Archive for May, 2012


Thursday, May 31st, 2012


Two of my siblings and I were in high school when my mother was carrying our youngest brother, which was an odd “place” to be 30 years ago; it’s even stranger now for teenagers to have siblings who are much younger than themselves. Of course, I understand the ecological constraints and economic pressures responsible for contemporary small families and closely spaced children. Yet I think  it’s sad that young people generally don’t have the opportunities my siblings and I had, and my own children have, to be role models,  tutors, and – yes – “baby” sitters for younger sisters and/or brothers, to learn to appreciate their siblings’ different skills and abilities, and to practice a much wider range of relationships than is possible with sibs and classmates closely related in age if not also in gender.

My mom often tells the story of the time her OB-GYN was surprised when my teen brother came into the exam room to hear the heartbeat of the baby she was carrying, and then picked up his toddler-aged sister so that she could watch and listen too. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman argue that the quality of adult (sibling) relationships depend on the balance between these tender moments and more rivalrous ones. On the basis of my own experience, I think they’re right. The terrific relationships I have with my much younger sibs (and an impressive group of people close in age to them) bodes well for my own “big kids,” one of whom is caught here scheming with his little his sister.

Radical Activism, or Poor Choices?

Monday, May 21st, 2012

la-me-protest002_ly2rjopd"Radical activism" taking over the UC? I wish. Then I wouldn’t have found myself filling my brief scattered moments of otherwise free time today responding to an inane op-ed by the California Association of Scholars’ own John Ellis and Charles Geshekter that blames UC graduates’ failure to demonstrate they have learned anything “at school” to  unsubstantiated classroom-based recruitment to the Democratic dark side.

I’d ignore it, but I’ve encountered a frightening number of people who actually entertain the notion that a college education is naught but liberal brainwashing. In the interest of illumination, here’s my cursorily considered response to Ellis and Geshekter’s claims:

  • “Political activists want conformity.” The boys seem to forget that activists exist on the political right, as well as on the political left. They also fail to recognize that political orientation may not even matter. Conservatives can be tree huggers, and UC students tend to reject tuition increases, regardless of how they vote in Presidential elections.
  • “Democrats in the classroom have silenced the political right on UC campuses.” (Apparently, faculty who are Republicans do not similarly silence the Left in their classrooms.) In fact, faculty members’ political party identification has virtually nothing to do with the course approval process and catalog publication and dissemination. There is no evidence to support the claim that the dynamics of classroom discussion follow from the instructor’s politics; however, class discussion is very likely affected by subject matter covered in a lecture or seminar. Contrary to popular belief that arguments exist on “both” sides of any issue, there can be far more than two vetted scholarly positions to consider, or just one. For example, increasing temperatures are associated with climate change and the United States has expanded globally.
  • “Activism is contrary to education.” I could be the odd scholar-(environmental) activist out here, but I have yet to convert a single student to abandon modern urban/suburban life for the commune. That said, I have managed to encourage them to consider why someone might take such drastic action, as well as how an environmentalist might manage the contradiction inherent in becoming a parent and – gasp! – relying on a car for transportation. That said, there are precious few of us anyway. The pressure to publish for UC faculty is sufficiently intense that no strictly rational academic takes time away from research to recruit student activists. In many cases, the process of securing the golden ticket, read publication in peer reviewed journals, tempers the views as well as the behavior of scholars on the fast (tenure) track, and beyond.
  • Radicals …er, actually Democrats…are to blame when college students fail to learn. Ellis and Geshekter could be onto something here. There is arguably a relationship among democratic political identification, liberal education, and positive learning outcomes. According to Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift, the students most likely to learn to think critically and reason analytically are those who take courses in the humanities and social sciences – precisely where Ellis and Geshekter locate all those radicals.

Still, I think it’s far more likely that students who don’t learn simply make poor choices – "in the academic courses they take, how much they are working outside the classroom, how much they are studying, how much they are partying."

Why didn’t I think of that?

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

photo 14

Today I had the pleasure of watching Jeanna’s daughter, Alexandra, who is understandably reluctant to be near our Malamute, Ayla, and resists the much friendlier Cooper's kisses. We typically put Ayla outside, and keep Cooper in his crate whenever he comes inside. But Alexandra had a better idea. She put herself in the crate! It didn’t take Olivia long to join her inside the jail…er…play house.

I couldn’t help being reminded of the time my sisters and I shared a hotel room with our little brother, Danny, and actually took turns changing in the bathroom – until we realized it made more sense for him to go to the bathroom while we changed!

In both cases, brilliant.

A Girl Scout is Always Prepared

Monday, May 14th, 2012

09003pMy daughter Reiley once drew a dead-on picture of me at my frantic best – screaming, “Where are my keys?!” in a mad dash to get somewhere less late than usual. My family couldn’t stop laughing. These days, it’s my turn.

She’s the one left in the lurch due to “dead” cell phone, missing sneakers, forgotten homework, etc. Last Thursday, she left for school at 7 AM without considering she wouldn’t be home until after her track banquet. Lucky for Reiley, she caught me before I left the house, and asked me to bring her “skirt (she only has one that fits), a matching tee, and compression shorts (my long-legged Ms. Modesty still wears them under dresses/skirts).” I complied.

I picked Reiley up after school and took her to the gym down the street to change. Before she got out of the car, she asked if I had a razor. “Of course,” I said, opening a compartment in the center consul where I keep my emergency razor. Reiley grabbed it, thankfully, and ran into the gym.

Reiley re-emerged a few minutes later, climbed into the car, and asked if I also had deodorant. “Are you kidding?” I asked. “In the center pocket of my purse.” I’m not sure we’d even cleared the gym parking lot before Reiley was looking for lotion. I told her to check my purse or gym bag in the back.

Note that I also came through with change for the meter outside the convention center (we arrived at the banquet early for just a drop off and had to wait), and money for a blended coffee to sip during our pre-banquet walk around downtown.

What can I say? I was a First Class Girl Scout.

Or maybe I’ve just become my mother, who has won nearly every shower game I can remember on the theme of “how many things on this list are in your purse.”

The child who never sleeps!

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012


This photo was taken at 5:30 AM,  after I’d been up for almost an hour trying to get the little guy back to sleep.

This child just doesn’t sleep when he should.  Sure, yesterday he slept through a chainsaw that was operating just 10 feet away from him, but heaven for bid I roll over in bed and BAM! he’s awake and fussing.  I do have to say, though, that last night he did sleep fairly well considering I only woke up once, maybe twice, to feed him before his final wake up call at 4:30 AM – thanks to a leaky diaper; his jammies were drenched :( . No amount of nursing could get him back to sleep, so while he was up, I figured I should go ahead and suction out his nose…I mean, he was already pissed about the jammies, so I thought I’d torture him some more and open up those nasal passages.

I gave up after an hour, and got up for the morning. I put the coffee on. I’ve just had a drank a few sips. With my usual luck, Everett will be ready to take a nap in about 30 minutes…just when the caffiene starts to kick in!

Shocked that I Just Talked About “It”

Monday, May 7th, 2012

C006/1959It all started with Julia Sweeney's sex ed monologue. Sweeney riffs on a conversation she had with her eight-year-old daughter about the mating practices of frogs…and humans. Sweeney’s daughter’s reaction to the straightforward description of how a woman’s egg gets fertilized – “Well…the sperm comes out of [the man's] penis” – was dead on. “Her face twisted up with a look of disgust.”

I think disgust followed jaw-dropping disbelief in my own case. If my mother had not backed up her story with a book by an actual doctor that included a series of remarkably convincing line drawings accompanied by descriptive text, I’m sure I would have walked away from our talk with my stork-filled sky variant on the facts of life well intact.

Contrary to current advice, my mother did not expound on the reasons anyone would want to do “it” – other than to make a baby, of course. “The talk” was heavy on anatomy and reproduction, including the basics of sexual intercourse and it’s primary purpose: pregnancy. It notably did not cover sexuality or sexual behavior more broadly defined, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, or sexual decision making in the context of teens’ social lives. I credit my initial reaction to the idea of sex, underscored by more exposure to childbirth and more childcare experience before my first date than some people enjoy in a lifetime (my younger siblings numbered seven, with two still in diapers, on my 16th birthday), for effectively preventing teen sex and unintended pregnancy in my own case.

It worked so well that when my eldest daughter, Reiley, blurted, “That’s gotta hurt” upon learing that babies emerge naked from “a special opening between the mommy’s legs,” I went with it. “Yes, it does!” I agreed. And I confirmed her corresponding reluctance to welcome any intrusions into her “girl parts,” and prepubescent commitment to delay dating until she is 30. I could have seized the moment to discourse on the potential physiological, emotional, and social ills associated with sex, or to assure her that she would change her mind when the right “one” comes along. But I didn’t.

Rather, I chose to honor my daughter’s gut response to sex – empower her to say, “No” – not because I want Reiley to think sex is” sinful,” or so earthshaking that it requires waiting, but simply because she doesn’t want any part of it yet. Despite the likelihood that there is some super mature 14 year old out there who enjoys sex and is physically ready and protected as well as emotionally prepared for a sexual relationship, I think Reiley’s current ban on boys is both appropriate and healthy at her age.

This was the gist of my contribution to the shocking discussion during Jeanna’s Cinco de Drinko party Saturday – a truthful chat about the damage our parents’ efforts to instill their values about sex can do to us, about social pressure to form relationships and solidify them with sex, about how difficult it can be to make the “right” decision, about male prerogatives, about the embarrassment and stickiness of the physical act itself, and, yes, about the babies.

Susan Maushartargues that women need to drop the giddy “mask” of motherhood. I think sex deserves the same treatment. It’s time to talk about it.