School

carrying the world

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I am most happiest in the morning.  The slotted rays of fall sunshine came through my blinds and I smiled.  And within thirty minutes I had to tell my son he was behaving like an a$$.

I’m just tired, he told me as he entered my vehicle; as we pulled-out of our driveway.  He is not a morning person and took out his frustrations on the one who will take it unconditionally; me.   I would normally rant or nag about how the new, fancy alarm clock STILL does not wake this son.  We live close enough to his high school that he could walk and be late.

When he yelled at me to leave him alone, I told him I would.  I had quietly waited for 9 AM to run my bank errand in my car, in the garage.

It’s tough, this whole letting go thing.  I don’t want him to fail but fail he must do.  I hate having access to my sons’ grades on the portal, receiving text reminders from the various teachers (seven in all between three different schools AND an elementary school principal).  I want them to be accountable for their own lives and not have mommy watch their back and micromanage them.  Technology has many advantages.  But I’m also realizing, this may not be one of them for me.  It’s information overload.  Yet I can’t NOT look, at the online grades.  I like having the access but am unsure how to take the information.  I heard the middle son tell his friend online,  We know when our Mom sees our grades online by the tone in her voice.   I do this every one to two weeks.

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On the short drive to the high school my radio was low and I quietly sifted through my thoughts.  As I sat the the traffic light to turn into the parking lot I said the words I wanted to say in a quiet voice.  I reminded him of his friends who had to wake early for an 8 AM SAT today.  These friends who will then join his eight hour practice after 12 PM and will finish at 5 PM  Then, these same friends will quickly go home, change and head to the annual Homecoming dance and won’t arrive home until the wee morning hours.   These friends carry a heavy academic load, on top of it.  These friends are in sports, outside service clubs and performance groups.   And these friends are probably more tired than he is.    Welcome to life, kid.

Yesterday my son shared that one day of the week his band period will be a study period; for kids to catch-up.  I heard the mom tell the story of the girl who broke down, who couldn’t figure out how to balance her life with a rigorous academic load,  extra-curriculars and a life.   Correction:  they have no life.

Is this what is becoming of our kids today?  And what will they become as adults?  Our kids, they feel the pressure.

I read books like, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That WayWhere You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admission Mania Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life,  The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Hands Free Mama:  A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!,  How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.  Overkill, I know.  It is currently the stage I reside in as a parent and I immerse myself in information, hoping it will help me cope.

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I appreciate the educators who put the kids first.  The ones that don’t purposely make their classes harder to get into; to remember to give our children the gift of learning, just because and to actually teach them something versus teaching to the test.

These days our kids fight for multiple advanced placement courses, and fill every waking moment with admirable pursuits.  They are members of the local hospital student advisory board, work tireless community service hours to log in their time for college application resumes or, tutor peers; constantly giving of their time and talents.  But what about themselves?  When do they ever have the time to fill their own cups, to have time to think their own thoughts and discover their own dreams? 

These are luxuries that do not fit into their current lives; escaping into the online worlds of PC gaming and social media sites.  The streets are empty in my neighborhood.  Kids are on traveling sports teams, after school programs like dance, debate, prep courses or in service organizations.  They arrive home to complete their homework and crash on the couch at 1 AM.

Reality check. Am I not just like this son?  The mom who works full-time, who fills her weeknights and free Fridays with other volunteer pursuits?  The time arrived when I crashed and burned and swore to my hubs I would never put myself in that situation again.  Yet here I am, once again, involved in many “extracurriculars.”  But the thing I learned was NOW, I choose the things and pursuits I enjoy and advocate for.  I don’t do these things to build my “college resume” with awards or titles.  I am learning new things, meeting new people and expanding my points of view.  The extrovert in me loves having a purpose outside of myself; to grow.

But, as adults, we encounter the same things our teens do; in the workplace, in service organizations, in life.  Adult cliques, politics, those who do and those who don’t, those who want the glory.  There is always an alpha and followers and varying points of view.  It shouldn’t always be about personal gain.

We need to find the balance in all things that we do and remind ourselves why we do them.

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I set aside the project that has been occupying my time these past two weeks; hours lost in creativity.  I guiltily glanced at the ten year old’s sneakers, the ones that are falling apart.  When the younger two sons reminded me that I promised to take them shopping  I put my project away and went.  It IS my responsibility to make sure my family is fed, clothed and housed.  I dedicated the rest of my weekend to those endeavors busily chopping and dicing, laundry and house cleaning.  The sons followed suit and contributed with their chores; house cleaning a communal effort.  I need to practice what I preach and find my balance.

I shared an (Advanced Placement) AP article with my son.  I told him to find what he loves and to just do it.  It isn’t my job to coordinate his activities and his life.  It is my job to make sure he is responsible, advocates his views and allow him to discover who he is; away from me.  I can’t carry the weight of the world for him.  I must let him feel the weight of it and carry it for himself.  I continue to learn to slowly ease up on the reins and let go…

Carry on my wayward son(s).

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School

lost ground

In one day it all came rushing back, the busy-ness that begins and lies ahead.  I immersed myself into reality and was reminded why I had chosen to go into exile.  I can’t get away from it; especially when it lives within.  I’m losing ground.

How can I be the best parent to produce successful progeny?

Almost two weeks ago I had sat with my childhood girlfriend who is a teacher.  She had recently discovered a textbook most current teachers have been introduced to in their educational studies.  But in her twenty years of teaching she had just stumbled upon it and she was mad.  Why hadn’t anyone told her about this before?

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Three hours passed as we shared experiences.  I found myself recounting experiences as the stay-at-home mom, the working mom and the volunteer mom.  Where is there time to be a wife, a friend?  It had been over a year since I last saw my childhood friend who lives less than twenty miles away.  In the end, we came back to parenting and how less stressful and vastly different it had probably been for our own parents raising us.  As tweens we had bicycled on ten-speeds four miles to a beach (each way) on a lonely road, with no helmets.  We did not fear for childhood predators.  We had no supervision.  We returned at dusk as the streetlights turned on.  We had freedom.

These days when my sons walk home (less than one mile from three different schools); texts come through asking if my boys need rides home.  The principal didn’t allow them to walk home after extra-curricular activities; permissible only if there were many children dismissed at the same time.  The helmets were bought and replaced each year as their head circumferences grew but the bike tires remained flat.   The GPS tracks their whereabouts on cell phones but these days, our street lies empty.  Kids are either inside on electronics or shuttled to countless activities for sports, the arts (lessons or classes), community service projects or after-school tutoring.  I am always happy to hear my neighbors’ kids outdoors playing baseball or playing in their backyards.  I have to plead with my own sons to join me, in triple digit heat, to swim in our own pool; IF they’re not scheduled to be somewhere else.

how to raise an adult

My current reading material is How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success  by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  It seeks answers to the same questions I’ve been asking myself the past three years.  Lost amongst the helicopter parents I struggled to find my way; grappling with guilt for not providing this same kind of parenting.  The badge of parenthood reads like a job resume; an endless list of scheduled activities, enrichment classes and internship worthy causes to claim the job position of “best parent.”  The prize?  The smartest, best-looking, talented athlete/artist/writer/musician/filmmaker/(you fill in the blank) child who is gifted with the art of gab and humbly gives back to the community; all with a rigorous academic load and a loving smile, because he/she wants to.

As a first generation child who was told to assimilate into the culture and not make waves; navigating these current waters have been tricky.  My girlfriend and I recall waking up at 5:00 AM, making our own breakfasts and sitting at our bus stops by 6:15 AM to be driven fifteen miles to the high school we attended.  Classes began at 7:05 AM.  Parents did not yell to rouse us out of bed, nor did they make our lunches, approve our clothes choices, or check our homework.  At a young age we were taught to do things for ourselves.  In order to discover answers we were forced to ask questions and assert ourselves.  My parents did not email teachers, call my counselor or volunteer in organizations to advocate for me.  In college we had been bitter as we heard of the diverse lives of our fellow students.  It was easy to blame our lack of parenting for putting us at a disadvantage.

But that really isn’t true.  We have both come to realize that our parents gave us the opportunity for growth.  Our work ethics, our independence, our successes and failures, lie upon our own shoulders.   They had prepared us.   I find my parenting style has become all of the things I had not had as a child.   I’m not sure this is entirely good.

I contemplated this as I sat in a PTA meeting listening to the discussion of how to spend funds for our school.   I was aghast at the extra funds available to spend; I being the product of a Title I school.  The girlfriend above teaches at one of the best districts in our state; a small wealthy enclave of the metropolitan city nearby.  We parent like the suburban parents around us; quickly forgetting where we came from and still feeling inadequate.  Should we enroll our kid in this after school program to catch-up?  What sport should they stick with?  What instrument should they learn to play?  What service club should they join?  I listened to the parents at the high school discussing advanced placement (AP) coursework and adding more classes to an already rigorous schedule.  There are not enough periods in a school day to accomplish the goals of becoming the best of the best; the well-rounded individual whom colleges will beg to walk through their doors.   I found myself getting sucked in; the same trap I just worked through in June.

When my son’s schedule had a glitch, I reverted back to the helicopter parent that lies within.  His schedule has been an ongoing topic of discussion since February of this year.  He grabbed his gear out of my vehicle and walked away.  I’ve got this, Mom.  The helicopter in me wanted to walk with him to the counselor’s office, to advocate… but for whose cause?  I silently watched him walk away, waved to the parents nearby and jumped into my vehicle.  I have to let him go.  He knows what he wants.

Upon arriving back to work I read the lengthy article advocating music education.  This son had chosen music over AP and, to my consternation, I still struggle with this.  I learned piano at age five.  I began playing the saxophone at age nine and continued through my four years in college.  I still play both.  But I want him to juggle it all, for the world to be his oyster.  The problem is, when one is good at many things, you cannot be great.  This is the root of my problem,  good at most things, great at none; my own inner demon that I struggle against.  Because my definition of being a good parent is creating children who surpass you.  I want my children to be great!    A Depeche Mode song comes to mind.

I need to get the balance right.

“What is the most important priority for all parents? THE FUTURE HAPPINESS OF THEIR CHILD! Mothers and fathers around the world dedicate their lives to creating an even better life for their children. In a highly competitive society they want to see their sons and daughters have every possible advantage in their educational climate, their chosen profession, and their selected community-of-living where, once again, the cycle will repeat itself with-and-for the next generation. The complexity of society’s evolutionary standards (some favorable, some not) puts responsible parents “on alert” 24/7.”  ~Lautzenheiser, Tim.  “Why Music?  Why Band?”  LinkedIn.  Marketing Vision Partners, LLC,  29 Jul 2015.  Web.  12 Aug 2015.

I struggle as I stand among these parents; knowing the academic pathway narrows.   This will be my struggle in these next few years, to not live my own ideals through my children.   I reduced my volunteer activities, evaluating the reasons why I do them.  The ones that remain are causes that I continue to believe in, not just for my children, but for all that is served by these programs and organizations.   I’ve come to realize that, maybe one day, my own sons will take up causes of their own; not for self-serving reasons, but because they are worthy.   The helicopter blades are clipped but are always ready to take flight.  I continue to learn to hand over the controls and let my children find their way.  I constantly need reminders, to save me from myself.

All he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.

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The son, yesterday morning, shared how he likes when I support his choices.  When I don’t go all crazy on him with the ten thousand questions.  He asserted his points and reminded me that all he wants is a mom that accepts his choices.   He can’t wait to drive.  And with a wave he jumped out of my vehicle, quickly walking to make it to practice on time.   School hasn’t even started and I’m already having issues.  I need to work through them and figure it out.  I stand alone fighting the crowds, trying to gain some ground.

Family, joys of jazz, School

being a lioness

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I try very hard to get a handle on the tiger mom that lies within.  You know, the one who gets competitive and wants everything to be the best.  When my boys joke about a “B” being the Asian “F” I grimace.  When I was in high school this was the kiss of death.  At fourteen I had known what universities I would apply to and, with my high school counselor’s help, worked towards that goal.

Over the years I’ve learned I must sit alone on this topic.  If surrounded by like-minded individuals it brings out the very worst in me.  It is the reason my two older sons left the sport of swimming in 2012; the year of the summer Olympics.  Michael Phelps was everywhere and my sons wanted none of it.  Amongst peers and parents seeking future Olympians the love of the sport was lost.  I sat in the stands, amongst these parents, as they advised me which coach to request while also reading Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  A dad summed it all up.  Why pay for swimming if you don’t want to be competitive?  If you want to swim for recreation, find a community pool instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy competitions and the motivation to be the best me that I can be.  I love to cheer as a spectator in the stands for all things: sports, the arts or academics.  It is when the intensity becomes too high; when the motivation factor is for all the wrong reasons, that I shut down.  It is one of the toughest lessons I’ve learned over the years as a mother.  Letting go.

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So when the eldest nonchalantly handed me a paper to sign to drop AP Physics and to add a second music course; I had been caught off-guard.  His high school counselor approved of this course of action after two months of debating class schedules.  The son had already opted out of another AP class, after he insisted he wanted to take two, and after attending various parent meetings about rigor of schedule for college admissions, my mind went still.  Watching the college mania from fellow parents this past year I knew this was going to be a problem for me.  Thus, over spring break I read the book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni; mentally gearing up for the years that lie ahead.  My son is a freshman.

While at a school sponsored sporting event I listened to the parents in the stands, calling out to their kids.  They noticed scouts on sidelines with cameras and speed guns looking for the next NCAA athlete.  I cringed as they coached their sons and daughters; going against what the coaches were telling them.  As parents we all want what is best; we can’t help it.  But when our implicit desires conflict with our child’s; there is a problem.

I folded and tucked the drop slip between my printer and stapler.  I chose not to look at it for the rest of the weekend; much to my son’s consternation.

But he would not let it go.  The subject was revisited while with family; amongst them a middle school teacher for a charter school.  All of the adults agreed.  Why do you need to take two music classes?  Without  a cogent answer it was agreed upon that this son should do the research.  Having two music classes, just because he wanted to, was not the acceptable answer.  He needed to argue his point and present his reasoning.  And so he went to various sites online to search colleges in the areas of interest he wants to pursue.  After the third day he defiantly announced he would keep his schedule; to appease the parental units.  My red flags went up.  At the hubs’ suggestion we finally had to group email the counselor, the director and the instructor.

Neither of the first two chose to answer my email query.  The counselor had already spoken directly to our son.  There was no comment from the director.  But surprisingly, the instructor weighed in and pounced on the same line of reasoning this son found on the various websites of top universities.

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There are so many ways to navigate one’s way through high school, and it is specific to each student’s ability to balance good grades with a great attitude.

“Choose your activities because they delight, intrigue and challenge you, not because you think they’ll look impressive on your application.” “Prepare for MIT.” MIT Admissions RSS N.p., Web. 06 Jun. 2015.

“So the problem can often be well-meaning but misguided parents who try to mold their children into an image of success they value; and their children, being moldable as they are, often get on board and go along with the program before they have any capacity to make such a choice for themselves.  Yet the paradox is that the only road to real success is to become more fully oneself, to succeed in the field and on the terms that one defines for oneself.” “Preparing for College: Building a Path to Academic Success.”  Harvard College Admissions & Financial Aid RSS N.p., Web. 06 Jun. 2015.

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The son plopped his stack of printed “research” upon my desk and stalked off as another day went by.   It had surprised me as I leafed through the literature, both in the sites he chose and the one sentence summary he stated.  Balance, diversity and his true love, jazz.  The syncopated rhythm of Count Basie could be heard  on his desktop as he studied for finals.  Later that evening, as sleep eluded me; my answer finally came.  It was the one I should have known all along and I was ashamed I never saw it.

I had gotten lost in the mania I was trying to avoid and it is the reason my high school years are some of my least favorite.   In a competitive high school, such as my son’s, opting out of AP would take him out of the top ten.  He would not have the same choices I had as a senior.  Ranked third in my class I was accepted by all of my colleges; including the one I had aspired to from the very beginning.  It offered me a full ride scholarship for the course of study I wanted to pursue and I returned my letter of intent; elated.  And then I received the brochure from the university that did not offer me a full ride but had the one thing none of the others had.

A nationally known music program and marching band.

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I withdrew my letter of intent.  When people asked why I chose not to attend the university I had aspired to they were flummoxed when my answer came down to music.  I do not stay in touch with many of my high school classmates.  The few are the ones who have stood in my wedding, are godmothers to my children or are still a part of my life.  But the bonds I forged in college remain strong; my friends from marching band and the dorms as they held my hand in labor or stood beside me, as maid of honor, on my wedding day.   It is music that is always my salve.  Who was I to take this joy from my own son when years before, I made the same choices?

The hubs had slowly come to this same conclusion on his own.  He understands my tiger mother tendencies and likens me to a lioness, instead.  Lionesses hunt and gather in social groups; whereas tigers live a solitary existence.  These social groups help me navigate through this season of motherhood and I am forever grateful for their wisdom and insight.   Their diverse perspectives are welcome as we all muddle through this together.

On the last day of school the son carefully tucked the folded drop slip into his backpack.  It may be the only year he will have this opportunity; as the rigorous schedule builds in the following years where he will have to only choose one music class.  These are important years of growth and discovery and it is not I who should be defining them.  I’ve had my turn.  Now it is his.

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Family, School

the voice in the crowd

I have no voice.

I think of the irony of this statement; the once extremely shy girl who rarely spoke or looked people in the eye. Back then I wished I had been a fly sitting unobtrusively on a wall; observing the world around me.  Silence is my sanctuary.  It is welcoming.  Comforting…

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…but annoying when your primary means of communicating is verbal.  Over the years I had been encouraged to come out-of-my-shell; to advocate for myself.  These thoughts reverberated in my mind amidst the raucous yells in a crowded high school gymnasium.  I hadn’t realized the cell phone I held in my hand was ringing until I felt the vibration.  My eyes alighted on the teenagers standing tall in bleachers, screaming at the top of their lungs. The parents surrounding me were also cheering and I could hear the air push through my vocal chords but no sounds came out.  Phone in-palm, I did fist pumps instead.  It was in that moment, in the loud gym, that I realized how much I took my voice for granted.

There are so many places today where women cannot speak.  Cultures where women’s destinies lie in the hands of others; usually under heavy handed males and uncompromising circumstances.  I take for granted that my voice can be heard; that the words I write are granted in our free society.  I have the right to an opinion and with social media and the world wide web; they have the capability to be seen.  What of those who have none of these things: computers, cell phones, IP addresses; the large areas of third world countries and in rural parts of our first world own?  The book, The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi weighs on my mind.

I had sat in a meeting Thursday night and when I spoke, my voice came out as a squeak.  The dry cough that plagued my family had taken over my larynx and everyone leaned in to hear what I was attempting to say.  As a listening tactic at home, I lower my voice when I address my sons with something important.  Currently the noise level of my home is non-existent; my family dampening the volume and listening to discern where I am when they address me.  It is comical!

It had been easy as a thirteen year old to hide behind my girlfriends as they chattered away.  If ever I needed to speak, my friends would speak for me.  It was only in high school that I stood alone; dispersed in different classes and paths.  It was in these years that I discovered the squeaky wheel got the oil and if I didn’t discover my own voice, quickly, that I would rapidly be left behind amongst my more assertive and vocal classmates.  Whomever said grades and scores speak louder than words should qualify that statement.  You need to be able to put your actions where your mouth is.  You can be intelligent, innovative and creative (Steve Wozniak) but if you can’t get along with people or market what you do (Steve Jobs), what good does that do you?  You have to balance both of these traits to effectively maneuver the world around us.

Currently this discussion pertains to our teenager and  I understand now WHY I chose to forget about my high school years.  These are the issues I never wanted to confront, to sweep under the rug.  It is during these tumultuous years where the growth pains, failures and triumphs mark the person we were in that moment.  The acne and body changes, the clothes I couldn’t afford to wear, the trips or experiences I never had.   It is only when we are away from the intense scrutiny of popularity, athletic or academic rankings that we can figure out what truly defines a person.  Hard work.  Experience.  Social skills.  Clearly I understood the ethos of hard work and I volunteered in various clubs and activities to gain experience.  But for social skills, I was on my own.

It was in another high school gym that I was forced to find my voice.  Activities such as band allowed me to perform with a large number of people.  When chosen for a songleading squad I quaked in fear, cursing the fates.  I had thought I could blend with the girls in performing dance routines but we also had  to project our voices and cheer.  Loud.  This was not the fit for me.  I attempted to hide behind the other girls but our instructor had made it clear.  We were the ones to generate spirited yells; we had to embody these words with confidence.  Our coach would stand near me to make sure she could hear my voice as I nervously quivered.  I’d never failed anything at this point in my life.  I couldn’t fail at this.

Today my sons hear me.   I now can project my voice very loud and clear.  Across a crowded football stadium my eldest heard me shout from the top row as his marching band took the field in competition.  My middle son heard me underwater as he would  flip turn during swim meets.  In soccer, my youngest heard my whoop for joy as he blocked a shot amongst a group of defenders.  In a crowded room of adults my husband can easily find me.  From those gym drills emerged my ability to communicate, the voice which asserts my thoughts and questions the status quo.  My heart still pitter-patters before I have to publicly speak but once I begin, I am full-throttle and had to learn to wrap things up in a timely manner.   Yesterday in the crowded gym I wanted to cheer and shout with throngs of people present.  I wanted my voice back!

My ability to speak with volume, though, was not the impetus that gave me my words.  In the end it is the CONTENT of grammatical phrases and punctuation that allowed me to mean what I say and say what I mean.  It was my English teacher, who also was the debate team coach, who made this clear.  Speaking loud didn’t mean anything if there was no true meaning in what you were shouting.  You needed literature to back the words up; the wealth of information from acquired knowledge.  One needed to be well read and ultimately, the ability to be an effective speaker came down to one thing.

BOOKS.

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Initially I thought this teacher meant the classics of literature.  But no.  He meant anything and everything you could feast your eyes upon.  Science fiction, trashy magazines, graphs in the Wall Street Journal, dictionaries.  I internalized his words and my quiet, introverted personality would switch between Harlequin romance novels and any of the above.  My vocabulary grew and my thirst for knowledge exponentially grew with it.  Alongside my globe were Michener’s Hawaii, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and even my Harlequin romance novels.  All had a part of the choices made in my life and to this day I credit my widened perspective to these particular books.  I’ve seen this derivation of Descartes’ famous quote which embodies the person I have become.

I read therefore I am.

So, voiceless and tired, I sat and completed reading the book that I hope will bring me some parenting perspective as I maneuver through this next phase of parenting a teen: college mania.  Amongst my girlfriends I see the stress and toll the admission process has placed upon them.  I read articles of Palo Alto parents keeping watch along train tracks for suicidal teens in the month of April when acceptance and rejection letters arrive in the mail or email (gasp!)  Frank Bruni’s, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania shed some light on what lies ahead and I thought of this as the principal read the long list of college acceptances from various seniors at our high school.  When the valedictorian and salutatorians were announced I was surprised to note that they were not the kids proudly wearing their Harvard or Yale shirts.  And I cried alongside the surprised and proud parents who claimed these seniors.  The Ivy schools were well represented in the “Top Ten” kids but so were other state and small private institutions.  My eyes were opened as I fist-pumped for their accomplishments.  Just WOW.

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I got that same feeling as I sat in an upper balcony of the large auditorium. I am a fan of writer Malcolm Gladwell; known for his books The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers & his current book David & Goliath.  When I saw he was being interviewed at the LA Times Festival of Books I went online and was able to secure two tickets to this engagement.  My first exposure to published authors began at age eleven; chosen to participate in a writer’s workshop at a university one and a half hours from my childhood home.  My GATE advisor took it upon herself to drive me there, daily, the entire week.  I had been in awe and intimidated.  I sat silently as authors shared what inspired them; my voice still hidden deep within.   I am just coming to the realization of how many adults mentored me and how grateful I am for their tutelage.  The years I chose to forget were the ones that indelibly shaped me.  The high school counselor, the cheerleading coach, the GATE advisor.  The death of my father.  The books allowed me to expand my mind beyond my claustrophobic four walls.  They were my ticket to the world beyond.  The books helped me build my vocabulary, find my words and, with the cheerleading coach, finally say them loud and clear.

For the Malcolm Gladwell conversation I sat in the same auditorium of my very first college class.  Biology 101.  All pre-meds and science majors were required to take this course their freshman year which weeded out the wheat from the chaff.  At 8 AM MWF I sat in this darkened lecture hall frantically taking notes in the front rows.  It is in the years between, then and now, that I realized I had narrowed my scope.  Hindsight brings perspective and where my true passions lay were in the globes and maps and demographics.  I loved statistics and had, instead, narrowed my choices to medicine.  It was after completing my one year in a medical school did I realize this was not the career path for me; much to the shock of my family and friends.

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On the way home from the Festival of Books the eldest re-initiated the conversation from two weeks before.  While I sat listening to Gladwell my husband, best friend and his wife set out to show our children the various places they hung out in our years of college here.  They toured science and engineering quads, peered into computer labs,  Heisman trophies and film school buildings.  The kids listened intently as the three of them shared stories of late nights studying or socializing.  They heard Jeff Kinney, the creator of the Diary of A Wimpy Kid books and cartoons, recount how his life brought him to his present occupation.  The books and authors were everywhere as they toured the campus for almost two hours.  The stats ring true: kids whose parents have gone to college will most likely take the same route.  I tell my son to open his mind and widen his perspective.  We need to open these doors to all kids in diverse socio- and economic circumstances.  Books can be that portal to bridge the gap to get them there.

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It takes almost twenty four hours for the last three days to really sink in.  The rally.  The friends.  The festival.  I had thought excessive pride and hubris was the trait I despised the most in people.  But as I processed the conversations over the past few days I realized I have been wrong.  Narrow-mindedness is the crux that I am least tolerant and empathetic; the parachute that leaves me drifting and bound.  In cutting the ties to this trait, I can explore outside my boundaries to the great outdoors and beyond.

I am expanding horizons. 

The world is my oyster.  I want my son to know this as he enters the cogwheel of these stressful high school years.  To not limit himself to the rules and boundaries; the safe paths people doggedly tread to get to the end destination.  I want him to walk his journey and trail blaze his own path; to not follow my own, or his father’s or his peers’.  I strive to impress this upon each of my children because they are all unique and their strengths and weaknesses are different.  It is my job, as a parent, to foster broader horizons and perspectives, to encourage the pursuit of knowledge and to allow my kids to explore their passions whether it be books, music, sports or pop culture.

I ponder if the computer and internet are the books of my children’s generation; opening boundaries to the web world wide.  May they enjoy what they read.  To  read their own words.  To passionately pursue what they enjoy for their own life paths.

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May you continue to read, forever and always.  Find your voice.  Step outside the box.

Family, friendships

open chapters

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Books.  They changed my life.

“…people who read literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction) were better able to detect another’s emotions…”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

They are seemingly innocuous; the opaque, off-white, inked parchment bound in spines.   As a young girl I fingered the pages; reverently turning them as I tried to decipher the meaning of the phrases.  From the safety of my twin bed I would be transported to places beyond; a welcome escape from the dull every day of my solitary world.  My most  cherished and well-worn book in my collection?  A used dictionary from a thrift shop that I had begged my mother to purchase at age ten.   I coveted a thesaurus; something I would not own until my first year in college.

As my mother shopped in the grocery store, next door, I sat in the thrift shop; absorbing the words in the short hour allocated to purchasing food staples.  To my mother books were a waste of time; my energy better utilized in cleaning house and learning how to sew and cook.  Books would get me nowhere.

Recently I caught myself reciting this phrase to my children, inserting computer gaming instead of books.   It is easy to place the blame on the plastic encased whir of electrical circuitry; the imagery on the monitors.  Instead of socializing with their peers my sons sit in chairs talking on headsets to friends from borders beyond.  There is no face-to-face time unless they decide to Skype.  When the procrastination sets in, it is the computer’s fault for distracting them.  Books or television no longer are the primary ways to escape reality.

It’s easy to externalize my fears onto an object; harder to acknowledge that they are my very own; that I have fault in propagating them.

I worry that my sons won’t know how to successfully navigate the social world; to practice the art of communication.  They are solitary figures lit up by high res screens.  They don’t need to know how to read body cues; to learn reciprocity or empathy.  Instead, they are  buffered by bandwidths and short typewritten acronyms like AFK (away from keyboard).  BRB (be right back).  TY, YW & GG (thank you, your welcome and good game).  The nuances of spoken language and face-to-face time are being lost in this generation.   How can I create change, to fix my complacency?

I’ve immersed myself in literature: parenting, education and self-help books.  I read memoirs and blogs; gleaning tidbits on what to expect; reading literary fiction in-between to take a mental break.  But am I not, too, lost in solitary confinement not practicing what I preach?  Information means nothing if you do not put it into practice.  One of the best indicators of success in our children, according to The Smartest Kids in the World author Amanda Ripley; is to model reading for them.  Avid readers become critical thinkers.  But does this make them better communicators?

This is where the books come in.

I remember when they re-entered my life after a long hiatus.  I was busy parenting young sons; recovering from a surgery seven years before.  My girlfriend invited me to join a newly founded book club to which I immediately refused.  I had no time for the wasteful books; who has time to read?  She handed me the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray Love, anway; ignoring my remarks.  A month later I found myself amongst my neighbors, women I barely knew from school.  It was only the second meeting of their discussion group and I pondered how to politely extricate myself.  I was not fond of this book, a bestseller, which would become a movie. 

Three  years later as the movers packed my home in boxes for the umpteenth time; the tears coursed down my cheeks.  The monthly babysitting fee to allow myself three hours of book discussion was worth its weight in gold.   At my farewell I not only discovered my long lost love of books.  I had been accustomed to the moving routine; transitioning from one place to another and not becoming attached.  The lesson I learned from these women was life altering.  Life is too short to not propagate roots; to build foundations of fellowship.

I was reminded of this last evening.

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It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of life; to blame externals.   To find excuses.  I can find fault in others to protect my walls and keep people at bay.  Sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle.  I become lost in works, not spoken words.   Relationships do not just happen by sitting in front of a computer, reading a book or finding busy work to keep us distracted and occupied.  Externals cannot prove our self-worth.  It is in people, in social interactions, in direct conversations that form the ties that bind.   Sometimes it’s not easy; nor convenient.  We must be purposeful in their upkeep.

The best of your friends are those who love you when you are not your best.

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“If being transparent strengthens the social ties that make life worth living, and enables others to forgive our shortcomings, why not do it more often?”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

In discovering the joys of reading I have also found the joys in relationship.  What began as a monthly break from the minutiae of parenting has become a lifeline.  I gained more than I had ever bargained for.   Our current reading discussion group, on the pretense of discussing literature, have formed a family.  I, the only child, have gained nine other sisters and all that that entails; a bit overwhelming for this only child of none.

But the true gift was probably something none of these women would’ve expected.  I thought of their plotting and scheming in multitudes of texts, cooking excursions and behind-the-scenes coordination.   The celebration of my birth wasn’t the real fruit of their labors.  It was in the working together; in their inside jokes that I found value.    It was their joint journeys that made me most happy, overcoming obstacles and thorny spines of their best laid plans.  Life isn’t a bed of roses.   The lack of running water, unexpected company and urgent care visits are the realities in this life.  What mattered the most was the love and care these girls took to get there.   It is this sentiment that is indelibly etched in my mind.  It was worth it.

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In modeling our love of reading to our sons; we now have avid readers.  I underestimated the power of the words in the pages and the interactions on computer screens.  My kids are technologically more savvy than I and are more socially aware than I had imagined.  I now understand the ways my boys obtain their mental escape to daydreaming mode; their way to unwind from a taxing day of common core and social pressures.

“Reading was associated not only with measures of verbal intelligence (such as vocabulary tests) but with measures of nonverbal intelligence as well (such as reasoning tests). “

Klein, Hannah. “Stronger early reading skills predict higher intelligence later.”  Eurekalert.org.  24 July 2014.  Web. 27 Sept. 2014

I, too, am learning to be empathetic; to read between the lines. I am beginning to detect my sons’ nonverbal (and hormonally verbal)  emotions.  I am taking the focus off of the end-result and adjusting to the daily life journey.  Their choices may not be reasonable; they must make mistakes.    They will find their life paths and relationships.  But they must write the chapters of their books all on their own.

The books, they brought me everywhere; but most importantly right here.  Our package from Japan arrived today; another child beaming.  My chapter is open; typewritten across the screen as I am given a bear hug from behind.

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What I know for sure?  I am grateful.  Thank you.

Family, School

and the wheels turn

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So many thoughts whirl about in my mind; waiting to be unleashed.

Thoughts like, does beauty pay?  Does a good looking person have more opportunities than the average looking person?  Are they more successful?

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Questions like how our educational system is run. How can our students become critical thinkers and compete in a global society?  Is the Common Core of State Standards (CCSS) the answer?  And what about our teachers?  Are they adequately trained or compensated?

How do I parent sons to be self-motivated?  To find their voices and navigate in our instant gratification, social media world?  To be good stewards to the environment.  To continue to grow in their faith and be good citizens in our society?

Chatting with my two girlfriends about all of these things; one turned to me and asked, “What is it that you are searching for?”

I am full of questions and too few answers.  She handed me a book about teenagers which I will immediately begin to read.  They applaud my efforts to pass responsibilities to others. But this is a slow process.  I am a servant; this quality ingrained from my own mother.  Acts of service is my love language (from Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages).

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I search for balance.  The ability to let things go.   Simplicity.

I am still in transition but I am beginning to wonder if I will ever feel like I’ve arrived.  Because isn’t every day of life about change and transition?  Another gray hair arrives upon my head, my boys continue to grow taller.   I desire a simpler life but distractions constantly fight for my attention.  It’s hard to shut out the white noise to focus on what’s important.  I can’t escape to Walden’s pond or Muir’s granite-cliffed Sierras.  Our Maui spring break seems like years instead of three weeks.

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These musings leave me frustrated.  I want to tell my sons, who are realizing the power that beauty wields in adolescence, that it doesn’t matter.  But it does.  I expound the virtues of brushing teeth, trimming nails, presenting a clean appearance and deodorant.   To put their best foot forward.

I asked one of our salesman this question about looks and if it produced more sales.  Without hesitation he answered with a resounding Yes!; citing examples in our male dominated workplace of manufacturing.   It was my son who posed this question and I consider how I will answer him.  I want my boys to value intelligence, a work ethic with follow-through, and communication.  To not be fooled by beauty and appearances.

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I continue to research and observe how our school district is managed.  Because right now my local district really doesn’t have the students’ welfare on their minds; only the almighty dollar that sits in the coffers.  I’ve learned great teachers are barely making a decent wage; many who are leaving our district to better provide for their families elsewhere.  I’m discovering many disgruntled parents who feel that their voices are not heard and are not being informed.  Everything seems to be under the guise of the new Common Core curriculum; a distraction from the real underlying problems being swept under the carpet.

And it all returns to money.   It crumbles established institutions like marriage, religion and education.  The worship of flimsy paper is the panacea for all things.  It can make you beautiful.  Powerful.  I work to have it; bringing comfort and stability to my home.   The deeper you get in it; the tighter its grip.

I laughed as my girlfriend shared how liberated she felt as she gave away her vast collection of shoes.  It gave her great joy to shop for them.  But it gave her greater joy to be rid of them.  I am on this same glide slope.  It has given me great joy to serve and contribute.  I am working on giving these things up to allow me the time to focus on what’s important.  But I am not there yet.  This parenting-marriage-relational thing; it never ends.  I continue to fight for the balance; not just in my budgets, but in my every day.   I have a lot of unfinished business yet to do.

 

 

Family, School

voices not heard

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And you go though life so sure of where you’re headin’,
And you wind up lost and it’s the best thing that could’ve happened,
Sometimes when you lose your way it’s really just as well,
‘Cause you find yourself, yeah, that’s when you find yourself
~ Brad Paisley “Find Yourself”

I had been driving, this morning,  when this song came across my car’s stereo speakers.  Whenever I hear the deep timbre of Brad Paisley’s voice I am transported to 2006 when The Cars Movie had been released.   I immediately think of Bryan Adams’ song from the Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron movie released in 2002.   Interestingly enough these two songs, from kids movie soundtracks, have a profound affect on me.  There is a theme going on here…and in seeing the lyrics I am able to piece it together.  It’s only taken me eight to twelve years to figure this out.
Got to fight another fight
I gotta run another night
Get it out
check it out
I’m on my way and I don’t feel right
I gotta get me back
I can’t be beat and that’s a fact
It’s OK
I’ll find a way
You ain’t gonna take me down no way
~Bryan Adams “Can’t Take Me”
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I’m always trying to find my way.  These songs are just points on the  number line continuum; marking thoughts in time to music.

If there’s one thing in life that I’ve learned; it’s that no one else can advocate for me, except myself.   By communication.  I had been shy as a young girl and many of my childhood friends can attest that I would beg them to speak for me wherever we went.  It wasn’t until I was forced to yell LOUD, as a songleader in high school, that I found my voice.  An unwilling one.

I hadn’t really known how words could affect a situation and discovered this the hard way.  Gossip, it cuts deep.  Silence, it isolates.  But if I could discover how to find the words to my own thoughts and speak them aloud; I could change an outcome.   Most times, for the better.   Sing it loud.  Natasha Bedingfield’s song “Unwritten” has been my personal anthem since its release in 2005.

No one else, no one else can speak the words on your lips.

Lately I have found my voice.  I choose to watch my words.  People put down others and make excuses to laud themselves.  I usually choose silence; keeping my words to myself until my hubs must hear me.   Written words are nice but it is in the face-to-face communication, with another human being; that promotes change.  I was reminded that even written words and texts can easily be misconstrued.  Misread.

Communication.  It goes both ways.

I left work for an hour to sit in a school district board room.  The words were one-sided and protocol had to be addressed.  Our LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan) draft for our local schools was disseminated and I sat there amidst frustrated parents wanting to be heard.  But when one person is doing all the talking and not accepting feedback; what’s the point?

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I felt similarly when I sat in the very full media center of a junior high last Thursday.  Hundreds of teachers attended an evening board meeting to voice their thoughts to elected board members.  At one point the microphone was turned off on a teacher whose negative speech didn’t truly serve the purpose.  Finger-pointing and blaming incited anger and various dissenting voices echoed in the room.  I stood, for approximately four hours, stunned.  Negotiations were at a stand still.   How can they say they advocate for our students when they put our teachers last?

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I continually work on finding my voice.  Emails and written words are easy; vocalizing them is difficult.  I sat, this morning, feeling that I had no voice.  And though I had no agenda  besides fact finding; I’m realizing that I have a lot to learn.

When I first discovered I was pregnant I sat in our bookstore reading.  I purchased various pregnancy journals and books, subscribed to Parents and Parenting magazines.  I could not get enough reading material for my soon-to-be-role as mother.  But I, naively, assumed that when my children went to school that there was a well-oiled machine in place.  I did my research.  We bought our home in a community with high Academic Performance Index scores.  I went online to search Megan’s Law to see if child predators lived nearby.  I went to the sheriff’s station to request crime reports.  Never had I imagined that our education system could be flawed.  That the communication process, amongst educational administrators and professionals, could be disjoint; non-existent.  Both sides are on different planes.

What has become clear is that I need to stay informed.  To do my due diligence and research.  To be my children’s advocates.  Only then, can I discover what my voice is; to affect change in my kids’ education.

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I continue to walk this path in my personal relationships.  I say what I mean.  I’m done with smoke and mirrors.  Just as in the songs above I continue to fight to find my way; to find myself.  My voice is merely a whisper right now.  But give me time.  I will be heard.

Family, School

standing my ground

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On Monday night, at 11:30 PM, I stood beside the hubs; trying hard not to topple his telescope or our digital camera sitting upon our tripod.   Our dear elementary school teacher had emailed parents of students, past and present, that the blood moon was coming; a total lunar eclipse.   We had been gazing at Mars; which prompted the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by the author John Gray, Ph.D., to enter my mind.    As we watched the shadow of the Earth eclipse the full moon, I shared with my mate how I feel like we live on a completely different planet from our teenage son.

We think he is possessed.  The man/boy/child’s mood changes are giving me whiplash as he transitions from docile to rage in 0-60 seconds.   The testosterone spike is definitely affecting his ability to reason and as I caught myself arguing, I took deep breaths.  My posture straightened.  I mentally have to remind myself.  I am the parent.  Get a grip.

The son noticed that I raised myself to my full height of five foot and 3/4 inches.  I am dwarfed by approximately four inches and he can easily take me.  His eyes grew wary as I eyed him and lowered my voice to a whisper; standing my ground.  With a level voice I quietly stated his choices and as he angrily strode away, I deflated.  I am not enjoying this phase of parenting.  Not one bit.

I have had some clarity after our spring break “mandatory” vacation.  My mission in my life right now is clear; raising these boys to become upstanding adults.  I don’t want them to be what I am; I want them to be better.  But to be able to do that I need to firmly plant my own feet in the ground and know what I stand for.

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Various religions think the recent blood moon is a prophecy for what is to come; possible blood shed with the country of Israel.  The end of the world.  I watched as the shadow of our planet engulfed the shiny bright orb in the sky; transfixed.  We are but small infinitesimal beings in the vast universe.  I had a similar thought last Friday while attending a Communion retreat for my youngest son.  As we toured our church I stood underneath the cross upon the altar.  I had no idea how large it was since we normally sit at the very back of our church.  I felt small, humbled.  There are bigger things than ourselves.

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I want respect from my children; not by screaming at them or threatening corporal punishment.  For the past year I have questioned my purpose in life; as I’ve undergone transitions from the life I used to live.  These changes are not easy.  But I’ve discovered my inner compass and I hope to guide my sons to find theirs.  If we co-habit different orbits in our household, so be it.  I hope a mother’s love can be the gravitational pull that brings them back to the same place; the same planet.

Tonight I will stand with our fellow elementary teachers at a district board meeting.  I have nothing to contribute but my presence, right here, right now.  If we want to improve education and  have our children become, The Smartest Kids in the World to compete in the global economy; we need to rethink our practices.  As author Amanda Ripley found in her research for her book, the countries who have successfully created the smartest kids worked from the top, down.  If we don’t put our teachers first by giving them adequate compensation, our students will never get there.   Why aren’t they paid like doctors and lawyers?  We place our children in their care each and every single day.  Besides ourselves, these individuals shape our children and impress ideas upon them for a lifetime (both good and bad).   We don’t need the quantity of teachers in our country.  We need to separate the wheat from the chaff and find quality.

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In the manufacturing sector we are sensing the changing times.  Vendors who chose to go overseas are beginning to return; choosing Made in the USA.  When a market is flooded with inferior products, people are willing to pay a higher price to get quality.

Quality is not a given talent.  It is taught.  It all begins with education; both at school and at home.

Quality.  noun. 1a :  peculiar and essential character :  nature b :  an inherent feature :  property c :  capacity, role 
2a :  degree of excellence :  grade b :  superiority in kind 
3a :  social status :  rank b :  aristocracy
4a :  a distinguishing attribute :  characteristic b archaic :  an acquired skill :  accomplishment
5:  the character in a logical proposition of being affirmative or negative
6:  vividness of hue
7a :  timbre b :  the identifying character of a vowel sound determined chiefly by the resonance of the vocal chambers in uttering it
8:  the attribute of an elementary sensation that makes it fundamentally unlike any other sensation ~http://www.merriam-webster.com.
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As I walked my trail, this morning, I thought of the uphill climb.  I am digging in with purpose and standing my ground.  My stride is steady.

Later that evening, as I laid my head upon my pillow, I felt the teen son’s shadow.  With a soft apology he asked if he could lay in bed with me.  This is the son who never asks.  Upon waking the next morning I noted the son still asleep  next to me; the hubs allowing our son to take his spot in our bed.   It’s the littlest things that make each day have worth.  

 

friendships, School

Intersecting thoughts & roundrects

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These past two months my mind has been looping in circuitous circles; going round-and-round.  With the crazy schedules and multiple tasks I have been unable to focus my internal lens.  But yesterday my circles interlocked like Venn Diagrams; my thoughts intersecting.  I love when it all comes together and I can begin to make sense of things.

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Unable to write/blog I busied myself with digital graphics and the tablet graphic, above, visually summed up where my thoughts ran.  It all began with rounded rectangles.

Rounded rectangles?

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When Bill Atkinson, an engineer at Apple, discovered algorithms to create ovals he excitedly showed Steve Jobs.

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“Well, circles and ovals are good, but how about drawing rectangles with rounded corners? Can we do that now, too?”

Dismayed Atkinson replied that it would be difficult to do and felt there was no use for them.  Jobs demanded they take a walk, his modality for communicating important issues and decisions in his life, and proceeded to show his lead engineer the various rounded rectangular objects they encountered.  Jobs’ demand for more made Atkinson discover how to create this graphical interface the very next day.  These roundrects became the design philosophy for all things Apple; from the original Macintosh in 1981, to the iPod/iPad designs and apps today.

And of course the icons came in his favorite shape, the primitive he made Bill Atkinson design into the software of the first Macintosh: rounded rectangles.

This small detail would’ve escaped me; but my computer scientist hubby noted this design feature as I worked on creating a yearbook cover for my sons’ elementary school.  The idea was not my own but I was designated as the implementer; the one to manufacture the vision digitally.  It is a small detail, the rounded corner, and as I created apps we began to realize it permeated everything;  tablets, iPods and apps.  I had not realized this in December, but this feature would lead me to various unrelated paths that would come to intersect.

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At this same time I had begun reading the Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers.   I had indulged my epidemiological curiosity of what defined off-the-chart individuals, and discovered that being born in 1955 would be a harbinger for success.  Interestingly enough both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were both born in 1955, and Gladwell discovered that a combination of factors created outliers in our society.   One assumes hard work, motivation and innate ability creates success but there are other socio-economic, physical and geo-political factors that align to create, “the perfect outcome.”

Rosie Project

I continued to learn to use Inkscape for my vector graphics and thought of the book choice I would make for our February bookclub.  The bright red cover brought The Rosie Project to my attention; tying in with the month of Valentine’s day.  And as I read within its pages I discovered the protagonist had the characteristics of Asperger’s.  As a parent always worrying about my eldest son’s lack of empathy and social skills; I took this read to heart.   This led to reading Flowers for Algernon and the curious incident of the dog in the night-time about the lack of services for severe retardation and special needs services.  I had traversed from high-to-low outliers; statistical points or deviants from the mean or norm.

As I began to populate my tablet cover with applications, apps, I thought of how technology pervades my children’s lives. Most of the students of our school are familiar with electronics and social media.  It is both a blessing and a curse as instant gratification produces immediate, and sometimes dramatic, results.  Growing up, without our current technology, I had time to think before I made choices.  My modem would still be dialing the CompuServe server to check message boards.  I recalled the green screen of the TRS-80 in my middle school science class and programming with DOS prompts.  Now, with the press of a touchscreen, kids had the means to include and exclude.  Comments and photos were instantaneously seen and  read by large groups of people in a short amount of time.

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Yet I lament that our school lacks technology.

On my Goodreads feed I see the Amanda Ripley book, The Smartest Kids in the World, and I devour it in three days during a busy work week.   The Rubik’s cube on the cover intrigues me as the yearbook cover is sidelined for approval.  This book was completely off my radar and when I was done; I went online and diligently looked at several of the author’s resources.

Technology did not prove to aid in creating smarter kids in our society.  Instead our education system needs a better way to compensate and support our teachers to raise the bar.  We need more rigor and to demand all of our kids, not just those tracked or designated as special, with support services.  We are a community and parents, teachers and students need to be aligned with the same common values to create smarter kids in the U.S.  The theoretical physicist Michio Kaku claims the top scientists in our country are not born in the U.S.A.  He asserts that they become American and have been granted their residence due to the H-1B Visa.

Where are the innovators? 

When I watched the seventy minute YouTube video on Amanda Ripley; I noted that her former editor at Time magazine, Walter Isaacson from the Aspen Institute, was the author of the Steve Jobs book that sat on my nightstand.  I barely made it to page 88, in February 2013, and set it aside. I haphazardly glanced at the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and knew it was being piloted at our school this year; before it officially rolls out in Fall 2014.  I began to dig deeper, and researched the lofty educational goals.  Would they work?  How would we implement them?  Would we be able to, once again, produce the smartest kids in the world?  

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In manufacturing we’ve discovered the lack of technical expertise needed to create products from raw materials.  Most businesses look outside the country to fill the void.  Why?  Because Americans do not have basic mathematical skills to measure, to analyze and to critically think.  The blue collar jobs are now outsourced overseas to those who can and will do these things.

Steve Jobs lamented that Apple contracts were overseas because there were not enough technical engineers who could decipher how to create the products he produced.  If we are transplanting foreign born “genius” Visas and not providing ample compensation for those who occupy our top math and science professions; how will we motivate and nurture our children’s generations?  Will we continue to lose our knowledge base and jobs overseas?

I finally did pick up the Steve Jobs book again.  And upon its completion I stared at my graphic above; understanding his obsession with the rounded rectangles.  I also noted the author’s observation that Bill Gates’ geeky fascination flirted on the fringes of Asperger’s.  Steve Jobs’ success was, in part, due to his obsessive and ruthless desire to push the limits; raising the bar.  He demanded his product be the best and that meant he only needed A players; weeding out the B and C players.

Apple is about people who think outside the box, who want to use computers to help them change the world.

Simplicity isn’t just a visual style.  it’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter.  It involves digging through the depth of the complexity.  To be truly simple, you have to go really deep.

Jobs envisioned his products and tablets replacing heavy textbooks.  In education he had strong opinions, as well.

Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly line workers…All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.

I commiserated Windows 8 woes with my son’s former first grade teacher.  Windows 8 is NOT intuitive.  Neither of us endorse the closed integrated system that Apples promotes, but we talked about innovators.  She shared that she attended a GATE conference where Steve Jobs had been the keynote speaker.  We both lamented the brain-drain in the fields of math and science.

CCSS

CCSS 1

Soon after I sat in the audience of parents as both our administrators presented the Common Core State Standards.  How could our kids take the Smarter Balance assessments when they didn’t have basic typing knowledge? My youngest son is able to type now; a typing program available for all of our school families, for free.  Last year a cost analysis to purchase a typing program had been $1,000.  Thankfully our administrator thinks outside of the box and utilized resources untapped.   Later, as I stood in her office I noted the Aspen Institute webpage on her monitor.  Unbeknownst to either of us we both had watched the same seventy minute YouTube video.

The Venn-diagrams appeared in my mind; our thoughts were aligned.  Independently we had arrived at the same place.   I stared across at her and was grateful that my children attend this school; her school.

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My circles began intersecting.  Education. Technology.  Simple Design.  Common Core.  Depth of complexity.  Love of reading.  Manufacturing.  Math & Science Skills.  Collaboration.   Delayed tracking.

Tracks for vocational and technical occupations and college shouldn’t be determined until high school.  All of our students should universally be taught higher, rigorous standards until this time.  Teachers should have more rigorous training, more support services available and compensation.  We need to streamline these pathways.  The hope is that Common Core will do this.  I cross my fingers but I know this isn’t the sole answer to this problem.

The way to a great start is to model a love of reading to our children.  It is that simple.

tea set

It is the simple beauty that inspires.  The rounded rectangles, the colorful covers of books, the tea cups that set the mood for an informal, pajama-clad group of ten women who enjoy discussing books.   Most of these women did not make the time to read books before we began our reading discussion group in January 2010.  It is now a priority, each month, and our children note our solidarity.  Yes, we do socialize.  But what our kids also see is a love of learning, the ability to discuss and think outside of our four walls.  We are exposed to outside worlds…vampires and female trafficking.  Nazi occupied Germany and slavery in the South.  Tiger mothers and ordinary days.

At the end of the day, any of our ten women can think outside of the box.   We can provide text driven responses and back up our statements with written evidence.   We’ve learned to collaborate with each other and to communicate issues and concerns.  When we hit our lows we’ve learned to put one foot in front of the other, to ask for support, to rediscover who we are and what we feel is right.   We take missteps and leaps but that is okay.  Our kids won’t solely learn to think critically from CCSS and education alone.  We have to model it for them.

The circles are closed; circuits interwoven.  I appreciate the rounded rectangles and enjoy the tablet graphic that allows me to visualize  my intersecting thoughts.  My lens is clear and focused.