, yes, crime, no.)

I was struck, however, by readers’ comments, even at the New York Times, admitting they’d feel funny using unisex bathrooms and, especially, locker rooms.

Many were aghast at the thought of seeing a penis in the ladies’ room. In my 50 years of using ladies’ rooms, however, I have yet to see anyone’s genitalia. There are stalls, people, and even in men’s rooms with urinals, my guess is nobody's swinging his penis around.

Locker rooms are different. In those, you do see other people naked and they see you naked – and I don’t think anybody likes that.

We should get rid of group showers. They were invented to save money when building facilities but, since people then try not to use those facilities, they’re a total waste. We need private showers, particularly for self-conscious middle and high schoolers.

And therein lies the silver lining.

Maybe accommodating transgender people will lead us to design better bathrooms and locker rooms!

Unisex bathrooms might have floor-to-ceiling doors on the stalls with those vacant/occupied signs, for example.

Voila! No more peering under the doors to see if there are feet.

As is often the case, when we finally begin to think about things in order to address the concerns of a previously ignored group, we all benefit.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Amazing Place

I wrote this article about Amazing Place, a center for people with dementia here in Houston, and I was really touched by the families who were willing to talk with me about dealing with dementia in their own families, in the hopes of helping someone else. And Amazing Place is actually pretty amazing.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Teaching Kids to Write

I’ve always told my kids: Good writing is good thinking, clearly expressed.

But both had a high-school teacher who used something called the Jane Schaeffer method, which is popular with high-school educators, though it was originally meant as a temporary step for middle-schoolers struggling with writer’s block.

It is completely formulaic and unconcerned with meaning. Students are required to write introductory paragraphs consisting of two sentences, then a thesis sentence. Each of three body paragraphs has to be exactly so many sentences long, containing, in an exact sequence, three of what are called “concrete details,” each of those followed by two, exactly two, “commentary sentences.”

I watched my children quickly come up with ideas, then spend most of their time trying to fit them into the formula. The end result would make no sense. “That’s OK,” my daughter would say. “It doesn’t have to.”

Oh. My. God. This so entirely misses the point, I want to cry.

There is no divorcing form from meaning. Writing is all meaning.

This approach actively teaches kids to be bad writers, putting down meaningless words, just because.

The idea behind such a teaching method, I’ve read, is to introduce kids to the 5-paragraph, academic essay. I suspect another reason is that it makes it far easier to grade papers: You don’t have to read them, just tick off items on a rubric.

No. If you are going to teach someone how to write, you have to get into what they write.

Many writers, from Joan Didion to Stephen King, from Flannery O’Connor to Barack Obama, have said, basically, “I write to find out what I think.”

That’s what kids need to know: how to think, how to put their ideas into words, how to explain and prove things clearly to themselves and to other people.

Friday, October 30, 2015

This Is Halloween

Someone's a Halloween grinch.
It’s as inevitable as crisp weather and fall leaves. Every year, worry warts, control freaks and all-around grumps go into overdrive about Halloween. 

Why? Halloween is a nice and perfectly simple holiday.

Last year, this report surfaced: a woman in North Dakota was going to give children she judged to be overweight a letter telling them so, rather than a piece of candy, when they came to her door.

And this New York Times reporter described how he was going to give kids an economics lesson, pointing out to them that it was better for them to take the money he was offering them ($2 bills) rather than the candy. (He’s clearly a rookie at Halloween, saying that he was going to let kids “dig” in the candy bowl and see which they picked. Kids are not stupid: allow them unfettered access to the bowl and they will take it all. How’s that for logical economic behavior?)

This reporter’s miffed when kids don’t say “Trick or treat,” and even found a woman who insists that the kids sing before she gives them any candy.

Others complain, rather than feel grateful for what they’ve got, when kids, usually poor kids, travel to their wealthier neighborhoods to trick or treat.

And lots get angry or scared when teenagers trick or treat, with some towns actually having laws on the books with age limits on trick or treaters.

Oh, and those people complaining about “too much candy”? I don’t even get the premise of your complaint. What’s this “too much candy” of which you speak?

People, this is simple.

Give out candy or toys or something fun -- not apples, toothbrushes, pennies or anti-abortion literature (really) – to everyone you come across. 

Hey, maybe have a piece yourself and sweeten up a little.

For your listening pleasure. This song has been in my head for at least the last two weeks:

(The link for this.)

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Lola's always in the Christmas spirit.

Don’t hate me.

I bought a Christmas gift the other day.

It’s just a stocking stuffer, but I thought, when I saw it, “Let me be organized and smart for once and get this now.”

Every year, I hope to do better: start earlier, ship earlier, avoid crowds …

… And most importantly, spend time musing about what each person on my list might actually want. I think that’s a good, spiritual exercise – to get outside myself and think about others for a change – and it can get lost in the rush.

Incidentally, there’s a big difference between getting someone something they like and getting them something that reflects well on you, your taste, your money.

Some people are easier to buy for than others. I love shopping for people who have interests. People who like to read are, in particular, easy.

Some people will say they don’t want anything. In our family, such people are told, “Cough up some ideas or I will buy you a spider monkey.”

And there’s pickiness. For example, there is simply no way for me to choose clothing for my daughter. In fact, I suspect, me liking something is reason enough for her not to. And I’m not sure she’d return it, which is like setting money on fire.

I’m against gag gifts. It hurts my flinty Yankee heart to spend money on crap that’s just going to end up in the landfill. (Except I do like goody bags for children’s birthday parties … Hey, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”)

I’m also against tchotchkes. I like edible gifts: eat, hopefully enjoy, and then it’s gone.

Oh, and those “easy” grab-bag gifts, something that’s good for everyone and stays within a strict spending limit? Those are a pain in the ass.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Get a Whiff of That

My first apartment after college was a dump.

My mom and I were in the hall with the landlord. There was an unpleasant tang in the air.

“Someone must be keeping a dog,” said the landlord.

“That’s not dog pee,” my mom and I both said, in unison. “That’s cat pee.”

The landlord looked at us like we had three heads. But cat pee smells different from dog pee and from human pee (which only smells when it’s stale, like in subway corners), just like chicken shit smells different than cow shit.

Doesn’t everybody know that?

My grandmother told me something that haunts me to this day: “You can’t smell yourself.” That’s why you can have B.O. or bad breath and not realize it.

She was right. We only register the smell of something for a short time, when we first encounter it. That’s called olfactory fatigue.

I once met a man who had lost his sense of smell permanently. He had, he explained, been having a bad LSD trip when he opened the door of a moving car and stepped out. (This was one of my more memorable first dates.) Anyhow, he said not having a sense of smell affects you more than you might think. You can’t taste food. You worry that you might not smell something important – like a gas leak.

Our sense of smell is pretty interesting. According to this article, it is the oldest sense, even single-cell animals have it, and studies have shown that, yes, we can really smell fear.

Also, the sense of smell is very direct. When you smell, actual particles of what you are smelling are in your nose, coming into direct contact with neurons, the only brain cells that are exposed like that.

Like the cat pee that day. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Whoa, Rethinking Yoga!

Been looking up Joseph Encinia, the yoga champion whose video I saw.

His life story is pretty amazing. He was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a child and lived with constant pain. He had a heart attack at the age of 13, probably from all the medications he had been on to control that pain.

And then he found yoga.

(The link to this video.)


Maybe I need to be more open-minded about the incense and the "Namaste" thing. :o)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

My Impressions of Yoga

I like yoga.

I think … until about three-quarters through the class … when I’m once again peering, upside down, from between my legs, the sweat dripping down my face …

And I’m not even doing “hot yoga,” when the room’s kept at 100+ degrees.

One thing’s for sure: it’s not your mother’s yoga. Back in the ‘70s, I recall yoga being gentle stretching, then lying around.

These days, my doctor husband says his fittest patients say they do yoga.

I'm surprised to find that people compete at yoga, like this man, the 2012 world champion:

Incidentally, me doing yoga looks nothing like this.

I tried to read about yoga, but even the Wikipedia summary made my eyes cross.

This dust-up, about whether the physical practice of yoga started out as a sex cult or not, was mildly interesting.

For me, yoga is exercise that has been carefully staged to be enjoyable.

When they direct you to pay attention to your breath, it does distract you from your screaming thighs.

And I am proud of my new ability to stand on one foot without falling over immediately.

I like the aesthetics, too: the outfits, the gear, even the yoga-mat “sling” you use to carry your rolled-up mat over your shoulder like some folklore hero wandering into the village.

I like my instructors’ playlists.

I like my instructors, all beautiful and impossibly limber.

I like the names of the poses – warrior, dancer, happy baby, eagle, tree.

I even like the “Om” part. Sounds cool.

The incense I could do without.

Also, the lingo, where we all pretend to know another language, like speaking Klingon or ordering at Starbuck’s.

I’m not going to say “Nameste,” especially not while putting my praying hands up to my supposed “third eye, I’m just not.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Favorite Cognitive Distortions

I was reading an interesting article in the Atlantic, about how the newest version of “political correctness” on college campuses, such as “trigger warnings,” might really be exacerbating and even causing anxiety and depression in students.

I have a knack for making everything about myself, however. What caught my eye was a sidebar listing the “common cognitive distortions” of anxiety and depression.

And they looked like old friends.

Cognitive distortions are false habits of thinking that lead people to feel bad.

I do some of them. Others, I deal with in other people.

Some favorites:

Catastrophizing: Oh, yeah. This is thinking of the worst possible outcome in any situation. My entire family has a gift for doing this.

Black and white thinking is seeing one bad thing in a person or a situation and deciding the whole thing just sucks and always will suck.

Emotional reasoning is when you are convinced that what you feel is how things really are. Have you ever done something that you dreaded, only to find yourself surprised that it wasn’t anywhere as bad as you thought it would be? Bingo.

Personalization is constantly comparing yourself to others, trying to figure how you rank in terms of success or smartness or good looks, like life is one big competition.

Blaming is feeling that someone, preferably never you, has to be held responsible for every bad thing that happens. Ever find yourself saying, “I told you so”?

Fallacy of change is thinking that other people should do the way you want and that you can make them, if you just keep pressing them relentlessly.

The thing is, I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t do at least some of these things, some of the time. How about you?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

“The Glass is Already Broken”

I have a new favorite saying.

A wonderful commenter, Suzanna from Oregon, explained it recently on "Motherlode," the parenting blog of the New York Times.

I also found the story of it recounted, by author Mark Epstein, who was there, in his book, Thoughts Without A Thinker. (I love Google.)

Basically, Ajahn Chah, a famous Buddhist monk, whom Epstein visited in Thailand with a group, showed them his drinking glass. He told them he loved that glass, it was so pretty, and when he tapped it, it made a lovely sound, but, he explained, “The glass is already broken.” He went onto explain that it was inevitable that, someday, that glass would break. There is no way that it would last forever. Maybe he would knock it over with his sleeve or maybe it would fall off its shelf, but it would shatter and be gone.

Rather than spend effort trying to prevent the inevitable, twisting himself up with worry, maybe being grumpy to other people, maybe even packing the glass away in storage where he wouldn’t be able to use it or even see it, he chose to enjoy the glass now, while he had it, and not worry that it would someday be gone.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Handing Out and Handling Compliments

Yup, I really do wear this.
Would it kill you to say something nice?

No, but it can be tricky.

I routinely experience a situation where about 50% of the people have a hard time.

When I write an article, I might interview a dozen people. When the article is published, I will email these people the online link to it. Only about half will acknowledge they got it. Is it hard to hit “reply”? Does it cost money to say “Thanks”? And these are not people who are unhappy with the piece. It’s not unusual for me to find out later that they ordered reprints, etc.

I’m not blaming them. I’ve done the same thing myself.

But, why?

The people who do respond about an article, do so immediately. That’s key: if you have the opportunity to say something nice, don’t hesitate.

But timing can be hard, especially in conversation. Some people are so good at immediately complimenting somebody on something. But once they compliment you, you now can’t just turn around and compliment them because, well, it sounds like you’re doing it only because they did it to you.

And I’m not always so quick to notice something positive or to formulate what to say. It’s one of the drawbacks of being a grump.

I worry about sounding sincere. I have a Cookie Monster t-shirt that people always compliment. “Yeah, well, if you had an enormous pink bow on your head, they’d say, ‘Nice bow’ too,” my husband pointed out. So, there’s that: people tend to mention stuff that draws their attention, good or bad.

Then, there’s being on the receiving end. The proper response to a compliment is “Thank you,” period. It can be hard to refrain from replying that, no, your outfit actually sucks.

I’ll get the hang of all this someday.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Crazy Crime

Having everyone armed, and on alert that
they may have to shoot someone to death,
is not a solution.
Several months ago, my husband and son were out cycling when a young man and woman, both with guns, ordered them off their bikes.

The man boasted, "I could have killed you."

Then he and the woman sauntered off.

Honestly, it would have been less freaky if they had stolen something. Crazy crime is scarier than crime that seems to have an understandable purpose. Someone demands your wallet, then flees? Yes, it’s wrong but it makes some sense. Someone decides to torture young girls to death or shoot up a kindergarten? Terrifying.

When we told people about the incident, many said my husband and son had no business being in the (poor, high-crime) neighborhood the bike trail passes through.

But should we have to cower, afraid of everyone around us?

Should that neighborhood stay “high crime” for all the innocent people who live there?

Plus, this kind of thing can and does happen anywhere. That same day, a young girl was held up at gunpoint -- in Bellaire, a wealthy neighborhood. Days earlier, another young girl fought off an armed attacker...
View more as she left a busy, high-end mall.

Maybe it’s soothing to think that if you follow a set of self-imposed rules, even if they hem you in, you will be safe (and you can blame other people for the bad things that happen to them). But it isn't true. And I don’t find it soothing.

As for guns, my husband, who has handled firearms since he was a boy, said he thinks if he had had a gun, it would have been more likely, not less, that he or our son would have been shot.

But those two doing something so senseless, so stupid, so dangerous (including to themselves), that’s what I can’t stop thinking about.

They were, not so long ago, someone's babies.

 What happened with that?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Whose Personal Space?

So, how weird am I?

I like to sit out on our front porch.

The thing is, we live in a neighborhood of close-together houses with teeny-tiny front yards.

And no one else uses their front porches.

They might put out some rocking chairs or a porch swing or a wrought-iron bench, but those are meant to be purely decorative.

But our porch is roomy enough for some seriously comfortable chairs, hassocks, a side table. There’s an overhead fan and lights.

It’s nice out there.

I like to sit there, in the mornings. In my pajamas and (my husband’s) robe.

People walk by, with their dogs. Lola has to greet everyone, so she barks.

Here’s how close we are to our neighbors: We planted a stand of bamboo along one side of our porch, to block the sun. Our neighbor on the other side of that bamboo set out his lawn sprinkler the other morning. You could hear the patter of the water hitting the bamboo leaves. “I’m not hitting you over there, am I?” he said (said, not shouted, no need to shout).

So, how weird am I for wanting to sit out on my porch?

I fear I am often weird like this.  I just want to do my own thing and not have anyone notice, even if I am within ear- and eye-shot.

Ear-shot: our family is the loud family. I realized this, yet again, when I was out on the porch on a recent evening (with wine glass and book, this time). My son came home, and as he was entering the front door, he shouted to my husband and daughter, “Hello, Turds!” (“Turd” is a term of endearment in our family, but that might be another post.)

Are we too much? Hope not.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Scoop on Picking Up Poop

© Diana Thomson
OK, so most of us know, even if we don’t like and even if we don’t do it, that dog owners are supposed to pick up after their animals.

And for those who don’t, some places are looking into ways to catch them, like by testing the DNA of poops and tracing them back to the dogs’owners.

However simple the concept of cleaning up after your dog seems, some people don’t get it. Take, for instance, one of my mother’s neighbors. He carries bags, brightly colored ones, no less, he deposits his dog’s poops in them, but then he ties up the bag and leaves it on whoever’s lawn the dog pooped on. See? That misses the whole point. You’d think this didn’t have to be spelled out, but apparently it does: No one else should have to deal with your dog’s poops.

In my own neighborhood, via Nextdoor, which I think of as the “Nosy Neighbor Network,” even as I use it myself, there was a long-running debate about whether it was OK to toss your dog’s poop in your neighbor’s garbage can while you are out walking. The majority opinion was no, though I enjoyed one opposition post: “Oh, the horror, to have your garbage can smell like … garbage!”

My husband and I differ in how we handle the poop bag once it is, err, filled. I wrap the bag up into a small package and hold it, hidden, in my hand. One drawback: yup, your hand might smell more like poop if you do it this way. My husband, in contrast, holds the bag by the handles and even swings it as he walks and talks to people. I think, no one wants to see that.

And that’s all the scoop I have on that.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Controlling the Impulse to Control

Since he was small, my son has been a rule-follower. And if there are no rules to follow, he will make some up.

Recent case in point: when he applied for his driver’s permit, the lady gave him a temporary paper copy, telling him grumpily not to rip it.

I said, “Let’s make some copies of that bad boy in case you lose it.”

“No, Ma, she said not to make copies.”

“No, she said not to rip it.”

“Well, maybe that means not to copy it too ….”


I know. He doesn’t want to mess up. And that’s good.
(If you wonder why I thought to make copies of his permit, it’s because he has a special gift for losing things.)

Control, though, is a funny concept. It can be good, like when you do have things “under control,” but it can be bad, like when you are “controlling.” (Ever notice: anytime anyone is called “controlling,” it’s a bad thing?)

Trying to be in control can quickly go off the rails. I’m convinced that all superstitions spring from the desire, the need, to feel, at least somewhat, in control. Our minds search for logic in what happens around us so we can harness that logic and stay safe – like this superstition of my family.

But such superstitions can also drive you crazy, because, you know what? We’re not in control, not really. Yeah, we can weigh risks and benefits, we can take precautions, but ultimately, things are not in our control.

The dangers of trying to be in control are, I think, why people going through AA are told to put their faith in a Higher Power. What that Higher Power is matters far less than that you don’t feel you have to control everything youself.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Name That Tune

Been wondering about band names …

Lynyrd Skynyrd,, named themselves after Leonard Skinner, a coach who punished two band members in high school for their long hair. The band explained y’s were substituted for the vowels “to protect the guilty.”

Pink Floyd,, was named after two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. More logical than you might have guessed, right?

Nine Inch Nails: Trent Reznor says he chose the name because it “abbreviated easily” to NIN and not for any meaning. This article quotes Reznor: “I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to think of band names, but usually you think you have a great one and you look at it the next day and it’s stupid … It’s a curse trying to come up with band names.”

Cage The Elephant: . Awww, I thought this band got its name from Horton Hears A Who. Nope, it got its name from a connect-the-dots drawing on a cereal box.

The Arctic Monkeys,, don’t even like their name, reporting that they are embarrassed to say it when asked. One member had the name picked, at age 15, before they ever started the band.

Modest Mouse,, got its name from Virginia Woolf who wrote of  modest, mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises.”

Gorillaz,,  the virtual/cartoon band, got its name when its musical creator, Damon Albarn, also of the band Blur, was dissed by Liam Gallagher of Oasis. An interviewer compared the competition between Blur and Oasis in the ‘90s as like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the ‘60s, to which Gallagher replied that Albarn was more like “the fucking Monkees.” 

Wow, someone beat me to all this. For more, look here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Successful Dressing?

Macy's carries about a bazillion women's belts,
every one of which I hate.
It’s official: I can’t clothes-shop.

I am in the midst of a 3-week stint of bringing my son to driver’s ed classes. He is taking them at a Sears store in a mall. I am in said mall every day for two hours.

I have wandered into every store in the place – expensive, cheap, department, designer, athletic, formal-wear, teeny-bopper and old-lady – and I can tell you with confidence that I don’t want 99+ percent of the crap they have for sale.

Did I miss a secret class or something?

Because I know there are women who dress just right for every occasion – the cute sundress for a cookout, the flattering cocktail dress with the little shawl for when it, invariably, is too cold for the cocktail dress. Where are they getting these?! And the shoes for them, too?

Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in Texas. Texan women know how to dress. They embrace it, as a thing. I remember one real-estate agent telling me that, of course, our daughter would need a bigger bedroom than our son because “Girls just need so much gear.”

What gear?! I wanted to shout.

There is a book, titled How to Get Dressed that I could read.

In fact, there are a lot of books on the subject, like this one, this one and this one. But it occurs to me that reading about dressing is like reading about color theory for art. If you have to consult a written theory to know if something looks good, maybe you are doing it wrong?

My current quest: a belt – leather, with a non-cheap, non-trendy-looking buckle – for a dress I bought a while back. The store that sold the dress didn’t sell belts. Of course.

Think I’ll be able to find one?


Friday, July 10, 2015

My Spot

I feel very proud of myself.

Every weekday morning, I have been getting up at 5 am, the ass-crack of dawn, to bring my son to a 6-8 am swim practice.

And because it’s so far, I have been bringing my laptop with me, ensconcing myself in my favorite hidey spot and writing blog posts, while I wait to pick him up.

My spot has seats and Starbucks and wi-fi, but it is not Starbucks.

I do not like sitting in a Starbucks with my laptop. It feels pretentious and crowded and rushed.

The business that has my spot may not be as thrilled with it as I am. It hasn’t worked out the way they want it to. It is not particularly a profit center.

The business is a supermarket not far from the pool. It has a loft seating area. Originally, it had put its Starbucks counter up there, but no one knew it was there (yay), so they moved the Starbucks back downstairs to the sales floor.

But the loft area remains. All I have to do is bring my latte there. Seats – with no waiting and no one waiting for them, once you get your butt in one. A TV, tuned to the news, which I could take or leave. It’s clean.

There are some fellow discoverers up there. Good thing: being up there all by myself might feel a little creepy. Sometimes, a supermarket employee taking their break. An occasional homeless person quietly eating and watching TV. But often, people dressed in business clothes with laptops, I think they are salespeople between calls. A couple have begun to nod hello when they see me.

I can even pick up a few things in the supermarket on my way out.

How efficient I am. Yay, me.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Aloud and Proud

Whenever anyone asks for read-aloud book recommendations, I get carried away.

Here’s why: reading aloud to my kids is one of the best things I ever did – and there’s something about reading to kids that a lot of people don’t know:

You can – and should – keep reading to them, even when they’re older.

I would have thought the same thing too, that reading aloud stops when kids can read themselves, except one of my kids was diagnosed with dyslexia at 4.

You know the saying among teachers that, “They learn to read till 3rd grade and then they read to learn”? Well, as my daughter painstakingly learned to read, with her awesome teachers who patiently went over the nuts and bolts of reading, I saw my role as making sure her general knowledge didn’t fall behind.

When all her little friends were talking about Harry Potter, she could too. I lost count of how many times I read those books aloud to her and her non-dyslexic brother. Each time a new one came out, we would reread the previous ones in anticipation. And by the way, Harry Potter is awesome to read aloud. When you get to dialogue from Hagrid, just read what’s in front of you and a cool accent will come out.

The Narnia Chronicles, His Dark Materials, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the Percy Jackson books, the Peter and the Star Catchers series, Sherlock Holmes stories (a surprise hit): our family loved nothing better than to settle into a good long read.

And we haven’t stopped. Last summer, my kids (ages 15 and 18) took turns reading Jane Eyre aloud.

In that novel, incidentally, characters spend their evenings reading aloud to each other. For fun.

Which it is.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Beyond Me

I have reached a peculiar point in the whole parenting thing. A good point. A great point, the one you aim for.

But still, it feels strange.

My kids can now do things, or do things better, than I can.

I am terrified of highways and haven’t driven on one for decades. My daughter, who learned to drive here in Houston (learn to drive here, you can drive anywhere), can and does. She can also produce, on demand, a project based entirely on her own creativity, for her classes at art school.

I know, thanks to his recent lifeguard certification, that my son can lift a 200-pound unconscious person off the bottom of a pool. And just by dint of his growth, he can, when he sees me struggling, shoulder his way in: “Scoot over, Ma. I’ll move that refrigerator for you.”

Currently, he can do math that I am sure I must have learned at some point but which I have entirely forgotten. (A whole different topic. Why do we teach kids esoteric math, such as calculus, that, face it, most of us will never use, but neglect to teach them how to make change?)

So, my kids have capabilities that I don’t have. They will do things and go places that I never will.


But weird and kinda sad too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Negative Talk

I will always remember the time my daughter’s math teacher told me she was making progress working on my daughter’s habit of “negative self-talk.”

I not only negative self-talk; I negative everybody-talk. You could say I am an equal-opportunity negative talker.

When I don’t like something, when something doesn’t agree with me, it feels very natural to open my mouth and say so. But then I was bemused to see my other child, my son, complain about his homework the year he started high school. It took him longer to complain about it than it did to do it, which, of course, as his mother, I pointed out to him. (Part of my job.)

And I have come to realize that it’s a real bummer to listen to someone’s negative talk about everything.

What you take in from around you does affect how you feel. Just spend a few hours watching “My 600-Pound Life” and gory true-crime shows and Fox News to prove that.

So, in the interests of making the world a happier place for myself and those around me, I’ve decided to break my negative-talk habit.

However, this is how it’s been going:

Me, in car: “Move it, you stupid piece of shit … Oh, damn! I did it again!”

My son points out that I am now doing double negative talk.

This isn’t going to be easy.

Oh! That’s negative talk again, isn’t it?


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Keeper of the Calendar

Image courtesy of
Stuart Miles at
It was major for me, when I figured out how to sync my computer calendar with my phone calendar.

How sad is that?

I know when my husband is on call, when our daughter goes back to college, when our son’s driver’s ed class starts, when everyone’s dental check-ups should be.

You know when military leaders in a war movie pore over a map spread out on a table? That’s me, figuring out our summer with printed-out, color-coded, cross-referenced calendars, except I’m the only one at the table, with a cell phone to my ear and a laptop open to Google maps and school calendars.

It’s still a bit tricky because one kid doesn’t yet drive and the other is sharing my car with me. I distinctly remember the shock, upon moving from New York City to Houston, of having to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to have not one, but two (and three+ seems beyond ridiculous) 3,000-pound machines out in the yard, just to function.

I supposedly am the one who knows when the AC filters have to be changed and when Lola the dog needs her heartworm pill and when our car insurance needs to be paid. (It’s tomorrow: I just paid it online today. Whew.)

Travel plans, wisdom-teeth extraction, the quarterly visit from the Terminix man, birthday cards and Christmas gifts: it all goes through me.

I know, I know.  I should turn some of it over to my kids, who are old enough to deal.

But, guess what?

I didn’t raise fools: They’re not exactly keen to take it on.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What's Inside Your Head?

I recently drove my husband home after a colonoscopy.

They put you under sedation when they do a colonoscopy, which is why they don’t allow you to drive yourself home, and when he woke, he looked at me groggily and said to the nurse, “I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I really like my wife.” Then, he started singing to her (David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” “Ground control to Major Tom ….”). He told her he hadn’t “passed gas.” They pump your colon full of air during a colonoscopy so, afterwards, you are supposed to. She said, “Yes, you did, as we were wheeling you over here.” “Oh,” he said, his face clouding over, “passing gas is bad.” He cheered up, though, when she gave him some apple juice. When I was pulling the car up and a nurse was wheeling him out in a wheelchair, he did “airplane arms.”

It was sweet.

But I’m going to be having my colonoscopy soon. (My husband and I are both 50, the year you are supposed to start having them.)

While my husband’s head is full of sweet, happy thoughts, I wonder what it going to come out of mine. I think I may be a hissing, spitting, howling wet cat. I might tell the nurse to fuck off and go running down the hall in my hospital johnny. Who knows?

I have often wondered about the appeal of psychedelic drugs. According to the Wikipedia entry on “psychedelic experience,” the word “psychedelic” is from the Greek for “mind-revealing.” If my dreams are any guide (did you know that most dreams are negative?), what would be revealed for me are snakes and spiders and monsters that will chase me, except I won’t be able to move.

Umm, no thanks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In Defense of Being Judgy

Ever comment on someone doing something absurd and have the person you’re with sniff that they don’t believe in saying anything bad about anybody?


As Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, said, “If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

We are an exquisitely social species. When we coordinated a hunt to bring down some huge animal with sticks and rocks, when, as mothers with helpless infants, we worked out a group babysitting/gathering schedule, we honed our social abilities, including being astute judges of each other. Gossiping may have been the reason why we developed language.

Primatologists devote their lives to mapping the complex web of social interactions our closest relatives weave, but chimpanzees and bonobos can’t hold a candle to what we can do. We can live in huge groups – in cities, in countries – without (usually) killing each other. We develop complex systems of trade and trust.

Gossip has a bad reputation because it can be used maliciously to keep people in line, to punish and compete. Exhibit A: teenaged girls.

That isn’t what I’m talking about.

I have always talked to my kids, from a young age, about the people around them, including adults. (“You’re right; your teacher IS being a jerk.”) First, to pretend otherwise would be really crazy-making for the child. Second, being a good judge of character (i.e., recognizing when someone is being an ass) is a useful skill. Young humans have to learn to deal with such asses and the first, and most important, step in that process is recognizing what you’re dealing with.

Don’t talk about people?

How else are we going to figure them out?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Couch-Potato Kids

Let’s face it: most of us have couch-potato kids.

According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, 2 out of 3 kids are not physically active and spend an average of 7 ½ hours per day with screens.

According to the CDC, over 21% of teenagers are obese.

According to an ESPN article, only 30% of girls and 37% of boys play a sport in high school, and by senior year, only 1 out of 4 are physically active.

My son’s an avid computer gamer. We used to refer to the daily chore of getting him out of his room as “airing him out.”

And like many high-school kids (see the stats, above), he felt intimidated by the idea of “going out for” a sport.

Yet, he found one: swimming.

It’s made a world of difference. He looks better, stands taller, moves better, sleeps and eats better, gets better grades, is happier.

How’d we do it? It was about 95% luck. But we did learn a few things:

1.      It might take many attempts before you find something that clicks. With our kids, we tried gymnastics, soccer, tae kwon do, fencing, football, rugby, hiking, biking and swimming.

2.      The one that clicks could surprise you. I’d have never guessed swimming and rugby (my daughter’s sport).

3.      I thought my husband was being a hard-ass when he kept after the kids to move every day. But if only so they didn’t end up at the gym with Mom or on a bike ride with Dad (the horror), they began seriously considering their options.

4.      The best sports are new (rugby, fencing) and/or underdog ones.

5.      And really, the sport doesn’t matter. It’s the coach. If your kids find a warm, supportive coach, they’ve just won big-time.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Not For a Bazillion Dollars

People say never say never, but I am pretty sure about these.

1.Bungee Jump. Nope. Not ever.


2.  Whatever These People are Doing. They are jumping off cliffs and out of helicopters wearing something called wingsuits.

3. Noodling, or Catching Catfish with Your Bare Hands. You do this by letting the catfish try to eat your hand and end up elbow-deep inside the fish. Oh, hell no.

4. Brazilian waxes. I have no idea how this ever became a thing. Keep yourself clean? Sure. Give yourself a little haircut? Fine. Rip out all the hair by its roots from the most sensitive parts of your body? No. Some argue that an adult woman becoming hairless makes her look like a prepubescent child and that's gross enough. But, A, doesn't this practice just scream self-hatred, that you hate how your body looks naturally and you hate yourself enough to subject yourself to such a painful process? And B, those body parts are sensitive and the hair cushions them. In the name of being "sexy," are you dulling the sensitivity of your sex organs by ripping away their protection?

I think you should be nice to your body. Don't hurl it off cliffs. Don't feed it to catfish. Don't subject it to painful and possibly even harmful, alterations in the name of "beauty."

So, that's (the start of ) my list.

What would you never, ever do?

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Doesn’t every family have its own lingo?

Some of ours:

Brockabee: What my nephew called the vegetable when he was little.

Caca Bonk: What my sisters decided to call poop when they were small.

Charo: When I was a kid, my best friends’ mom, from Thailand, had a hard time pronouncing my name. It came out “Charo,” which also happens to be the name of the Spanish comedian/flamenco guitarist. Some people still call me Charo.

Diddy Ya Ya: Dish towel. Because my cousin, now a full-grown man, liked to carry around dish towels and chew on the corners when he was a toddler.

Dupie: All the young children in my family use this, from the Polish “dupa,” for rear-end.

Harry Potter Closet: What we call the closet underneath the stairs.

Helping Lola Be Her Best Self: Taking out the kitchen garbage before we leave the house. Otherwise, Lola the Dog will knock it over and drag the best bits onto the living-room rug.

Man on Horseback Would Never Notice: What we say, because my grandfather did, whenever anyone asks if something, like a stain on a shirt, is noticeable.

Mir: How I pronounced “mirror” when I was small.

Piece of Thit: My same cousin, when our grandmother tried to entice him away from an expensive toy guitar with a cheaper one, declared, with his toddler lisp, “That one’s a piece of thit.”

Pikers: What my daughter used to call popsicles.

Police the Area: Go around the yard, picking up the dog crap.

Take a Wook at It: What we say we’ll do when something’s broken, after my toddler nephew said he would when he learned his grandfather’s car wasn’t working.

Under-The-Pants: This was not from a child but from a friend from the Ukraine.

What does your family say?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What's in a Name?

There is a hole in our culture that has yet to be adequately filled.

How should women handle their last names when they marry?

I kept mine, and while I am happy I did, it is not a totally satisfactory solution. One, you give up that symbol – the same last name – for your family. Two, my last name is not going to keep going since my children have my husband’s last name. In fact, as he points out, of the six names we gave our children (first, middle, last X two kids), I only got one of them, my daughter’s first name. (She’s named after my mother, while my son is named after my husband, who is named after his father, that continuity through the generations is nice – and my daughter’s middle name, well, my husband’s family has a cool one, with a rocking story behind it, that I couldn’t resist using.)

If we gave one child my last name and the other my husband’s, I think my kids would wonder how we decided who got what and what that said about them. Names are powerful, and while I see drawbacks in how they are traditionally handled, I also hesitate to screw around with them on the fly.

Hyphenation is also not a good long-term solution. I once met a young girl who sadly pointed out that her hyphenated name was 26 letters long.

My friend’s sister kept her last name because, she said, whatever she accomplished in life was because of her parents, the people who raised and educated her. Nice.

And whenever I see a situation where the boss (always a man) is Mr. So&So, but the employees (always women) go by just first names, I am reminded of the power in last names.

What did you do?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Walking with Lola the Dog

Did somebody say "walk"?
Lola loves walks, grabbing her leash and running to the gate when it’s time.

They are her walks, I figure, so I let her choose where we go. (OK, if I didn’t, we’d have embarrassing arguments at street corners, arguments I often lose.)

In Inside A Dog, Alexandra Horowitz explains, unlike us, dogs’ primary sense is smell, not sight. Sometimes, Lola will smell something in the ground that makes her normally upright tail fall limp; she will even refuse to walk past the spot. Creepy. Are bodies buried there?

Lola keeps up her end of the doggy smell conversation, carefully placing her pee and poop, the latter sadly an exercise in futility since I pick it up. Lola also loves an audience. That’s why, when we walk past restaurants with outdoor dining, I have to pull her along, hissing, “Don’t you dare, Lola!” ‘Cause she totally would.

Lola always wants to walk on a nearby shopping street, not on quiet residential streets. Her favorite spot is a frozen-yogurt shop because she gets lots of attention from little people covered in yogurt who don’t mind getting licked. And, operating under the theory of “If I act like I know what I’m doing, people will think it’s OK,” she will try to duck into other businesses. One store owner actually asked us if we’d come in and hang out, since the charismatic Lola often attracts a crowd.

We have to deal with cats who come out to play mind games on Lola, whom they absolutely know is on a leash.

And yesterday, we had to get close, but not too close, to one of those arm-wavy inflatable things (called an AirDancer, by the way) and watch it for a long time.

Then Lola went home for a nap.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Through Purple-Colored Glasses

pair of purple ones.

I can only refer to one of my favorite quotations of all time:

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

My old glasses were literally falling apart. I would place them gingerly (because the rubber nose pads were gone) and crookedly (because they were crooked) on my nose in the morning (about the only time I had been wearing them) and peer out at the world.

And I realized that they were older than my oldest child – who is 19!

So, I high-tailed it to the eyeglass store. I went alone. Perhaps my first mistake. But I didn’t want to agonize over this.

The sales clerk, who looked to me to be about 10 years old, showed me some glasses made out of wood. “They are biodegradable,” he said, “and the company donates all profits to charity.” Nice idea, but “You can put those away,” I said.

I tried on many pairs, quickly (because I couldn’t stand how any of them looked), but I kept coming back to this purple pair.

“Well, I think these might be the ones,” I said.

“Great!” said the clerk, moving to close the sale.

“But they’re purple,” I said. “I soooo don’t want to buy purple glasses.”

The clerk sighed as he sat back down.

Well, I got them. And I like them, I think. Sometimes, because of the shape of their frames, I do think of them as my “Annie Leibovitz glasses.”

But I do like them ... I think.

Which is good, because the plan is to have them for the next 20 years.